PEABODY PARK is a wooded, grassy, and stream-dissected tract of land at the north end of the campus of the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Originally 125 acres in extent, the Park has been reduced over the years to thirty-four acres by University expansion. The portion of it that remains, however, is a vital refuge for a wide variety animals and plants characteristic of the Piedmont region of the eastern United States, as well as a pleasant retreat from the daily business of the campus. These pages provide an overview of the history of the Park and of its natural history throughout the year, as well as a biological survey of the Park’s animals and plants.
Local readers who would like to take a tour of Peabody Park are invited to print out the Peabody Park nature trail guide and the accompanying trail map drawn by undergraduate Jason Lewis, and take themselves on a tour of the Park’s woods and fields. Students interested in Peabody Park should also explore the academic opportunities available in the UNCG Environmental Studies Program. Faculty in the University are invited and encouraged to incorporate the Peabody Park into their teaching. The Park has long been used by the science departments, but there are many other educational opportunities that the Park can provide to people in almost every field from anthropology to philosophy to Classics to economics. Pay a visit to the Peabody Park Across the Curriculum page for a wide range of ideas on how to include UNCG’s century-old educational park in formal course work.
History of the Park
Peabody Park was established in 1901 with a gift of $5000 from George Foster Peabody (1852–1938). Born in Columbus, Georgia, to parents who lost almost all their money in the American Civil War, Peabody grew to become one of the country’s most prominent financiers and philanthropists, supporting a variety of educational and political causes across the United States. Peabody had a special interest in the education of women and minorities, and in the late 1800s he served with the University’s first president, Charles Duncan McIver (1860–1906), on the Southern Education Board, supporting McIver’s efforts to establish the women’s college that became UNCG. Although George Foster Peabody gave the money that established Peabody Park, he hoped that its name would not stand for him but rather for his relative, George Peabody (1795–1869), one of the greatest American philanthropists of the nineteenth century, who had been instrumental in the reconstruction of Southern schools and colleges after the Civil War. This earlier Peabody, who had also been born to poor parents, became one of the wealthiest men of his generation, and in addition to establishing the Peabody Education Fund to support education in the South, he established museums at Harvard and Yale Universities, and educational institutes in Baltimore and in Salem, Massachusetts.
Peabody Park was conceived from the beginning as an educational park that would enrich the academic life of the University. President McIver’s original plan for Peabody Park called for a series of stone markers on the educational history of North Carolina, but his early death prevented this plan from being carried out. When the University awarded its first bachelor’s degrees in 1903, however, a granite marker was placed in the Park in honor of the seven “Bachelors of 1903,” and that monument stands to this day.
There is some evidence that there was a Civil War encampment in or near Peabody Park, and a Civil War bullet was found in the Park woods in the 1970s.
From 1904 to 1954 an elaborate May Day festival was often held in Peabody Park, complete with the crowning of a May Queen, and during the 1920s and ’30s an annual Park Night honored students who best exemplified the institution’s ideals of scholarship and service. In 1941 one of the branches of Buffalo Creek that runs through the western portion of the Park was dammed to form a small lake, and an outdoor amphitheater was constructed on the lake’s shore where concerts and pageants were held during the 1940s and ’50s. The lake was drained in 1954 and replaced with the Peabody Park golf course, but the amphitheater still stands today, awaiting a new generation of performers. More recently an annual toy boat regatta has been held on Buffalo Creek, and the open areas of the Park are used by golfers, lacrosse and frisbee players, walkers, runners, and sunbathers.
Park Natural History
Peabody Park has always been of special value to students of natural history, beginning with Professor T. Gilbert Pearson (1873–1943) who taught on the campus when the Park was established and who went on to become an internationally-known conservationist and a founder and president of the National Audubon Society. Opportunities for the study of geology, geography, zoology, and botany in the Park are many and varied. The Peabody Park Biological Survey gives an indication of the wide diversity of species that may be found in the Park’s woods and fields.
The geological foundation of the Park is an ancient bedrock that was formed deep within the earth and then thrust toward the surface when the geological ancestors of Africa and North America were welded together into one gigantic landmass called Pangaea. The force of the continental collision cooked and twisted the rocks, forming a complex of light granites and dark gabbros mixed with metamorphic schists, and these can be seen at several locations in the Park where they have been exposed by natural weathering and stream erosion. The foundation rock visible in the Park is approximately 500 million years old.
The Park is traversed today by several branches of Buffalo Creek that originate south of the campus and flow northward to Greensboro’s Lake Daniel Park, and then out to the Atlantic Ocean by way of the Haw and Cape Fear Rivers. The Park’s small streams and their banks illustrate processes of natural stream erosion, deposition, and channel migration, and they are a haven for wildlife within the urban setting of the University. Mallards court on Buffalo Creek each spring, and liverworts, Meadow Spikemoss, Grape Ferns, and Rough Horsetails line its banks, while crayfishes scurry along the creek’s floor. Raccoons, Virginia Opossums, Eastern Chipmunks, and Southern Flying Squirrels are resident in the Park, along with Red-tailed Hawks, Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, Northern Mockingbirds, Carolina Wrens, Song Sparrows, and many other bird species. Yellow-crowned Night-Herons have bred in the Park woods in recent years, Barred Owls have bred there in the past, and every spring and fall the Park fills up with seasonal migrants.
The wooded areas of Peabody Park are a fine example of a mature Piedmont forest, made up of White Oak, Southern Red Oak, Tulip Tree, Shagbark Hickory, American Beech, and other species. An understory of Flowering Dogwood and Redbud spreads out between the canopy and the ground, highlighting the forest with their white and red blossoms in the early spring, and native shrubs such as Strawberry Bush are common as well. The forest floor supports a typical community of native Piedmont wildflowers and ferns such as Round-lobed Hepatica, Spring Beauty, Trout Lily, the umbrella-like Mayapple, Red Trillium, Crane-fly Orchid, Ebony Spleenwort, Rattlesnake Fern, Christmas Fern, Wild Ginger, Spotted Wintergreen, and Beechdrops parasitizing the roots of the Beech trees. Some of these species are found only in one or two restricted localities in the Park.
The Park fields are home to a mixture of native and introduced plants characteristic of central North Carolina, including Purple Dead-Nettle, Peppervine, Bulbous Buttercup, Star of Bethlehem, Spotted Touch-me-not, Carolina Cranesbill, Long-bristled and Pennsylvania Smartweeds, Yellow and Violet Wood Sorrels, Arrow-leaved Tearthumb, Evening Primrose, Daisy Fleabane, Horse-nettle, White Sweet Clover, Crimson-eyed Rose Mallow, Bushy Aster, and many others.
These pages on Peabody Park were written to accompany the UNCG undergraduate course “Campus Natural History” that was taught by Robert J. O’Hara of the UNCG Department of Biology. They are made available to the University at large and to the worldwide Internet community so that all may better appreciate one of UNCG’s most valuable educational resources. The assistance of the Department of Biology and the University’s Office of the Provost in the preparation of these materials is acknowledged, as is the valuable assistance of Robert H. Lawter, Jr., John G. Wehe, Jason R. Lewis, and Takisha Y. Little. All color photographs of the Park are © Robert J. O’Hara and may not be reproduced elsewhere without permission. For more information about the natural history of the Park please visit the four seasonal pages that follow the Park’s plants and animals through the spring, summer, fall, and winter, or visit the more technical Peabody Park Biological Survey which presents a catalog of all the animals and plants recorded from the Park.
[Last major revision: May 2002]
© RJO 1995–2016