Officially entered into the National Register of Historic Places in 1973, New Bern's Downtown Historic District is a very attractive, 56-square-block area that grew for more than two centuries at the confluence of the Neuse and Trent rivers. Including land west to Queen Street, the neighborhood contains the town's oldest and most distinguished homes, buildings and landscape elements representing New Bern's growth. The changing architecture begins with the city as the Colonial capital of the Carolinas from 1766 until 1778, and moves through New Bern's status as an important mercantile center in the mid-18th and early 19th centuries, to its time of prosperity fueled by the lumber industry in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
The New Bern Preservation Foundation (NBPF), in the years since its organization in 1972, has bought, stabilized and sold more than 60 structures of historical or architectural significance in New Bern's historic downtown. People who purchase from the NBPF must abide by restrictive covenants protecting the architectural integrity of their purchase. Whenever possible, the foundation provides new owners with documentary evidence of the structure's original architecture and provenance, such as photos, floor plans and old insurance maps. Once structures are sold, the preservation foundation serves as a source of expert advice to the owners restoring the dwellings. The foundation's work has provided the impetus for many other property owners to follow suit, resulting in the restoration of more than 150 residences. A few of these date from the mid-1700s, built shortly after New Bern was founded in 1710 by Swiss colonists under Baron Christoph von deGraffenried.
The focal point of historic downtown is The Tryon Palace Complex including the North Carolina History Center, several historic buildings and spectacular gardens on Pollock Street. The home of William Tryon, North Carolina's colonial royal governor, the palace's gardens and buildings have been authentically reconstructed and restored. This state historic site draws thousands of visitors each year. Professional offices, businesses, and bed and breakfast inns occupy tastefully renovated old homes in the surrounding neighborhood. The city has an astonishing number of landmarks listed in the National Register of Historic Places, and most of these are found in the downtown district.
Facing the Neuse River are approximately a dozen square blocks of pedigreed houses dating from the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries. Most of the elegantly restored homes have two or three stories. Fully restored historic houses are going for $250,000 and can run to more than $600,000. Smaller home restorations away from the river in this neighborhood are available starting in the $150,000 range. Moving farther away from the Neuse, blocks become more transitional and prices drop.
The cost of homes throughout the entire downtown district varies enormously, depending upon location and the degree of restoration. Sometimes homes along the fringes are offered in the $75,000 to $90,000 range, but any bet is good they will require a tremendous amount of work and TLC. Preservation also has stimulated demand for smaller residential spaces in New Bern's historic downtown. Town homes and condominiums in this district range from $150,000 to $300,000.