Tyrrell County July 2023


County Seat

Median Income

Population Density Designation

Arriving in quaint Tyrrell County, it feels as if we enter a time capsule. It’s a place where history is preserved and celebrated, but Tyrrell County is anything but stuck in the past.

Situated on the Scuppernong River, Columbia, NC, is a rural town of about 3,300 residents. It is rich in natural resources yet challenged in infrastructure. Until 1961, the main modes of transportation were on the water; ferries and passenger boats, like the Estelle Randall, were staples of the county. While the modern world gradually evolved toward digital technologies, Tyrrell County maintained its roots in farming, fishing and forestry. That’s not to say they have not embraced some change; with visionary leadership, they have found ways to sustain the community’s commitment to its heritage while also inviting innovation that complements the slower-paced lifestyle that many residents value.

“What you see here is generations of history,” explained County Manager David Clegg as we looked at the walls of the Columbia Theatre, filled with artifacts dating back as far as the early 1900s. Vintage makeup, film reels and farming equipment are all on display to tell the history of this town. A tribute to the town’s proud sense of its own uniqueness, the theater features “Hunter Jim,” an animatronic figure that tells the story of the town.

Clegg detailed how the town continues to innovate to elevate, including curbside trash service, two osmosis plants for waste treatment, in addition to mini sewage systems in every yard. The sewage systems help maintain proper drainage, which can be especially challenging in such flat land. The food pantry, scheduled to open shortly after our visit, is a result of community member donations, since there were no sources of outside funding available. These and other improvements give the people of Tyrrell County a better quality of life.

County Commissioner Nathan Everett stated that “having two North Carolinas doesn’t mean one deserves less … rural North Carolina deserves the same quality of life as the urban counties.” County leaders have worked hard to increase the resources available to the community – particularly when it comes to infrastructure. One element that is missing is the human capital needed to continue the county’s progress. Clegg noted the county only has 60 employees outside of the school system, requiring many county residents to hold several different roles and responsibilities to get just the basic work done.

“We need folks to help finish what we started,” Everett professes.

Tyrrell County has tried to extend its capacity through partnerships with other nearby rural counties facing similar challenges according to the assembled leaders – but collaboration will not solve all of the capacity constraints it faces.

With a commitment to building infrastructure, Clegg and the county leadership share a positive outlook for Tyrrell County. Preparing the next generation, Beaufort County Community College has enrolled 75 high school students in the early college program. Students can learn agricultural welding and other programs that will give them skills they need to support local industry and benefit their community. This stems from the commitment of Superintendent Karen Roseboro, who understands the challenges of living in a rural community but values the diverse demographics of students. Seeing the opportunities of the county, she spoke about her passion for increasing student access to opportunities and acceleration toward academic success, both in the classroom and through after-school programs. She talked about the need to recruit educators at later stages of their careers who have a particular interest and experience serving students in underserved communities.

The lunch concluded with a discussion about the future of Tyrrell County and how they are working hard to adapt and evolve. The county faces challenges, but leaders continue to advocate for resources, make plans for future endeavors and stick together as a community. They press forward by drawing on the assets that have historically served their community – farming, fishing and forestry – and they share the excitement for who they are and who they can become.

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U39702, 8/23