Carteret County is a beautiful coastal county that’s home to North Carolina’s third oldest town – Beaufort. Formerly known as Fishtown due to the importance of the area’s fishing industry, Beaufort is also the county seat. This municipality was established in 1713 and has since been named one of America’s favorite towns by Travel + Leisure Magazine. Carteret is a quiet county that includes just 11 municipalities. While Beaufort is the county’s oldest city, the popular coastal town of Morehead City is the largest.
Historic North Carolina
The Native American tribes that originally lived in Carteret County include the Hatteras, Core, Neuse, and Tuscarora. The Tuscarora were viewed as the most dominant tribe in the region. They regularly clashed with settlers, leading to the Tuscarora War between 1711 and 1713. Following their defeat in the war, the Tuscarora left the region and resettled in the New York area.
The Europeans who first arrived in the region included French Huguenot, German, Scotch-Irish, and English settlers. Many came from other American colonies to the north, including Quakers from Rhode Island who arrived in the area around 1721.
Originally part of Craven County, Carteret County was officially founded in 1722. The county was named for Sir John Carteret—later known as the Earl of Granville—one of North Carolina’s Lord Proprietors.
The Crystal Coast
Carteret County is located in the Outer Coastal Plain region of North Carolina on the eastern coast. This area lies just above sea level and is home to many wetlands. In fact, the county has more water area than land area. The land area encompasses 507 square miles while the water area takes up an expansive 822 square miles.
The Pamlico Sound creates the county’s northern border, and the Atlantic Ocean borders the county to the south and east. The county has a particularly unique landscape because it includes several barrier islands. These are long strings of land that sit just off the mainland. They include Bogue Banks, Core Banks, Shackleford Banks, and the southern end of the Outer Banks.
Locally, the region that Carteret County encompasses is known as the Crystal Coast. The expansive 80 miles of coastline, wealth of islands, and pristine beaches means this area is a popular tourist destination. Some popular spots among the area’s many beach communities include Atlantic Beach, Cedar Point, Emerald Isle, Harkers Island, Indian Beach, Morehead City, and Newport.
Plenty of room to spread out
Carteret County has a modest population of 69,473. There’s plenty of room to spread out here since the area has a population density of just 131 people per square mile.
Of the county’s residents, 90.1% are White, 5.6% are African American, 0.6 are American Indian, 1.3% are Asian, 0.2% are Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Island, and 4.4% are Hispanic or Latino. There’s a fairly small immigrant population here, with 3.1% of the population born in another country.
This county has a well-educated populace. The high school graduation rate sits at 91.6%, which is comfortably above the statewide average of 87.8%.
Booming tourism industry
With so many beautiful beaches and miles of coastline, it’s no surprise that tourism makes up a large chunk of Carteret County’s economy. That industry accounts for 3,200 of the county’s jobs and brings in a yearly total of about $325 million.
The proximity to the ocean also means that there are several marine science facilities that contribute greatly to the region’s economy. These include Duke University Marine Lab, University of North Carolina Institute of Marine Science, North Carolina State University Center for Marine Science and Technology, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Center for Coastal Fisheries and Habitat Research.
The Morehead City State Port is also a major factor in the local economy. It’s among the east coast’s deepest ports and is the country’s second biggest importer of natural rubber. Phosphate, lumber, steel, and wood pulp also commonly travel through this port.
Overall, the area’s largest industries are retail, healthcare/social assistance, and accommodations/food service. The most common jobs are sales, management, and office/administrative support. Of the working age population, 55.8% are employed in the labor force. The county’s median household income is $57,194, which is higher than the state average of $54,602.
The county’s top employers revolve around education, healthcare, retail, and government. The area’s largest employer is Carteret County Public Schools. Carteret Community College is also among the top 10 biggest employers. The second highest employer for the county is Carteret General Hospital. The Carteret County government comes in as the third largest employer, and the Town of Morehead City also ranks among the top 10. Several retail businesses made the top 10 list, including Wal-Mart, Lowe's Home Improvement, Big Rock Sports, and Food Lion.
History and beaches
This seaside county has plenty of attractions to entice visitors, including historic sites, museums, beach communities, wilderness, and more.
For a view of some historic landmarks, start with Fort Macon State Park. Located on Bogue Banks, Fort Macon was the site of a major Civil War battle. The fort was surrendered by the Confederates and later used as a prison after the war. In addition to touring this historic monument, you can also enjoy the park’s nature trails and pristine shoreline designated for swimming and fishing.
Cape Lookout Lighthouse is another major historic spot. Built in 1859 on Harkers Island, this lighthouse stands 163 feet tall. You can climb to the top and enjoy stunning views of the Cape Lookout National Seashore. You may even spot some of the area’s wild horses. Then, visit the original lighthouse keeper’s residence, which has been converted into a museum.
As North Carolina’s third oldest town, Beaufort is a great spot to get a dose of history. In particular, the Beaufort Historic Site is a necessary stop on any tour of the county. It showcases nine buildings dating from the 18th and 19th centuries when Beaufort was just a small fishing village. Tour the historic homes in the two-acre area and view reenactments of life in historic Beaufort.
If you’d like to check out some museums while you’re in the area, head to the North Carolina Maritime Museum in Beaufort. This museum explores everything to do with coastal life, including exhibits on lighthouses, motorboats, and the seafood industry. There’s even a display of artifacts from the infamous pirate Blackbeard’s ship, Queen Anne’s Revenge.
If you can’t get enough of ocean life, the North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores should be your next stop. You’ll see otters, stingrays, sharks, sea turtles, and more. Along with the wildlife, there’s also a Living Shipwreck that features an underwater replica of a German submarine that sunk off of North Carolina’s coast in 1942.
With a name like the Crystal Coast, you can bet there are some great beach communities in this region. From Atlantic Beach, with its renowned beaches, to Emerald Isle, with its plentiful opportunities for water sports, there’s something for all beachgoers to enjoy.
Finally, if you’d like to spend some time out in the wilderness, there are several fantastic parks to discover. At the Croatan National Forest, you can explore 159,000 acres of estuaries and woodlands. There are plenty of recreation options here, like camping, swimming, hiking, fishing and more. Theodore Roosevelt Natural Area is another favorite spot for a hike. This 265-acre park houses one of the area’s few remaining maritime forests. Cedar Island National Wildlife Refuge is another great recreation spot for boating, hiking, or bird watching. This 11,000-acre space has a unique environment mainly consisting of brackish marsh and woodlands.