The Creative Corridors Coalition’s work may not be finished when the Business 40 bridges and enhancement projects end in 2020.
Preliminary plans are under way to build a park on approximately two acres of land at the foot of the new pedestrian Strollway Land Bridge alongside Liberty Street, on the site of the former STEAM Academy and U.S. Bankruptcy Court building. A section of the current Strollway, which runs through the property, may be reconfigured to incorporate a rain garden, lights, seating, a concrete overlook, and color concrete paving.
This new urban park would be created as a result of the North Carolina Department of Transportation’s Business 40 Project, and would be deeded to the City of Winston-Salem.
New research at Old Salem Museums and Gardens has revealed this tract to be historically significant, as well. The two-acre park would be built on part of what Old Salem researchers have found to be the former four-acre farm of noted Moravian potter Peter Oliver, an enslaved man who learned the pottery trade, as well as English and German, at Salem and Bethabara in the late 1700s. A baptized, communicant Moravian, Oliver bought his freedom in 1800, married, and created a farm on the land. He is buried in God’s Acre in the same section as Salem’s founders; many of his descendants still live in Winston-Salem and have been involved in the park’s planning.
The ongoing research is part of Old Salem’s Hidden Town initiative, a project to research and reveal the stories of enslaved and free Africans and African-Americans who once lived in Salem.
“We are possibly at the beginning of our next project,” says Bill Davis, Creative Corridors Coalition board chairman. “The park would be a natural extension of our Strollway project. It’s also a remarkable opportunity to provide some much-needed green space in the heart of downtown and honor an important individual in Winston-Salem’s history.”
Part of the Strollway Park would be known as Peter Oliver’s Field, and may incorporate ethnobotanical gardens, interpretive panels, and a pedagogical concrete wall to illuminate Oliver’s story. Positioned along an already-popular walking and bicycling trail, the park would also include areas for passive recreation.
The city council voted earlier this year to buy the former U.S. Bankruptcy Court Building on the property. The building may be repurposed as a cultural center, highlighting the history of people of African descent in the area.
Internationally-known landscape architect Walter Hood designed an initial concept for the park as part of his work on the Strollway Land Bridge in 2017; the coalition hopes to re-engage Hood to develop the design and interpretive approach, if plans go forward.
“Creative Corridors’ next step is to begin to seek funding through a variety of public and private sources to make this project a reality,” Davis says. “When you think about a path from the site of the new Kaleideum on Third Street to Corpening Plaza, coming down across our Strollway Land Bridge to the park we hope will be there, all the way down to the Strollway alongside Old Salem and on to UNC School of the Arts, connecting via the greenway to Winston-Salem State University — we think that will be a pretty exciting cultural corridor.”