Backstory and Context
Pullen Park was established in 1887 by local philanthropist Richard Stanhope Pullen with a donation of 80 acres of farmland to the city of Raleigh. Mr. Pullen`s vision that this land would be used for the recreation and pleasure of the residents and the visitors to the City of Raleigh came to pass as Pullen Park became the first public park in North Carolina. According to the census of the National Amusement Park Historical Association, Pullen Park is the 5th oldest operating amusement park in the US and the 14th oldest in the world. Through years of development, the park has added a carousel, train, kid boats, pedal boats, concessions stand, picnic facilities, indoor aquatic center, community center, arts center, ball fields, tennis courts, and a theatre to make it what it is today. While the park and facilitates within are accessible to all people today, Pullen Park has an ignominious relating to the history of segregation.
Wiley A. Howell served as the first superintendent for the park and worked closely with Pullen to develop the park. Howell was responsible for planting trees and building bridges and installing a circular pavilion and a bandstand at the crest of a terraced hillock with an ornamental water fountain located at its base. Electric streetcar service was extended to the park in 1891.
After installing a steam-driven “merry-go-round" in the summer of 1915, Pullen added a Dentzel carousel in the fall of 1920. The carousel, which was originally located north of the city at Bloomsbury park, remains at the park and is one of just 23 Dentzel carousels and one of 14 Dentzel menageries still operating in Northern America according to the National Carousel Association Census. The carousel was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1976 and has since been restored multiple times. The original color and design were reproduced as closely as possible. Twenty-eight of the animals are also documented and preserved.
A miniature diesel train was added to the park in the 1950s and later replaced by a replica steam locomotive. The first Pullen Park swimming pool was created adjacent to the lake in 1891, which was initially for men only and was expanded to accommodate women in 1895. The pool was improved in the 1920s and was completely rebuilt by the Works Projects Administration in the 1930s. However, for the first half of the 20th century, much of Pullen Park was segregated and only accessible to whites. The pool was briefly closed by the city after four black males went swimming with two white companions on August 7, 1962. “Although this is a small incident in the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, this demonstration was part of the cumulative effort on the part of African-Americans for equal rights in the country.”(Universal Pops (David),2012)
Pullen Park swimming pool served Raleigh residents through the 1980s and then was replaced in 1992 by, the Pullen Aquatic Center, which is in a separate building complex just north of the old pool. The site of Pullen Park’s first swimming pool today is an open, landscaped plaza which greets thousands of park visitors.