A proposed $1.5 million project unveiled Saturday will highlight the lives of Phillips County residents, both black and white, during the Civil War.
Officials say visitors will learn a little-known part of the area’s history once the plans are completed in 2011.
They hope the project will entice Civil War buffs to visit the Phillips County town of Helena-West Helena and help increase tourism.
The project will feature 29 interpretations of Civil War sites in Helena-West Helena and elsewhere in the county, including the reconstruction of a Union army fort near the downtown and an encampment where slaves left plantations and joined Union soldiers.
Officials presented the plans to the public at Helena Riverfront Park on Saturday during a day-long celebration of the city’s historical landmarks.
“Helena has a lot of stories to tell for all people,” Katie Harrington, director of the Delta Cultural Center in Helena, said Friday. “We have several Civil War sites around here. But there are some little-known facts that we’re just learning about.”
In 1862, Union soldiers invaded Helena and turned the Mississippi River town into a supply center. In 1863, Confederate soldiers attacked the town to regain it and relieve pressure the Union army was placing on Vicksburg, Miss.
Harrington said Freedom Park, a large Biscoe Street park in the shadow of the Helena Mississippi River Bridge, will feature five interpretative exhibits, including one that showcases the encampment of several thousand slaves who left cotton plantations and sought freedom with Union soldiers.
“They were considered fugitives then,” Harrington said. “They left the plantations for a life that they didn’t know anything about. There was a lot of faith and courage there. We hope to capture that in our exhibits.”
Another park exhibit will feature a walk-through corridor showing visitors a timeline of Phillips County’s black Americans in the Civil War.
“We will be exploring the historical impact of real people,” Harrington said. “This isn’t Disneyland. It’s the real deal.”
Other plans call for renovating Estevan Hall at 653 S. Biscoe St., which served as a Union army hospital.
Workers will build a replica of Curtis Fort, a Union army fort. The fort was originally located near downtown at Perry and Franklin streets on the site of what is now a Baptist church, but officials could not buy the property. Instead, they will build it on a city block about three blocks from its original spot, Harrington said.
Officials also will restore the Moore-Hornor House at 323 Beech St., which played an important role in the Battle of Helena on July 4, 1863.
The overall project will be ongoing, Harrington said. Officials will pay for it in a variety of ways – state and federal grants, fundraising and donations, she said.
Officials hope to complete it by 2011.
James Valley, the mayor of Helena-West Helena, said the project will help develop pride in the Delta community. He said he believes the exhibits will enhance the area’s economy with an increase in visitors.
“I think this will help us invest in our human capital,” he said. “This is something we can be proud of and embrace. Our goal is to get everyone involved.”
Mudpuppy and Waterdog Inc., a Versailles, Ky., company that preserves Civil War sites, estimated the 29 interpretative sites could bring in $90 million a year to Phillips County in tourism revenue.