What links the mayor’s office downtown to Dorothea Dix Park? A fallen tree and the imagination of park crusader Gregory Poole.
A new conference table in the mayor’s office, located in the municipal building on W. Hargett Street, was recently built from a massive Post Oak tree that was brought down by Hurricane Matthew in 2016. Poole, who passed away last December, was instrumental in inspiring leaders to realize that Dorothea Dix Park could be North Carolina’s “Central Park.” One of those leaders was Mayor Nancy McFarlane, to whom the table is dedicated.
“This is basically a Greg Poole story,” says Carlton Midyette, who serves on the executive committee of the Dorothea Dix Park Conservancy, the body that raises money to help pay for Dix Park. “He was a relentless promoter of this park. He was a wealthy man who cared about a lot of city causes and did a lot for a lot of city causes.”
Poole had the tree dated and discovered that it had been planted on the Dix property in 1856, the same year Dorothea Dix Hospital was built. Being an amateur woodworker himself, Poole wanted to do something with the tree.
“He decided that this treasure needed to be saved,” says Midyette. Poole brought in equipment, had the tree cut into logs and took it to a wood yard for storage. From there, Poole and other Conservancy members met with local craftsman Stuart Kent and the idea for a table was born.
“We came up with this idea to do this table for the mayor,” says Kent. “We dedicated the piece in Nancy’s name, in honor of the Conservancy, to honor the work she had done. I designed the table after the Scottish-American furniture designer Duncan Phyfe, which celebrates the history of furniture design in America, and North Carolina, where a great many of Duncan Phyfe [pieces of furniture] have been reproduced.”
Building the table wasn’t easy. The lumber had been dried incorrectly and was cracked substantially in many places. Kent had to repair the material before he could even begin building the table and it took three builds before the table was complete.
“The day after I glued it, it cupped pretty severely,” says Kent. “I cut it apart and built a tabletop a second time. After the second time it had twisted—it had done something completely different. I cut it apart and put it together a third time. I built another table to build this table on that had a very heavy frame that I could force the wood to stay clamped to. It stayed there for a year.”
When Kent unclamped the wood a few months ago, it finally stayed flat, allowing him to finish building. Last month, Kent delivered the table—with the assistance of Raleigh police officers—to the mayor in her office, to the delight of McFarlane and her staff.
But Kent didn’t work on the table alone. Often, Poole visited Kent’s shop in Greenville to work on the project with him.
“There are two places on the tabletop where he was learning to use the hand plane with me,” says Kent. “He was 84 years old and didn’t have the body strength and would lift the plane up and tear the fibers out. I decided to leave those places in the tabletop—two little divots. Those are the hands of Greg Poole and that makes it very special. Nancy put her hands on it and it was a pretty touching thing.”
The table now celebrates the leadership of local officials and the incredible effort it took to make the park happen—and will continue to in the years to come.
“[Poole] was close to the mayor, close to the mayor before her, and did a lot to inspire the city and the state,” says Sean Malone, president and CEO of the Dorothea Dix Park Conservancy. “It was his idea and we’re thrilled to see that coming to fruition and to donate the table to be part of the mayor’s office.”