The Story of North Carolina

Walk through 14,000 years of North Carolina history in our signature exhibit.


About the Exhibit


The Story of North Carolina, the largest exhibit ever produced at the N.C. Museum of History in Raleigh, opened to rave reviews in 2011. This permanent exhibit traces life in North Carolina from its earliest inhabitants through the 20th century. Admission is free.

More than 14,000 years of the state’s history unfold through fascinating artifacts, multimedia presentations, dioramas, and hands-on interactive components. Additionally, two full-size historic houses and several re-created environments immerse museum visitors in places where North Carolinians have lived and worked. Yet the heart of The Story of North Carolina focuses on the people — both well-known and everyday citizens — who shaped the Tar Heel State.

Ken Howard, our museum's director, describes the exhibit well:

This engaging, interactive exhibit encourages visitors of all ages to see, hear and experience the state’s history. We believe that visitors come away with a deeper understanding and appreciation of the people and events in North Carolina.

Highlights in the first part of The Story of North Carolina include American Indian life, European settlement, piracy, the American Revolution and early 1800s farm life. The exhibit continues through the antebellum era, the Civil War, the rise of industry, the Great Depression, the two World Wars, and the Civil Rights movement.


A few of the exhibit’s captivating artifacts follow.


  • Stone tools dating from 12,000 to 1000 B.C.E. that were used by the state’s earliest inhabitants. Although they left no written history, their tools tell us about their lives.
  • A cannon, pewter plate, gold flakes and other items recovered from the shipwreck that is the pirate Blackbeard’s flagship, Queen Anne’s Revenge. The shipwreck was discovered at Beaufort Inlet in 1996.
  • The state’s fourth-oldest house. Visitors can step inside the restored house that carpenter Solomon Robson built in Pitt County in 1742.

  • A restored slave cabin from Martin County. Seven enslaved African Americans lived in this one-room house in 1860.
  • Civil War flags, weapons, uniforms and other artifacts that bring to life the experiences of soldiers in battle and citizens on the home front. These include a Confederate battle flag carried by the 7th Regiment N.C. State Troops at the Battle of Gettysburg and an 1861 early-production Fayetteville rifle produced at the Fayetteville Arsenal and Armory.
  • A full-size replica of the 1903 Wright Flyer. The Wright brothers’ first flight took place on Dec. 17, 1903, at Kitty Hawk.
  • A lunch counter that played a pivotal role in a 1960 sit-in in Salisbury during the Civil Rights movement.

Interactive experiences appear throughout the exhibit. In a re-created weaving room of an early 20th-century textile mill, for example, visitors can watch the lint fly, hear the ear-piercing machinery and feel the vibrating floor. The exhibit’s hands-on format appeals to all ages. Video presentations delve deeper into subjects such as secession, Reconstruction, and the Wilmington Race Riot.

Major sponsors of the exhibit are the Josephus Daniels Charitable Fund of the Triangle Community Foundation; SECU Foundation; GlaxoSmithKline; Bank of America; Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina; Reynolds American Foundation; Senator and Mrs. James T. Broyhill; Mr. and Mrs. Kenneth B. Howard; Mr. and Mrs. S. Davis Phillips; Mr. and Mrs. W. Trent Ragland Jr.; Wachovia, A Wells Fargo Company; Duke Energy, First Citizens Bank, John R. and Carolyn J. Maness Family Foundation; Pearce Brinkley Cease + Lee; Sallie Boyle Phillips; Progress Energy; Mr. and Mrs. W. Dunlop White Jr.; and Mr. and Mrs. Robert G. Wright.

Click here to see more pictures of the exhibit