in Follow-Up, Parks and Rec

Mordecai and CAP

A neighbor on the Historic Oakwood email list said this today about Mordecai Historic Park:

One of the problems attached to matter relating to the Mordecai Plantation House and grounds has been that buildings not associated with the Mordecais are in the Park. And the Park is not under the management of historical preservationists or historians, but of the Parks and Recreation Department. That Department is actually a fine administrator of Parks, but strictly speaking, the Mordecai House should not be part of a Park, but an independent House Museum, managed by historians and preservationists.

Well, let’s take a look at that for a moment. The city of Raleigh bought the Mordecai property in 1969 to preserve it. In 1972, the predecessor of Capital Area Preservation, Moore Square Historical Society, was formed to manage the park, with the city paying them $150,000 yearly to do so. It was in the 1970s (during CAP’s management) that many of these buildings unrelated to the Mordecais were placed on the property. The good news is that the buildings were saved from destruction, but the bad news is … well, they were plopped down next to the Mordecai House. I’m not sure what the city had to say about that decision at the time – I’m still researching it – but I certainly hope the decision wasn’t made simply for the convenience of CAP.

At some point in the process, CAP apparently had difficulty retaining the many volunteers who are needed to run a place like Mordecai Historic Park. Attention to preserving the park’s collection also waned. It seems “historians and preservationists” make poor managers. An N&O article from October 9th, 2004 described the sad state of affairs:

For years, the charcoal portrait of William Turk hung on a bedroom wall at the Mordecai House. It was a highlight of public tours because of Turk’s help with the upkeep of the house after the Civil War.

About a year ago, the portrait fell off the wall. Damaged, it still hasn’t been fixed.

For some, the portrait represents years of simmering frustrations over how the city park, just north of downtown, is managed. The concerns have led to an exodus of as many as a couple of dozen longtime volunteers this year. Many had spent decades tending to gardens, leading tours, caring for the park’s furnishings and helping with special events.

Some quit. Others say they were asked not to come back or didn’t feel welcome there anymore.

Some say CAP took its eye off the ball when it changed its focus to “expand on its mission to work on historic preservation efforts throughout Wake County.” It sounds to me like CAP was more interested in flipping houses. Meanwhile, the City of Raleigh had had enough of the CAP’s mismanagement of the park and in 2005 the group was kicked out, its contract terminated a year early.

The park has since been run by a city-employed Parks Manager and advised through a citizen board. Since the park took over management, attendance has grown from 3,500 visitors annually to 26,000 visitors annually. And the volunteer list is growing as well. It sounds to me like the city is doing just fine managing this historical treasure.