A regional park imagined 22 years ago has officially reopened to the public. Blackwood Farm Park, 152 acres at N.C. 86 and New Hope Church Road near Hillsborough is now open. The park, which first opened in 2015, closed for a $2.8 million renovation in 2021, including improvements to its entrance on N.C. 86 and repairs to the historic Strayhorn-Blackwood farmhouse, built in 1827, and the barn, smokehouse, and corn crib. In addition to the room to roam, the focus of the park is now on Orange County’s rural history, which is an engaging and moving testament to our sometimes-lamentable past.
Roughly 30,000 people visited the park in 2020. In 2021, the park closed for renovations, and the attendance is expected to increase significantly, as the park is now open seven days a week operation and offers many new amenities. The completed renovation is the second phase of a master plan to preserve the natural and cultural heritage of the centuries-old Orange County farm. Originally scheduled to reopen in 2022, the project was delayed by post-pandemic supply-chain issues. Restoration work on the farmhouse and several outbuildings is continuing, and they are not yet open to the public. More information about the farmstead and its history is posted on interpretative signs around the site.
In addition to the four miles of trails, the park also offers an interactive trail that tells its story. In many ways the farm serves as an embodiment of the South’s dark and troubling history. For thousands of years the land was home to Native Americans from the Occaneechi, Sissipahaw, and other Siouan tribes. In 1778, it was settled by a Quaker farmer who lived on the property until his vehement opposition to slavery made living there morally indefensible. He moved to Indiana in 1817. At least 34 enslaved people who worked for the new owners, Samuel Strayhorn and his wife Mary Moore, are buried in a small cemetery preserved at the park.
Some travel journalists have asked about this former plantation, who built the house, who planted the pathway of iconic oak trees, who worked the sugar cane fields in the summer heat. Signage and wayfinding throughout the park help make sure visitors to Blackwood Farm understand the unvarnished story of the plantation’s history.
Tandra Wilkerson, a local media representative and blogger, wrote a moving review of her day there. “The most emotional & intriguing part of our visit was seeing the historic cemetery of former slaves,” she wrote. It’s literally in the woods on a small plot of land . . . We often converse about the history of our people, Black people, but standing at the gravesite was beyond humbling. We were angry and sad but honored to stand there in their presence because energy never dies.”
The farm was sold in 1906 to Herbert Blackwood and his wife, Alice Kirkland, whose family repaired and expanded the house, which was “nearly rotten and gone,” county officials said. The Blackwoods farmed the land for many years, growing corn, cotton, wheat, and potatoes before opening a small dairy farm in the 1930s. In December 2001, Orange County purchased the152-acre site from Nannie and Mary Blackwood.
The park, open daily from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., features miles of trails, organized hikes, a pond with fishing access (license required), and picnic shelters that double as sound stages, and which may be rented for private events. A covered amphitheater is also available for public events, including festivals. Wildlife is abundant. Visitors might want to be aware that the trails are natural surface, so if hiking wear appropriate footwear.
For more information, visit: https://www.orangecountync.gov/Facilities/Facility/Details/Blackwood-Farm-Park-2