The History of Pullen Park (Home of Raleigh Hoop Jam)

April 4, 2013 Caroleeena RaleighUncategorized

pullen image In 1993 I wrote a history of North Carolina for our Secretary of State, Rufus Edmisten. I got to pour through the state archives and learn a lot about our state and our history, especially the history of our parks, and I thought I’d share the story of beautiful Pullen Park, home to the Raleigh Hoop Jam. pullen 1Pullen Park is the 14th oldest amusement park in the world! In 1885, the city of Raleigh committed 20 acres to establish an agricultural and industrial college in Raleigh — NC State College, which would grow into N.C. State University. Two years later, Richard Stanhope Pullen, a Raleigh businessman and philanthropist, donated 80 acres of farmland adjacent to “State College” to the city for the express purpose of creating the first public park in North Carolina. Richard Stanhope Pullen, a modest man who opposed giving the park his name, envisioned a public space whose sole purpose was for the recreational enjoyment of Raleigh’s citizens and visitors. Pullen was a visionary man who designed much of the landscape architecture of the park. He literally designed the paths and bridges and even planted many of the trees that grace the park today. In 1891, he built the city’s first swimming pool. It was for men only but four years later, in 1895, he modified the structure and the pool opened to women swimmers also. (Sadly, during the Jim Crow era, laws prohibited blacks from swimming in the swimming pool but the main park areas have always been open to the entire Raleigh community. In that way, it was one of the first integrated parks in the south. Even Umstead Forest had segregated park areas — the Glenwood side for whites, the Cary side for blacks.) That swimming pool remained open for 97 years! Finally, in 1992, it was replaced by the Pullen Aquatic Center, a large indoor pool complex that is home to an Olympic size pool, a warm water therapy pool, a mezzanine with spectator seating, an outdoor patio, and locker room facilities. pullen in fall

There were originally many other features that aren’t in the park now. A huge fountain was home to 50 Japanese carp donated by a neighboring Congressman. There was a small zoo that began with only two raccoon but by 1903 included bears, monkeys, alligators, Australian owls, minks and many other animals. The zoo closed when Park Keeper, Wiley Howell (who’d been there since the first year of the project) passed away. No one else had the time or experience to care for all the animals so they were sold. Another feature that is no longer there is the original merry-go-round. In 1914, the park purchased a steam-powered merry-go-round from W.D. Chase Bottling Works for only $350. It had seemed like a great deal but the merry-go-round was in terrible shape and just five years later the park scrapped it and decided to purchase another carousel. (Interesting note: A merry-go-round has carved horses but no other animals. A carousel has horses and other exotic animals as well.)

Bloomsbury Park circa 1905

They approached Bloomsbury Park, a private amusement park that used to be funded by Carolina Power and Light near the neighborhood of Five Points (home to a big wooden roller coaster and many other rides) and struck a deal to buy their carousel. Bloomsbury Park was in financial trouble and CP&L was desperate to divest. In 1919, Pullen Park was able to acquire their current carousel for only $1,425 – one tenth of its original cost! This new carousel became the focal point of the park. Pullen Park CarouselThe Pullen Park Carousel is a classic, hand-carved, wooden carousel built in 1900. Two artists are largely responsible for it. Gustav Dentzel, a German woodworker and cabinet maker who immigrated to the U.S. in 1860 to make furniture but found his niche making merry-go-rounds and carousels, designed the carousel structure itself, including a wooden beamed pavilion/shelter, two chariots on the carousel ride, 18 large gilded mirrors, 18 canvas panels of painted art, and the mechanical parts that made the carousel turn and made some of the animals go up and down. Dentzel hired master carver Salvatore Cernigliaro to design and hand-carve each of the 52 animals on the carousel. These animals include horses, ostriches, cats, rabbits, pigs, a lion, a tiger, a giraffe, a reindeer, and a goat. Salvatore Cernigliaro was also a recent immigrant, a cabinet maker from Italy who was as skilled at carving filigree and embellishments, like cherubs, onto ornate cabinetry as he was at making dovetail joints. He arrived in America speaking no English at all and it almost cost him his job with Dentzel. The twenty-three year old had been working for another cabinet maker for a month when he asked Dentzel for a job as a carver in his factory. Dentzel barked at him and he walked away disappointed. A week later, while working in the area for the other cabinet maker, he stopped in Dentzel’s courtyard to ask for a glass of water and discovered that Dentzel had actually offered him a job when he was there before … but he had interpreted Dentzel’s gruff manner as a “no”. Over the next 65 years (yes, 65!), the two went on to craft some of the most amazing and ornate carousels in the world.

wurlitzerThe carousel also includes a Wurlitzer organ made in 1924. This gorgeous carousel has been in almost continuous use since the day it was installed! Over the years several mechanical components have had to be replaced due to wear and tear but the ride itself remains largely intact. From 1977-1982, the carousel underwent a meticulous restoration. Every inch of the original factory paint was uncovered and documented and then each animal was restored to its exact Munsell Color System paint color. The original paint was preserved underneath a thick layer of shellac, ensuring the animals today look just as they did when they were originally painted 113 years ago. sleighThere are only 23 remaining Dentzel carousels in existence and only 14 are still in operation. The Pullen Park carousel is considered to be one of the finest examples of carousel craftsmanship in the world and it is recognized as one of the most exceptional surviving works of the Pennsylvania Carousel Company. matt mcconnell images

As a quick aside, the only “new” part of the carousel was actually crafted by an amazing sculptor friend of mine – Matt McConnell. Matt designed a beautiful weather vane for the top of the carousel structure. It is pictured to the right. He did a great job and I think Gustav Dentzel would approve.

Today, 126 years later, Pullen Park is one of the most famous parks in North Carolina. It has beautiful picnic areas with grills for grilling out, tennis and basketball courts, baseball fields, lovely walking paths through lush gardens, a small outdoor amphitheater for live music, pedal boats on the park’s large pond, kiddie boat rides, a concession stand and Theatre in the Park is located on Pullen Park’s grounds…but there is one more very cool feature too — a miniature train that runs the entire circumference of the park! train The C.P. Huntington Train is a one-third sized, fully operational, miniature train that was added to the park in 1950. In addition to this fun little ride, the playground features a real, full-sized red Southern Railroad caboose. It’s a feature I love to play in myself and it inflames my imagination because my grandfather, Glen Mabry, who lost his father when he was just 12, went to work as a brakeman on a train to help support his family. He met my grandmother when he was 19 and she was hanging out the mailbag, which it was the brakeman’s job to pick up. I love thinking about that while sitting in that big red caboose.

Finally, there is a bronze statue of Andy Griffith and Ron Howard that depicts Andy and Opie Taylor walking with their fishing rods (well, they used to have fishing rods. Someone stole them the very first night. I am so bummed about that) from the introduction to The Andy Griffith Show that both Griffith and Howard christened for the park. (Andy Griffith had a home here until his death last year.)

andy and opie

Pullen Park is a charming park. I really love it and I’ve enjoyed meeting there for the Raleigh Hoop Jam, which started in April of 2008. Because Pullen Park is an international destination, our hoop jam has hosted families from all over the world. I have seen entire middle-eastern families with mothers and grandmothers hooping in burqas next to Japanese visitors who spoke no English spinning poi for the first time to the music of drummers from Jamaica. I mean, it doesn’t get much more magical than that! pullenbridgeFor anyone reading this who has never been to the Raleigh Hoop Jam, I invite you to join us. We meet every Wednesday from 6:30-8:30 pm. I bring a truckload of hoops and a box of poi. Tony and Melissa Griffin of the Raleigh Drum Circle bring a carload of drums. You are welcome to use all these things and we will even teach you how. Everyone is friendly and welcoming and the whole gathering is completely free. I invite you to come play with us and see the amazingness that is Pullen Park for yourself.  You will love it. I know I do.

caroleeenahistoryPullen ParkraleighRaleigh Drum Circleraleigh hoop jam

3 Responses to “The History of Pullen Park (Home of Raleigh Hoop Jam)”

  • Chooka Bear says:

    I am one of the featured artists in the app called Draw Something 2. When we were given the challenge to draw our hometown. I knew I had to find a nice picture of the place in my fondest childhood memory, Pullen Park. Thank you for taking such wonderful Pictures! My drawing based on your photo has 4.6k likes in DrawSomething2, and more than 200 comments. Many of them say “So pretty, I want to go there!”. I live in Texas now, and sadly cannot visit Pullen Park, but it still lives in my memory as a bright spot in an otherwise dismal childhood.

  • Charles says:

    Wonderful history! Thank you. … Bloomsbury was right next to present day Aldert Root School. And apparently the “Reedy Creek” section of Umstead was the portion that was for “colored” folks. …a nightwatchman at Bloomsbury decided he would take a ride on the roller coaster one night, and he couldn’t get off for the whole night! He said he could never even look at a roller coaster after that.


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