Wake County Park to Host Exhibit Featuring Black Builders and Architects

Now through March 27 at Historic Oak View County Park

Starting today, Historic Oak View County Park will host a new traveling exhibit featuring the stories of the Black craftsmen who constructed and designed many of North Carolina’s most treasured sites and buildings, including several here in Wake County. The exhibit was created by the nonprofit Preservation NC and is entitled “We Built This: Profiles of Black Architects and Builders in North Carolina.” It’s free and will run through March 27.

“There are so many amazing historic buildings in Wake County, but most of us walk into them and never think about who built them and what they went through,” said Shinica Thomas, vice-chair of the Wake County Board of Commissioners. “This exhibit features people who faced systemic racism and constant adversity, preserving the legacy of that resilience in some of our most beautiful landmark buildings.”

Spanning more than three centuries, “We Built This” provides over two dozen personal profiles, along with the historic context on key topics including slavery and Reconstruction; founding of Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Black churches; Jim Crow and segregation; and the rise of Black civic leaders and professionals. Profiles include these local figures:

  • Gaston Alonzo Edwards (1875–1943), the first Black architect licensed in North Carolina. He worked at Shaw University, where he planned and superintended construction of key buildings such as Leonard Medical School Hospital (1910), now Tyler Hall, using students in the construction.
  • Stewart Ellison (1834–1899), an enslaved carpenter hired out in Raleigh, where he helped construct the North Carolina Hospital for the Insane (now Dorothea Dix Hospital). He became one of the state’s longest serving Black legislators of the 19th century, representing Wake County in five legislative sessions. He was also the first Black resident to serve on what is now the Raleigh City Council.

“Their stories aren’t often told, but we all can benefit from learning the history and legacy of Black builders,” said Sig Hutchinson, chair of the Wake County Board of Commissioners. “We’re heading into the holidays when families are gathering, visiting and looking for things to do. Stopping by this incredible historic park and taking in this free exhibit would be a wonderful opportunity for all ages.”

To experience the exhibit, the public is welcome to stop by the Farm History Center at the entrance of Historic Oak View County Park just off I-440 and Poole Road in Raleigh. The indoor exhibit will be open from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 1 to 5 p.m. on Sunday. To learn more visit wakegov.com/WeBuiltThis.

Click here to view the article on Wake County’s website