When thinking about iconic cities for barbecue, Rocky Mount might not be the first to come to mind, but those behind a new Rocky Mount city park are hoping to change that.
The grand opening for Barbecue Park will be held Wednesday as the public is invited to learn more about how Rocky Mount made a mark on America’s love of all things barbecue.
“In the early 1900s, one of our former residents Bob Melton opened the first sit-down barbecue restaurant in the state of North Carolina,” Parks and Recreation Director Kelvin Yarrell said. “While the restaurant was destroyed in the flood of 1999, the site has been redeveloped into this park and is named in honor of his and others’ contributions to barbecue.”
The grand opening will be from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Wednesday at the park, which is at 377 Morgan St. In addition to signs explaining Melton and other local barbecue aficionados – including Buck Overton and Josh Bullock – the park features a fishing pier, a trail and recreational park.
“We have soccer fields over there and with the proximity to the river, we believe this is a nice attraction for our community and for those visiting our community to come and learn more about this unique history,” Yarrell said.
“This also is a chance for some of our FEMA flood land to be repurposed back for the use by our citizens.”
Three aspiring Eagle Scouts assisted city staff and Leadership Rocky Mount in putting the project together, which began in March 2012. The Scouts helped raise $7,500 to purchase a bench and prepare the signs about the history of barbecue in Rocky Mount.
“We are so proud of Barbecue Park,” Yarrell said. “This park allows citizens to reflect on Rocky Mount’s rich barbecue history and to understand why barbecue is such a huge part of Rocky Mount’s heritage.”
Free barbecue sandwiches will be given to those who attend, but supplies are limited and registration is requested by calling Jacqueline Barnes at 972-1542.
“This is a chance for residents to support area youth who helped with this project and to embrace some of our lesser known culture,” Yarrell said.