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.)


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.


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.


a glass negative


photo from the glass negative


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


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 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.


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.


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:


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.


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


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.


a colorful perennial near the packhouse

Durham Aglow: The “Lucky” Edition

Over the last ten years, Durham, North Carolina (a.k.a. “the Bull City”) has undergone a transformation referred to as “the Durham Renaissance.” One particular area of development is the American Tobacco Historic District. Once a thriving center for the manufacture of such products as Lucky Strike cigarettes and Bull Durham tobacco, the American Tobacco District has been repurposed into a thriving hub for businesses, entertainment, housing and cuisine.

Each year, the Lucky Strike water tower on the America Tobacco campus is lit for Christmas. This year’s lighting (which occurred on December 5th) marked the 10th year of this tradition. From various points in the city—from the DPAC (Durham Performing Arts Center) to the Durham Bulls Athletic Park—the tower (lit and unlit) stands as a reminder of the Bull City’s past and its unfolding future.


Durham, North Carolina

A Bit of Americana

Maryland State Project, circa 1980.

“Money is to a bank as tobacco is to a barn.”

I used this analogy when describing Southern Maryland’s cash crop for a Social Studies project on my home state when I was nine years old.  I had developed an understanding that tobacco played a key role in establishing and maintaining the state economically. Nearly twenty years after penning that analogy, I spent six years working in the tobacco industry.  The byline on my paycheck every month: “This is tobacco money.”

Like it or not, tobacco is a part of our nation’s history.  It has created revenue, benefited state and federal governments through taxation … and caused health problems for many people, including one of my grandfathers who died of lung cancer from years of smoking.

Watching a family member dwindle away to cancer, particularly when caused by personal choice, was difficult.  Although my grandfather admitted that it was the old cigarettes that got him, (despite having given them up cold turkey fifteen years earlier at the request of his cardiologist), he assured me that he wouldn’t have changed a thing.  He told me not to feel guilty about where I worked. That was rather impossible.  I left the tobacco industry shortly afterward.

Life is bittersweet, and I’ve learned to live with that.  I find tobacco history fascinating, and I have several pieces of its past.  Here’s a sampling:

The then-President of Philip Morris on the cover of the July 4, 1938 issue of TIME Magazine.

Tobacco tins from the 1930s/40s (right) and 1940s/50s (left). The square tin held a cigarette pack while the round tin held 50 loose cigarettes. The name ‘English Blend’ was changed to ‘Special Blend’ in 1948.

Cigarettes are still in this old square tin! They are non-filter tips.

The claims on these 1940s-1960s ads are … shocking, but they are my favorite pieces of tobacco memorabilia and make for interesting wall art. [Click to enlarge.]

Magazine Ads from 1966: Man up! The Marlboro Man (1954-1999) was a huge (re)branding initiative.

These artifacts reveal our changing times.  Despite all the controversy, I hope you enjoyed this trip down memory lane.