Wednesday, October 27, 2021

114 West Elm Street
Graham, NC 27253
Ph: 336.228.7851

OP-ED: Powell asks Graham city council to keep park’s name as is

by: Samuel C. Powell, Ph.D., former chairman of

Alamance County’s Sesquicentennial Committee in 1999

[Editor’s Note: The following are excerpts from comments of Samuel C. Powell, Ph.D., sent this week to Graham mayor Jerry Peterman and members of the Graham city council.]

Dr. Sam Powell during a previous appearance before Alamance County commissioners.

. . . It is important for us all to feel part of our community and to take pride in who we are. We could sit back and do nothing, or we can take special care and attention to the milestones (anniversaries) as they come along. If we feel our community is something special and we take pride in who we are, we should pause to celebrate when the time is right.

It would be highly inappropriate for the Graham City Council to arbitrarily change the name of Sesquicentennial Park for a use other than community celebration and recognition of advancements made over the past 150 years. There is a lot of division in our country and anything we can do to bring people together is important. The enhancement of community pride offered by Sesquicentennial Park goes a long way towards responding to the issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion.

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Renaming Sesquicentennial Park for Wyatt Outlaw has potential to divide the community by bringing up a negative time in our past. I agree that it is important to remember our past so we can learn from what happened, but in the process, we do not want to destroy the positive attributes that we have gained like Sesquicentennial Park. If the Council feels that a memorial to Mr. Outlaw should be provided in Courthouse Square, then I see no problem with putting up a plaque or statue in recognition of his life. And this could be done in the Park. But we should not lose the Park in the process.

Celebrating 150 years:
The celebration of Alamance County’s 150th birthday in 1999, followed the style of the County’s previous Centennial celebration in 1949, by involving the entire community with a year-long series of events. For the County’s 150th birthday, events included among others: a chocolate cake contest, release of the Shuttle and Plow history of Alamance County, reprinting of the 1893 and 1928 County maps, sale of the Arts Around the Square print by Elizabeth Pearson, reenactment play performed at Providence Church on the founding of Alamance County by Holt Skinner, a County-wide birthday party on April 24 including the burial of a time capsule at the Veterans Memorial in front of the new Courthouse, a golf tournament, display booth at the Alamance County Fair, participation in the 4th of July parade in Snow Camp, a Heritage Quilt Show at the Armory, the “Blast From The Past” event in Haw River, and finishing the year with a New Year’s Eve Ball. The year-long celebration involved many volunteers and was done in the spirit of a community coming together to remember its past.

We also wanted to provide a lasting gift to the community. This came in the form of the existing 150th anniversary garden/park which was constructed by donations and fundraising form the year-long planned activities.

 

Sesquicentennial Park:
Why did we feel a park in Graham was appropriate? We felt that Courthouse Square was the focal point of the County. If the County had a face, that would be it. At the time, there was an empty lot that detracted from the appearance of the Square and we felt an improvement was in order. We wanted it to be a source of pride for the entire community.

The garden/park 60’ by 50’ (300 sq. ft.) was built on the northwest corner of Courthouse Square. Footings were dug and a 3-inch concrete pad was put down with sand and brick pavers on top surrounding a central brick column supporting the original courthouse bell which had been secured by the Crissman family. Raised planters were built around the perimeter with two entrances, one toward Main Street and the other facing the circle traffic pattern. The Main Street entrance was reserved for the City of Graham to use in celebration of its 150th anniversary. The circular traffic pattern entrance was used to remember the County’s 150th anniversary. A gazebo structure of heavy steel was used to support vegetation and provide shade. Water irrigation and electricity were added, and a 4-sided clock was placed on the corner.

The original budget for the Sesquicentennial Park project was about $250,000. The purchase of the property ($55,000) was born by the City of Graham and Alamance County. At the time, there was a crumbling, unsafe, and unsightly stucco wall to the north side of the park that had to be removed from the side of the adjacent building. The failing stucco was replaced with brick veneer at a cost of $58,000. Construction of the garden planters, concrete patio pad and entrance walks was about $60,000. A four-sided clock was purchased and installed for about $20,000. The steel frame structure, provided as a gift from Buckner Steel Erections, would have cost more than $60,000. The 1859 original Courthouse bell is on permanent loan from the Dr. Clinton S Crissman Family.

To pay for the Park, the Sesquicentennial Committee sold County maps, the Elizabeth Pearson Arts Around the Square print, tote bags, t-shirts, Sesquicentennial cookbook, and a variety of other items including Alamance County Sesquicentennial flags, a Sesquicentennial license plate, kazoos, yo-yos, and 420 engraved brick pavers for the park at $100 each. The remainder of the money came from sponsorship donations.

Powell recalls that 420 engraved bricks, at $100 each, were sold to help pay for the Sesquicentennial Park.

[Editor’s Note: Powell goes on to include names of sponsors, as well as the members of the Sesquicentennial Committee, and the construction and design team that designed the park.]

As you can see, Sesquicentennial Park came together with support from citizens all over Alamance County. It was a major undertaking and created a beautiful icon for the County and the City of Graham. A lot of our citizens are invested in the park and it is hoped that the Graham City Council will give careful consideration to those who have struggled to build our community and are continuing to make it the best it can be.

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