Celebrate 50 years in Historic Bath
Fifty Years! That magical number seems to be regarded as a milestone we all strive to reach in many aspects of life — 50 years of marriage, 50 years in age — representing maturity, success and wisdom. The same is true for Historic Bath. On May 5, we will proudly recognize our 50th anniversary as a historic destination with a town celebration emulating the day much as it was in 1962.
Great endeavors mandate a strong leader and Washington native Edmund Harding was such a man. After spearheading Bath’s 250th birthday celebration in 1955, Harding began to gather support in an effort to preserve the few remaining historical treasures still in the town — mainly the Marsh House and the Bonner House. He had a vision of these homes being purchased, preserved, furnished in period style and then opened to the public to share the history of North Carolina’s first incorporated town. This venue would give visitors the opportunity to literally walk in the footsteps of our historical forefathers.
Of course, this work was not done by Harding alone. Being well-traveled, he had acquaintances from all over the world who thrived on unique challenges and, being a “down-home boy,” he knew locals who had the skills to do quality work with the barest of means. The first order of business was to purchase the Marsh House. No donation was too small and the fund-raising events creative — children collected and donated pennies and Bath ink pens were sold all over the United States for 25 cents each. In 1958, the Marsh House was purchased by the Beaufort County Historical Society.
During this time, the acquisition of the Bonner House was also pursued but funding was falling short. Learning of the project, the Oscar Smith Foundation agreed to purchase the house and property along with providing funds for furnishing.
Mrs. Oscar Smith deemed this a worthy endeavor in honor of her husband who had spent much of his childhood in the Bath area.
After the deeds to the properties were in hand, work began to make repairs to the homes and to find the period antiques to furnish them in style. A date was chosen for the unveiling of these prized, historical possessions — Saturday, May 5, 1962.
The sunny day welcomed both dignitaries and area citizens congregating in the small town to join in the celebratory ribbon-cutting at each house. A ceremony at St. Thomas Church was held prior to the opening followed by lunch provided by the Bath Fire Department. The turnout surpassed expectations as visitors spent the afternoon viewing the homes and strolling along the streets of Bath amongst townspeople in colonial dress. The Washington Daily News reported that in the month following the opening ceremony, 2,000 people had visited Historic Bath.
Our 50th anniversary commemoration will begin at Bonner Point at 11 a.m. on Saturday, May 5. The public is cordially invited and encouraged to attend.
Descendants of some of those hard workers of 50 years ago are expected to attend as well as descendants of Col. Robert Palmer, owner of the Palmer-Marsh House from 1764-1771, and Joseph Bonner, builder of the Bonner House. A highlight of the program will be the unveiling of a portrait of Edmund Harding that, after the program, will watch over Harding memorabilia in the Van Der Veer House. The two homes will be open to the public from noon until 3 p.m. At noon, the Bath Ruritan Club will provide lunch for $7 a plate with local churchwomen offering homemade desserts. Throughout the afternoon, adults and children can participate in hands-on activities: ropemaking, crosscut sawing and colonial toys. A real treat, homemade ice cream, will also be available.
Without the foresight, hard work and undying dedication of all those before us that had a part no matter how large or small in the preservation of Bath’s history, our small town might look very different today. But probably the wonderful part of it all is that these treasures do not belong just to Bath but, as North Carolina’s oldest incorporated town, they belong to all North Carolinians and beyond. Our invitation goes out to everyone to come and share this special time with us, whether it is your first visit here or if you call Bath and the surrounding area home. Come and share your stories and remembrances with those that you may not have seen in a while or even better, bring your family and friends and make new memories.
The Historic Bath Visitor Center is located at 207 Carteret St. in Bath. You may call the Visitor Center for more information at 252-923-3971. The center is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. We offer tours daily but we can also tailor a visit (with advance notice) to meet your needs depending on the size and ages of the group and their interests. Please call us to learn what we can offer you and to schedule groups of more than 10. During our non-operating hours, walking tour brochures can be found outside the front door entrance.
Bea Latham is assistant manager of the Historic Bath State Historic Site.