Hartford, CT

Contact Name
Mary M. Donohue
Project Dates
2009 - Present
<p>In preparing for the anniversary of the landmark Amistad Case in the 1990's, a committee was formed to research and document the authentic sites where this history happened. It became clear that African American history sites throughout the state were underrepresented in the state's historic preservation programs, heritage tourism inititives and the minds of the general public. The CT. Freedom Trail bacame law in 1995. By 2009, the CFT had an out-of-date and out-of print brochure and an equally out of date website. The CCT, working with the two volunteer bodies associated with the CFT, began a one-year work plan to completely overhaul the administration of the program, add new sites to the trail, undertake new scholarly research to verify sites, recast the contents of the brochure and create a new, state of the art interactive website. The website is www.ctfreedomtrail.org</p>
Project Goals
What were the project goals?
Project goals included re-invigorizing the participation of the African American community with the on-going program; creating new, easy to use guidelines for the public to nominate sites; encouraging the 16 museums on the trail to provide public programming around their site's African American history; creating both a traditional printed brochure as well as an interactive website; producing high quality, dependable scholarly research using the guidelines of the National Register of Historic Places of the National Park Service; and increasing the public's awareness of Connecticut's nationally significant African American history.
Have they changed over time?
They have not
Who are the project partners and stakeholders?
Project partners were the Amistad Committee, Inc., the CFT Sites Committee, and Pita Communications. Stakeholders include the public museums on the trail, property owners such as African American churches, educational partners such as the Gilder Lerman Center at Yale, and the Connecticut Civil War Commemoration Commission.
Project Specifics
How was the project implemented? What were the steps taken?
The CCT employed a full-time fellow to work with two senior staff members over the course of a year to produce the scholarship necessary to create the two public education pieces (brochure and website). The CCT hired the Pita Group, an award-winning communications firm, to develop the website and brochure with content produced by the CCT. The strategy was to engage the two volunteer committees to meet monthly to review on-going work; recast the print piece (the brochure) from a thick, detailed booklet to a heavily-illustrated brochure (rack-card size) designed to pique the reader's interest and send them to the new website; and incorporate as many interactive features as possible in the new website. We reviewed African American heritage trail websites nationwide and incorporated the best features that we found. The CFT site includes a video walk-on by a Civil War reenactor portraying an actual black soldier in the 29th Regiment; videotaped segments for children on Civil War life; archival photos from museums across the country; Mapquest locations for all sites, allowing the visitor to get specific travel directions; a "Kids Only" section; and a consumer-based method for historical societies, museums, and community groups across the state to promote events to a statewide audience.
Have they been refined over time?
Steps did not change due to the nature of this project.
What were your major obstacles?
Major obstacles including lack of a vision for the rebranding of the Freedom Trail; funding, lack of staff time, out of date site information, weak volunteer participation, lack of public participation guidelines,and low public profile.
Who or what was instrumental in overcoming these obstacles?
The Commission had to make the commitment of funds, staff time and the addition of a full-time Fellow in order to get the project moving. Once that was done, the staff developed a clear work plan with clearly defined final products.
What top three suggestions would you give to others attempting a similar project?
Three suggestions-hire the best "outside" consultants that you can; review a wide variety of similar projects to "cherry pick" the best ideas you can find; and reach out to engage a full range of volunteers.
Project Impact
How has this project contributed to creative community building?
The CCT is making significant grant funding available to promote the museums on the Freedom Trail. For example, the New Haven International Festival of Art and Ideas just received $50,000 specifically to commission creat drama/dance/spoken work performances at 6 Freedom Trail sites across the state. The new site will also coordinate with the state's Civil War Commemoration Commission's educational and public event programming for the next four years.
Why do you consider the project successful, as related to your project goals above?
The new CFT website was launched on 2/17/11 by Governor Dannel Malloy and State Senator Toni Harp with over 125 people in attendance. 45,000 brochures were printed and are being distributed to tourism locations statewide. New heritage tourism components like podcasts and GPS phone apps are planned.

The new website will allow us to review the site analytics to determine how many visitors the site has, what features are being used, how much time visitors are spending on the site, etc, to guide us in adding new content or features.
Were there unexpected impacts?
The event was extensively covered by the media and was carried nationwide by Associated Press. History and tourism blogs picked up on the new site.