Dorothea Dix Park — the city’s largest park, nestled on 308 acres at the edge of downtown — has been referred to as Raleigh’s equivalent to New York’s Central Park. And that’s the idea.
Earlier this year, Raleigh City Council approved the park’s master plan, which will develop the park for greater community use in phases and over decades.
A phase one implementation plan was proposed in September, which would create a multi-use path along Lake Wheeler, create the Gateway Plaza and play area + enhance the Rocky Branch Creek.
But what was the park before now? And who was Dorothea Dix? The land has a long history, and we wanted to find out exactly what that looked like.
Here’s a timeline of what is now Dorothea Dix Park:
- c. 1771-1848: The property comprised the heart of Spring Hill plantation, which was owned by the Hunter family in Wake County.
- 1849: Dorothea Dix visits North Carolina + calls for care reform for mentally ill patients. Dix was a well-known advocate and national lobbyist, who worked to create the first generation of American asylums. She also served during the Civil War as a Superintendent of Army Nurses.
- 1856: Dix Hill Hospital (later renamed Dorothea Dix Hospital) opened to treat patients, including those “who suffered from melancholy, mania, head injury, depression + epilepsy,” which were misunderstood at the time. Nationally-renowned architects — A.J. Davis and A.G. Bauer — were involved in the design of the hospital, which favored the cultivation of “the grove” and promoted a natural aesthetic and the belief that the tranquility of nature benefits the healing process.
- 1920: N.C. architect C.C. Hook added new buildings and connections.
- 2000: An outside consultant recommended that Dix Hospital be shut down and the land was purchased by the State of N.C. to avoid this closure and continue operations.
- 2012: Due to lack of funding over several years, the hospital moved its remaining patients to Central Regional Hospital in Butner and closed permanently.
- 2015: The City of Raleigh purchased the land from the State.
- 2018: Opened to the public for recreational use and community programming, such as yoga + outdoor movies. There is also a temporary dog park on the grounds.