Community Conversations: October

Highlights from the Discussions

The Sowams Project team welcomed a broad spectrum of the community to the inaugural Community Conversations at the historic Old White Church in Swansea on October 17, 2023, and at the Hope and Main culinary incubator in Warren on October 18, 2023.

Participants included members of town planning committees and humanities organizations, land trust volunteers, elected representatives, ministers, artists, business owners and residents.

What matters most to the community? This is some of what they said,

“There are advantages to partnerships, like environmental planning, historic tourism, economic development.”

“The land is what is important. The land will endure.”

“The water and land have no political boundaries. Imagine someday, we would not identify ourselves as coming from one of nine towns in two states, but rather, from Sowams.”

“Not everyone connects with history and heritage, but once people learn about it, they want to know more.”

“Children need to understand history… We need to ensure that stories are passed on to future generations.”

“We need to protect our sacred sites: burial grounds, churches, the native landscape. Where are the graves of the enslaved population?”

“Our city is opening up the waterfront for recreation and economic development. We see it as the gateway to Sowams.”

“Focus on young people.”

What are National Heritage Areas (NHAs)?

Nancy Morgan, PhD from Point Heritage Development Consulting is leading the feasibility study required by the National Park Service for designation as an NHA.

National Heritage Areas are both a place and a strategy,” she said. “An NHA is a place where history is written on the landscape in natural spaces and historic structures, in living cultural traditions, and even in the economy. They are also a community-driven strategy for heritage conservation and economic development.”

NHAs are NOT national parks

NHAs are NOT not managed or owned by the National Park Service or other federal agencies.

NHAs have NO impact on property rights.

What stories are emerging from the landscape of Sowams?

  • Where land and water meet
  • Ousamequin and the Pilgrims
  • The King Philip’s War
  • Enslavement
  • Religious Toleration
  • Maritime Industries

There are 62 National Heritage Areas in 32 states

Whether showcasing a significant landscape, theme, or historic event, each NHA contributes its own unique perspective to our national heritage. For example, the Augusta Canal NHA in Augusta, GA, tells the story of the Industrial Revolution in the American South by providing interactive exhibits and music cruises, and history and nature tours around the canal.

The Augusta Canal Authority, which manages the NHA, derives most of its revenue from the hydro-electric power generated by diverting waters from the Augusta Canal back into the Savannah River. By selling power back to the grid, the NHA can cover its heritage programming without drawing on the city’s general revenue property tax. It’s a self-sustaining, economic driver for the Augusta community.

What’s next?

Before seeking Congressional designation as an NHA, the planning team must conduct a comprehensive feasibility study following the rigorous guidelines of the National Park Service. We’re halfway there. This is the timeline for the next 14 months:

How can you help? Think about the possibilities!

How can a Sowams National Heritage Area benefit your communities? Here are some ideas:

Sowams is front and center in the Watchamoket Square redevelopment project on East Providence waterfront. Recently Pokanoket tribal leaders joined City officials for the unveiling of the magnificent mural of Sagamore Winds of Thunder depicting the Pokanoket Massasoit Metacomet (King Philip).

The Sowams Project is one of four organizations anchoring the commemoration of the 350th anniversary of King Philip’s War in 2025/26. The 350th planning team will support the efforts of the historic organizations throughout New England, who in their own ways will be marking the devasting, pivotal event in our nation’s origin story.
Environmental organizations in Massachusetts and Rhode Island have started exploring ways to collaborate as a Sowams Estuary Coalition.