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Exploring Roanoke Rapids

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Explore the Canal’s Place in History

The nearly 200-year-old Roanoke Canal played an important role in opening trade and transportation to the western frontier of the newly created United States. For a while, it operated as a source of water power to generate electricity. To save the remains of this historic treasure, a commission was formed to undertake restoration and preservation work. In 1976, the canal was placed on the National Register of Historic Places, ensuring that this crucial part of the area’s history will be around for future generations.

The former towpath running alongside the canal, where animals once pulled boats along the slow-moving water, is today a recreation path that connects the town of Roanoke Rapids with Weldon, 7.5 miles away. Alongside the former towpath on which the trail is built, the remains of the canal system tell the story of the products transported from the mountains of the South to the East Coast seaports. The canal was also an important part of the Underground Railroad in this region, where many found their way to freedom on its waters.

The Roanoke Canal Museum contains both traditional and interactive exhibits to show how the canal, with its locks and aqueduct, were constructed, as well as the transformation of the former trade route into the greenway it is today. Short films share the research and oral histories of people who had lived along the river and canal. A children’s section gets kids interested in history and the natural world through hands-on activities, like drawing, wearing costumes, and building blocks.

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Despite having no formal training, local muralist Napoleon Hill has created several spectacular murals in Halifax County, depicting the rich cultural history of this region. Hill’s work appears in three locations in Roanoke Rapids. A large piece, at 15 Jackson Street along the Roanoke Canal Trail, shows scenes on the canal, including a boat entering a nearby tunnel and men building barrels in which ship the area’s goods to port. Another on the corner of East 14th Street and Roanoke Avenue shows a cotton warehouse alongside the canal, with its white, fluffy product ready to begin its journey on the canal. The third mural, located on the corner of Virginia Avenue and Wyche Street—known as Sarah Keyes Evans Plaza—features a portrait of Sarah Keyes Evans, a civil rights pioneer from Roanoke Rapids. In 1952, Evans, a private in the Black Women’s Army Corps, refused to give up her seat on an interstate bus for a white Marine. She received a fine for disorderly conduct, but her story doesn’t end there. She filed a complaint that eventually lead to the Interstate Commerce Commission ruling that prohibited segregation on interstate buses. The mural also shows a view of the bus station and the police station, where Evans was given her fine.

Outdoor Art

Dining and Drinking

Dining and Drinking

Oscar's Restaurant, opened in 1953, offers diners a comfortable, down-home vibe with home-style cooking and Southern personality. Start off with a hearty breakfast—ham steak, eggs, corned beef hash, and grits—and check out the daily features for what’s served each day for lunch and dinner. Hungry for a steak? Haggerty’s Steakhouse has just the meal for you, with a variety of cuts, as well as grilled chicken and pork chops and burgers for those wanting something other than steak. The warm, cozy atmosphere makes even a spur-of-the-moment dinner feel special. For bright, flavorful Mediterranean fare, try O Aetos. This upscale yet relaxed restaurant features updated classics, such as moussaka and braised lamb shanks, as well as hand-held gyros and souvlaki for lunches on the go. Make sure to save room for a decadent piece of baklava. For a cup of coffee to get you going in the morning, or a light snack and latte for an afternoon break, stop in The Mill Coffee and Eatery. Not only is the food top-notch and the coffee perfectly brewed, by eating here, you’ll be supporting a good cause. The café aims to provide the opportunity to young adults with intellectual challenges to work in a people-facing environment as a step on their way to becoming active, productive adults. Here, a quick cup of coffee can be much more than just a drink; it can be a step on a young person’s journey to their future.

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Dining and Drinking

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Shopping

If you’re in the market for an antique metal-door pie safe or a 19th-century American mahogany and maple chest of drawers, you’ll love the goods in Pepper & Doughtie’s Antiques & Gifts. They also have a substantial collection of restored grandfather clocks that are worth looking at. With inventory updated regularly, you never know what treasure you’ll find in this shop. Likewise, at Rivertown Consignments, a perusal of the wares could turn up a retired oak wine barrel, a contemporary nickel-finish floor lamp, or felt-topped cherry game table. Describing their inventory as “upscale resale,” this isn’t your typical secondhand goods store.