Historic Mitchelville Freedom Park [HMFP], Inc. is a non-profit South Carolina corporation which was formed to preserve the history of and educate the public about the historic Mitchelville settlement. Mitchelville was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1988 (as the Fish Haul Archaeological Site), making the site important to preserving and understanding the nation’s difficulties during Reconstruction. HMFP has been formed to act as a steward for the benefit of preserving the rich history of Mitchelville and its connection to local Gullah culture. In 1995, the Town of Hilton Head and the State of South Carolina recognized the historic value of the Mitchelville site and erected the official State historical marker at the corner of Beach City and Fish Haul Roads. This marker has recently been relocated to the entrance of Fish Haul Creek Park, the future Historic Mitchelville Freedom Park site. In that same year, the Chicora Foundation completed their archaeological work at the Fish Haul site. This excavation uncovered 25,000 objects causing Chicora to refer to the site as
“the richest African American archaeological site in the Southeast.”
In 2005, a diverse group of Hilton Head Island citizens took up the cause of preserving and promoting the heritage of Mitchelville. This first group kept the importance of the Mitchelville site to Hilton Head on the community’s agenda. In 2009, the group approached Mr. Thomas C. Barnwell and asked that he become chairman for a renewed effort to preserve what is left of the Mitchelville site and to interpret the heritage and commemorate the story. In 2010, the Historic Mitchelville Freedom Park was officially organized with Barnwell as chairman. During the next couple of years, HMFP created by-laws, developed an initial land architectural design of the site and obtained 501(c)3 status.
HMFP endeavors to educate the public on the compelling story of its inhabitants and their quest for education, self-reliance and inclusion as members of a free society. HMFP is thriving through feature exhibits, signature events and guided tours of Historic Mitchelville. In addition, it continues to enhance knowledge of Mitchelville through a series of learning opportunities including lectures, forums, and related cultural experiences. HMFP, in cooperation with the Town of Hilton Head and Beaufort County, endeavors to establish a cultural attraction in the historic Mitchelville area, that will be known as “Historic Mitchelville Freedom Park.” Thanks to the generosity of the Beaufort County Council, HMFP is in the beginning stages of creating a Master Plan for Historic Mitchelville Freedom Park, which will serve as the blueprint for its transformation into a cultural attraction. This will expand the offerings of the Park to include replicas of the historic homes, churches, stores and other structures that align with the themes that govern the interpretation of the site. Those themes include: the importance of education, the desire for land ownership, laws and citizenship, the power of opportunity, everyday life before Reconstruction, and others.
The Master Plan will include an interpretive plan, development plan, archaeological mitigation plan, business and financial plans, along with other components. The completed Master Plan will be submitted to the Town of Hilton Head for approval. Upon approval, HMFP will begin Phase 1 design, permitting and construction. This is anticipated to include: Archaeological surveys / targeted excavation; Clearing and developing appropriate spaces to interpret the experience of Mitchelville; recreating the Church School on/near its historical placement to serve as an educational building used by school children and other groups for programming and as a potential exhibition space; the reconstruction of some of the homes that will serve as interpretive centers illustrating themes related to various aspects of Mitchelville life; partial restoration of the historic Mitchelville street grid; placing high-quality interpretive signage on the property to aid in self-guided tours and creating a virtual tour of the property.
Historic Mitchelville Freedom Park will allow visitors to understand Mitchelville as it existed in the 19th century. This historic site, drenched in Hilton Head’s pristine island atmosphere, endeavors to be known as the Lowcountry key Heritage Tourism attraction, inspiring visitors from around the world to travel to South Carolina to experience the people of the Mitchelville’s first sweet taste of freedom.