2 for 1: Leigh Farm Park & Piedmont Wildlife Center

Tucked out of sight, just off Route 54 near the bustling I-40 interchange between Durham and Chapel Hill (NC) are Leigh Farm Park and the Piedmont Wildlife Center. It’s two for the price of one—except they’re both free!

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Leigh Farm Park is a former Durham farmstead consisting of 80-plus acres, seven of which are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Historic structures include the Leigh House, built in 1837, a mid-19th century slave cabin, an early 19th century dairy, a corn crib and smokehouse (both raided in 1865 by Union soldiers), a well house, and a carriage house.

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Carriage House (Leigh Farm Park; Durham, NC)

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Slave cabin with stick chimney (Leigh Farm Park; Durham, NC)

The rest of the property contains a second mid-19th century slave cabin, an early 20th century tobacco barn and pack house, several mid-20th century residences, a speakeasy (moved to the property in the 1950’s), and wooded land that was historically agricultural. To add to the eclectic mix, the visitor’s center at Leigh Farm Park is an old Durham train depot.

Piedmont Wildlife Center (PWC)
Alongside the antebellum Leigh farmstead is the Piedmont Wildlife Center, which seeks to connect people with nature through their three-fold mission to educate the community, conserve nature, and care for injured and sick native wildlife.

During a recent visit, I saw some of the wildlife that have been rescued and nursed back to health. Animals that have been rescued but later determined unable to live successfully in the wild serve as representatives of their species for educational purposes. One such ambassador is Otus, a small Eastern Screech Owl found in 2009 in Wilkes County with an improperly healed wing that makes him unable to fly. Otus was adorable but difficult to photograph.

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Otus and most of the wildlife at PWC reside in shelters like these. Otus likes to perch near the ground and at the corner of his shelter, so it was hard to angle my camera through the wire and downward to capture his tiny form. Disappointing, (because he was my favorite!), but I was able to do a little better with the other owls at the center.

Athena, a Barred Owl rescued in 2009 in Lincoln County, was found severely injured and required surgery. Despite undergoing months of rehabilitation, flight training, and physical therapy (yes, you read that right), Athena was deemed unable to hunt and survive in the wild.

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Athena, a Barred Owl at the Piedmont Wildlife Center in Durham, NC.

I heard Bellatrix, a Great Horned Owl, before I saw her. She made a sort of hissing sound, followed by a clicking of her bill. I peered though the wire and came eyeball to eyeball with her.

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Bellatrix, a Great Horned Owl (Piedmont Wildlife Center; Durham, NC)

As I studied Bellatrix, I noticed something fascinating—she had more than one eyelid per eye! She had three, to be exact.

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Owls have one eyelid that blinks top to bottom when they are awake, a second one that closes from the bottom to the top when they are asleep, and a third eyelid (shown here at left)—called a nictitating membrane—that closes diagonally over the eye to clean and moisten it. — pictured here: Bellatrix; Piedmont Wildlife Center (Durham, NC)

PWC is home to several other animals, including hawks, turtles and snakes.

If two for the price of one isn’t enough to inspire a day out, consider this: on the grounds of Leigh Farm Park is an 18-hole disc golf course operated by Durham Orange Recreational Disc Association. …That’s quite a lot of variety in one place!

Pullen Park – Part 1

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Adjacent to NC State University in Raleigh, North Carolina, lies a 66-acre gem called Pullen Park. Established in 1887 by Richard Stanhope Pullen, it was the first public park in North Carolina. Today, Pullen Park is the 14th oldest amusement park in the world.[1]

Recently, my older sister and I took our young nephew to Pullen Park, which today offers such attractions as paddle boats, train rides, and a locally-sourced canteen. Being the fanciful creature that I am, my favorite attraction was the circa 1900 wooden carousel nestled neatly inside an octagonal building topped with a quirky weathervane.

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The weathervane on the Pullen Park Carousel building.

The carousel was made for the Dentzel Carousel Company in Germantown, PA, by master carver Salvatore Cernigliaro and his apprentices. It is one of 23 remaining historic Dentzel carousels and one of 14 Dentzel menageries still operating in Northern America. It has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1976.[2]

The carousel is a three-abreast, stationary and galloping menagerie machine consisting of 52 animals and two chariots. As for the music? It’s a Wurlitzer 125 Military Band Organ dating back to between 1900 and 1924.  A major restoration of the carousel took place from 1977 – 1982. This was the first restoration of a carousel that involved the removal of layers of paint to expose the original colors and designs, which were then reproduced as closely as possible.[3]

We arrived at the park before the big rush, so I was able to take pictures in the carousel house while it was still empty. Despite a morning of best efforts, I could not entice my nephew onto the magical, moving menagerie.  By the time I decided to go it alone, throngs of excited children were wrapped around the inside of the building and my carousel dreams were set aside for another day.  In the meantime, these pictures serve as a reminder of another place and time … right here, right now in the City of Oaks.

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Pullen Park Carousel: Of the 52 animals on the historic menagerie, 16 of them are stationary and 36 move up and down.

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The inside rim of the Pullen Park Carousel is comprised of 18 gilded mirrors and 18 canvas panels.

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The Pullen Park Carousel’s Wurlitzer 125 Military Band Organ, (circa 1900-1924)

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The outside rim of the Pullen Park Carousel contains 18 large panels of alternating animal portraits and landscape scenes.

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One of the landscape scenes on the outside rim of the Pullen Park Carousel.

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My favorite animal on the Pullen Park Carousel was this colorful and graceful giraffe.

There are many thing to see and do at Pullen Park! Not entirely convinced? Look for my upcoming post, Pullen Park — Part 2.


[1] Census of the National Amusement Park Historical Association
[2] National Carousel Association Census
[3] http://www.raleighnc.gov/arts/content/PRecRecreation/Articles/PullenParkHistory.html