Saturday morning, 180 years – plus two days – after the first Leigh bought a piece of land in what is now southwestern Durham County, the city is going to cut the ribbon on the Leigh Farm Park.
The park – 83 acres on a wooded ridge between New Hope Creek and Interstate 40 – has actually been open since May, but the city held off on a ceremony for reasons practical and historical.
“We did a soft opening in May when construction was finished,” assistant parks director Beth Timson said. The new parking lot was paved and the water turned on, but there were things to do remaining such as clearing brush, trimming shrubs, making repairs and actually planning what to do for a grand opening.
That’s the practical part. The historical part was choosing an appropriate date – as close as possible to the anniversary of the original Leigh purchase, Oct. 9, 1834, which was also the 25th birthday of the man the park is named for: Richard Stanford Leigh.
Leigh received the ridge property, 500 acres, as a wedding present from his father, Sullivan Leigh. The family had moved into the area in the 1780s, first settling around present Colfax Street – near the Durham Freeway/Alston Avenue interchange.
On his land, he built a two-room house and enlarged it, and his farm, over the next years for his growing family. Leigh fathered 19 children (by two wives) and by the Civil War’s outbreak owned almost 1,000 acres and 16 slaves.
One slave cabin still stands in the park, along with a smokehouse, carriage house and log tobacco barn; and more recent additions, the Piedmont Wildlife Center, a disc golf course and the former Amshack – the double-wide trailer that served as Durham’s railroad station from 1996 until 2009 – which was relocated for a visitors center.
Besides the ribbon-cutting at 11 a.m., Saturday’s opening includes farm tours, storytelling, children’s amusements and disc-golf demonstrations.
An hour earlier at 10 a.m. on the other side of town, the city is cutting a second ribbon: this one on the Angier-Driver Streetscape, a revitalization project on an old commercial district that had fallen on hard times.
Stylish black streelights arc over sidewalks with decorative brick borders between fresh concrete and the curbs, brickwork defines the crosswalks and black metal benches stand in a recess at the corner by Angier Avenue Baptist Church.
Angier/Driver is the first completed streetscape of five targeted in 2008 to help bring commerce back to neighborhood business corridors it had left behind. The idea was that more presentable corridors would stimulate interest and investment and, in turn, bring the customers back.
In Angier/Driver’s case, investment arrived first, notably in the form of Joseph Bushfan’s renovation of the 1920s Crabtree Pharmacy and two adjoining buildings into a restaurant and commercial kitchen for food-truck operators. Durham businessman Dan Hill, a former city councilman, was a ground-floor investor in turning around what he described in 2009 as “ground zero in Durham’s issues with regard to crime.”
Some nearby storefronts are still boarded up, but others suggest the catalyst Bushfan and Hill had in mind has begun, probably in tandem with the city’s $4.8-million investment for appearances’ sake.
(One of the other streetscape projects, Little Five Points, has been partially done. Its completion awaits funding, as does any progress on the others: East Main Street from Hood to Alston Avenue; Fayetteville Street from the Durham Freeway to Cornwallis Road; and West Chapel Hill Street. All together, the five projects wil cost more than $55 million, according to a 2009 estimate.)
Bushfan is one of the speakers at Saturday’s ceremony, along with barbershop owners Jeffrey Warren (Signature Kutz) and Samuel Jenkins Samuel & Sons), Deputy City Manager Keith Chadwell and Mayor Bill Bell.