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Beaufort’s ties with the water stretch from its first days as a fishing village to its current appeal as a slice of waterfront heaven for residents and tourists alike. Located on Beaufort Inlet, a channel leading south to the Atlantic Ocean, it was first known as Fishtown in the 1600s. It was eventually renamed for Henry Somerset, Duke of Beaufort, and was officially recognized as a town in 1709, making it North Carolina’s third oldest town. Beaufort is now the seat of Carteret County, with a residential population of around 4,000.
Tourism may be the big industry in the area today, thanks in part to the large influx of visitors drawn to its coastal charm, but the fishing industry, in its various forms, played an important role for much of the town’s history. As well as being a fishing village, Beaufort served as a port of safety for a variety of ships, both as a place to find refuge from storms, but also as a harbor that was considered the safest and most navigable of any of the ports of North Carolina. Along with fishing and whaling, other fishing-related industries made their home in Beaufort, including shipbuilding and the related production of lumber and naval stores.
Beaufort owes much of its visual charm to the influence of the many well-traveled patriots, merchants, privateers, and craftsmen who passed through and eventually settled in the town. Many had spent time in the Bahamas and West Indies, influencing the style of building of both private homes and public buildings, creating a beautiful backdrop for the town’s charm. In 1713, the Plan of Beaufort Towne was laid out and a 12-block area survives today that is on the National Register of Historic Places. As a result there are approximately 150 restored historic homes to enjoy, with many of them featuring plaques listing the dates of construction and the earliest known owners, keeping part of the town’s history alive for multiple generations.
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