Monday, August 31, 2009

Where is N.C.'s 'Down East'?

A recent column on the art and craft of wooden boatbuilding mentioned "Down East" North Carolina and referred to it as that part of the state on the yon side of the lower Neuse River -- and communities such as Davis, Stacy and Atlantic. (I know: Maine has its own Down East, and fine boatbuilders, too.) Like most North Carolinians, I've heard the term applied to a much larger area of the Eastern N.C., but I believe it most accurately describes a particular section north of Cape Lookout and west of Core Sound, including Core Sound. If it had a capital, it would be Harkers Island. But like all good things North Carolinian, it's a matter of some contention. Barbecue, for example.

One of the contentious is an old friend and former newspaper editor who had this to say in an e-mail:

I really enjoyed your column the other day, but I have questions about your definition of Down East. Does it really begin east of the Neuse River? I'm not sure. As a native of Goldsboro and a 23-year veteran of the Claude Sitton era News & Observer (where we had such discussions many times a day!), I always believed it to be anything east of Raleigh. Course, you have your view and I have mine. You are indeed the fella who swears the best North Carolina barbecue is available in Henderson. Har! Let's have lunch sometime.

My reply: While a great many folks in the Piedmont think Down East is anything east of Raleigh (or more specifically east of I-95), folks who are a little more familiar with geography than (yikes!) Claude Sitton argue that Down East really means those little towns northeast of Beaufort, specifically Harkers Island and places like Stacy, Bettie and Davis. I hestitate to offer an Internet source as proof of anything, but for what it is worth, here's Wikipedia's take on this issue:

"In North Carolina, "Down East" historically refers to the group of communities east of Beaufort in Carteret County in the Coastal Plain region of the state. The residents of Down East Carteret County have referred to their group of communities by this name for many decades, but recently that the media has broadened this term to encompass the central Coastal Plains region of the state. Many residents of these communities feature a High tider accent, a dialect remnant of Elizabethan English that was once spoken in colonial Carolina. This dialect is indigenous to the lowland areas of North Carolina, in combination with the general southern accent of the Southeastern region."

Now, as to barbecue: I haven't looked at it in awhile but I believe I said the best combination of barbecue, slaw, puppies, Brunswick stew and other trimmings is at (or was) at Nunnery Freeman in Henderson. But what you missed is that I said the best barbecue in North Carolina is at Wilber's in Goldsboro. 'Course, that's a distinction that would probably go right over Claude's head, too, he being a Georgian now, and all.

For the record, here's what I wrote [back in 1997]:
"If the question is best barbecue, period, then my answer is Wilber Shirley's peppery, chopped barbecue cooked the old way - over hardwood coals just behind his one-story red-brick restaurant on Goldsboro's east side. They sell a ton of barbecue here because it's done right. There's atmosphere, too, which is not that common in barbecue restaurants. Wilber keeps pictures of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Jimmy Valvano to remind you that he's a Democrat and an N.C. State fan. The barbecue is first rate, and so is the barbecued chicken. There are those who'll argue it's the best barbecue joint in the South, though others say another Goldsboro joint, Scott's, is even better. But I stop at Wilber's. The meat is a highly flavored, darker brown barbecue you won't soon forget."

Happy to hear from you and to correct the record!


Anonymous said...

Us folks up here in the mountains of WNC country consider anything east of Morganton to be "down east". I guess it all depend on your perspective. :-)

Anonymous said...

I thought anything south and east of Ashe County was Down East!

Anonymous said...

"Down East" is one of the best kept secrets in NC. Let's keep em confused about its location. The small towns are little changed by the boom that's ruined many of our coastal towns.

Anonymous said...

Both Wilber's and Scott's barbecue are delicious! Those places were the most enjoyable parts of business trips to Goldsboro.

Karen Willis Amspacher said...

OK .. I am a Down East native and I can clarify this confusion very easily. EAST of NORTH RIVER BRIDGE is Down East. TV stations and uplanders have tried to lay claim but WE are the real and original and everything west of us who want to consider themselves Down East are just wishing! For more information and

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