North Carolina, nicknamed the “the Tar Heel State,” is filled with a rich history of colonial heritage, Appalachian culture, and noteworthy natural landmarks.
Encompassing 53,819 square miles, the state’s diverse landscape ranges from coastal plains and fertile Piedmont to placid mountain lakes and towering mountains that are perfect for snow skiing and snow tubing.
Although locals grew up learning about North Carolina history, there are still many North Carolina facts that even longtime residents may not be familiar with.
For instance, did you know that the official North Carolina state bird is the Cardinal, the state wildflower is the Carolina Lily, the state sport is stock car racing, and the state stone is the Emerald?
Read on for more interesting trivia, including 30 fascinating facts about North Carolina State history and culture.
Facts About North Carolina State Guide
- North Carolina History Facts
- Famous North Carolina Icons
- State of North Carolina Landmarks
- Fun Facts About North Carolina
- Interesting Facts About North Carolina
- North Carolina Music Facts
- North Carolina Food Facts
North Carolina History Facts
1) The first English settlement in America, on Roanoke Island NC, was founded by explorer Sir Walter Raleigh, in 1585. But the North Carolina colony mysteriously vanished after Raleigh returned to England, with only the word “Croatoan” left behind on a tree. It has since become known as “The Lost Colony” of Roanoke.
2) North Carolina is one of the United States’ original 13 colonies. North Carolina was founded in 1653, and remained an English colony until 1776. It then rebelled against Britain and joined the American war of independence.
3) North Carolina was the first state to tell its delegates to vote for independence from Britain during the 1774-1776 Continental Congress. The NC Continental Congress representatives were Joseph Hew, William Hooper, and John Penn.
4) Born in Bath NC, Blackbeard frequented the North Carolina coast during the Golden Age of Piracy in the 1700s. He was killed by British troops near the Outer Banks in 1718. The North Carolina Museum of History in Raleigh has an excellent exhibit about the pirate’s life, Blackbeard’s Queen Anne’s Revenge, 1718: The Legend of Blackbeard.
5) Orville and Wilbur Wright’s first flight was in Kitty Hawk NC on December 17, 1903. The Wright Brothers National Memorial at Kitty Hawk now memorializes this event. Because of this flight, NC license plates read “First In Flight.”
6) A defining moment of the Civil Rights movement took place in 1960, when the “Greensboro Four” led sit-ins at a segregated Woolworth’s lunch counter. Four black students refused to leave after being denied service, inspiring similar actions in nearby college towns. The Greensboro NC site is now home to the International Civil Rights Center & Museum.
Famous North Carolina Icons
7) Actor/producer/writer/singer Andy Griffith was a native of the tiny mountain town of Mount Airy NC, which inspired the town of Mayberry on The Andy Griffith Show. Due to the enduring popularity of Griffith and the show, Mt Airy residents often refer to the town as “Mayberry” to this day.
8) Actress Ava Gardner was a Grabtown NC native. Known for classic films such as The Killers (1946), Mongambo (1953), and The Night of the Iguana (1964), she received numerous Golden Globe awards and Oscar nominations. She also notoriously married A-list celebs like Frank Sinatra, Artie Shaw, and Mickey Rooney.
9) Michael Jordan, widely considered the greatest basketball player of all time, played for the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. After winning the Naismith and Wooden College Player of the Year awards in 1984, he went on to win 6 NBA Championships with the Chicago Bulls. He is now principal owner and chairman of the Charlotte Hornets.
10) Famous novelist Nicholas Sparks is a New Bern, North Carolina native. Some of his most popular bestsellers include The Notebook, The Longest Ride, and Dear John, and several of his book have been turned into blockbuster movies.
State of North Carolina Landmarks
11) The Linn Cove Viaduct is an iconic engineering marvel on the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina. Described by the National Park Service as a “marriage of beauty with utility and habitat protection,” the bridge wraps around Grandfather Mountain and has become one of the most popular (and most photogenic) spots on the BRP.
12) George Vanderbilt’s 250-room Biltmore Estate in Asheville NC opened in 1895, after his first visits to the North Carolina mountains. The 8000-acre estate offers tours of the home, garden, and surrounding forests, with many great hiking trails nearby. The Biltmore has become the nation’s most-visited winery and a staple NC Christmas attraction.
13) The Cape Hatteras Light Station illuminates one of the most dangerous areas along the east coast, known as “The Graveyard of the Atlantic” for its myriad shipwrecks. Construction of the lighthouse began in 1799, and it went through extensive renovations in the 19th century. Due to current restorations, it will not be available for climbing in 2022.
14) The 228-foot-long Mile High Swinging Bridge at Grandfather Mountain in Linville NC spans the 80-foot chasm between Convention Table Rock and Linville Peak. The iconic landmark opened in 1952, and it remains one of the most popular tourist attractions in the North Carolina mountains today.
Fun Facts About North Carolina
15) Baseball legend George Herman Ruth Jr.– better known as Babe Ruth and “The Sultan of Swat”– hit his very first home run as a professional player in Fayetteville NC on March 7, 1914. He hit the home run during an inter-squad exhibition game at the Cape Fear Fairground.
16) Many scenes from The Hunger Games franchise, starring Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen, were filmed in North Carolina. The first movie was largely shot in abandoned locations in the NC towns of Asheville, Black Mountain, Cedar Mountain, Concord, Hildebran, and Shelby.
17) The Netflix series Outer Banks takes place on the North Carolina coast, and co-creator Jonas Pete lives in Wilmington NC. The show features countless references to NC landmarks, including UNC-Chapel Hill, Kildare Island, Masonboro Island, Wrightsville Beach’s Sweetwater Surf Shop, Frying Pan Shoals, and more.
18) North Carolina is the largest producer of sweet potatoes in the United States. In fact, more than 40% of the nation’s sweet potatoes are NC-grown. As a result, they are the official state vegetable.
Interesting Facts About North Carolina
19) The 2021 White House Christmas tree is from a West Jefferson, NC Christmas tree farm. The 18-foot-tall Fraser fir came from Peak Farms, which also provided the 2008 and 2012 Christmas trees. This is the 14th White House Christmas tree to come from North Carolina, which is more than any other US state!
20) Established in December 1789, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is the oldest state university and the first public university in the country. The first students arrived in 1795, when the college became the only public university to award degrees. The School of Law opened in 1845, followed by multiple other professional schools.
21) Opened in Raleigh in 1956, the North Carolina Museum of Art was the first state-owned art museum in the USA. The North Carolina State Art Society was formed in 1924, and the first exhibition spaces opened in 1929. The NC State Legislature donated $1 million to purchase a state art collection in 1947, and it has only grown in the years since.
22) High Point NC is known as “the furniture capital of the world,” with the High Point Market trade show offered every year in the spring and fall. The event attracts approximately 160,000 people to explore the work of roughly 2000 exhibitors in 180 buildings spanning more than 10 million square feet.
North Carolina Music Facts
23) Born in the town of Deep Gap, North Carolina legend Doc Watson won seven Grammy Awards and a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award for his unique blend of bluegrass, folk, country, blues, and gospel music. A statue of the revered musician sits on King Street in Boone NC, and Doc Watson Day is celebrated every year on June 18.
24) Born Eunice Kathleen Waymon in 1933, singer-songwriter and civil rights activist Nina Simone was a Tryon NC native. Best known for composing standards like “Feeling Good,” “I Put A Spell On You,” and “Mississippi Goddam,” the singer was awarded a Grammy Hall of Fame Award in 2000.
25) Cleveland County NC native Earl Scruggs started out as a member of Bill Monroe’s influential Blue Grass Boys. He introduced a unique 3-finger banjo picking style known as “Scruggs Style,” which changed the face of bluegrass music. Scruggs won four Grammy Awards and a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award before his death in 2012.
26) Born in Winston Salem NC, Ben Folds is widely regarded as one of the most important singer-songwriters of his generation. From alternative rock with Ben Folds Five and pop-rock solo albums to his recent classical crossovers, his diverse array of styles earned him a role as Artistic Advisor to the Kennedy Center’s National Symphony Orchestra.
27) Singer Kellie Pickler, a contestant on the fifth season of American Idol in 2006, is an Albemarle NC native. Although she finished sixth in the competition, Pickler has gone on to release four studio albums and 13 singles, including country hits like “Red High Heels,” “Best Days of Your Life,” and “Didn’t Know How Much I Loved You.”
North Carolina Food Facts
28) North Carolina is the birthplace of Pepsi-Cola, which was created by New Bern NC resident Caleb D. Bradham in 1893. Originally called “Brad’s Drink,” the soda was produced and sold at Bradham’s New Bern drugstore. It was renamed Pepsi-Cola in 1898, and later shortened to Pepsi in 1961.
29) In 1929, Texas Pete Hot Sauce was created in Winston-Salem NC by Sam Garner and his sons, Thad, Ralph, and Harold. The Texas Pete factory is still located on Garner family land in Winston-Salem.
30) Krispy Kreme was also founded in Winston-Salem NC by Vernon Randolph in 1937. Randolph learned a secret dough-raising recipe, rented a building in Old Salem, and began selling donuts to grocery stores and people passing by. Franchising began in the 1940s, and Krispy Kreme ultimately grew to be the second-largest donut chain in the United States. –by Maggie Watts; lead image of Linn Cove Viaduct by Bret Love & Mary Gabbett