A Bench with some History Behind it! When you take a walk around the five acres in downtown Durham that is Durham Central Park, you will notice a number of benches made by various local artists. Each bench has a story behind it…most times in memory of someone special. On the walkway on the hill above Roney Street, sits a wonderful set of two benches created by local artist, Joe Galas. Here’s the story In 2010, Joe Galas installed the set of benches in memory of two very special sisters, Margret Yvonne Whisenton and Lydia Lavinia Parker as well as their ancestors. The two benches were commissioned by Margret’s sons, Carl and Kenneth Whisenton and Carl’s wife, Vera. This area of the park was previously owned by the Margret Whisenton and Mrs. Parker, until it was sold to the city of Durham in 1998. These sisters were longtime devoted public servants: Margret, a librarian for Durham Public Library, and Lydia, a teacher in the Durham Public School System. They both loved Durham and were avid community volunteers: Margret edited the Negro Braille Magazine for many years after retirement and Lydia volunteered at the Duke Eye Center and was an accomplished musician who played the piano and organ for White Rock Baptist Church here in Durham.
This land came into the family when it was purchased by Capt. William Peyton Smith, great-grandfather of Carl and Ken, in 1923. Capt. Smith was President of Smith Realty, a company that owned many properties, including multiple pieces in what is now downtown Durham. Research reveals that Peyton was also a very multifaceted gentleman and businessman. During the Spanish-American War in 1898, he served as a Captain with Company H, Officers of the Third North Carolina U. S. Volunteer Infantry in the war, which was described as “the first Negro Regiment ever organized and entirely officered by Colored men.”
After the war, Peyton Smith returned to Durham and acquired his own local businesses and ventured into various phases of retail selling –a grocery store, Smith’s Hotel and a beauty salon. He also started the Real Estate Mercantile and Manufacturing Co., which operated a merchandise store and tobacco factory that produced “New Durham” and “The 1900’s”, two brands of tobacco. As the Captain of the Black Hook and Ladder Co. in Durham, Mr. Peyton was said to have “performed the more daring and dangerous fire maneuvers”. A master brick mason, it is quoted by Booker T. Washington in his book Durham: A City of Negro Enterprises published in 1911, “ I found that Peyton Smith, a general contractor, had put up some of the largest buildings in the city.” Peyton Smith was a man of many talents! As active members of the Durham downtown community, Carl and Vera Whisenton continue in the tradition of their ancestors. They volunteer at the Carolina Theatre, co-chairing a committee to establish an exhibit to commemorate the integration of the theatre 50 years ago in 1963. Vera has served on the board of the Durham Central Park, Inc., since 2010. Durham is a better place because of the Whisenton family!
DCP wishes to acknowledge and thank The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints for their volunteer efforts on Saturday, March 23, “The Great Day of Service”. This is the fifth year that the Durham LDS members have worked to improve the park. This year they cleared the heavy build up of vegetation under the bridge, and spruced up the SEEDS garden. Last year the LDS team constructed the steps that lead from the upper trail to the pavilion.
In 2002, a 360 foot long section of Roney Street that ran in the middle of the western side of Durham Central Park was closed to traffic. Barriers and a sidewalk were constructed at the intersection of Roney and Hunt Street.
In 2008, Measurement Durham LLC, in preparation for building The Measurement Building, was informed that, legally, Roney Street had never been closed and any development at the Hunt and Roney intersection would need to include “site triangles” to assist traffic pulling out of the long since closed Roney Street. This news prompted Measurement Durham LLC to conduct further research and determined 300 feet of Roney had been voted closed by City Council, but never recorded as such and a 60 feet section of Roney (the section bordered by Measurement Durham LLC and Durham Central Park) was never part of the original closing. Measurement Durham LLC then re-started the road closing procedures and Roney was officially closed by late 2009.
During this process, Dr. Henry Scherich, President and Founder of Measurement Durham LLC’s parent company Measurement Inc., held a series of conversations with Durham Central Park Board as to how the road closing and Measurement Building construction could assist the development of the Park. Eventually, the need to soften the severe slope from the former Roney St. roadbed up to the gardens in the western section of the park was identified as a high priority.
Due to utility easements, Roney Street could not be completely removed, but it could be narrowed from a two lane street down to one lane. This, combined with excess dirt and topsoil left over from The Measurement Building excavation formed a great opportunity to enhance the Park’s western edge. Measurement Durham and some of its partners agreed to pay for half of the removal of Roney Street and the re-landscaping of the bank above the street, in addition to the in-kind donations of design, project management and the excess topsoil. Durham Central Park Board agreed to raise the other half of funds needed for construction.
In 2011, Choate Construction Company, Davis Landscaping, and CSSI performed the actual construction of the new, softer embankments and immediately the gardens above became easier to access. Roney Street, which once were a barrier to the gardens from the rest of Durham Central Park, now links the gardens and DCP together creating a safe and pleasant walkway for all to enjoy.
Come play and eat in the garden!
The gardens at Durham Central Park are beginning to burst with color, texture, smells and also some yummy items! At the southwest side of the park on Hunt Street is the Garden of Eatin’, an edible garden managed and maintained by SEEDS (South Eastern Efforts Developing Sustainable Spaces, Inc). This is another creative relationship that DCP has with a community partner to sustain the park and develop interesting gardens throughout.
The way that SEEDS got involved with DCP is a typical story of how things happen at the park. Someone comes up with the germ of an idea; folks take it and mold it into something exciting; and then Durham Central Park just gets better and better! It all began with the creation of the Durham Farmer’s Market in the early 2000’s. Brenda Brodie, one of the original founders of SEEDS had the idea for a farmer’s market. They started small on Orange Street in downtown Durham and eventually the DFM became its own entity.
This article was originally published by the Herald Sun. See it here.
In 2003, Durham Central Park was a five-acre area full of bramble bushes, weeds and trash.
On the east side of Foster Street, South Ellerbe Creek ran through the park but was so overgrown with kudzu and bushes you couldn’t even see it.
The area which is now the DCP Pavilion, home of the Durham Farmer’s Market and many other events throughout the year, was a wasteland that needed lots of love. The only part of the park that had been developed was the Grace Garden in the northwest corner of the park. The rest of the five acres was pretty much a mess.
That same year Dan Jewel, a new DCP board member and local landscape architect, knew that with very little money to spare in the DCP bank account, we needed some volunteer help with some serious clean-up duties. And besides, the DCP’s vision of the park was that of a community park – “Durham’s own big back yard” – so the idea of getting the larger community involved to help clean it up and get things rolling was a great idea waiting to happen.
This article was originally published by the Herald Sun. See it here.
If you are a regular visitor to Durham Central Park, you may have noticed that the plant beds along the west side of Foster Street and the Grace Garden (in the northwest corner of the park on Roney street) have become much more beautiful in the past few years.
That’s because Jonathan Nyberg and Rebecca Wellborn of Meadowsweet Gardens & Patios ( www.meadowsweet.biz) have informally adopted Durham Central Park as their latest community project. And we are SO happy they have!
DCP is not the first project Rebecca and Jonathan have taken on in Durham. Their first foray was planting and maintaining containers at the old Joe and Jo’s, now Bull McCabe’s, where they worked in exchange for food. Then they installed and planted containers for Self-Help Credit Union on Main Street.
About 10 years ago they moved their efforts around the corner to the Durham Arts Council where they noticed the sorry state of the gardens outside. Working on a plan with Edith Eddleman (a landscape designer), they installed a beautiful array of flowers and have maintained the plantings there ever since.
Their first project at DCP was a number of years ago when Rebecca installed and maintained a medicinal plant garden in the SEEDS garden at the south end of the park along Hunt Street. In the past few years, SEEDS has taken over the maintenance of that garden at the park.
A few years ago while visiting DCP to go to the farmer’s market or come to an event, they began to notice the planters along the west side of Foster Street were looking a bit unkempt. And another day they noticed that the woody plants in the Grace Garden needed some pruning and the liriope had taken over many of the plant beds. That’s when they decided to move their efforts to DCP.
They now come regularly to tend the gardens, bringing extra plants from their personal garden, installing new beds, rearranging the plants — and doing most of the work pro bono. When asked why they have a habit of adopting public gardens, Jonathan had this to say:
“From the beginning of Meadowsweet, Rebecca and I have always had the urge to improve public places with plantings. Since we’ve never done any ‘real’ marketing, we look at these projects as our marketing and advertising. Besides we just love Durham, especially the downtown area, and want to make a contribution to its beautification.”
If you happen to see some busy gardeners working on the beds on Foster or the Grace Garden, it’s probably the Meadowsweet gardeners, doing their magic in Durham Central Park. Thank you, Jonathan and Rebecca!
Come see us at the park soon!
If you park in the Measurement, Inc lot to go to the Farmers Market, you already know there’s a new set of railings on the main stairs with an entry arch at the bottom. It’s a collaboration between Liberty Artist Jackie MacLeod and Monkey Bottom Gallery owner and artist Joe Galas.
Turns out there’s an interesting story behind those railings…
DCP was privileged to be a guest on ABC 11’s “Heart of Carolina Perspectives” show.
Check out the video below.