Eastern North Carolina has been a citadel of the state’s colonial history and European cultural heritage ever since Sir Walter Raleigh’s dream of colonization at Roanoke came to such a mysterious end. Legends tell of pirate treasures buried beneath the dunes of the Outer Banks and of rusted chimneys, masts and boilers sticking out of coastal waters, evidence of more than 2,000 shipwrecks.

New Bern, the state’s second oldest city, named by its Swiss settlers, is home to the Tryon Palace, a restored mansion and garden that is considered one of the most beautiful buildings in colonial America. Along the southern coast, fishermen set out to battle the Gulf Stream’s large deep-sea fish, and Edenton has memories of the colonial ladies who staged one of the first “tea parties,” boycotting tea and other products from England in protest of the duties imposed by the British.

In recognition of North Carolina’s unique history and cultural heritage, the Arts Council was created in 1964. It is now part of the state’s Department of Cultural Resources and helps ensure the highest quality arts for the greatest number of people in the state, as well as expanding the role of the arts. The council provides grants from state funds to sponsor many projects. North Carolina was the first state in the country to allocate state funds to purchase a collection of art.

The North Carolina Symphony Orchestra is the first state-supported orchestra in the United States. The ensemble tours the state from September through May. Many performances are free matinees for children.

The Piedmont and Appalachian regions are known for their ancient traditions of guitar, violin and string orchestras, as well as their bluegrass musicians. Some of the most famous musicians include guitarist Doc Watson, who was a major force in the 1960s American folk music revival; MerleFest, named for Watson’s late son Merle and held every spring in the town of Wilkesboro in the Piedmont, draws large crowds to hear the best bluegrass and other regional styles of the country.

North Carolina stands out in the field of rural art and historical spectacle. Wood carving, basket weaving, needlework, rug and quilt making, pottery, and other artisanal crafts of the western mountains combine with the art of coastal communities to offer some of the richest regional cultures in the United States. Summers at Manteo on Roanoke Island feature outdoor epic dramas, where Paul Green’s play The Lost Colony revives the colonizing efforts of Sir Walter Raleigh at the court of Elizabeth I and on Roanoke land itself; at Boone, where Horn in the West recreates such characters as Daniel Boone; and at Cherokee, where a play is performed among the hills by descendants of the Cherokee Indians on whose story the saga is based.