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Less than an hour to the east of Raleigh, and 10 minutes off I-95, lays the town of Wilson, North Carolina. Chartered in 1849, the town grew as agriculture in North Carolina grew: first with cotton, then changing over to tobacco as the demand grew. Like so many other towns in North Carolina that depended on tobacco farming, for a time Wilson’s downtown was almost abandoned. Be part of Wilson’s downtown resurgence by visiting and remembering #downtownturnaround. Here is a list of things to do in Wilson to get you started.
1. Country Doctor Museum
7089 Peele Road, Bailey – Website
Managed by ECU’s Medical School, the Country Doctor Museum lies just outside of Wilson. The building is comprised of two nineteenth-century houses which housed country doctor’s office practice. Learn about historical exhibits related to pharmacy, surgery, and sick rooms. Tours are offered every hour on the hour from 10 am to 3 pm. The museum is closed on Sundays, Mondays, and holidays, so check the schedule before you venture out. The $8 plus tax fee for adults is well worth it. Expect to spend at least an hour if you take the tour.
2. Oliver Nestus Freeman Round House
1202 Hines Street SE – Website
Looking to learn about African-American history in North Carolina? This museum is housed inside the small round house on the grounds, and is a perfect homage to the contributions of African-Americans to the region. The center hosts a concert series on the lawn in the summer. This small museum is open 10 am to 3 pm Tuesday to Saturday.
3. Wilson Rose Garden
1800 Herring Avenue E – Website
Looking to stop and smell the roses? Wilson’s Rose Garden is the perfect destination for you. The rose garden blooms from May 1st to October 30th. As an accredited public garden, you won’t pay anything to admire its beauty. Over 1200 plants of 180 different varieties mean that just about every plant is unique. With winding paths and benches strategically placed throughout, enjoy the serenity of the park while enjoying the zen water feature.
4. Wilson Botanical Gardens
1806 Goldsboro Street S – Website
Located behind the Wilson Agricultural Center, it would be easy to miss this beautiful garden. Showcasing plants either native to North Carolina or which can be grown easily in our North Carolina climate, this garden can be different things to different people. Enjoy the serenity by strolling on the manicured paths. Learn by participating in the education programs or learning about the experiments being housed throughout. Open from sunrise to sundown, these gardens are for all to enjoy. I hope to return in December when the garden is decorated with holiday lights in the evenings.
5. NC Baseball Museum
300 Stadium Street SW – Website
Any fans of baseball? This little museum, housed at the Fleming Stadium, pays homage to all things related to North Carolina and baseball. Cases upon cases display baseball and memorabilia of baseball players who were either born in North Carolina, attended school in North Carolina, or ended up playing in North Carolina at some point in their career. Manned by an all-volunteer force, expect to learn everything you could have possibly wanted to know about North Carolina’s influence on baseball. The admission fee of $3 for adults is well worth it, even for those of us who are not ardent fans.
6. Fleming Stadium
300 Stadium Street SW – Website
Opening in 1936, Fleming Stadium is still in great shape and home to the Wilson Tobs of the Coastal Plains League (a collegiate league). Once upon a time it hosted professional and minor league games, though a professional team hasn’t visited since the 1970’s. While I don’t know much about baseball, considering that it doesn’t host even a minor league team, this field is in great shape. No matter where you sit, you’re sure to get a great view and enjoy a great game.
7. Imagination Station and NC Museum of the Coastal Plain
224 Nash Street SE – Website
Housed inside the historic post office and courthouse building (built in 1927), you’ll find the Imagination Station – featuring educational exhibits connecting science and history. The second floor houses a Herpetarium with reptiles from different parts of the world. The third floor of the building houses the N.C. Museum of the Coastal Plain. Admission costs $5 plus tax. This may be a great place for educational groups, but unless you’re looking for something to keep the kids entertained, this museum has a little growing up to do.
8. Whirligig Park
301 Goldsboro Street S – Website
The Whirligig Park is perhaps Wilson’s most well-known feature. Vollis Simpson, a farm machinery equipment repairman, made gigantic kinetic sculptures right before he retired. He continued making them until shortly before his death at the age of 93. In 2010, a plan was made to relocate his visitor-attracting whirligigs to a park in downtown Wilson. The Whirligig Park has been a cornerstone of the redevelopment and revitalization of Wilson’s downtown area. Hosting concerts during the summer, families and groups can enjoy the covered picnic areas any time of year. While only a block wide, this is definitely a not-to-be-missed North Carolina attraction.
9. 217 Brew Works
217 South Street S – Website
Across the street from the Whirligig Park you’ll find Wilson’s only original craft brewery. Whether you’re looking for a place to host a special event, attending a concert at the venue, or simply enjoying a beer while the family and guests enjoy the whirligigs, 217 Brew Works will make you feel right at home. Beer styles from light ales to dark stouts are all featured on the beer menu. My favorite beer during my visit was the Triple-Whirl, a Belgian Tripel. Flights are available for $8 but they’ll let you taste anything that piques your curiosity. In March of 2018, South Street Visions, 217 Brew Works, and Wilson Downtown Development were recognized by North Carolina Main Streets for best Building Reuse Program in the State. Welcoming to both children and dogs, the entire family is welcome here.
10. Beefmastor Inn
2656 US-301 – Website
For years I’ve heard about the best steak in North Carolina being served at the Beefmastor Inn. With only ten tables inside (and no reservations), this is probably the most undersold attraction in Wilson. While you may not get a table inside right away, you’re encouraged to park your car in the parking lot and tailgate while you wait for one of the tables to open up. If you’re looking for a fancy menu, you won’t find it. There’s only one thing on the menu – the ribeye. And yes, the Beefmastor serves over 700 lbs of ribeye a week, with a baked potato, and Texas toast, though a salad bar is also available. Your waiter will come over with the ribeye and ask you how big a piece you want (cutting it in front of you) and how you’d like it cooked. Don’t ask for substitutions – this IS the menu. Having been featured in Our State and The Travel Channel, you won’t regret waiting your turn for one of the ten tables at this little hidden gem found in Wilson.
For those looking for more food options, take a look at all the great restaurants in Rocky Mount, just 30 minutes north of Wilson.
Annick, The Common Traveler