West Point on the Eno

What do you get when you mix an old mill with a 19th century homestead, then toss in a photography museum and a sand sculpture for good measure?

West Point on the Eno.

Located along the Eno River in Durham, North Carolina—in an area once inhabited by Shocco and Eno Indians—this city park is an eclectic mix of past and present, of nature and culture.

I paid a visit earlier this month. A sign in the parking lot warned (1) there are snakes, (2) only the copperhead is poisonous, and (3) harming snakes in the park is strictly prohibited. …Good to know.

While I pondered a snake population significant enough to warrant a sign, I made my way (gingerly) toward the park’s historic buildings.

The McCown-Mangum House
My first stop was the McCown-Mangum House, which was built around 1850 and served as the homestead for two early Durhamite families. (Mangum Street in downtown Durham is named after the Mangums.)

WestPointEno_House

The old farmhouse, built in Greek revival style, contains original heart-of-pine boards, mantels, and woodwork. The piano, side table, and sofa through this doorway are authentic to the house and can be seen in an old photo in the parlour.

tobacco_barn_WestPointEno

The old tobacco barn at West Point on the Eno: Tobacco, cotton and watermelons were the farm’s major crops in its heyday.

Hugh Mangum Photography Museum
The property’s 19th century packhouse, where tobacco was stored before going to market, is now home to the Hugh Mangum Photography Museum.

Hugh Mangum was born in 1877, the eldest son of Presley and Sally Mangum. The family moved to the farm, previously owned by the McCowns, in 1893.

Hugh Mangum was both a musician and an artist. He played mandolin, accordion, and piano and created the many paintings and photographs currently on display in the farmhouse.

After studying art at Salem College and earning a degree in hypnotism, of all things, Mangum traveled around the countryside immortalizing young and old on glass negatives which he then turned into photographs.

WestPointEno_Glass_Plates

a glass negative

WestPointEno_finished_photo

photo from the glass negative

WestPointEno_Dark_Room

Mangum established a darkroom in the packhouse to develop his photographs, mixing his chemicals and washing his prints in water from a nearby stream.

WestPointEno_Photography_Museum

The photos on display in the museum were printed from some 500 glass negatives found on the property in the 1970s.

West Point Mill
West Point Mill was one of thirty-two grist mills operating along the Eno River. It was accessible by roads in every direction and situated in an area that was thriving.

West_Point_Mill

West Point Mill operated from 1778-1942 and in its prime consisted of a general store, blacksmith shop, cotton gin, saw mill…and even a post office. Its name–West Point–was the result of being the most westerly point on the mail route.

WestPointEno_Mill

The mill collapsed after a severe storm in 1973, leaving only the foundation and some of the frame standing. The mill was reconstructed from photographs and furnished with machinery from former nearby mills. Today, West Point is a working example of days gone by, and the stone-ground meal and flour produced there are sold in the mill’s store.

WestPointEno_Moonshine

The attendant at the mill told me I’d find a “corn liquefier” on the second floor. I didn’t quite get the joke until I spotted this still, which was found in the woods of Durham County in the 1960s by Alcoholic Beverage Control and donated to the mill for display purposes.

The Grounds
Between the mill and the farmhouse, I spotted a quirky sight:

WestPointEno_Sand_Sculpture

The Festival on the Eno is held every 4th of July, at which time a sand sculpture is erected at West Point. This sculpture, still in great shape after a month in the elements, is entitled “Owlvis and the Owletts.”

Sally Mangum was reportedly a gifted cook and gardener. One of my favorite aspects of the park was the subtle nod to her abilities as seen in both the enclosed herb and flower garden as well as the plantings around the homestead.

WestPointEno_Skippers

The begonias in the flower boxes were lovely and the coneflowers along the front path invited pollinators.

WestPointEno_Garden

A perennial in the garden, the photography museum (packhouse) in the background.

It was an enjoyable afternoon at West Point on the Eno—and I didn’t see a single snake. A part of me was disappointed. A very sssmall part.

For a more complete view of the park and its unique history, (it’s also a stop on the North Carolina Civil War Trails tour), consider a visit. Free guided tours are available. Hiking trails and access to the Eno River are also perks of the park.

wildflower_Eno

a colorful perennial near the packhouse

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