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Newport celebrates 150th anniversary 

by League Communications Associate Jessica Wells

Exactly 50 years to the day after Newport’s centennial celebration, the community gathered to throw the same celebration for the town’s sesquicentennial.

More than 400 people came to St. James Methodist Church for the kickoff to the weekend-long celebration that hosted PBS television personality and North Carolina food critic Bob Garner, who has family ties to the area. Garner spoke at the celebration and judged the collard cooking contest.

Attendees enjoyed local music and raised more than $3,000 from selling local crafts, antiques and photos of Newport-past, including some featuring the old train depot and passenger train going through town. The following day, the town hosted a variety show and concert at the Newport City Civic Center by Chesapeake, Va., group, Sounds of Time. According to Mayor Dennis Barber, the money raised will fund more sesquicentennial events throughout the year.

“For us, we’re still an old-fashioned, courtesy place, and for a lot of people, that’s the kind of entertainment they enjoy. It’s family oriented. It’s for everyone, not just one generation,” Barber said. 

Barber and the Newport’s previous two mayors, Darryl Garner and Gilbert Slaughter, cut the birthday cake served at the event. As a group, the three have more than 45 years experience as mayor. 

“Mayor Garner left me in good hands, I just tried to slide in there and keep going the way he told me. As long as he wants to be, he’s part of the town, and he has my blessing,” Barber said. “I talk to both of them every now and then. It’s good to have people around who have all of that knowledge because they can tell you the history of it.” 

Newport has plenty of history for visitors to learn about, too. At the Newport Historical Museum, where Barber volunteers as host on select Saturdays, visitors can browse antiques, pictures and Civil War artifacts. The museum is housed in the Teacherage, built in 1925 to accommodate female teachers who taught at the Newport Consolidated School, and located on the same grounds as the Battle of Newport Barracks Civil War Memorial Park, which features Civil War cannons and a memorial for three union soldiers and Congressional Medal of Honor recipients. 

The military continues to influence life in Newport with its citizen base of retired military personnel who come to the area to work at nearby Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point. 

“Cherry Point has been a lifeline for many people in Newport. They go up there to work, they come here, and stay to retire. They are a very good neighbor,” Barber said. 

According to him, even if you aren’t coming to the area for Cherry Point, Newport is a great place to be – roughly eight miles to the beach means you’re just close enough to enjoy the waves with more protection than many communities on the water. Also, the town prides itself on its sense of community. 

Newport has grown and evolved since the last anniversary celebration in 1966. Today, it has a social media presence, new LED lights around town for better brightness and efficiency, and a new bike and pedestrian plan is underway. But the sense of community remains, as evidenced by events like the sesquicentennial and an active Little League. 

“Coaches played sports together when they were young, and now they’re out their teaching their sons,” Barber said. “It’s generation after generation on our ball fields.”