A $231,788 grant for design work from the Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism through its Destination Development Capital Grant program will help complete the funding for the community project that includes the statute in tribute to Douglass, who was 20 when he arrived in New Bedford.
New Bedford Historical Society president Lee Blake anticipates that the new park on Abolition Row will be completed by the end of September with plans for a soft opening coinciding with International Underground Railroad Month when lectures and talks are planned.
Maritime link to Underground Railroad: Exhibit explores the role of whaling ships
She welcomed state and local officials to Abolition Row Thursday afternoon and celebrated the grant announcement while reflecting on the purpose the tourism grant will support.
“This site will talk about the abolition heritage, the African American collaboration with the Quakers and other white organizations who felt that it was important to end slavery in this county,” she said.
Students learn about Underground Railroad
Blake was excited to share that eight students from all over the country through the National Endowment for the Humanities are in New Bedford this week taking classes on the Underground Railroad and spent a full day inside the Nathan and Mary (Polly) Johnson House.
The Nathan and Mary (Polly) Johnson properties circa 1800 and 1854 and the 1820 Friends Meeting House on the National Register of Historic Places are three buildings significant to this purpose.
Destination Development Capital Grants
A total of $2.2 million in fiscal 2023 Destination Development Capital Grants for 20 organizations across the state were announced by Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito and Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism Executive Director Keiko Orrall on Seventh Street.
Polito praised the collaborative efforts of community leaders and the many contributors in New Bedford who helped to make the project possible while continuing to spotlight the Abolition Row landmarks in relation to the city’s history.
“I cannot wait to come back and see it reinvigorated and clearly have this beautiful statue of Frederick Douglass stand under the cherry trees to welcome people to this neighborhood just like this neighborhood welcomed him,” she said. “This is really beautiful in so many ways.”
Orrall described Abolition Row Park as a transformational project for New Bedford and as an economic development project.
“It’s about recognizing the history of New Bedford, celebrating the culture and really providing for the lasting experiences that 30 years from now will make a difference for the community,” she said.
She said it’s also a project that highlights New Bedford as a destination for tourism.
Mayor Jon Mitchell said the entire block is a museum of sorts honoring the city’s abolitionist past, and the new park is in keeping with those efforts supported by local, state and private funding. The site used to be home to two buildings before they were destroyed by fire. There have been more than $675,000 in improvements.
“It’s been a collective effort because people recognize just how important this particular project is, and like any other important project it has been headed up by a group of really dedicated folks who brought others in and brought the money in with them because they’ve been so committed,” he said.
A collaborative effort
In addition to the grant, Blake said a lot of private money has been raised for the project and the nonprofit Community Foundation has helped with the funding with the final fundraising push underway.
“We’ve had a tremendous amount of donations from individuals,” she said.
Other funding includes $156,610 from the state’s Parklands Acquisitions and Renovations for Communities grant, $137,271 from the federal American Rescue Plan Act, $126,208 in Community Preservation Act funds, $15,000 from the U.S. Conference of Mayors and $10,000 from Bristol County Savings Bank.
In about a week, construction crews will return to the site to begin the work of putting in a gazebo. The infrastructure work has been completed with the water and the electricity underground.
Administered by the Tourism Trust Fund, the Destination Development Capital Grant program is funded through the capital budget as part of the Baker-Polito Administration’s Partnerships for Recovery Plan initiative to help stabilize and grow the Massachusetts tourism industry.
Overall the plan focuses on getting people back to work, supporting small businesses, fostering innovation, revitalizing downtowns and ensuring housing stability.
Standard-Times staff writer Kathryn Gallerani can be reached at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter: @kgallreporter. Support local journalism by purchasing a digital or print subscription to The Standard-Times today.
This article originally appeared on Standard-Times: New Bedford receives tourism grant for Abolition Row Park
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