What’s the future hold?
Bath, North Carolina’s oldest incorporated town, is steeped in history. Much is known about that history. Much more can be known.
Charles Ewen, an archaeology professor at East Carolina University, is right when he says many of Bath’s archaeological treasures are waiting to be discovered. Ewen is conducting research in Bath, using the archaeologist’s time-honored method of digging.
During a presentation — The Real Dirt on North Carolina’s Oldest Town: ECU’s Archaeological Program in Bath — Saturday in Bath, Ewen made it clear he’s not digging for buried pirate treasure left behind by Blackbeard, a pirate who once called Bath home. Ewen is digging for artifacts, bits of history that when put together will help better tell Bath’s story.
Ewen said he wants to do his digging before another type of digging begins — digging done by developers. That’s understandable. Development does pose a threat to the town’s archaeological treasures.
Ewen warned the town that development is coming.
For many people, residents and visitors alike, Bath’s history and the evidence of that history is appealing.
A library sent to St. Thomas Parish in 1701, four years before the town incorporated, became the first public library in the colony. St. Thomas Episcopal Church, still in use today, was built in 1734. At one time, Bath was the seat of Beaufort County. The N.C. General Assembly met in Bath in 1743, 1744 and 1752. In 1746, the town was considered for capital of the colony.
Of course, there’s much more history. That’s what Ewen is trying to uncover.
Ewen believes there were plans for Bath to grow larger than it did in its early years, plans that never came to fruition at that time.
Perhaps, many years later, that growth is ready to be realized.
Therein is the problem. Does the town need to grow, and if so, how much growth is appropriate? Where’s the balance between preserving the town’s history and keeping it alive by allowing some growth?
Those are questions everyone in Bath — not just the elected leaders and a select few — must answer. Once those questions are answered, and not everyone will be happy with the answers to those questions, the town, Beaufort County and the state should help provide the resources to make sure those answers are put into action.
Not only is Bath’s history at stake, but so is the history of Beaufort County and North Carolina.
Bath’s future also is at stake.
With development pressures mounting, Bath’s leaders and residents must find a way to protect and preserve the town’s history — what makes it so attractive to so many people — and yet allow the town to prosper. The town’s future depends so much on its past, but preserving its past should not prevent the town from having a bright future.
Each of the town’s residents should have a voice in determining that future, a future that will become a past that archaeologists 200 years from now will want to uncover and study.
Bath certainly has plenty of history, but it also needs a prosperous future.