The settlement that would be called Washington appeared in the 1770s, when James Bonner started a town on his farm, which bordered the Pamlico and Tar Rivers. First called Forks of the Tar, the name was changed in 1776 to Washington in honor of General George Washington, making the Original Washington the first town to be named after our First President.
Washington played a strategic role during the War for Independence. With the ports of Savannah, Charles Town, and Wilmington under British siege, the Continental Army relied on Washington as a supply port. After the war, the town grew in importance as a commercial and cultural center due to its prized location on navigable waterways. Washington soon established itself as the economic center of Beaufort County and its agriculture, fishing, and commerce trades. Near the end of the Eighteenth Century, the County Seat of government was relocated from Bath to Washington, since it had a more central location in Beaufort County, which was and still is split in two by the Pamlico-Tar River.
Washington fell to Federal troops early during the War Between the States, consequently stifling the town's role in that war. The war left Washington devastated. Federal forces set fire to naval stores they were forced to leave behind as they vacated Washington under threats from the Confederate Army. The fire swept across the town destroying most of Washington's early buildings of historical and architectural significance.
Residents rebuilt the town only to see it destroyed again by fire on September 3, 1900. A faulty stove flue sparked flames which consumed much of the city's rebuilt central business district. Much of the downtown area's late Victorian commercial architecture was rebuilt in the decade after this second fire and still remains as one of the most intact and historically and architecturally significant commercial downtown areas in eastern North Carolina.
In 1969, Washington undertook a major renovation project and witnessed the construction of Stewart Parkway, a road and park parallelling the waterfront area. This project included the construction of a 1,500 foot long walkway and bulkhead along the Pamlico River designed for both pedestrian and boat traffic. In 1978, the Washington Historic District was established and placed on the National Register of Historic Places, encompassing more than 600 properties in the central business district and residential areas on both sides. Structures in the Historic District date mainly from the late 1800s and early 1900's, but include several structures dating from the late 1700s and early 1800s, which were able to survive the two tragic fires. A period of downtown revitalization which began in the early 1990s continues today. New and exciting shops and restaurants continue to operate and open in the historic downtown area, overlooking the Pamlico River. In 2002, the City of Washington completed the Renaissance and Stormwater Management projects, that expanded boater and pedestrian access to Washington's waterfront, enhanced parking and traffic flow, and created a stronger tie between the waterfront, the Historic District and downtown.
Today, Washington maintains an important position in Eastern North Carolina. As a City of approximately 10,000 people and a greater community of approximately 26,000 residents, Washington remains the economic, cultural, recreational, and medical center of Beaufort County and of several other counties as well. The rivers, although no longer vital to the shipping trade, supply a valuable recreational, ecological, and aesthetic resource. With the renewed interest in historic preservation and downtown revitalization, Washington is a city that truly lives up to its motto: "Pride in the past, faith in the future."
Revised March 2002