INTERVIEW WITH EMILY CATHERMAN FRYAR,
MANAGER OF HISTORIC OAK VIEW COUNTY PARK IN RALEIGH
The recorded history of Oak View begins in 1829, as a farm that grew into a plantation of more than 900 acres during the 19th century. Today, it is a 27-acre site that includes historic farm buildings and grounds that’s interpretation reflects the transition from an antebellum plantation into sharecropping and tenant farming.
Visitors to Historic Oak View County Park today can connect with history while strolling the grounds, picnicking and fishing in the farm ponds. Although the farm is different today, crops and livestock are still here and the buildings continue to tell an important story of our shared past.
Emily Catherman Fryar is the park manager of Historic Oak View County Park in southeast Raleigh. She has been with the park since the fall of 2000 where she began working as a part time educator while completing graduate school in
public history at NC State. She lives in Holly Springs with her husband, Matt, and their four children.
Interviewing Catherman Fryar today is Joseph Ragone with the Regency Park Partnership, and a long-time resident of Moore and Wake Counties. Joe, who has visited practically all Wake County Parks and many of our state parks as well, understands and appreciates the importance of preserving not only our natural resources, but our historic sites as well.
Joe recently visited Oak View again in order to prepare for this interview.
Emily, thank you so much for taking the time to tell us about this small, but unique county park. Many of us were reminded of Oak View earlier this year when local media reported the acquisition of two young Mini Nubian goats from a farm near the Town of Wake Forest. And I had a chance to see them up-close during my recent visit.
The addition of Oscar and Henry was exciting news for the park as our goats are very popular with visitors and staff! These two are quite the pair and you can usually find one right next to the other! Henry was born with brown fur with black markings on his face and a black streak across his back, while Oscar is mostly white with black stripes on his face and black on his ears and on the top of his neck. As they age, they are looking more and more similar to each other.
To get started today, what would you say makes Oak View so very special and so different from many other Wake County Parks?
Oak View is unique in the Wake County Parks system, as it is heavily focused on a historic interpretation. The park’s interpretive time period is also unique, in that it focuses on the Reconstruction Era, and the transition from plantations into sharecropping and tenant farming.
The emphasis of the story told at Oak View is on the lives and labors of those who worked this land, including enslaved individuals, sharecroppers, and tenant farmers that once lived here.
It seems that each county park has its own story of how it came to be. How about Oak View, what can you tell us about how this land was originally preserved so that it would one day become the park that it is today?
In 1984, Wake County acquired Oak View's 72 acres of farmland and developed the Wake County Office Park on the property using the main house and some of the farm buildings for storage. However, 17 acres encompassing the remaining pecan grove and a complex of farm buildings were slated for demolition.
But before demolition could take place, efforts to save the property began and the Wake County Historical Society formed a committee to raise funds. Then the Wake County Board of Commissioners created the Oak View Restoration Steering Committee composed of residents and county staff with the mission of restoring the historic buildings and making it a historic site. As a result, Oak View was finally listed on the National Register of Historic Places in April 1991, giving even more momentum to this project.
That certainly was a lot of effort, and it is so good to know that it was worth it. Emily, when did it become a county park?
It wasn’t until 1995 that Wake County Parks actually took over control of Oak View, making it the first historic site in the Wake County park system. And it was under county management that educational programming was able to be expanded and refined, and then promoted to reach a wider audience.
A Farm History Center was completed in 1997 and serves as a visitor’s center and interpretive space where you can learn about North Carolina's diverse agrarian past. And today, more than 100,000 visitors come to Oak View each year to learn about North Carolina's past through its programs, events, and exhibits.
That is very interesting and there is much more that we might want to learn for ourselves. What can you tell us?
The park’s history is outlined in online resources that you can see here under the Oak View's “History” heading.
Thank you for sharing that link. I was quite impressed with the information and its presentation and would highly recommend it to all our readers. Now if we wanted to spend all or part of day exploring your park, what would you suggest, and how much time should we plan on spending there? Include time for a picnic lunch if there are places to have it.
To start with, all the park grounds are open and accessible during daylight hours. There are walking trails, gardens, and our goats and chickens are out daily, weather permitting. And yes, we do have picnic areas where you can take a break for a snack or even lunch. You could actually spend almost an entire day here, going in the buildings, seeing the exhibits, taking a break for lunch, and then walking the trails and gardens.
Can you tell us about the permanent exhibits in the buildings that will allow us to learn more?
Several of the park’s buildings have permanent exhibits that are open during park business hours.
Can you give us just a few examples?
We have the Cotton Gin House (circa 1900) where one can learn about cotton farming, and in our Plank Kitchen you can learn how cooking was done more than a century ago.
Some parks may rent out some of their facilities or grounds for events like weddings and conferences. Does your park do this?
The only facilities at Historic Oak View County Park that are available for rent are two picnic shelters. Each one has picnic tables, a water fountain, electrical outlets, and a large charcoal grill.
Your park is very picturesque, and it is obvious that some great photos can be taken here. Are there any restrictions on taking photos?
Beyond following our park rules, taking pictures for personal enjoyment has no specific restrictions and we encourage this as one can take some great photos here.
However, professional photographers must have a permit. You can find information about registering for sessions here And we always request that professional photographers keep in mind and respect the complex historical significance of this site.
As the park contains several historically significant historic structures, can one use a metal detector at the park to search for artifacts?
Metal detectors may be used only to search for something you may have lost in the park, not for any other reason. And even in the case of a lost personal item, the park manager must have granted permission in advance for using a metal detector.
We understand that your goat population is a favorite amongst visitors. When did goats first arrive and why was it decided to have them in the park.
Our goats are very popular with visitors of all ages. We wanted to capture the spirit of having a living farm with livestock, and our goats were a great fit as they are very friendly and easy to take care of.
The first goats arrived at Oak View in 2001 and we have had goats at the park ever since.
Can you please tell us more about your goats, things like what kind they are, how many you have, and anything else about them we might enjoy knowing?
We have always had Nubian goats and more recently Mini-Nubian goats. These are an extremely friendly breed that does well in North Carolina’s climate. We started out with only two but have added on many over the years. The largest our herd has ever been was six goats and currently we have five. They live in our Livestock Barn and are kept out in a corral on days where the weather cooperates. We do ask visitors to check with staff before feeding anything to the goats, but they are very fond of baby carrots and cut-up apple slices.
So what are the main differences between Nubian goats and Mini-Nubian goats?
The Mini Nubian is a mid-sized dairy breed that is a cross between a standard Nubian and a Nigerian Dwarf. For farmers, the Mini would produce the same the sweet, creamy, high butterfat milk of a Nigerian Dwarf but more of it. Many of them produce as much milk as standard sized Nubians but on half the feed.
What about your chickens?
Everyone should see our Oak View chickens in their coop, located beside the Tenant House. The park has two different breeds of chickens: Buff Orpington and Ameraucana.
Both of these breeds are gentle and social and respond well to attention. They are non-aggressive and enjoy handling, making them a good bird for families.
What can you tell us about all your historic buildings? I know there is a lot of information to share, but if you could please just give us the highlights, we can learn more online and when we visit.
We have several historic structures at Oak View for you to enjoy and learn from. The oldest is a small building, built around 1825, that was later used as a detached kitchen for the main farmhouse. The farmhouse itself was constructed in 1855 and went through several renovations over the years, including a rather large one in 1940.
Then there are the cotton gin house, the carriage house, and the livestock barn. These are also all original to the property and were all build around 1900. There is also a tenant house which was moved from Wendell. It was built around 1870 and sits on the site of one of the farm’s original tenant houses.
Learn more about the park buildings here and then visit the section on Oak View’s Structures – there are also some very nice photos there as well. You can also learn more by taking a Mobile Tour of Oak View, which is accessible on computers or smart phones here .
We know that there are two ponds at the park. I enjoy fishing myself. Can you fish in them and are there any regulations?
Yes, there are two fishponds. They are located near the Bluebird Shelter and along the trailhead that begins on the north side of the Farm History
Center parking lot. These ponds are catch-and-release only. North Carolina freshwater fishing regulations do apply, and a NC fishing license is required for 16 and older.
Children often enjoy fishing in these ponds and enjoy the waterfowl there too!
Do you have any guided tours and educational programs, especially for younger children and students?
The park currently offers limited public programs, including a reservation only property tour called from Plantation to Park. Our offerings are still limited due to COVID-19. The park also offers a number of self-guided activities as well as a Mobile Tour
The park features many interactive play areas, but the popular Farmer’s Corner remains closed at this time due to COVID-19.
We are not yet returning to group programming, but the park does offer a lot of content virtually both for school groups and the public. You can find all our digital content online at “Parks from Home” here .
What are some of your general-public programs? How can we learn more?
You can tour the park on your mobile phone at your own pace getting information about each structure, and also about the families who made their homes and livelihoods here. Our StoryWalk® is very popular with children. StoryWalk® is a children’s book that is presented page by page along a trail or path. It combines the pleasures of reading a children's book while enjoying nature.
Other self-guided activities include The “Oak View Letterbox Challenge”, the “Get Your Bearings” Compass Activity, and the “Oak View Scavenger Hunt,” which is a great for children. Go here to see all the public programs we offer.
What group programming do you offer?
Oak View is a popular field trip destination for elementary school age students. Currently we are only offering virtual field trips due to COVID-19 restrictions.
In more normal times we offer programs for small groups, homeschools, daycares, track out camps, scout troops, middle school, high school, and adult groups.
There are certainly a lot of programs, and I know that your website will give us much more information, but are there any fees for your group programs?
There are no fees for any of our programs, but reservations are required in advance for any staff-led program. And all educational programs are for 10 or more students.
Emily, we all know that all our Wake County Parks depend heavily on their professional, competent staff to make our visits safe and informative. What can you tell us about your staff?
We are four full time employees and up to seven part time employees that work in either Education or Maintenance and Operations. Our Assistant Manager of Education, Abby Kellerman, oversees all aspects of the park's interpretation and educational programming, including a large field trip program that reaches thousands of students every year. Our Assistant Park Manager of Operations, Matt Southern, manages the maintenance of the historic buildings, the extensive gardens, the park's trail system and our livestock program.
Emily, thank you for sharing Oak View Park with us today. Personally, I do not know of any other Wake County park that offers so much to see and learn in such a condensed area. Before we leave you to your duties, is there anything else you want to share with us?
Our website has a brochure with lots of information that you can see here . The brochure includes a map that is helpful when you visit the park.
We look forward to everyone visiting Oak View soon!
Historic Oak View County Park is located at 4028 Carya Drive in Raleigh. It is open daily, except on Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and New Year's Day. The grounds are open 8 a.m. until sunset, seven days a week. The buildings are open Monday–Saturday: 8:30 a.m.–5 p.m., Sunday: 1–5 p.m.