John Chavis Memorial Park, built for blacks by the federal Works Progress Administration during the Great Depression, has been added to the National Register of Historic Places, the city announced Tuesday.
Chavis, just southeast of downtown, becomes the first Raleigh city park on the National Register, which the National Park Service maintains to support efforts to identify and protect the country’s historic and archeological treasures. The nomination effort was coordinated by the city’s Historic Development Commission, with help from the South Park East Raleigh Neighborhood Association.
When it was dedicated in May 1938, Chavis had a large swimming pool and bathhouse, a baseball diamond and football field, playgrounds, picnic grounds and an Allan Herschell Company carousel with carved wooden horses. The 29-acre park drew African-Americans from all over Eastern North Carolina to swim, play and relax in the kind of place normally denied them by segregation.
Barracks erected in the park housed black troops during World War II. Later, a fighter plane was erected and used as a slide, and in the early 1950s, a miniature train, similar to the one in Pullen Park, was built, carrying people around the periphery of the playground area.
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As the end of segregation gave blacks other options, Chavis stopped drawing people from great distances. Changes made by the city, such as removing the fighter plane and the train and replacing the large swimming pool with a smaller one, also hurt attendance, as did the rise in crime in surrounding neighborhoods.
In recent years, the city launched an effort to bring new life to the park, starting with the restoration of its signature carousel and construction of a new building to house it. The Raleigh City Council approved a revised master plan for Chavis Park in 2014 that envisions projects that would cost about $40 million. The 2014 city park bond issue includes $12.5 million for work at Chavis, and city planners are still working on a plan that would help the city decide how to spend that money.
Chavis Park is named for a free black Presbyterian minister and educator who taught blacks and whites in several North Carolina counties in the early 19th century.