Orange County

New Durham-Orange park is rich with history

The 75-acre Hollow Rock Nature Park officially opened Sunday.
The 75-acre Hollow Rock Nature Park officially opened Sunday.

The Triangle’s newest park, Hollow Rock Nature Park, boasts walking trails, a lot of history, a Triassic-era Hanging Rock and the upcoming return of an old country store.

The 75-acre park, 10 years in the making, officially opened Sunday. Located halfway between Durham and Chapel Chill, the park was a touch-and-go project that was on its way to become a subdivision in 2004. Neighborhood mobilization and the joint involvement of Durham and Orange counties, the City of Durham and the Town of Chapel Hill halted the development and created the park.

“There were lots of politicians,” said Marabeth Carr, the landscape architect for Orange County

Wendy Jacobs, who lived in an adjoining neighborhood, recalled Sunday how her daughters learned that houses were going to replace the creeks and gullies where they played.

“Mom, what are you going to do about that?” her two children asked.

That question nudged Jacobs into politics. She led her neighborhood effort, then joined the Durham Planning Commission and is now a Durham County commissioner.

The park has two miles of trails that connect to Duke Forest under the Erwin Road bridge over New Hope Creek. There is more to come: an accessible trail for the disabled, overlooks for birders and an environmentally minded toilet to replace the porta-potty in the parking lot.

And most importantly, the return of the Hollow Rock Country Store.

The Hollow Rock area takes its name from a geological formation on New Hope Creek, near the Erwin Road crossing. Early white settlers’ accounts and artifacts point to Indian settlements in the area. Two colonial-era roads crossed in a major intersection just north of the present Pickett Road junction with Erwin.

The Patterson family built a mill nearby in the 19th century. In the 20th century, the community’s anchor was the Hollow Rock Country Store – a small, wood-frame building with heart of pine floors, tin roof, heavy wooden shutters on its two windows and a large overhang out front that provided shade.

The store served as a polling place – novelist Reynolds Price recalled voting for John F. Kennedy there – and was a handy stop for gas and groceries when town was distant, Erwin Road was dirt, and nights were dark enough to see the Aurora Borealis – as was recalled by the late musician Tommy Thompson, who in the early 1960s frequented Friday-night picking sessions at the store. Thompson’s group, the Hollow Rock String band, evolved into the nationally-acclaimed Red Clay Ramblers.

In the early 1970s the store owners wanted to put in a new store and gas station. A neighbor, hearing the old store would be razed, moved the store to her property, where it served as a pottery studio and storage shed.

The group, Unique Places to Save, is about halfway to raising the $25,000 needed to move the old store to the park atop a new foundation. Organizers plan on creating a small history museum for the Hollow Rock area.

Marylu Flowers, an art teacher at nearby Forestview Elementary School, has been bringing students to Creek Week for years on the property. The students take water samples, document animal tracks, test soil, take core samples from trees and learn about water turbidity.

And they learn about history. The park’s most prominent feature is Hanging Rock, a Triassic-era point bar that vaults over New Hope Creek.

“John Lawson was a surveyor and artist who explored this area in the 1600s,” Flowers said. “He wrote about having a picnic with the Occoneechee Indians on Hanging Rock.”

Neff: 919-829-4516, @josephcneff

Country-store flavor

A gas station replaced the country store in the 1970s and was torn down in the late 1990s when the Erwin Road bridge was redone. A 1997 News & Observer story notes how the gas station retained its name and country-store flavor. Pickled pig’s feet were available at $2.59 per cloven hoof and cornball signs covered the walls:

“The one at the counter establishes a price list for answers: 50 cents to respond to a simple question, a buck for a guess, two-fifty if you want it thoughtful and five bucks if you want it honest. Dumb looks, the sign concludes, are still free.

Another cluster of signs hangs over the chairs in the corner. One declares: “Husbands and wives are like fishermen. They brag about the ones that got away and complain about the ones they caught.”