Historic Oak View County Park interprets North Carolina’s diverse agrarian past and invites families to explore daily farm life. The property’s history reflects the transition from an antebellum plantation into sharecropping and tenant farming.
Oak View's History
Antebellum Plantation Foundations
The recorded history of Oak View began in 1829 when Benton Southworth Donaldson Williams purchased a tract of land in eastern Wake County from Arthur Pool for $135. The property included 85 acres and several outbuildings. Over the next 30 years, Williams continued acquiring land and used his family connections and wealth to purchase enslaved people. In 1855, the two-story Greek Revival I-frame house was built, and Benton and his family began living there. There are no surviving slave quarters on the property, but the 1860 U.S. Federal Census – Slave Schedules lists two slave dwellings on the property of Benton and one on the property of his son, Clinton.
By 1860, just before the start of the American Civil War, the farm spanned over 900 acres and produced 23 bales of cotton annually. During that time, Benton and Clinton owned 14 enslaved men, women, and children, and depended on their labor, knowledge, and skill to produce the farm’s main cash crop, cotton.
Benton and his wife Burchett Powell were Unionists, which meant that they did not believe in the cause of secession. They believed that North Carolina should remain a part of the United States and supported the North instead of the South during the Civil War. After the war, Benton served as one of four representatives from Wake County at the 1868 North Carolina Constitutional Convention. This meeting allowed North Carolina to apply for re-entry into the United States after the war, and to change the state constitution to make slavery illegal. Oak View is the only surviving homestead of the four Wake County delegates.
When Benton passed away in 1870, his will indicated that his land be divided among his surviving children and wife, Burchett. Portions of the property were also sold to satisfy debts. Burchett continued to run her piece of the farm with the assistance of an African American farm manager, Ad Bunch. Burchett passed away in 1886, and 178 acres of land, as well as the house and outbuildings, were auctioned off to Job P. Wyatt and Philip Taylor.
Slavery at Oak View
Eliza Hutchings was the first enslaved woman documented at Oak View. William Powell sent Eliza to Oak View in 1841, at age 19, as a gift to his daughter Burchett and her husband Benton. Eliza lived most of her adult life at Oak View. Much of her work would have been in both the home and the fields of the Williams family. After emancipation, she married Reddick Hutchings, a man who was enslaved on a neighboring plantation. She was 43 years old at the time. The Hutchings family worked as farm laborers at Oak View until purchasing 43 acres of land from the Williams family in 1877.
In 1851, Benton purchased from a slave trader a woman named Isabella and her three sons: Levy, Walt, and Sandy. In 1856 Burchett’s father sent two enslaved children to Oak View: a 12-year-old girl named Celia and her 6-year-old brother Sam. The following year, Benton paid a neighbor $410 for a 7-year-old girl named Patsy. At least 4 more African Americans, whose names are unknown, were brought to Oak View over the course of the decade, and one baby was born on Clinton Williams’ farm. Their ages and gender are told by the 1860 census: a 60-year-old woman, a 48-year-old man, a 14-year-old girl, a 10-year-old girl, and a 6-month old baby boy. Children were less expensive to purchase, and they were viewed as an investment for the future. Despite siding with the Union during the Civil War, Benton was not an abolitionist. He continued to subscribe to the southern agrarian economy that was built upon the work and skill of unpaid enslaved labor.
Following the Civil War, members of the formerly enslaved community faced the decision of whether to remain at Oak View as sharecroppers or tenant farmers, or to leave in search of better opportunities. Like Eliza Hutchings, Isabella’s son, Walt Williams, stayed and worked with his wife, Lucy Pace, as farm laborers until they could buy their own parcel of land in 1877. Others, like Walt’s brothers Sandy and Levy Williams, left Oak View. Sandy farmed land in another township, and Levy sold fruit and vegetables near the fairgrounds.
Farming in the New South: Tenancy and Sharecropping 1865-1900
After emancipation and the 13th amendment outlawed slavery, Oak View, like many farms and plantations in the South, turned to a system of sharecropping and tenant farming. The Williams family depended on the work of landless farmers – also known as farm laborers, tenant farmers, or sharecroppers. The words sharecropper and tenant farmer, though often used interchangeably, historically described differing economic levels of farmers. Tenant farmers often had a more stable living and working arrangement with the landowner since they supplied their own animals and equipment for farming the land. At harvest time, they would typically pay the landowner around 25% of the profits from their crops. Sharecroppers, on the other hand, rarely had their own farming equipment, so everything had to be rented from the landowner. Come harvest, sharecroppers could end up owing the landowner as much as 50-75% of their earnings. Whether employed as tenants or sharecroppers, landless farmers frequently were forced to borrow money and equipment from the landowner and ended the year in debt to their employers.
Two of the individuals formerly enslaved by the Williams family worked as sharecroppers on the land of Clinton Williams – Eliza Hutchings and her husband, Reddick, and Walt Williams and his wife, Lucy Pace. The two couples worked as landless farmers for almost 12 years before purchasing their own parcels of land from Clinton in 1877. Eliza and Reddick purchased 43 acres of land, and Walt and Lucy purchased 39 acres that bordered the Hutchings’ parcel.
Farming in the New South: Tenancy and Sharecropping 1900-1940
After Burchett Williams died in 1886, the farm was sold to the business partnership of Job P. Wyatt and Philip Taylor. By 1900 Wyatt had bought out Taylor’s share and began sole operation of the farm. Under Wyatt family ownership, Oak View was a manager-operated farm. A farm manager was hired to oversee operations and live in the main house. Several individuals and families lived in the tenant houses on Oak View's property and were paid a wage for their work. The Wyatts also had several more structures added to the property, all around 1900, including the Cotton Gin House, Livestock Barn, Carriage House, and Water Tower. The gazebo, or summer house, was built in the 1910s out of unworked red cedar logs.
During this time, tenant farmers worked as laborers, while farm managers George W. Williams (manager from 1900-1920) and James A. Jones (manager from 1920-1940) supervised an extensive cotton-producing operation that was later converted to truck farming. The 1900 Census indicates that there were six tenant houses on the property at that time: one of the tenant farming families who lived at Oak View during this time include Quint and Corrina Faribault. The last of the original tenant houses was torn down in the mid-1980s, shortly after Wake County bought the property. A tenant house similar to those that once stood on the farm was moved to Oak View from Wendell, North Carolina, in 2012.
In the early 20th century, the farm manager planted a large grove of pecan trees, which remains one of the park’s most prominent features today. Oak View continued to produce cotton as the main cash crop until the late 1920s, when the infestation of the boll weevil forced an end to its production and devastated the southern cotton industry. Cotton production was largely replaced by vegetable growing. A herd of cattle produced milk and butter for local markets.
During the Wyatt family’s period of ownership, they continued to own and run the Job P. Wyatt and Sons general store in Raleigh (later named Wyatt-Quarles Seed Company), which was founded in 1881 and continues to do business in the Raleigh area today. They used Oak View as a test site to experiment with different types of crops and seeds, which they often then sold through their seed catalogs. The Wyatts remained living in Raleigh. The farm manager took care of the day-to-day operations, the tenant farmers supplied the labor, and so the Wyatt family used Oak View as a country retreat, visiting primarily on weekends, hosting picnics and family gatherings. Around this time period, the property was given the name ‘Oak View’ because of the four large oak trees planted around the main house.
1940 to Present
In 1940, Julian M. Gregory acquired the property and then sold the farm to James Gregory Poole, Sr. Although the Poole family lived at Oak View for only three years, they are largely responsible for the current appearance of the main house. Influenced by the trends of the day, the house was remodeled and expanded in the Colonial Revival style. Some of the changes to the home include the addition of an indoor kitchen, a sunroom, and a library. These additions briefly preceded more modern conveniences that the Pooles installed, namely electricity and indoor plumbing, which had never been present at Oak View before. During this time, the Poole family also expanded the barn and upgraded the farm's facilities. Shortly after all these renovations were complete, Gregory Poole sold the farm to James and Mary Bryan in 1944. The Bryans didn't farm at Oak View, but they did raise cattle and dig the farm ponds that remain on the land. In 1955, Chauncey and Ella Mae Jones bought the farm and rented some of it out to farmers for several years.
In 1984, Wake County acquired Oak View's 72 acres of farmland and developed the Wake County Office Park on a portion of the property. The county used the house and farm buildings for storage, but the 17 acres encompassing the remaining pecan grove and complex of farm buildings were slated for demolition. Upon hearing of the county's plan to destroy the old farm, interested citizens began efforts to save the property. The Wake County Historical Society formed a citizens committee to help raise money to save the property. Several Wake County Commissioners also became interested in the fate of Oak View and saw value in protecting the property. To get the project off the ground, the Wake County Board of Commissioners appointed a group of interested citizens and county staff to the Oak View Restoration Steering Committee. Headed by Commissioner Merrie Hedrick, the committee oversaw the campaign to restore the historic buildings and interpret the land as a historic site. Oak View was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in April 1991, giving even more momentum to the project.
The Wake County Parks, Recreation and Open Space Division took over operation at Oak View in 1995, making it the first historic site in the Wake County park system. Under the management of the county, staff members were able to further expand, promote and refine educational programming to reach a wide audience. The Farm History Center was completed in 1997 and serves as a visitor’s center and interpretive space where patrons can learn about North Carolina's diverse agrarian past. Today, more than 100,000 visitors come to Oak View each year to learn about North Carolina's agricultural past through programs, events and exhibits.
Resources for Further Reading
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Oak View's Structures
The Plank Kitchen
Built around 1825, the Plank Kitchen is the oldest building on the property. The one-room building most likely served as a temporary residence for the Williams family when they acquired the property in 1829 but had not yet built their house. Following the construction of the Main Farmhouse in 1855, the building functioned as the kitchen. The Plank Kitchen continued to function as the farm’s kitchen until the 1940s, when the Poole family added electricity to the property and built an indoor kitchen in the main house.
This photo shows the Plank Kitchen before any restoration work was done by Wake County. The building was restored in the 1990s.
The Main Farmhouse
Built in 1855 by the Williams family, the original Greek Revival style farmhouse was an I-frame house with a central hallway surrounded by two rooms downstairs, and two rooms upstairs. The Greek Revival architectural style was very popular during the early 19th century. Elements of the Greek Revival style that are visible from viewing the outside of the Main House include the paneled columns, double portico (or two-story porch), the triangular pediment, corner square window details, dentil molding, and symmetrical design. The house has undergone several additions over time. The size of the house was greatly expanded in the 1940s when the Poole family built an addition to the side of the house in the Colonial Revival style of architecture. Colonial Revival elements include the gable and shed dormer windows, a bay window, as well as other asymmetrical features.
The Oak View Farm House in a photo believed to date to the early 1900s because the gazebo has yet to be built (1910s) and the house has yet to be renovated by the Pooles (1940s).
The Carriage House
The Carriage House was built around 1900 by the Wyatt family. It featured two open upper bays and one lower bay for housing wagons and carriages. The Wyatts’ primary residence was in Raleigh, but they spent most weekends at Oak View. The family had an automobile that they would drive to visit the property, and they used the Carriage House as a garage. When the Poole family made their extensive improvements in the 1940s, they permanently converted the Carriage House into a two-car garage, which reflects the way that the Carriage House looks today.
In the photo to the right, the Carriage House appears in the background of a Job P. Wyatt and Sons Company picnic.
The Livestock Barn
Built around 1900, when the Job P. Wyatt family owned Oak View, the Livestock Barn has sliding double doors. Shed wings were added by the Poole family on both the east and west sides in the early 1940s. This barn was once home to the farm’s horses and mules – additional animals were housed in other barns around the property that are no longer standing. Today, our Livestock Barn serves as the home for the park's Nubian goats.
The Livestock Barn also includes an interactive area for children where they can learn about animals on the farm and some farm equipment. This area is open to the public as long as there is no group receiving a program in the barn. It is most frequently closed between 10 a.m. and noon on weekdays during the traditional school year. Visitors are welcome to call for details about the hours it will be open on a specific day.
When the barn was built around 1900, it only had a single entrance, or bay. In the 1940s the Poole family added two wings, or side sheds. This photograph shows the Livestock Barn with only a single side wing. One wing collapsed after Hurricane Hazel in 1954, but Wake County restored it before the site opened to the public.
The Cotton Gin House
The Oak View Cotton Gin House was built by Job Wyatt around 1900, which allowed Oak View to gin its own cotton. Oak View’s Gin House was a community cooperative – cotton farmers in the surrounding area could bring their cotton crop to be ginned in exchange for payment or working in the gin house. Powered by gasoline engines, the gins on the second floor ran day and night during the harvest season, separating the cotton lint from the seeds. After ginning, the cotton was packed into 500- to 700-pound bales and loaded on wagons to be taken to the market for sale. Today, the gin house functions as the cotton museum, interpreting the labor-intensive process of cotton farming and manufacturing.
This photograph was taken in the 1990s before restoration work was begun on the Cotton Gin House.
The Tenant House
An estimated four to six tenant houses existed on the property throughout Oak View's history. Unfortunately, the last of these homes was torn down in the mid-1980s before the property became a public historic site; however, on September 1, 2012, a late-19th-century tenant house was moved to the park from Wendell. The home was stylistically similar to the original Oak View tenant houses. Recent research efforts at Historic Oak View County Park have yielded information about the numerous tenant farmers, black and white, who made their homes and livelihoods at Oak View, creating a community of their own alongside the middle-class landowners. Though tenancy was widespread on farms across the country, and as many as six tenant houses once existed at Oak View, these houses are rarely preserved. Inside the house, visit an exhibit interpreting the lives and stories of landless farmers and how these farmers made a home for themselves and their families in spite of an oppressive labor system.
A photograph of one of the original tenant houses at Oak View, taken before its demolition in the mid-1980s.
Discover Nature at Wake County Parks and Preserves
NRID - Natural Resources Inventory Database
Want to explore the wildlife and plants seen at our Wake County Parks and Preserves from home? Check out the Wake County Natural Resources Inventory Database! Anyone can use it – whether you're a birdwatcher, teacher, student, citizen scientist or just curious about nature. Explore data and photos, print checklists, or discover fun nature facts here.