Published by Carl Hedinger. Last Updated on February 27, 2024.
Located in the heart of downtown Raleigh, the NC Museum of History is one of the city’s most educational and engaging museums. It’s a Smithsonian affiliate and welcomes more than 400,000 visitors annually from North Carolina and throughout the US.
The North Carolina museum features permanent exhibits and rotating and traveling displays throughout the year. Regardless of when you visit, we think there’s something you’ll love about this place.
We want to share more than a handful of things we love about the NC Museum of History. This guide also shares some interesting background info and how to visit the museum today! We’ve organized this guide into the following sections:
- Where is the NC Museum of History?
- Admission Info
- How to Support the Museum
- History of the Museum
- Regional Museums (Sister Museums)
- Visiting the NC Museum of History
- Nearby Things to Do in Raleigh
Where is the NC Museum of History?
Address: 5 E Edenton St, Raleigh, NC 27601
As mentioned earlier, the NC Museum of History (a.k.a. the N.C. history museum) sits in downtown Raleigh (5 E Edenton St). The NC Museum of Natural Sciences sits diagonally across from it, with Bicentennial Plaza running between them.
Bicentennial Plaza connects the North Carolina Legislative Building (across Jones Street) and the NC State Capitol, opposite Edenton Street from the NC Museum of Natural Sciences.
You can visually plan your trip to the museum with our Central North Carolina Map or continue reading about admission info and more!
Read More: The NC Tripping North Carolina Travel Map
- Admission to the NC History Museum is free for all visitors.
- The Museum is open from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm Tuesday through Saturday and 12 noon to 5:00 pm on Sundays. It is closed on Mondays.
- It is closed on holidays like New Year’s Day, Easter, Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve, and Christmas Day. The museum also closes on December 26.
While most visitors choose to explore the exhibits on their own, the Museum offers free and paid tours that take a deep look into North Carolina’s history.
Read More: 17 Great Things to Do with Kids in Raleigh
How to Support the Museum
There are a few ways to support the NC Museum of History.
One popular support method is donating in person or by visiting the NC Museum of History Foundation’s website. Purchases at the museum’s gift shop help, too.
Finally, you can become an NC Museum of History Associate (MOHA).
Museum members receive the following benefits:
- Discounts at the gift shop and café.
- Discounted admission to ticketed events.
- Membership at all other Smithsonian-affiliated institutions.
History of the NC Museum of History
What’s now this beautiful museum full of artifacts and exhibitions that show North Carolina’s history and impact on the country started as one man’s collection and passion.
- A man named Mr. Kruester had a mysterious key that he claimed unlocked the original Capitol building in Raleigh, which burned down in 1831.
- He presented the key to the Raleigh News and Observer in 1883.
- Frederick Augustus Olds, known as “Colonel” Olds, was the paper’s editor the.
- Afterward, Olds wrote an editorial titled “Some Old Relics,” encouraging anyone with an old local relic contact him.
- Thus the core collection of the museum began over the next decade.
- Olds left the paper and continued collecting artifacts.
- In 1900, he was appointed chairman of the Committee on Historical Museums by the State Literary and Historical Association appointed him chairman of the Committee on Historical Museums. However, there was one problem—no history museums existed in North Carolina at the time.
- That changed in 1902 when the State Museum opened a room called “The Hall of History.”
- A growing collection of artifacts led to a series of moves, including:
- In 1914, to the State Administration Building.
- In 1939, to the Education Building.
- In 1968, to 109 East Jones Street.
- The Hall of History’s collection grew, and so did the level of its community involvement. The Tar Heel Junior Historian Association was established in 1953 and is sponsored by the NC Museum of History today. Its goal is to promote history starting at the junior high school level.
- The Hall of History was renamed the NC Museum of History in 1965.
- In 1994, the NC Museum of History moved into its current home, a 55,000-square-foot facility at 1 E Edenton Street.
Regional Museums (Sister Museums)
Throughout North Carolina, more than a few museums operate as affiliates of the NC Museum of History. They typically focus on more regional topics and exhibits.
- Museum of the Albemarle is located in Pasquotank County’s Elizabeth City on the Inner Banks. Explore the place, which is half land and half water, featuring sunken treasures and how the water has influenced the way of life there.
- Museum of the Cape Fear in Fayetteville. Full of 400 years of history from the native Americans, early settlement, civil war, naval stories, and more. You can also tour the 1897 Poe House which was owned by Mr. E.A. Poe, a local businessman and owner of the Poe Brick Company.
- North Carolina Maritime Museums has three locations in Hatteras on the Outer Banks, the Carteret County town of Beaufort, and the Brunswick County town of Southport. These museums are meant to preserve, protect and present North Carolina’s coastal history. Each has its spin on ways to give educational history and active ways to continue to protect our coasts.
- Mountain Gateway Museum in the McDowell County town of Old Fort. If you’re headed west on I-40 or US-70, stop by this museum where you can learn of the gem mining that helped NC’s economy and explore “Uncovered: Airing the Stories of Heirloom Bedcoverings.”
Visiting the NC Museum of History Today (Things We Love About It!)
We’ve covered when you can visit and the museum’s exciting background. Now, let’s uncover all the things we love about this museum today!
The Story of North Carolina
There are a handful of permanent exhibits at the NC Museum of History, and our favorite one is “The Story of North Carolina.” It is the museum’s largest exhibit, tracing North Carolina’s history over the past 14,000 years, from its earliest residents to the 21st century.
Relive history through the exhibit’s collection of artifacts, use of multimedia, and full-size reconstructed homes and villages.
“The Story of North Carolina” travels through various periods of NC history and covers the following:
- Native American life
- The arrival of European settlers
- The American Revolution
- The Civil War
- World War I and World War II
- The American Civil Rights Movement
NC Sports Hall of Fame
The NC Museum of History is multiple museums in one space. One great example is the NC Sports Hall of Fame, housed on the building’s third floor.
This space honors the many famous athletes born in North Carolina or who have lived here for more than ten years. In addition, more than 200 artifacts commemorate the more than 363 Tar Heel athletes honored here.
You’ll find familiar names from all major sports, including the following:
- Torry Holt (Football)
- Michael Jordan (Basketball)
- Arnold Palmer (Golf)
- Richard Petty (Auto Racing)
- Charlotte Smith (Basketball)
Some exhibits even feature videos of some critical events in NC sports history. You may even catch one of us in the basketball section watching old NC State or Duke videos.
Think you’re a sports whiz? There are also interactive displays of sports trivia to test your knowledge!
Temporary and Special Exhibits
The North Carolina museum offers a mix of permanent and temporary exhibits to complement the NC Sports Museum and “The Story of North Carolina.” Additionally, you can explore 1920s-era Drugstores and a variety of special exhibits that pass through the museum’s halls.
Previous exhibits give us hope for what’s to come in the future at the NC Museum of History. Here are a few of them:
- “The North Carolina Roots of Artist Ernie Barnes” showcased artwork from Barnes, who was a black Durham-born-and-raised pro football player turned artist.
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- “Blackbeard’s Queen Anne’s Revenge, 1718: The Legend of Blackbeard” dove into the legend of Blackbeard and examined his life (which ended near Ocracoke Island), the people who sailed with him, and his ship.
- “Quilt Speak” showcased how quilts from the past liberated suppressed voices due to illiteracy, exhaustion, racial oppression, and gender inequity.
- “Variety Vacationland” focused on North Carolina’s early marketing efforts to attract people through ads on display.
- “River Bridge: Sunken Secrets” looked into River Bridge, a trade port in the Pasquotank River used for centuries by Native Americans. Artifacts on display were recovered from the riverbank, and you could climb into a replica canoe.
Over the years, additional topics covered at the NC Museum of History include:
- Displays about the experiences of American veterans.
- The fashions of the British aristocracy in the early 20th century.
- Discovering the power of women’s voices from quilts.
- The Supreme Court of North Carolina.
- The role of Black North Carolinians in World War II.
The NC Museum of History boasts an impressive and thriving outdoor garden in its History of the Harvest exhibit. The garden serves as an outdoor teaching space for visitors to learn about the importance of North Carolina agriculture.
Garden specimens include sunflowers, Native American medicinal plants, and hybrid plants created through technology.
There’s always something fun going on at the NC Museum of History! The Museum has a plethora of programs for all age ranges and interests.
In addition, you can register for kid- and family-friendly programs about architectural history and comparing summer life.
Special Events and Festivals
Other events are available both in-person and online via Zoom.
Join speakers online for a deep dive into historic North Carolina landmarks, revolutionary documents such as the Mecklenburg Resolves, and historical figures.
Come to the Museum in person for “Hands-On History” and talk with archaeologists and handle actual artifacts.
Previous festivals have included:
- The Longleaf Film Festival
- The American Indian Heritage Celebration
- The African American Cultural Celebration
Ready to Visit the NC Museum of History?
The NC Museum of History belongs on everyone’s NC Bucket List, especially if you’re in Raleigh, its neighbors Durham and Chapel Hill, or elsewhere in Central North Carolina. It’s one of our go-to places to learn the history of North Carolina and share it with our little ones.
We’d love to read about your experiences if you’re also familiar with this museum. Please feel free to share with us in the comments or by email.
Also, don’t forget to share your Raleigh adventures in our North Carolina Travel Facebook Group.
Nearby Things to Do in Raleigh
Downtown Raleigh also features many more museums that you should visit!
- NC Museum of Natural Sciences: Right across from the Museum of History is the Museum of Natural Sciences, North Carolina’s most-visited museum and the largest of its kind in the Southeastern US. The seven floors spanning two buildings are packed with engaging and explorative exhibits. At the Museum of Natural Sciences, visitors can see species such as fish, snakes, and tropical frogs, learn about the scientific history, and watch researchers in real-time.
- Marbles Kids Museum: Perfect for kids and families, Marbles Kids Museum is a few blocks from the Museum of History. Visit for an afternoon of fun and learning, or enroll your kids in summer programs. With its play areas, movie features, birthday parties, and more, Marbles will be your kid’s new favorite place!
- City of Raleigh Museum: The City of Raleigh Museum focuses on preserving Raleigh’s past for the future. Opening in 1993, the COR Museum collected and displayed the city’s historic and valuable artifacts that previously had no home. Learn about these artifacts and explore exhibits about the Women’s Suffrage Movement, the history of Dix Hill, and more!