Spartan Summer Excursions: Culture and History

Posted on June 13, 2024

People are walking down the street in downtown Greensboro with the sun shining through.

One of UNC Greensboro’s perks is its central location within North Carolina. UNCG students needing a weekend getaway or an impromptu summer trip can visit the coast, the mountains, or explore attractions right here in the Piedmont-Triad. Whether you like a weekend packed with sightseeing, a vigorous hike outdoors, or a quiet evening indoors, something fun is an easy walk, drive, or bus ride away. 

Thanks to diligent historians and scientists, many destinations provide an educational angle. Museums, reenactments, traveling exhibits, food, crafts, and dance lend to a fun and immersive experience for anyone who wants to snap up a history lesson over the summer. 

Explore Movements of Change

UNCG students look at the historic sit-in counter at a museum.
International Civil Rights Center & Museum

Greensboro was one of the centers of change for civil rights, most notably during the 1960 sit-in at the F.W. Woolworth’s lunch counter. That counter was enshrined in the International Civil Rights Center & Museum on South Elm Street, an official stop on the US Civil Rights Trail. Its special exhibits this summer cover the sit-in movement and the 1963 March on Washington. UNCG faculty and alumni have worked closely with the museum on projects promoting a greater understanding of civil rights history. 

Another well-known draw is the Historic Magnolia House Inn, a former Green Book site on Gorrell Street. Green Book sites were marked as safe for African Americans to stay while traveling during the Jim Crow era. It still functions as an inn, so you can book a room overnight and savor its renowned Southern brunch. 

An hour from UNCG, a historic site in Montgomery County is hosting a traveling exhibit dedicated to the fight for the right to vote. “Making Our Voices Heard” is on display at Town Creek Indian Mound through the month of June. At no cost, visitors can learn about seven North Carolinians who championed the cause of democracy. 

Get Your Share of Scares

Anyone into spine-chilling ghost tales may be interested in a ghost tour with Carolina History & Haunts. Tour guides will lead thrill-seekers through the streets of Greensboro, Winston-Salem, or Charlotte and relay the stories behind local hauntings. 

Treacherous rocks along the North Carolina coast earned it the foreboding nickname “Graveyard of the Atlantic.” Those shipwrecks inspired a museum of the same name in Hatteras, not far from the iconic Cape Hatteras Lighthouse. Admission is free, so anyone can explore the scavenged artifacts from famous shipwrecks, such as Edward “Blackbeard” Teach’s pirate ship Queen Anne’s Revenge or the Civil War ironclad USS Monitor. Other exhibits focus on the US Life-Saving Service, a precursor to the Coast Guard. 

Visit a Reenactment

A reenactor in colonial dress speaks to a group of children.
Old Salem

Dedicated actors breathe life into North Carolina history. One famous tourist spot is not far from UNCG. Old Salem preserves the story of the early Moravian settlers. Reenactors continue the Moravians’ daily lives and trades, such as blacksmithing. You can stop at their Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts and bring home one of its famous Moravian cookies or star ornaments. 

The mountains are home to the Oconaluftee Indian Village. Reenactors educate visitors about the Cherokee of the 18th century, with tours beginning every 15 minutes. The beautiful natural landscape helps you get immersed in the experience. 

Heading in the other direction to the Outer Banks will take you to Island Farm, the historic home of a family on Roanoke Island who witnessed the turmoil of the Civil War, the dangers of seafaring, and the excitement of the Wright brothers’ first flight. Demonstrations let visitors see what it was like to run a farm, cook, and weave clothing during the 19th century. 

A Museum for Every Interest

The state capital of Raleigh is home to many museums, guaranteed to cover all types of interests. The North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences has an aquarium, a conservatory, and a 3D theater to learn more about wildlife and oceans. Pollinator Week falls on June 17-23 this year, so the museum will host butterfly walks and a bumblebee watch. July 2 will feature a presentation on the history of tracking UFOs. 

The Museum of History‘s artifacts and interactive displays cover more than 14,000 years in North Carolina. Some floors are temporarily closed for renovations, but their website contains digital versions of its exhibits you can view from the comfort of home. The Museum of Art is another popular spot with collections by American, European, and African artists. Its 164-acre campus has an outdoor park full of sculptures where you can walk, run, or bike from dawn to dusk. 

If you don’t want to drive far, there are many unique museums in Greensboro. Elsewhere houses the collection of Sylvia Gray, a Greensboro resident who made a thrift store business out of selling second-hand furniture and textile scraps. Her family transformed her store and collection into an artist residency, which has collaborated with UNCG students and faculty. For those interested in architecture, visit the historic Blandwood Mansion, once owned by former Governor John Morehead and one of the best surviving examples of the 19th-century Italianate building style. 

Remember the Fallen

A family stands in front of a replica of the Vietnam War Memorial.
The Wall That Heals

On June 20-22, North Carolina will host “The Wall that Heals,” a traveling replica of Washington’s Vietnam War Memorial. It will be set up in Asheboro, a half-hour drive from UNCG. Its mobile education center will help all visitors understand how that impacted the service members while they were deployed and when they returned to the US.

Permanent memorials for armed service members include the Carolina Field of Honor of Kernersville. Its tall obelisk and water cascades create a solemn atmosphere while reading the displays dedicated to each war. Guilford County has its own Veterans Memorial, with a Ring of Walls covered in maps and descriptions, and a brick path bearing the names of veterans who served. 

Find a Festival

Performers wear Cherokee dress during nighttime performance.
Unto These Hills

Music, performances, and games are an incredible way to appreciate other cultures, especially those deeply rooted in North Carolina. 

The Grandfather Mountain Highland Games, to be held this year July 11-14, is a popular draw every summer. It celebrates North Carolinians of Scottish descent and lets visitors enjoy Gaelic music and dance, bagpipes and drums, athletic competitions, and sheepdog demonstrations.

On August 9-10, the Waldensian Festival will celebrate a 17th century victory of the Waldensian people against French forces, allowing them to return to their homes in Europe after years of religious persecution. The town of Valdese in Burke County was founded by Waldensians seeking a new life, and its heritage museum preserves artifacts of that era.

Summer also marks the annual return of “Unto These Hills.” Through mid-August, this outdoor theatre will let people gather as the sun sets to watch a dramatization of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and the Trail of Tears. 

Bring Something Home

Southern Randolph County is an artistic trifecta, within an hour’s drive from Greensboro. The town of Seagrove became a draw for potters in the 18th century due to its unique clay. Its 30-mile-long North Carolina Pottery Trail lets visitors drop into pottery studios still in operation. If pottery is not your thing, you can check out Carolina Bronze, a foundry that specializes in bronze and aluminum casting with pieces in high demand all over the country; or Starworks, a glassblowing, ceramics, and metalworks studio that does live demonstrations. 

To the west, there’s Qualla Arts & Crafts Mutual, the oldest Native American cooperative in the US. Members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians created it in the 1940s to help preserve their traditional art. More than 60 artists are currently there, making beadwork, carvings, jewelry, and clothing. 

Whether you come home with a piece of North Carolina culture or a broader understanding of the history of our state, there is much to explore through fun day trips in and around Greensboro. Check out a map and hit the road this weekend!

Story by Janet Imrick, University Communications 
Photography by Sean Norona, University Communications; Old Salem; Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund; Museum of the Cherokee People

A UNCG student puts together panels for a museum exhibit.

Lead the way in history.


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