Reclaiming the Space of Historic Heritage
Mario Chiodo’s Unwavering Courage in the Pursuit of Freedom resides within the boundaries of the Tubman-Garrett Riverfront Park, a major reclamation project for the City of Wilmington. In 1995, local officials, business leaders, and residents in Wilmington began efforts to revitalize its riverfront with heritage tourism in mind. Throughout the 1800s and early 1900s, the Christina River and the Wilmington waterfront were the center of vital local industries including leather tanneries and ship building. In addition, the Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington Railroad had two round houses located along the river. “Gradually, and with cooperation of many groups and individuals, the banks of the Christina River transformed from an abandoned and neglected industrial brownfield to a popular destination for dining, shopping, entertainment, business, recreation, and residential living.”
In 1998-99, the Riverfront Development Corporation of Delaware completed the Tubman-Garrett Riverfront Park, which is “adjacent to the Market Street Bridge where slaves were transported to freedom. . . . the park was designed in the amphitheater style to complement the architecture of the [nearby] train station district in the early 1900s by the renowned Philadelphia architect Frank Furness.” The city proudly recognized Wilmington as a major station on the Underground Railroad through the creation of the park and the commissioning of an artist to create a monument to Harriet Tubman and Thomas Garrett.
The statue also plays a part in the city’s understanding of its place within the broader history of slavery and the Underground Railroad in Delaware. The Tubman-Garrett Riverfront Park is an important stop on the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Byway in Delaware, and an essential part of Delaware’s heritage tourism. The state has marked and interpreted a range of sites and locations in both rural and urban areas. The National Trust for Historic Preservation offers a definition of heritage tourism from the perspective of the visitor/tourist as “traveling to experience the places, artifacts, and activities that authentically represent the stories and people of the past and present. It includes visitation to cultural, historic, and natural resources.”
Heritage tourism also should be understood as a “cultural and social process,” according to Laurajane Smith, “which engages with acts of remembering that work to create ways to understand and engage the present.” Hyung yu Park expands this definition to argue that heritage tourism is institutionally complex and intricate: “Heritage tourism is predominantly concerned with exploring both material (tangible) and immaterial (intangible) remnants of the past. Importantly, heritage is not a fixed or static outcome of the past, particularly when it is presented and represented in the context of tourism. Heritage is constantly reconstructed and reinterpreted in an attempt to meet the specific demands of tourists and reflect the socio-cultural changes of the contemporary world.” Speaking directly to slavery, memory, and heritage, Ana Lucia Arajuo elaborates on the above in relation to a heritage site about slavery: “a place that, according to hegemonic discourses, is officially recognized locally and internationally as having had a significant role during the period of the Atlantic slave trade and slavery.”
In 2009, the Underground Railroad Coalition of Delaware and the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom (National Park Service) officially nominated the Harriet Tubman Byway, which was then designated a historical route in 2010. The byway stretches 95 miles in length from the Maryland border at Sandtown to the Delaware/Pennsylvania border with important historic sites associated with the Underground Railroad. Chiodo’s Unwavering Courage in the Pursuit of Freedom is now considered one of the visual anchors along this historic heritage corridor.
Request for Qualifications (RFQ)/Request for Proposal (RFP), Tubman-Garrett Riverfront Park, Wilmington, Delaware, May 19, 2011, page 2.
Jamesha Gibson, “Preservation Glossary: Today’s Word, Heritage Tourism,” June 17, 2015, National Trust for Historic Preservation, https://savingplaces.org/stories/preservation-glossary-todays-word-heritage-tourism#.XQvShnt7m9s. See also Preservation Leadership Forum, “A Decade of Heritage Tourism,” December 9, 2015, National Trust for Historic Preservation, https://forum.savingplaces.org/viewdocument/a-decade-of-heritage-tourism.
Laurajane Smith, Uses of Heritage (New York and London: Routledge, 2006), 2; Hyung yu Park, Heritage Tourism (New York and London: Routledge, 2014), 1; and Ana Lucia Araujo, Shadows of the Slave Past: Memory, Heritage, and Slavery (New York and London: Routledge, 2014), 8.