Written on: November 25th, 2014 in News
During the month of November 2014, the Delaware Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs welcomed Rachel Wootten as its new volunteer-services coordinator, and bid farewell to Horticulture Team manager Ken Darsney.
Rachel Wootten comes to the division from the Multi-Cultural Community Center in Milford, Del. where she worked as an assistant to the executive director, and where she volunteered in providing after-school help for at-risk youth. A 2012 graduate of the University of Delaware with a bachelor’s degree in political science and a concentration in human rights, she spent a year in Cameroon, West Africa, where she volunteered for service as a community development officer with United Action for Children, a community-based, nonprofit organization that provides a nurturing environment for the effective growth and development of young people. During her service with that organization, Wootten coordinated a group of international volunteers who administered a “school-on-wheels” program that provided remote villages with educational services.
Originally from Maryland, Wootten grew up in Lewes, Del. and now lives in Houston, Del. As the division’s new volunteer-services coordinator, she will be working to recruit, and fully utilize the talents of, a dedicated cadre of volunteers who can help the agency preserve Delaware’s historical legacy.
In December 2014, Ken Darsney will open a new career-chapter as horticultural supervisor for the Nemours Mansion and Gardens, a 300-acre country estate once owned by the businessman and philanthropist Alfred I. duPont. Located north of Wilmington, Del., Nemours features a classical French-style mansion and one of the largest French formal gardens in North America.
A member of the division staff since June 2011, Darsney’s responsibilities included management of the Horticulture Team as well as hands-on horticultural and arboricultural work. Under his leadership, the Horticulture Team compiled an impressive list of accomplishments including transformation of the grounds at Buena Vista and Woodburn; the establishment of new beds at the Zwaanendael Museum in Lewes and at Delaware’s copy of the Liberty Bell in Dover; and the ongoing care of horticultural displays at a wide variety of state-owned properties including Belmont Hall, the John Dickinson Plantation, Cooch-Dayett Mills, Fort Christina and the New Castle Green. The division sends its best wishes to Darsney as he begins service at one of the most prestigious formal gardens in Delaware and the nation.
In a grand-opening ceremony on Oct. 18, 2014, the New Castle Historical Society welcomed visitors to its new headquarters in the Arsenal building located at 30 Market St. in New Castle, Del. Leased to the historical society by the Delaware Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs, the building will be used for office- and collections-space, as well as a venue for events and private parties. Division director Tim Slavin was on-hand for the ceremony which was conducted by historical society executive-director Michael Connolly.
Part of the New Castle National Historic Landmark District, the Arsenal was constructed in 1809 as a one-story windowless building used by the United States government as a storage place for weapons and ammunition. By the 1830s, the building no longer served its original function and was instead used for a variety of purposes including housing for troops from Fort Delaware, as a hospital during a cholera epidemic and as offices for several federal government agencies including the Custom Service and the departments of revenue and engineering. Transferred to the Trustees of the New Castle Common in the mid-1800s, the building was enlarged to two stories in 1855 for use as a school. It served as the New Castle High School until 1930 and was later used for offices and a restaurant.
Between 2012 and 2014, the division completed a number of capital improvements at the Arsenal including repairs and/or replacement of floors, drywall and partitions; new carpeting and painting; the installation of a new drainage crock in the basement; improvements to the mechanical, electrical, plumbing and alarm systems; the installation of new plumbing and lighting fixtures; and the repair and repainting of exterior shutters. The completion of these enhancements and the lease of the building to the New Castle Historical Society will ensure that the Arsenal functions as a much-needed public venue in the historic city that serves as a focal point in the First State National Monument.
EXHIBIT CLOSED on Dec. 7, 2014
Sunday, Dec. 7, 2014 marks the last chance for visitors to enjoy the exhibit “An Illegal Activity: The Underground Railroad in Delaware.” The exhibit, on display at the First State Heritage Park Welcome Center and Galleries, located at 121 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. in Dover, Del., has been open since Oct. 16, 2013. Operating hours are Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Saturday, 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., and Sunday, 1:30 to 4:30 p.m. Admission is free. For additional information, call 302-744-5055.
Planned and created by the Delaware Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs in partnership with the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Byway Management Organization and the Underground Railroad Coalition of Delaware, the exhibit explores the First State’s role in the pre-Civil War network of secret routes and safe houses used by black slaves in the United States to escape to free states and Canada with the aid of abolitionists and allies who were sympathetic to their cause. Focusing on two Delawareans who played important roles in this illegal and clandestine enterprise—Samuel D. Burris and Thomas Garrett—the exhibit explores the actions of a number of brave people who made principled decisions to follow their consciences rather than what they viewed as the unjust laws of the state and nation.
About Samuel D. Burris …
Born on Oct. 16, 1813 in the Willow Grove area near Dover, Del., Samuel D. Burris was the educated son of George Burris, a free-black man. As a conductor on the Underground Railroad, Samuel D. Burris is known to have successfully led several enslaved people from Maryland and Delaware to freedom. After an 1847 attempt to bring a young woman, Maria Matthews, out of Kent County, Del. to Pennsylvania, Burris was found guilty of aiding in the escape of a slave and was fined, sentenced to prison and thereafter sentenced to be sold into slavery. After being “purchased” for $500 by Wilmington abolitionist, Isaac S. Flint, he was taken to Philadelphia where he was reunited with his wife, children and friends. He continued to work for the abolitionist cause until his death in San Francisco in 1863.
About Thomas Garrett …
Thomas Garrett was born on Aug. 21, 1789 to a prominent Quaker family in Upper Darby, Pa. After moving to Wilmington, Del. where he was an iron merchant, Garrett operated as the stationmaster on the last stop of the Underground Railroad in Delaware, collaborating with a number of noted conductors including Harriet Tubman and Samuel D. Burris. He is credited with helping over 2,500 fugitive slaves escape to freedom. In 1848, Garrett was tried in Federal District Court meeting at the New Castle Court House under the jurisdiction of United States Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger B. Taney. After being convicted of trespass and debt for aiding and abetting in the escape of runaway-slaves, Garrett was fined several thousand dollars resulting in his financial ruin. Nonetheless, he continued to work for the abolitionist cause. He died in Wilmington in 1871.