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town county to buy more land for mitchelville


A crucial piece of land for a proposed park to commemorate the nation's first freed-slave village was purchased Tuesday by the Town of Hilton Head Island.

Two hours after Thomas C. Barnwell Jr., chairman emeritus of the Mitchelville Preservation Project, made a plea for continued support, the Town Council approved spending nearly $258,000 to buy the 1.8 acres.

Beaufort County will contribute half of the cost, according to the town.

The land will be purchased from 217 Beach City Road LLC using proceeds from a 2010 town bond issue.

"This land will provide a natural buffer for Fish Haul Creek Park and a possible location for Mitchelville preservation efforts," said Mayor Drew Laughlin in a prepared statement.

The town and county purchased two, one-acre parcels on either side of the property last year for the same purpose. Purchasing the third parcel provides a needed piece for the proposed educational and interpretive park, connecting it with other town-own land and giving added access off Beach City Road.

The council agreed in fall 2010 to lease 15 acres at Fish Haul Creek Park to develop the Mitchelville Project, contingent on a plan showing the preservation group's financial ability to build and maintain it.

The council also awarded the preservation group $50,000 last year in accommodations-tax money to help defray startup costs. The group requested $100,000 this year to develop a master plan for the memorial park. A town advisory panel in December, however, rejected the request after the panel's vice chairman pointed to an opinion from S.C. Tourism Expenditure Review Committee that says bed-tax revenue cannot be used for planning, but it can be used for construction, maintenance and operations.

Barnwell thanked the council for its previous support and asked for continued help from it in lobbying county, state and federal officials for grants for the park. The group's board is working with a new consultant to "fine-tune" funding needs, and Barnwell said the Leadership Hilton Head Island-Bluffton class of 2012 chose the park for its community project.

Mitchelville was created for freed slaves in 1862, before the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 and a year after Union ships drove Confederate troops from Hilton Head Island. It was placed on the National Registry of Historic Places in 1988. In 2003, Congress declared the site important to preserving and understanding the nation's difficulties during Reconstruction.