One of the best places to see Beaufort’s maritime history come to life is at the Harvey W. Smith Watercraft Center on Front Street in Beaufort. It’s a working boatbuilding facility that comes alive with the sounds and smells of traditional North Carolina wooden boatbuilding. It truly showcases the art and skill of traditional boat builders.
When you walk through the doors and step onto the viewing platform, above the shop floor, you’ll discover it’s a great place to watch the boats take shape, from frame to finished product. You’ll notice the Watercraft Center also provides a unique opportunity to witness a craft as old as shipbuilding itself: the construction of wooden model boats.
Through the large glass wall, visitors have the opportunity to watch members of the Carolina Maritime Model Society meticulously and methodically build small wooden boats. These handcrafted vessels are indeed a labor of love, sometimes taking 12 to 14 months to complete.
In 1980, Harvey W. Smith’s widow Mrs. Evelyn Smith donated property on Front Street for the building of a new museum to replace the Hampton Mariners Museum. That facility had outgrown its location on Turner Street. At that time, first time museum curator Charles R. McNeill was offered anything the museum could use by Mrs. Smith from her late husband’s maritime collection. That was the beginning of the North Carolina Maritime Museum as we know it today.
The museum’s Watercraft Center sits on Taylor’s Creek, across from the North Carolina Maritime Museum. Today, locals, visitors and boaters alike are encouraged to watch and take boatbuilding courses offered throughout the year for all skill levels.
Today, the Harvey W. Smith Watercraft Center showcases the art and skill of traditional boat building.
The Watercraft Center at the North Carolina Maritime Museum has three primary missions:
Preserving significant examples of the state’s watercraft is a key element in fulfilling the Museum’s mission.
The Watercraft Center preserves and transmits the heritage of wooden boatbuilding by publicly demonstrating the construction of new boats using traditional techniques.
A key Watercraft Center mission is actively teaching wooden boatbuilding to new generations.