Hamilton, incorporated in 1804
and located on the Roanoke River, long prospered as a bustling
commercial port. Shallow-draft steamboats, the cotton gin and a
burgeoning textile trade here and abroad brought river traffic to its
peak during the years preceding the Civil War.
The small but thriving town might have been even more prosperous before
the Civil War if any of several efforts to improve land travel had been
successful. Proposals in 1832 to establish a railroad from Hamilton to
Tarboro, and in the 1850s to build plank roads to Tarboro and
Murfreesboro were each abandoned in the discussion stage.
Many of Hamilton's fine old homes were built during this period
(1830-1850) and are found today in the town's National Register Historic
District. The district includes some of the finest antebellum homes
assembled in the county. It also includes the circa-1881 St. Martin's
Episcopal Church, a remarkably unaltered and sophisticated example of
the Gothic Revival frame church from the early post Civil War period. It
is one of the most outstanding examples of frame Victorian Gothic
architecture in Eastern North Carolina.
Conoho Masonic Lodge, organized in 1850, provided social pursuits. The
Lodge building still stands today and is architecturally significant as
a temple form building, few of which remain in North Carolina. The
nearby location of the fairgrounds of the Martin County Agricultural
Society made the town the focus of the county's farmers and citizens
during annual autumn fairs held from 1853 to 1860, which added
considerably to the town's activities and importance. A self-guided
walking tour of homes and other buildings in Historic Hamilton is
available from the Hamilton Town Hall.
Hamilton did not escape the ravages of the Civil War and there were
frequent skirmishes along the Roanoke River and nearby at the
Confederate Fort Branch. It is believed that many antebellum buildings
in Hamilton were burned during Union occupation of the town. The most
serious Union visit occurred in December 1864 when an unsuccessful
assault was made on Fort Branch.
After the Civil War, tobacco and peanuts replaced cotton as the area's
major commodity and another era of prosperity brought new steamers and
barges to keep passengers, produce and merchandise moving up and down
the East Coast. In Hamilton, residents were building the lovely Queen
Anne homes and Gothic coastal cottages and churches that you see on a
walk about town.
Today, the river is a prime recreational resource, with a NC Wildlife
Boat Ramp and parking area located at the foot of Main Street just down
from Town Hall off NC 125. This wharf area was a hubbub of activity
during the 19th Century, Hamilton's heyday as a commercial port.
Info from Historic Hamilton:
National Register of Historic Places Historic District brochure, by the
Historic Hamilton Commission Inc. And, Martin Architectural Heritage:
The Historic Architecture of a Rural North Carolina County, edited by
Thomas R. Butchko.