The history of Lions Park

The following was excerpted from the book A Brief History of The Raleigh Host Lions Club (Revised Edition): Fifty-Four Years of Community Service 1922-1976.

Raleigh Lions City Park
By W. Paul Lyman

The wave of juvenile delinquency which followed World War II brought about a community awareness that the time had come for Raleigh to expand its parks an recreational facilities and develop a comprehensive year-round recreation program. Charles M. Graves, Park and Recreation Engineer of Atlanta, Georgia, was employed to make a study and submit a Master Plan for Recreation, which would provide for present and future needs. Dated June, 1950, it was received with enthusiasm by the administration consisting of:

P.D. Snipes, Mayor; Roy S. Braden, City Manager
Commissioners: James E. Briggs
Joe S. Correll
John F. Danielson
Hobson I. Gattis
Fred Wheeler
Miss Ruth C. Wilson

… and by the Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee:

Jessie O. Sanderson, Chairman
W.P. Baker
Dr. A. C. Bulla
Hobson Gattis
Nelson H. Harris
Mrs. Josephine S. Kirk
Mrs. Eileen McDonald
Wade Pridgen
James Ray
Harry Stewart
Ralph J. Andrews, Director of Recreation.
(James M. Chambers succeed Mr. Andrews on July 1, 1950.)

On February 3, 1951, the citizens of Raleigh approved a $250,000 bond issue. Primarily this money was for the acquisition of park sites, it being obvious that, because of rapid growth, such sites would be increasingly difficult to obtain and prices would be progressively higher. The survey [brought] out that $900,000 would be necessary to give the City all the facilities indicated by the population and other factors. However, the Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee expressed the hope that civic organizations would adopt, as a project, the development of these sites once they were purchased. The Raleigh Host Lions Club, through the Community Development Committee headed by E. N. Pope and others, had been following this matter closely and the club was pretty well committed to take on one of these parks if and when a suitable site was made available.

Travis Tomlinson was club president during 1952-53 and Ralgh Satterfield was chairman of the Community Development Committee, which was assigned the responsibility of maintaining contact with the City. The first site selected was near Oakwood Cemetery and the City asked the Lions Club to take it over, which the club voted to do. However, it developed that the Raleigh School Board had this property in mind for a new school; so in due course the idea of a park there was abandoned. Towards the end of the club year, the city advised that it was negotiating approximately forty-two acres in North Raleigh, known as the Harris property. It consisted of abandoned farm land extending from the south end of Watson Street to Bridges Branch, together with twenty-two acres of woodland along the northeast side.

On July 1, John Y. Hornbuckle became president for the new club year (1953-1954). He requested Chairman Satterfield and his committee continue their coordination with the City since it appeared that a solution to the site problem would soon be reached. On August 17, 1953, the City advised that it had acquired title to the Harris property, the purchase price being $41,840. The committee was then instructed to prepare a tentative plan for the development of this site and to draft a contract between the City of Raleigh and the club which would clearly define the responsibilities and obligations of each party. Three senior student engineers at North Carolina State College were employed by the committee to submit plans covering the ultimate over-all arrangement of facilities on the site, including parking areas, service facilities, etc. Professor Charles Stott of the State College faculty served as advisor. On October 26, 1953, the Lions Club unanimously adopted the project and the committee was free to go ahead with its negotiations with the City.

Numerous meetings were held with the Advisory Committee, City Council, the City’s engineers, and the legal advisors for the club and the City. Finally, in regular session on December 16, 1952, the City Council approved both the contract, which is dated December 28, 1952, and the work commenced as soon as weather conditions permitted.

About this time, Chairman Satterfield became sick and asked to be relieved. On February 8, 1954, President Hornbuckle appointed a special task committee comprised of thirty-one Lions with a wide diversity of experience in construction matters. Paul Lyman was named chairman and the committee was charged with the sole responsibility of getting the park under way and keeping a record of its accomplishments and accounts. While the club had a substantial balance in its welfare account, it was decided to reserve these funds as far as possible for equipment and to depend on the membership for needed labor or for [such] contributions to a labor fund, whenever the members were unable to work themselves. The response was most gratifying. In addition, many interested and sympathetic outside individuals and corporations, especially among the road contractors and machinery and building-supply dealers, made available to the committee building materials, graders, pans, bulldozers, trucks, front-end loaders and other equipment at reduced prices and sometimes at no cost. In a number of cases, even the fuel and operator’s time were contributed.

On February 13, 1954, work was commenced. The first job was to clean up the field portion of the site so plans for grading could be developed. This was quite a task because a great many large trees and stumps from the recently completed Belvedere housing project had been pushed onto this land.

On May 3, 1954, grading and drainage construction work was started. The last pan of dirt was moved on April 23, 1955, but it was not until September 17. 1955, that the basic grading was completed and the tough drainage problems were felt to be fairly well solved. In the meantime, 1,572 tons of rock had been placed on four of the five parking areas. Four ball diamonds, complete with back-stops, had been activated. Two shelter huts and a brick picnic shelter complete with toilet facilities had been constructed. Two outdoor fireplaces had been built and ten picnic tables placed on the premises. Two large 4-unit swing sets, two small 6-unit swing sets, two large and two small batteries of seesaws along with other playground facilities had been installed and the wooded area, despite the storm damage done by ‘Hazel,” had ben converted from a jungle to a pleasing recreational area. Thus, in nineteen months, through the united and determined effort of many interested people, there had come into being another vital asset in the community’s life and future.

Up to June 30, 1957, a total of 133 Lions contributed cash in the amount of $2,793.00 to the Labor Fund, while 72 Lions worked a total of 2,266 man-hours. The Treasurer, John Cole, over the same period, paid out the club’s Welfare Fund $15,865.98 to cover bills for equipment, machinery, materials and to supplement the committee’s Labor Fund. When the Nip and Tuck Garden Club disbanded, it had in its treasury $40.52, which it contributed to the Lions’ committee to be used for beautification at the park. The sum of $29.60 remained in the Labor Fund.

While this adds up to $18,699.50 in actual cash expended, it does not begin to tell the entire story. Very substantial contributions had been made by interested individuals and corporations both inside and outside the club in the form of materials, equipment and machinery.

Since a record was kept of each day’s work, it was possible to reduce to hours of operation the time each such piece of machinery was used. After compiling these data, prices were secured from a large grading contractor based on the rate normally charged for each machine. This made is possible to determine that the gratuities involving machinery amounted to $29,973.80.

In addition, crushed stone, concrete pipe, roofing, brick, corrugated pipe, signs, two stone fireplaces installed, grates, shrubbery and many other lesser contributions were made in the amount of $2,721.38.

A value of $1.00 an hour was placed on the 2,266 man-hours contributed by Lions. This estimate does not include many hours of skilled and semi-skilled time put in by the chairman and those assisting him on non-working days. As the grading progressed, elevations were taken and stakes driven to set up the next work day. Many working drawings had to be made of various component parts of the work so as to correctly integrate them with the over-all plan. Much of this work was done on Sundays and at night. Only $2,266.00 was set up as the value of Lion labor. The amount of $427.50 was reflected as the value of Lion-owned pick-up trucks utilized for a total of 171 hours.

When the foregoing figures were added up, it was found that the club and its members and its friends had poured the equivalent of $54,088.18 into the project. Add to this the $53,917 the City paid for te site, for the brick picnic shelter and for the eight-inch water main into the site, the monetary value of Lions City Park was established, as of June 30, 1957, as being $107,935.00.

Money alone is a poor measure of values. The self-satisfaction of those who had a part was exceed only by the joy and benefits derived by our citizens who were already making extensive used of the facility. The first phase of the project was completed in 1962.

Additions to the Project:

  • 1958 – The Pony League Ball Field was lighted and a wire mesh home run fence was installed on it. A similar fence, with gates at the back-stop, was installed along the first and third base lines of this field and a transformer together with accessories was installed to service the concession stand and radio broadcasting microphone. Total cost to the club: $5,645.99.
  • 1959 – The Little League Ball field was lighted, with the City paying $2,428.72 of the cost. A home-run fence was installed on this field and a faulty transformer was serviced. Total investment for the year, including City’s part: $5,632.37.
  • 1961 – The drainage system was extended to protect the Tennis Court area. The softball field was lighted, with the City paying approximately $5,000 of its cost. A home-run fence was installed along the first and third base lines of this ball field. Similar fencing was extended along the first and third base lines of the Little League Ball Field. A drinking fountain was installed and repairs were made to the back-stops. Total investment for the year, including City’s part: $6,929.35.


  • 1961 – Meantime there had been a bond issue to provide funds for three Community Centers and a Crafts Building. One of the Community Centers was built on the Lions Park. It was finished on October 1, 1961, at a cost of: $140,773.00.
  • 1962 – While the initial drainage system has functioned well it was observed that erosion, in areas feeding into it, was becoming serious. The club installed, under contract, 1,191 feet of Standard Curb and gutter and V-type concrete gutter to remedy this situation. For the Christmas program several items were contributed to the Community Center, but these are not included in this plant amount. Total spent for drainage: $1,903.70.

    -Meanwhile the City spent $6,000 to furnish and equip the Community Center and $2,000 to pave the parking lot near it and install an entrance gate which could be locked at night.

  • 1963 – Two banks (four courts each) of tennis courts were graded initially. By 1962 they had become stabilized and it was decided to fence and light the first bank (4 courts). The installation was completed in December. Cost to the club: $6,167.59.
  • 1964 – A contract was let for a home-run fence for the Little League Ball Field (the last of the three ball fields on the upper level to be so equipped). The installation was completed in June. Cost to the club: $632.00.
  • 1966 – A contract was let to light the second bank (4 courts) of tennis courts. Cost to the club: $6,525.90.
  • 1967- During the initial grading, provision was made on the lower level for a standard hard-ball field to be developed later. In 1967 the City had to vacate a hard-ball field at North Carolina State University which it had lighted and had used for five years. The City proposed to move its lighting installation to Lions Park and asked the club to finance (1)
    […] grading by C. C. Mangum for $600, (2) 12 Kv. tap line by C.P.& L. for $264 and (3) a drainage system for this field and the tennis courts by R. B. Stokes for $1,332.86. Cost to the club: $2,196.86.
  • 1974 – Because of the popularity of this park, the City spent $42,000 to hard surface the eight tennis courts previously graded, fenced, and lighted by the Lions Club. Also the City air conditioned the Community Center at a cost of $15,000.
  • 1975 – Initially the Lions Club installed swings and other playground equipment in the wooded area. This year the City has made plans to construct a separate play area for handicapped adults as well as handicapped children. The cost of the project was set at $11,000, of which the club agreed to finance $3,000. Federal funds should cover about half the balance.

Thus it is seen that, as of July 1, 1975, the Raleigh Lions City Park represents a plant investment of $360,341.76.

Many people deserve credit for this accomplishment. For the club it has been a team effort all the way but, for the record, the leadership over these years was as follows:

Civic Improvement Committee Chairmen
Year Chairman
1952-53 Ralph Satterfield
1953-54 Ralph Satterfield and W. Paul Lyman
1954-55 Paul S. Colby
1955-56 Wilton L. Fleming
1956-57 T. A. Bone
1957-58 L. R. Parsons, Jr.
1958-59 Maurice P. Thiem
1959-60 Burley Mitchell
1960-61 Turner G. Williams
1961-62 W. Hughes Boland
1962-63 Richard L. Rice
1963-64 Graham Tannery
1964-65 Ivan Hostetler
1965-66 Paul Johnson
1966-67 James P. Langstaff
1967-68 Charles Davis
1968-69 E. O. Moody
1969-70 Jerry M. Turner
1970-71 R. Frank Walser
1971-72 A. E. Finley II
1972-73 James L. Mercer
1973-74 Jack L . Morgan, Jr.
1974-75 William J. Curry
1975-76 Jerry M. Turner

Lions who have been associated with the project over the whole period are James M. Chambers, City Director of Recreation; A. E. Finley, who made grading equipment available for nearly two years; Landis Bennett, official photographer; Paul Lyman, Consellor; and Joe Clark, chairman of the Advisory Committee during the critical years (1951-57). Others who should be mentioned are Fred Fletcher, who became Chairman of the Advisory Committee in 1957 and has been its inspirational leader up to this time: Mayors James E. Briggs, Fred B. Wheeler and later W. G. Enloe; W. H. Carper, who became City Manager just before ground was broken; Vernon Peebles, City Engineer; and Ralph Andrews whose inspiration and enthusiasm initiated the city recreational program. Charles Scott of the North Carolina State College faculty was a valued advisor during the planning stage.

The responsibility of carrying out a recreational program to meet the needs of Raleigh rests with the City’s Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee and its Recreation Department. The Community Center is a year-round operation.

Many groups, including teen-age clubs and a Golden Age club, utilized its facilities. A paid staff serves as coaches or instructors on a full or part-time basis for basketball, volleyball, gymnastics, ping pong, weight-lifting, and other physical development activities. Thus the City’s responsibility is to maintain and operate the facilities, although the Raleigh Host Lions Club deveoped the park initially and adds capital investment in new facilities as needs develop and funds become available.

In conclusion, it may be said that while a fine recreation facility is in place here, its real value lies in the continued interest and cooperation of all our citizens, especially those who use it. Nobody, least of all the Lions, wants this park as a monument to those who created it, but rather as a dedication to the health and happiness of our youth today, our citizens of tomorrow. On these concepts, then, the Raleigh Host Lions Club will continue to contribute to its development.

On March 10, 1975, Recreation Superintendent W. C. Singletary observed: “The 1974 annual report of the Raleigh Parks and Recreation Department indicates that Lions Park Community Center is one of the most heavily used recreation facilities in the City, with 33,545 participants. Although statistics are not kept on the outside recreational facilities, the four ball fields and the picnic shelter were in constant use and one usually had to wait to get a tennis court during the season.”

Thus a dream spawned in 1950 developed into an important asset to the very life of Raleigh. And we are not though yet!

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