This weekend, my family and I visited New Bern. This small coastal town is remarkable for many reasons, but my chief interest in it is the history. If you’ve read my first novel, The Pirate’s Bastard, you know I’m all about history. So is New Bern. The streets and buildings are steeped in it. New Bern’s history goes way beyond colonial, though.
For instance, the new education center was built on the site of Balbour Boatworks, a manufacturer of pleasure craft until it turned its incredible boat-making muscle toward building mine sweepers for World War II as part of the lend-lease deal. If you “don’t know much about history, ” New Bern’s educational center is a great place to start. Part of the war effort seen in New Bern’s modern – if you could call it that—landscape is still visible on Hancock Street. The train track that used to carry parts to Balbour Boatworks is still there. It also carried soldiers, Marines, and other military personnel to the town for nights at the USO, a soda at nearby shops, or a fun day before shipping out. I can easily imagine young girls leaning over porch rails to ogle handsome men in uniform of every description.
Pleasure-craft docks, as plentiful now as they are in the music-filled marina, were few in 1942 but they mingled amidst the huge ships being launched at Balbour. A couple sailing into New Bern for a day or a weekend was certainly welcome. I can imagine that the noisy shipyard sounds and noxious smells greeting them were far less pleasant than what we experienced over the weekend.
Visiting a place like New Bern is an incredible treat for a writer of historical fiction. You will be able to learn more about New Bern’s past in my forthcoming novel, Leaving Lukens, which is set in 1942. For more information, check out http://www.laurawhartonbooks.com.
Laura S. Wharton is the author of The Pirate’s Bastard and the forthcoming novel, Leaving Lukens. Read more of her blog entries at http://laurawharton.blogspot.com/