Monday, May 29, 2017

“A Noble Idea” The History of Peabody Park (Part Two)



Have you ever wondered how UNCG acquired such a beautiful green space on the northern edge of its campus?  Well, the founding and development of Peabody Park is a fascinating story that reflects UNCG’s overall growth as a center of higher learning and a Greensboro neighbor.  Given the complexity of the story, the Park’s history is being told in three Spartan Story installments.  The first installment was told in November 2016, “A Noble Idea:” The History of Peabody Park (Part One), and focused on the Park’s founding through a generous donation of monies.  The second installment, May 2017, will pick up the Park’s story in 1902 and how it evolved from a place of strolling and reflection to one of recreational activities, open-air theatrical performances, and finally, institutional encroachment. 
 
Shortly after the land for Peabody Park was purchased in 1901, landscape designers established a series of walking trails.  Wooden benches were strategically placed along the paths.  Female students used this new green space for their required daily “walking periods.”  President Charles Duncan McIver described the designed space as an education park where student learning and physical education were brought together in one place.  McIver envisioned that stone markers and plaques would be installed to highlight human advancement and inspire the passing walker. However, plans for the installation of stone educational markers were shelved with McIver’s sudden death in 1906.  Despite his untimely death, the Park was quickly being incorporated into campus life.
 
Peabody Park became a popular venue for school festivals and performances.  Starting in 1904, students staged elaborate May Day Festivals.  Over the years, the festivals became more and more elaborate.  The Festival’s activities included: the crowning of a May Day queen, dramatic performances, parades, and folk dances.   With the American entry into World War One in 1917, the May Day festivals were stopped and did not resume until the 1920s.  Instead, students used Peabody Park to hold patriotic rallies and pageants to boost morale and to encourage the purchase of Liberty Bonds.  With May Day festivals starting up again in the 1920s and continuing into the 1950s, Peabody Park was again being used for student events and performances.  Indeed, there was even the establishment of “Park Night” that honored students who embodied the school’s ideals of scholarship and service. 
 
As enrollment grew in the 1920s, the school was challenged to meet the needs of its growing student population.  Under the leadership of President Foust, the school experienced a building boom and sought to incorporate parts of Peabody Park into its educational programs.  Tennis courts and an archery range were constructed to support physical education classes.  In 1934, during the height of the Depression, the federal government’s Civil Works Administration built a nine-hole golf course in the Park.  With the establishment of a Golf Club, the school administration hoped that faculty and students would be active members and that their membership dues would help support the maintenance of the grounds.  Unfortunately, Club membership remained low and the maintenance of the grounds proved to be costly. 

On the eve of America’s entry into World War Two in 1941, the golf course had fallen into disrepair.  It was decided to transform the space by damming one of the branches of the Buffalo Creek.  The dam helped to form a small lake for boating.  Peabody Park suddenly had a lake!  In addition, an outdoor amphitheater was constructed on the lake’s shore to be used for concerts and pageants.  All traces of the 1934 golf course disappeared.

Interestingly enough, the idea of a school golf course for recreation and learning was resurrected in the postwar period.  In 1954, the lake was drained and the lake bed was leveled.  State funds for a new nine-hole golf course were obtained.  To generate interest for this instructional course, the school held a “gala” in 1957 that featured local golf pros playing the course.  To sustain the project, the course was designed to keep maintenance costs down and to bring golf into the curriculum.  Unlike the fate of the Depression-era course, the 1954 golf course functioned as a nine-hole course until the 1990s.  In 1999, the old golf course was transformed into a short-game practice facility (150 yard fairway, 2 holes and a bunker) to be used by the school’s golf teams as well as for physical education classes.

With the projected growth of the school in the 1960s, there was a strong need to expand residential housing on the campus.  Portions of Peabody Park was identified as a space for development.  Plans were drawn up.  In 1960, the Moore-Strong Residence Hall was built.  In 1963, the Reynolds Residence Hall and the Grogan Residence Hall were opened.  Upon learning of the construction of residences halls in Peabody Park, a number of former students wrote to Chancellor Otis Singletary in 1965 objecting to the University's building plans.  They insisted that this unique green space be preserved.  Despite these written protests, the University moved forward with its building plans and opened both the Cone Residence Hall and the Phillips-Hawkins Residence Hall in 1967.

The third and final installment of the story of Peabody Park will examine how the Park continued to evolve along with the University’s own growth.  The blog post will consider issues such as the 1990s student protests over planned campus expansion as well as the 2016 announcement for the construction of two wetlands sites within Peabody Park.  Stay Tuned! 

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