It’s #JuneAusten and I, being a faithful servant in the Janeite army, would love to share my experience I had while attending Jane Austen in June at Tryon Palace in New Bern, North Carolina. I convinced my sister to travel with me to New Bern to attend Jane Austen in June on June 7, 2014. I have always loved Jane Austen. I have read every novel, seen every adaptation and day dreamed of my own Mr. Tilney. That’s right; I wanted Mr. Tilney or a Colonel Brandon…not Mr. Darcy. The funny, sweet-natured man or the steadfast and ever faithful romantic were more my cup of tea. All though, a large income would have been very fortunate so I could buy all the silk dresses and bonnets my heart could have desired. Any who, enough of day dreams. I have always loved Austen. It all started with Sense and Sensibility. I think I must have watched the adaptation with Kate Winslet and Emma Thompson a thousand times and still never get enough of it. I swear in a past life I must have been like Marianne Dashwood; Passionate and headstrong when it came to matters of the heart and obviously sometimes making a bad choice in a man. This has all led me to where I am today. I am a member of the Jane Austen Society of North America and also a member of the Regency Society of Virginia. All though I have not been able to be as active in the latter as much as I have wanted to lately, I hope to get back into the swing of things once my mom duties have settled. I guarantee those lovely ladies of the RSV will grace my blog very soon!
New Bern, North Carolina is one of the cutest, historic little cities I have had the pleasure to visit. My sister and I traveled about three hours south and stayed on the outskirts of downtown New Bern for the weekend to enjoy all the festivities of Jane Austen in June the following day. Our first night we drove a few miles to the historic city and parked our car to walk around and take in all the sights. One thing I loved was that New Bern was right on the water. The breeze was great on a rather sticky Friday night in the summer. We chose what we thought was a rather popular place to have drinks seeing as we had already eaten on the way down. We visited a bustling restaurant and chose to sit at the bar, tucked away under exposed beams and drank a specialty martini.
Another thing I noticed about this little city was the bears. I, being from the Hampton Roads area, was used to seeing Mermaids everywhere to represent our city. In New Bern, bears were everywhere. We got quite a few pictures to share with our mother, who loves bears and has a collection to prove it.
The next morning, we made our way downtown again and found Tryon Palace. Such a beautiful, historic location tucked away nicely into the charming city. Tryon Palace is a replica of the mansion built in the late 1760s for the Royal Governor of the Province of North Carolina. It was the seat of the province’s Colonial government and was seized by rebel troops in 1775 and maintained that role through 1789. In 1792, the state capital was relocated to Raleigh. The original building burned to the ground and a modern recreation almost identical to the original architect’s plans was erected on the site in the 1950s and opened to the public in 1959. Today it is a State Historic Site and the North Carolina History Center with two interactive museums is located adjacent to the property.
We snapped a few photos before heading over to The Commission House, formerly known as the Lehman-Duffy House. This home currently serves as administrative offices for Tryon Palace and the surrounding gardens. It was built circa 1886 by Robert B. Lehman, and the interior was remodeled in 1920 in Colonial Revival style. It is considered one of the best examples of Italianate architecture in New Bern. We begin our Jane Austen themed day here. We were broken up into several smaller groups to enjoy an assortment of activities.
The first being to paint our own tea cups. Small teacups and paint was provided with our admission cost and we sat at a table in one of the parlor rooms of the historic home. Let’s just start off by saying I do not have an artistic bone in my body. I am terrible at drawing or painting so my tea cup was a series of lines and dashes. It was simple and I thought I could present it as a gift for my daughter and she would love it and praise it on how fancy it was. Score one for mom. This task was over quickly and we then set out on a tour of another historic home across the street.
This was the house of John Wright Stanly, an entrepreneur and patriot. The house has historical significance. Stanly purchased land to build upon in 1779 but it was not until 1787 that the residence was completed. Many consider the house in New Bern a great example of late Georgian architecture. The Stanly House is important in both New Bern and North Carolina history. Here, we were able to listen to a brief history and story on the owners of the house interpreted by a costumed woman in the dining room. A table was set and she reviewed over how many people in that time period took their tea and also to fill us in on the gossip of the home. John Stanly Jr., born in New Bern in 1774 and was a prominent politician, serving terms in Congress and as Speaker of the North Carolina House of Representatives. Stanly is infamous for the murder of former North Carolina governor Richard Dobbs Spaight in a duel behind the Masonic lodge in New Bern on September 5, 1802. Spaight’s murder prompted North Carolina to pass legislation banning duels, although such acts of rivalry and honor were common until well after the Civil War.
Next was tea time back at the Commission House; A proper tea time at that. English tea with milk and sugar and an assortment of snacks such as scones and cucumber sandwiches were served. It was delightful and a refreshing break from being out in the early summer heat. I think I ate everything on my plate and had two cups of tea before feeling energized for the next outing. Our tea was served by a few lovely volunteers dressed in period fashion and we had a little joke about milk before or after tea. I do love a good tea “party” experience.
From here, we did have a break for lunch and decided to walk downtown to explore and find a place to eat. Before coming to this city, I had no idea that it was the birth place of Pepsi. We passed by the original drug store named Bradham’s Drug Store, where the soft drink was created. It was called Brad’s drink. In 1893, “Brad’s Drink,” was made from a mix of sugar, water, caramel, lemon oil, nutmeg, and other natural additives and became an overnight sensation.
I, being the tourist I am, snapped quite a few photographs on our small self guided tour. We decided on a restaurant close to the location of our Austen Festival and discovered it used to be a bank in the early 1900s. The vault was still inside and open for a peak into the past. I can’t remember the name of this restaurant either. I think I was more enraptured by the history of New Bern that the names of these wonderful restaurants slip my mind. The history was more of a highlight for me on this trip.
We walked back to the small historic center of downtown and on to our next activity. This by far was my favorite thing about the festival. Behind the Commission House in the small garden outside were three dancers and a violinist. We were able to do several dances of that time period with the help of a person calling out all of the “moves”. I believe if you know about ten different moves, you can do any dance of the regency time period. It really is a lot of hand holding and moving in circles. Our gentleman, who led some of the dances, was dressed in period garb along with his two partners, who were both in cotton day dresses. My sister and I referred to him as the smolderer. He just had a very theatrical way of staring into your soul as you danced. It was a little unnerving but fun all the same dizzily spinning around and around but laughing all the while. Regency dancing is a work out. We did about five different types of dances arranging from a circle dance to a line dance (and by line I mean everyone stands in two lines opposite each other and slowly makes a progression to the front of the line…not the cowboy sort). I know now that the Regency Society now offers almost weekly dance lessons in the Hampton Roads area and I cannot wait to attend. If not for fun, at least for a weekly workout.
Finally on our agenda was the tour of Tryon Palace itself. We were not granted admission into the building but were able to walk the extensive gardens at our leisure. Encompassing more than 16 acres of gardens and landscapes, the Palace gardens were designed by Morley Jeffers Williams in the 1950s and represent the formal garden style of 18th-century Britain. The gardens were exquisite and wonderfully maintained and felt as if we were in a bygone era. We spent about an hour wandering around and taking lots of pretty pictures. We even made it all the way to the water’s edge to look back at the historic house in its entire splendor. They were getting ready to set up for a weeding that evening so we decided to depart and start our journey back home. We did make a trip to the history center itself but did not go to the interactive museums they offer.
Tryon Palace and its surrounding historic homes is a place that I would love to visit again. New Bern has a way of making you feel transported back in time. A charming coastal town that will forever be in my memories as one of the best weekends I was able to share with my sister and Jane’s memory.
Thanks for reading!