The museum and heritage center focuses on life as it was in the 'Down East' communities of eastern North Carolina. Traditionally, 'Down East' refers to the fishing villages east of Beaufort, NC, and more specifically (and depending on your source), east of the North River bridge. Nowadays, however, you may see 'talking heads' in the media including Harkers Island, Beaufort and even Morehead City.
There are a dozen or so villages along US Highway 50 between Beaufort and Cedar Island. They have a long and colorful history, based on fishing, hunting, and farming. In days of yore, mail was delivered by boat ('the mailboat'), and most residents' lives were deeply affected by the water - Core Sound, Pamlico Sound, the rivers and estuaries, and the Atlantic Ocean. Largely isolated until relatively recently - I would say the last quarter of the 20th century - Down Easters have maintained a richly distinctive set of dialects, traditions, and lifestyles, all of which are presented in some form by the museum.
Though the museum centers on waterfowling and the decoy carving that became an art form by local craftsmen, who also hunted and fished and so knew what they were about with their carving, there are some excellent exhibits for each of the Down East villages. These are mostly on the second floor. While there are some notes and descriptions with the exhibits, the museum is a bit lacking in clearly presenting some of this information. This can be especially discomfiting to those visitors who know little or nothing about the area. For those of us who grew up in or around these parts, the museum is a wonderful collection of memorabilia and presents a marvelous trip down memory lane.
Exhibits include some excellent examples of boatbuilders' modeling, decoy carving, and artwork. The quilting exhibits are every bit as noteworthy as the decoy exhibits.
The museum is well-maintained, clean, and spacious. Staff are welcoming and friendly, though sometimes a bit disorganized. This is not serious enough to detract from a genuine enjoyment of the place.
There is an observation point on the roof, which also offers protection from light to moderate rains, and presents a great opportunity to observe birds as they pass by between sound and marsh.
The museum grounds are well-kept, with a good variety of flowering plants along the building's exterior walkways. If you like taking flower shots, you can get some good ones here.
This is last year's gallery by Leece:
shows the quilts and the village exhibits quite well. It includes some photos from the rooftop observation point, and some taken along the short trail that runs from behind the museum down to Back Sound and then over to the Cape Lookout National Seashore Visitor Center. This is a great walk, especially if you have children with you. It does run through the maritime forest and along the marsh, so a good supply of mosquito repellent is an absolute necessity.
This gallery, also from one of earlier visits, has some good photos of a little blue heron, taken from the blind on Willow Pond:
Willow Pond is right behind the museum. Take mosquito repellent with you.
Here is this year's Willow Pond gallery:
and includes some good shots of the ubiquitous white ibis that hang out in the area, as well as Willow Pond and the blind.
While here is this year's Museum gallery:
which shows some of the decoys and boat and ship models.
While you can visit one or the other - the museum or Willow Pond - we always do both, and often make a couple or three trips to Willow Pond and the Soundside Trail when we are back that way. Sometimes you won't see much - or at least much that is obvious, which is why we suggest 'looking small' - while at others, the blind offers a continual stream of photo opportunities. Take moquito repellent with you.
The Cape Lookout National Seashore Visitor Center is a couple of hundred yards further down the road, and is also well worth a visit. There is a picnic area across from the visitor center with covered tables, which is a good place to have a lunch or a snack and let any younger kids you may have with you run around and burn off some energy.
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.