'The most beautiful place:' The friendly faces of 'little' Washington

Posted February 15, 2019 5:00 a.m. EST
Updated February 26, 2019 11:18 a.m. EST

This article was written for our sponsor, Washington Tourism Development Authority.

When people hear "Washington" they often think of the state in the Pacific Northwest or the capital of our country, but did you know that North Carolina has a Washington of its own?

The first city to be named for Gen. George Washington, the "Original Washington" sits along the Tar and Pamlico Rivers and is known for its beautiful sunsets on the water, its idyllic charm, and the friendly faces of the people who live and work there.

"My grandmother's family moved here when she was younger," said Meg Howdy, a "little" Washington native. "It is a small community and it's all about the people. It's absolutely gorgeous being on the river."

Located just an hour from the beach and with cities like Raleigh just a couple of hours away, Howdy said that you get everything you could want in a hometown, without the traffic and craziness of a metropolitan area. She said the "it takes a village" mentality is truly a way of life in Washington.

Howdy left her "village" for college, venturing to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, but returned to Washington after graduation, because as she puts it — she missed home.

"I absolutely loved my experience there [at UNC], but I missed home, I missed the water, [and] I missed being able to be with family and friends and have those connections," Howdy explained. "Sometimes it's difficult when you're in a larger city."

That family friendly small town feel is one of the reasons why Rebecca Clark moved to Washington with her husband in 2008. A self-described "rolling stone" who traveled frequently and had lived overseas, she made a resolution to set down roots in her new home on the riverfront.

"In the past when I'd moved to a town, I knew we weren't going to be staying there, so I really didn't get that involved. But when we moved here to Washington I was like, 'OK, I'm going to start getting involved with things here and make myself a part of the community,'" she said.

Clark is on several boards and helped start an off-leash dog park. With two 80-pound poodles, Clark wanted to help make Washington a more dog-friendly place. Additionally, she co-owns with two business partners South Market Antiques, a 6,000-square-foot retail store downtown. She said that while they have "loyal locals," the majority of their customers are out-of-towners.

"We're just super friendly. We're very diverse. We're accepting of all lifestyles," she said. "So for us, that's created a unique environment and a unique opportunity for visitors."

Another role Clark has taken upon herself is that of Martha Washington — the former first lady. She got the idea after she and her husband realized that Washington didn't have a mascot like other towns.

"I actually made some costumes for George and Martha Washington. And in the beginning, my husband and I, he would be George and I would be Martha, and we would just go to events," she recounted. "People love it. People love to have their picture taken, and kids, especially, just think it's the greatest thing in the world."

Little Washington : Spotlight : Friendly Faces

Children play at Havens Gardens Park on the Pamlico River in Washington, N.C. (Photo Courtesy of Washington Tourism Development Authority)

Like Clark, resident Rob Sands was drawn to Washington and wasted no time getting involved in the community. Sands moved to Washington in 2016 after he and his wife drove through it on their way to Charleston.

"We just kind of fell in love with the town when we first drove through it, and we kept coming back. And eventually we bought a cottage there," Sands said.

Sands, who is an anthropologist, said they were enamored with the waterfront and the historic nature of the town. As a man who has spent a career studying people and places, he was in the midst of trying to build a nonprofit that served at-risk veterans and facilitated historic preservation.

"[It's] kind of a unique combination for a nonprofit to follow," Sands admitted. "But Washington certainly helped me crystallize that … I started putting together this nonprofit that Washington sort of would be the fulcrum for."

The heavy concentration of veterans in North Carolina, particularly those who are at-need or at-risk, and Washington's historic district offered Sands the unique opportunity he'd been looking for.

In 2016, Sands started the Pamlico Rose Institute for Sustainable Communities, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to serve at-risk populations, such as veterans, while building and sustaining community through preserving history. In 2017, he purchased a historic home and barn on 3rd Street, and is in the process of developing it into the Rose Haven Center of Healing.

"It will become a center for helping female veterans who are having reintegration issues. The 1892 farmhouse will be a reintegration home for female veterans," Sands explained. "They'll live in the house and they'll have a program. It's not a treatment center and it's not a counseling center, but what it is, is a community reintegration home. This is kind of their last stage before they integrate back into a big community.

"Washington offers a chance for us to bring women to the house, and also appreciate and utilize the rest of the properties for their reintegration."

More than half of the board of directors for Pamlico Rose is made up of Washington residents, many of whom transplanted themselves to the area just like Sands.

"There's a very local flavor to what we are doing," Sands proudly pointed out.

Pride is something Howdy feels every day as the executive director of the Washington Harbor District Alliance. Her job gives her the opportunity to interact with various residents and organizations and she said she gets "paid for a living to support the town that she loves."

While "little" Washington is growing and bringing in new development, its quaintness, uniqueness and welcoming nature seem to be what seals the deal for most people like residents Clark and Sands.

"People will move here because people will say hello to them on the street. And you think, 'Wow, people don't do that.' They really do," Howdy said. "They want somewhere where they can raise their children and where you're raising them in a safe environment, where everybody is looking out for each other. You really know the people that you live and work with. They become more than just that guy that you waved to down the street. They really become your friends and family because it is all about community; and that quaint, small town feel is something that's important to us, and we get to do it in the most beautiful place."

This article was written for our sponsor, Washington Tourism Development Authority.