ROCKY MOUNT, NC
It’s about halfway between New York and Miami, just off I-95. For years, folks have used it as a convenient stop along the way and then discovered that Rocky Mount has plenty of charm to convince travelers to spend a few days exploring, getting to know the friendly people, and even relocating for the appealing lifestyle.
We spoke with Richard Worsinger, originally from Philadelphia. He and his wife, Nancy, moved to Rocky Mount when their children were in middle school. “I was offered a job as Director of Utilities for Rocky Mount, and the timing was good for a move,” he explained. “We bought a house, put our children in school, and immediately began to discover what a friendly, historic community we had found. We’ve all adjusted well and love our life here.”
The Worsingers enjoy running and walking along the many nature paths. They have date night each Wednesday at Prime Smokehouse and visit a number of great restaurants in the area.
The historical areas are interesting and all the amenities are in place, including plenty of arts, culture and shopping. “We love it here, and our children did well in the schools; one attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and the other went to the Naval Academy,” Mr. Worsinger shared. “We are close to the ocean and the mountains and all the friends we’ve enjoyed through the past few years.”
And so, with that endorsement, we checked out the town and found lots to recommend it. Here, from insider tips and personal experience, are our suggestions for a great road trip to Rocky Mount.
Accommodations and Dining
There are many excellent hotels just off the Interstate. You’ll have no trouble finding a great room from which to explore. There are super restaurants as well, so depending on your location when hunger strikes, you’ll be eating well – and often.
Eastern North Carolina Barbeque is a must in these parts. It’s slightly vinegary, with a bite. It is delicious. Garner’s Barbeque is one of the most famous, where the food is authentic eastern NC. Go there for the barbeque , but sample the sides which include collards, cabbage, yams and banana pudding.
Prime Smokehouse bills itself as barbecue and beyond, and it’s a great destination for date night (just ask the Worsingers), or to gather with friends. If you can only order one meal, Mr. Worsinger suggests the ribs, but there are lots of winners on this menu. Think Eastern NC meets Texas-style barbecue. And then there’s jazz. Rocky Mount is the birthplace of jazz great Thelonius Monk as well as music legend Harold Vick. Live jazz happens at the restaurant on a regular schedule. In fact, owner Ed Wiley grew up listening his father, jazz great Ed Wiley Jr. And it was a logical marriage for the restaurant.
Main Course at Belmont is at Belmont Lake Golf Club, a charming community in Rocky Mount with an 18-hole championship golf course that’s open to the public. Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, the food is very good and the atmosphere welcoming. It’s a good option, especially for golfers.
Lou Reda’s: An American Table is another culinary winner where you can choose from brisket sandwiches and prime cuts of beef, or perhaps a yellow fin tuna and crab stack. Reviewers rave about the char-grilled oyster starters and the fantastic presentation. The blackberry margarita sounds absolutely sublime. Open for brunch on Sundays, and lunch and dinner other days.
Milton and Miles It’s a great little lunch place within the Imperial Centre (more about that, soon). Try the Turkey Cran Panini, with housemade cranberry sauce, or perhaps the Croque Monsieur, with caramelized onions, ham and Gruyere cheese.
The Highway Diner is not fancy, but it has a loyal following and the reviewers on Urbanspoon are uniform in their praise of the food and service. Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and includes a take-out option. If you’re there for lunch, their homemade meatloaf sounds delish!
OK, we have you settled in. Now it’s time to get down to the business of exploring what this town offers the intrepid traveler.
Today, we’ll concentrate on history and the arts.
If history’s your passion, start at the Stonewall Manor. You’ll need to call ahead, but it’s worth it. Built around 1830 by Bennett Bunn, a prosperous planter in Nash County, Stonewall gives you a wonderful glimpse of the Antebellum Plantation Lifestyle of the South. Stonewall's scale and sophistication of design make it one of the truly elegant plantation houses in North Carolina.
They’re open to the public for tours during regularly scheduled hours as well as by appointment.
Head downtown and stroll along the Douglas Block a renovated section of town which was the African American business district during the period of segregation. There were a number of businesses which flourished in this area which was considered the heart of the community. It is said that on Saturdays, folks could find doctors, food, and lots of entertainment, including jazz. Today, the Booker T. Theater, which opened as the Savoy Theater in 1929, has been restored and reopened as a multi-purpose entertainment facility. Be sure to check with the Visitor’s Center to find out what’s happening while you’re in town.
Next, head to the Imperial Centre for the Arts & Sciences. One of the premier cultural facilities on the eastern seaboard, it occupies the combined former sites of the Imperial Tobacco company and old Braswell Memorial Library. The complex houses an Arts Center, Children's Museum & Science Center, and community performing arts theatre. The 135,000 square foot facility houses the Children’s Museum & Science Center, Arts Center, Community Theater, a lovely gift shop, and Milton and Miles, a perfect stop for lunch.
For those of us old enough to remember train travel and the elaborate model train sets some of our friends had, the Rocky Mountain Railroad Museum, housed within the Children’s Museum, will be a great stop, especially with children. Interactive model trains, plus memorabilia provide a fun experience for all.
Scheduled to open soon is the Rocky Mount Brewmill, and for beer lovers, it’s reason enough to plan a road trip to the area. Originally an old textile mill, the brewmill is planned as a multi-purpose facility for start-up brewery companies. For example, would-be brewers can rent a brewery station, and use the packaging facility, while taking advantage of educational programs, and even residential housing if you’re really serious about your beer intentions. You might even finish with your very own handcrafted pint of beer that you can drink. Check them out on Facebook. Hopefully, your day is done and you’ve hit on a night when you can find live jazz in the city, or perhaps entertainment at one of the restored facilities. Enjoy your evening, because tomorrow, you’ll need your walking shoes.
If you’re not eating breakfast at your hotel, remember the Highway Diner as a possibility, although there are several more options as well.
You visited downtown yesterday, but there’s more to explore, so begin at the Bel Air Artisan’s Center. It’s housed in an historic 1924 building, with many artist studios and a 2,000 sq. ft. art gallery. Thirteen studios are occupied by painters, fiber artists and furniture makers. Gallery artists include potters, wood carvers, jewelers, industrial artists, painters and more. Your inner artist will be inspired, even as you find treasures for yourself and your family and friends.
Next, plan to stop at The Bath Place, where local entrepreneur Kimberly thigpen creates handcrafted natural bath and body products (these products are shipped nationwide and are now available for sale at Whole Foods markets). Originally developed in response to her husband’s skin condition, the product line is extensive, including a lemongrass and apricot seed bar, which sounds scrumptious.
Plan to stroll along Main Street for shops and boutiques to find more delightful goodies to take home. Folks also can enjoy shopping at Golden East Crossing a large shopping mall with great stores.
After lunch, you’ll want to explore the parks and walking trails in and around Rocky Mount.
Battle Park is the town’s largest park, with 57 acres, trails that lead to historic sites, scenic overlooks and the “Great Falls of the Tar River.”
Sunset Park is great for kids, with its miniature train, historic carousel and spray park during summer.
The new Tar River Trail is a 3.5 mile walking or bike trail along the Tar River. The scenery and history are delightful and it leads through Martin Luther King Park, site where Dr. Martin Luther King made one of his first references to “I have a dream” before the iconic speech was given in Washington. (There’s also homage paid to Rocky Mount native Thelonius Monk one of the world’s jazz greats.)
Water enthusiasts can enjoy the Tar River Paddle Trail, with ten canoe and kayak access locations connecting more than 50 miles of the Tar River and Stony Creek.
If you want to play a round of golf, you’ll have choices. three golf courses that the public/private or fully public – Belmont Lakes, Benvenue Country Club and North Green Country Club.
You’ll want to see what’s happening at North Carolina Wesleyan College, with its active events calendar.
And, check out the Rocky Mount Sports Complex which hosts a number of regional events for sports enthusiasts.
As you are making plans, be sure to visit www.RockyMountTravel.com for the latest in visitor information.
And one final note: According to the Chronicle of Philanthropy’s, “How America Gives,” Rocky Mount is the most charitable town in North Carolina. That speaks volumes about the kind of community you'll find when you take your road trip.