From 2018-2020, the Community Histories Workshop collaborated with Triangle Land Conservancy to explore the people and environment of Walnut Hill, a complex landscape with hundreds of years of history. Led by Dr. Rob Shapard, the CHW worked with the organization and community members to center these long and complex histories of place in the new Bailey and Sarah Williamson Preserve.
Walnut Hill is a 405-acre former farm in the Shotwell community of Wake County, about twenty miles southeast of Raleigh. Members of the Mial and Williamson families farmed Walnut Hill for more than 200 years, building up the farm to include some 2,700 acres at one point. This area included some of the most fertile soils in Wake County, and the owners of Walnut Hill raised cotton, before eventually shifting to tobacco and other row crops in the twentieth century.
Between 1940 and 1952, the North Carolina State Experiment Station operated a research station at Walnut Hill, studying new methods for conserving soil in tobacco agriculture. And part of the farm – and neighboring land – are listed on the National Register of Historic Places (Oct. 2000) as the Walnut Hill Historic District.
The Triangle Land Conservancy purchased the remaining 405 acres of Walnut Hill in 2013, from two Williamson descendants who wanted to honor their parents’ wish to see the farm preserved. The preserve and contiguous lands feature forested areas and streams that drain into Marks Creek and the Neuse River, making it a perfect site for outdoor activities. The conservancy intends to open Walnut Hill to visitors, and also to research and share the many layers of history at the farm and community.
For the CHW staff, the Triangle Land Conservancy represented an ideal partner. Their work represented many resonances with our own. And Walnut Hill is a compelling place: one that holds much of its history on its face in the place names and surviving communities there. But it also represented a departure from the previous work of both organizations. Our main goals were to both research the site’s history, and empower the many community stakeholders involved to make use of that history. Dr. Shapard led initial research by conducting oral interviews, archival research, and assessments of further possibilities for interpretation. We hope this work continues to be a spur to members of the deep descendant community, and the many thousands of people who will enjoy the preserve in the years to come.
Read a summary of this work here