Chapel Hill News

Orange County’s Blackwood Farm celebrates farming and family

“Our greatest fear was seeing a McDonald's on the corner or the land broken up,” says Fred Blackwood, second from left, top row. The descendants of Herbert and Alice Blackwood gather for a family photo at the dedication of Orange County's Blackwood Farm Park, preserving the 152-acre homestead for public enjoyment, Saturday, June 20, 2015.
“Our greatest fear was seeing a McDonald's on the corner or the land broken up,” says Fred Blackwood, second from left, top row. The descendants of Herbert and Alice Blackwood gather for a family photo at the dedication of Orange County's Blackwood Farm Park, preserving the 152-acre homestead for public enjoyment, Saturday, June 20, 2015. mschultz@newsobserver.com

The memories spilled out like photos from a family album as the grandchildren, great grandchildren and great-great-grandhildren of Herbert and Alice Blackwood gathered Saturday.

A breeze drifted up the sunken, wagon-wheel path that crosses the Blackwood Farm north to south. It rustled the giant magnolia in front of the white farm house built in 1827, where the couple’s three grandchildren would stay when they visited.

“We’d help milk the cows. Uncle Homer would plow the field; I’d sit on the tractor with him,” said David Blackwood, now living in Cary.

“For me it was fun – I was just 10, 12 years old,” he said. “They let us drive the cars. We’d drive up and down the driveway all day long.”

“There’s probably a dent in that dogwood tree I backed into,” said Fred Blackwood of Raleigh.

“Did you hit that tree?” his sister Judy Womble of Mars Hill asked and laughed.

The family no longer lives on the land that bears their name. Herbert and Alice’s daughters Nannie and Mary, the last of eight children, were in their 80s when they sold the land to Orange County in 2001 for a future park.

On Saturday, the extended family returned for the dedication of Blackwood Farm Park, the 152-acre homestead that Orange County will preserve for public use and to celebrate the county’s agricultural heritage and ongoing contributions.

“This is not just a county park; it’s your park,” Earl McKee, chairman of the Orange County Board of Commissioners, told about 100 people at the ceremony.

But unlike most parks, there will be no ball fields.

Instead, visitors will be able to explore many of the farm’s actual buildings: the chicken house, or “biddie house,” where the Blackwoods raised young chickens; the shed where five cows at a time were milked by hand until the farm mechanized in the late 1930s; the weathered wooden barn where the mules, cows and horses were stalled and where wheat, hay and corn husks were stored in the large loft.

“Come sit on the porch, walk the trails, explore the farm buildings,” McKee said. “Except for the fact that you hear I-40, this is the way it was for 250 years.”

Bob Strayhorn, the cattle farmer caddy-cornered from the Blackwood Farm at N.C. 86 and New Hope Church Road, also spoke at the ceremony. His family has been associated with the property since 1817, according to county deed records.

Herbert and Alice Blackwood bought the farm from Dr. John Berry and Mary Strayhorn Berry in 1906. They ran a dairy until they died in 1958-59, after which a nearby farmer grew hay.

Bob Strayhorn remembers the dinner bell that would ring 15 minutes before noon, giving the farm workers just enough time to come in from the fields and unharness the horses. The Blackwood grandkids and county commissioners rang that bell Saturday to officially open the park.

“I learned to fish in that pond,” Strayhorn said, pointing to what is now one of the county’s few public fishing holes. “They kept the fishing rods in the garage for me. They had a rack.”

The farmer remembers the corn harvest, when all the neighbors would come over to shuck.

“This community has been a great place to grow up,” he said. “And I’m forever grateful to the Blackwood family.”

The county purchased the farm through its Lands Legacy Program, an award-winning conservation program. It’s a public affirmation, Commissioner Barry Jacobs said, of things like schools, libraries and a courthouse that the community considers important.

For the Blackwood descendants, of course, it’s more personal.

They didn’t even call their grandparents place a farm, David Blackwood said.

“It was called ‘out home.’ That’s all we knew it as,” he said. “I’d stay out a couple of weeks at a time, and I’d cry when my parents would come to take me home.”

It’s fitting that “out home” will now be shared with others.

“Our greatest fear was seeing a McDonald’s up on the corner, or seeing the land broken up,” Fred Blackwood said.

“Our family didn’t measure its wealth in terms (of money),” he continued. “It was measured in the number of people who came to see them. Everybody who would drive down that driveway was seen as a treasure – ‘Come in and have a piece of pound cake.’”

“And take some home,” added Judy.

Schultz: 919-829-8950

Blackwood Farm Park

Location: 4215 N.C. 86, Hillsborough, NC

Hours: Blackwood Farm Park is open Friday, Saturday and Sunday only. October - March 8 a.m. - 5 p.m., April and September 8 a.m. - 7 p.m., May - August 8 a.m. - 8 p.m.

Amenities: 4 miles of hiking trails, picnic shelter with tables, pond with fishing area (no boating) - requires valid fishing license (over 16 years old) artificial bait only, open fields, historic farmhouse, barn, smoke house, corncrib and other outbuildings, restroom

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