Through the first part of the 20th century, Hertford thrived as a lumber town, making good use of the nearby river. The original bridge that spanned the river was a floating bridge, comprised of steel and wood. When a boat came near and wanted passage, the bridge would be unhooked from one bank and allowed to float out of the way. Then, when the boat had passed, lines were used to haul the free end of the bridge in and reconnect it. Today, an S-shaped swing bridge is in use, the only one of its kind in the world.
Today, agriculture is the chief industry of the area. Most people are familiar with Hertford for its famous residents. It is the hometown of notable baseball pitcher Catfish Hunter. Disc jockey Wolfman Jack is buried in Hertford and the record company he started is still located there. History has been well-preserved and many of the early houses in Hertford still survive, marked with the names of their original owners and the year they were built. They are the focus of the annual walking tour and the pride of their owners. Hertford is part of the Elizabeth City, North Carolina Micropolitan Statistical Area.
According to the United States Census Bureau, the town has a total area of 2.7 square miles (7.0 km²), of which, 2.7 square miles (7.0 km²) of it is land and 0.04 square miles (0.1 km²) of it (0.74%) is water.
There were 877 households out of which 29.8% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 35.6% were married couples living together, 24.6% had a female householder with no husband present, and 36.5% were non-families. 33.5% of all households were made up of individuals and 17.7% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.29 and the average family size was 2.92.
In the town the population was spread out with 27.1% under the age of 18, 7.5% from 18 to 24, 22.7% from 25 to 44, 20.7% from 45 to 64, and 22.0% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 40 years. For every 100 females there were 78.0 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 69.7 males.
The median income for a household in the town was $19,681, and the median income for a family was $24,524. Males had a median income of $24,803 versus $17,938 for females. The per capita income for the town was $13,502. About 33.6% of families and 39.2% of the population were below the poverty line, including 56.6% of those under age 18 and 21.0% of those age 65 or over.