LAKE PHELPS , North Carolina — This spot in Washington County is the second largest acre lake in the state of North Carolina.

The historical marker about Lake Phelps.

It’s over 44,000 years old and Indian artifacts dating back 11,000 years have been found in the lake bed.

For this particular adventure, my family visited Pettigrew State Park and Somerset Place State Historic Site, a former plantation.

Both locations are along Lake Phelps’ shore in Washington County. The lake itself is surrounded by virgin forest, not a house in sight. There’s also no cellphone service, a nice way to cut the technology cord.

Tundra Swans visit Lake Phelps in the winter during their migration south.

Pettigrew State Park


This park along Lake Phelps includes a boat ramp, several docks to view the lake, a public swimming area , primative camp sites and several hiking trails.

Lake Phelps is five miles by eight miles. If you go on to the lake from Pettigrew State Park and head straight across, the distance is five miles. It’s a great place to kayak.

Like most of eastern North Carolina, the best time to visit is during the off-season — fall to late spring — when it’s cool and there are little bugs or critters about.

One walking path is about 7 miles in length. Another path, about 4 miles out and back, leads toward Somerset Place, a former plantation.

The later path leads to a group campsite, for those who have multiple tents. You can also find a marker for the park’s namesake, the Pettigrew family.

One member of the Pettigrew family was James Johnston Pettigrew. He was an author, lawyer, linguist, diplomat, and soldier. As a Confederate general in the American Civil War, he was one of three division commanders in the disastrous assault known as Pickett’s Charge on the final day of the Battle of Gettysburg.

The Pettigrew family cemetery. Gen. Pettigrew’s tombstone is center.

He died in West Virginia during the war. You can follow a path in the state park that leads to his family’s cemetery. Gen. Pettigrew is buried there too, with a tall cross headstone with an inscription marking his patrotism as a soldier and unwavering Christianity.

The paths are well-marked and include little side-trips to good scenic spots along the lake or historic places. A few of those places are related to Somerset Place.

Somerset Place, the main house where the Collins family lived.

Somerset Place


For about 80 years, Somerset Place was a plantation that grew various Southern staples over the years — cotton, peanuts, etc.

It also housed many slaves. Only a small fraction of the buildings housing slaves are still around and sit as examples of the conditions they endured.

There were enough slaves that there was an on-site hospital, which still stands on the property.

We went on a day in which Somerset was closed for regular tours, which meant we could just explore the outside of the buildings and read the descriptive signs.

The plantation was owned by the Collins family, which had some family members who settled into Edenton, NC, where my family lives now. It was interesting to see how the past of our community was linked to another community.

On a side note, I follow the site’s Instagram and Facebook pages. The staff is doing a great job trying to preserve the site’s history and give today’s citizens a taste of plantation life.

For the kids, the highlights of the walk included seeing nature, including trees with holes big enough to climb into, seeing deer cross the path and seeing goats at Somerset Place.

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