Ocean Graveyards, the Cherokee, and the Sit-Ins: 10 Unique Places to Learn About NC History

The Museum of the Cherokee Indian in Cherokee, N.C., is one of our picks for spots to learn our state's history. (Shutterstock)

By Leah Sherrell

May 1, 2023

A museum will give you the big picture. But if you want to go deeper, these highly-curated spots will help you see a more up-close history of our state. 

For the extreme history buffs, North Carolina’s Museum of History is the perfect place to dive into 14,000 years of history, including exhibits on pre-colonial life, the Civil Rights Movement, and the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame. 

On the other hand, if you’re looking to get specific about the unique history of our state, there are dozens of highly-curated spots to learn about the history of North Carolina. 

Here’s our list of 10 places to get you started. 

International Civil Rights Center & Museum, Greensboro 

Located at the site of the Greensboro sit-in, where four Black students from A&T challenged segregation in a non-violent protest, The International Civil Rights Center continues their legacy by exploring the fight for social justice in our state and nation. Visitors can see the lunch counter where the sit-in took place, and 13 galleries of video re-enactments, photography, and historical artifacts. 

N.C. Transportation Museum, Spencer 

Once the Southern Railways’ largest locomotive repair facility, the NC Transportation Museum is now home to 60 acres of trains, cars, tractors, and a replica of the Wright Flyer. The museum is dedicated to the history of transportation in our state, and as such train enthusiasts will enjoy the extensive information on our railroad history. 

Museum of the Cherokee Indian, Cherokee 

The Museum of the Cherokee Indian is a cultural and historical exploration 12,000 years in the making. There are interactive videos, and exhibits that tell the true story of the Cherokee people’s ingenuity and resilience. If you’re going with a group you can even participate in teacher workshops and language classes. 

The Scottish Tartans’ Museum and Heritage Center, Franklin 

North Carolina has the largest population of people with Celtic ancestry in the world. That’s why in 1988 the Scottish Tartans Museum was established to be a reliable source of information on Scottish Highlands traditions in the United States. The exhibits go into the origins of tartans (the famous striped patterns seen on kilts), their immigration experience, and their history with the Cherokee people. 

Washington Waterford Underground Railroad Museum 

Leesa Jones opened the Washington Waterfront Underground Railroad Museum in 2016 to teach people about the heroes that operated the Underground Railroad. She and her husband operate the museum out of a train car with a collection of artifacts that demonstrate the methods abolitionists used to guide people to freedom. 

New Bern Firemen’s Museum

New Bern’s fire department was the first one chartered in North Carolina. Now the museum preserves their firefighting history (which started as a rivalry between Union and Confederate fire companies) with fun hands-on exhibits. 

NC Museum of Natural Sciences, Raleigh  

The North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences might not be your instinctive choice when picking a location to learn about history, but this is where you can learn all about North Carolina’s ancient past and prehistoric animals that ruled the region. 

North Carolina Music Hall of Fame, Kannapolis 

The North Carolina Music Hall of Fame is filled with interactive exhibits that honor and preserve the legacy of North Carolina’s greatest musicians. Admission is free to learn about the history and rich traditions of our state’s contributions to music. 

Mountain Gateway Museum, Old Fort 

Take a quick trip outside of Asheville to visit the Mountain Gateway Museum, which celebrates the traditions of the North Carolina mountains. There are permanent exhibits that explore mountain life, medicines, moonshine, and much more. 

Old Salem Museums and Gardens, Winston-Salem 
Old Salem is one of the country’s most comprehensive historical sites. There are multiple museums, galleries, and gardens that have collections of art, furniture, metal and needlework from the early South. Part of their mission is to preserve the stories of the Moravians, free and enslaved Black people, and the Indigenous peoples.


  • Leah Sherrell

    Leah Sherrell is a multimedia reporter for Cardinal & Pine. A graduate of UNC-Wilmington, she's a resident of Kernersville with a background in video production and communication. Leah uses many forms of media to explore the multifaceted lifestyles and cultures present in North Carolina.

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