Dorothea Dix Park is on land with a layered history

It is the ancestral home of Native American tribes who used the land for over 14,000 years for family life, nourishment, ceremony, and healing. From the mid-18th century, English colonists claimed the land as their own and developed it as a plantation relying on the forced labor of generations of enslaved Africans. Just before the Civil War, portions of the plantation were sold to the state of North Carolina to establish the first mental health hospital in the state. Dix Hospital, as it was known, operated on this site from 1856 until 2012, when it was closed by the state. In 2015, the City of Raleigh purchased the remaining 308 acres of the former hospital campus from the state and initiated planning for a destination park.


NC State Hospital colorized, NC State Archives

Colorized photo of the State Hospital in Raleigh NC. Photo Credit: NC State Archives


Work has begun on a Cultural Interpretation Plan for the park

Led by experience design firm Cloud Gehshan and interpretive planning firm Brocade Studio, with engagement support from Public Participation Partners, the cultural interpretation plan will explore the multiple histories that have happened at the site and the personal connections communities and individuals have to those histories. It will suggest how to sensitively communicate and contextualize these histories for future park visitors, and how to ensure that underrepresented voices and histories are made visible. To do so, the plan will explore how the site can become a space for storytelling, remembrance, reflection, connection, and healing.


A scene from Crisis Materials, a movement and spoken word piece performed at Dix Park, that unpacks how COVID-19 and the social unrest in our nation has affected our collective mental health, and explores the history of the land at park, specifically the Dix Hospital Cemetery. Photo Credit: Vital Health, Caroline Cockrell


Past and Present Histories at the Dix Park site 

Dix Park is the site of several important histories, each of which will be part of the cultural interpretation plan. These include:


  • A history of the land's use and stewardship by Native Americans
  • Descendant histories of those enslaved at the Spring Hill Plantation
  • Stories of living, working, and receiving treatment at Dix Hospital
  • Changes to the site's ecology and built landscape over time

Kaya Littleturtle performing the land blessing ceremony of Dix Park in 2020.

Project Process & Timeline

The Dix Park Cultural Interpretation Plan kicked off December 2022 and is expected to take 15 months.

1.  Discovery (Complete)

2.  Outreach I (May 2023 - August 2023)

  • Online Survey opens
  • June workshops:
    • ​Dix Hospital former patients and families
    • ​Dix Hospital former staff and families
    • Park Committees and Educators
  • Capital City Juneteenth Celebration popup booth
  • August Workshops:
    • Buried Stories & Histories Denied
    • Creative Survival
    • Spaces of Belonging & Inclusion
  • Inter-Tribal Pow Wow popup booth
  • Cultural Interpretation Plan Open House
  • Online Survey closes September 10

3.  Interpretive Strategy Development (September 2023 – December 2023)

4. Outreach II (January 2024– February 2024)

  • Open House and feedback

5. Plan Formulation (March 2024 - June 2024)

  • Compile input and recommendations into a final report