Pullen Park: WRAL Voters' Choice for best Triangle park has delighted for more than a century
Posted February 21, 2021 12:32 a.m. EST
Updated February 21, 2021 7:40 a.m. EST
Raleigh, N.C. — You may not realize it, but every time you ride the carousel at Pullen Park, you are sitting on one of the only remaining pieces of a century-old theme park that once stood in Raleigh during the early 1900s.
And every time you take a ride on the iconic miniature red train, you're connecting with the history of an 1800s railroad robber baron who helped create the first transcontinental railroad.
Over 130 years of changes have shaped Pullen Park, which was the first public park in the state and the fifth oldest operating amusement park in the country.
Some older amusements, like the iconic "giant Swiss Cheese" or a sizable petting zoo that included mink, bears, alligators and monkeys, have vanished over the years.
However, antique attractions like the carousel and train allow modern day residents to ride the same beloved treasures our great-great-grandparents once loved.
The century-old carousel is a rare international treasure
Historic photos from Bloomsbury Park give an idea of how the carousel appeared around 100 years ago, compared with how it appears today.
While the carousel got its start at Bloomsbury Park, it actually dates back even further – making it not just the only remaining piece of Bloomsbury, but one of the only remaining carousels of its type in the world.
In 1912, Bloomsbury boasted thousands of electric lights, a roller coaster, a dance pavilion – and the glorious carousel made by internationally-renowned German artist Gustav Dentzel, who crafted it in around 1900.
Pullen Park, being a far older park, only had a steam-powered merry-go-round.
Bloomsbury's modern 'electric park' would have likely seemed more metropolitan during a time when steam power would not have seemed as high tech.
However, Bloomsbury Park flew too close to the sun. After less than a decade, it closed its gates, standing abandoned for a few years. Crumbling century-old remnants of Bloomsbury Park can still be found in the thick ivy overgrowth in a historic neighborhood near Raleigh's Five Points.
When Bloomsbury closed, Pullen bought the treasured carousel for a steal: Only $1,425 — one tenth of its original cost.
The red train is a C.P. Huntington #3
Have you ever noticed the date 1887 or the name C.P. Huntington scrawled in gold paint across Pullen Park's popular train ride?
The date refers to Pullen Park's opening year.
The name refers to the real-life iron horse the train is modeled after.
Added to the park in 1950, the C.P. Huntington miniatures became popular at many parks across the country.
"It is a one-third size, near exact replica of a locomotive that was built in 1863 by the then vice president of Central Pacific, Collis P. Huntington," says the City of Raleigh website.
Collis Potter Huntington was said to embody the morals of a 19th century robber baron – wealthy, bribing politicians, using a silver tongue to gain power and prominence.
His original train was built in 1882 to be used for construction work to pull wooden, flat cars on rails as new track was constructed for the transcontinental railroad.
The original locomotive was built at Danforth-Cook Locomotive works in Paterson, New Jersey. By 1894, it became a symbol for the Southern Pacific, appearing at station openings and even the 1934 Chicago World's Fair.
The full-sized historic train now resides in Sacramento, at the California State Railroad Museum, but right here in Raleigh we can ride a miniature replica of this historic relic from the 1800s age of locomotives.
Pullen Park outlived multiple abandoned amusement parks
It seems incredible that the first public park in the state is still standing and growing. Although it looks different today, we can walk the same trails, ride the same rides as some of Raleigh's earliest citizens.
Bloomsbury Park, as 'high tech' as it was, not only closed – it virtually vanished from history.
Brookside Park, an even older park at the end of Raleigh's trolley lines, also completely disappeared. Most people have never even heard the name.
After over 130 years, Pullen Park is as magical as ever – a modern park that allows a little peek into the history of growing up in Raleigh.
And more than a century on, residents are still choosing it as the best park in the Triangle in the WRAL Voters' Choice Awards.