On Thursday, the public is invited to discuss design plans for a new park planned at the site of two former historic homes in New Bedford that will recognize and celebrate some of the city's most forward-thinking residents.

The park, which will be called Abolition Row Park, will celebrate the 19th-century abolitionists that lived in 19 houses in the four blocks around the park's location at the corner of Spring and Seventh Street.

New Bedford Historical Society President Lee Blake visited with WBSM's Phil Paleologos to discuss how the location is just as much of social importance as it is historic.

"This is also an opportunity for us to grab on to the social justice reputation that New Bedford had in the 19th century," she said. "Everybody knew that New Bedford was a city of tolerance."

The parcel of land on which the park is being built formerly had two houses, one a whaling captain's home and the other the home of an abolitionist. A 2009 fire destroyed the two houses, and in the time since, the New Bedford Historical Society has been helping to maintain the vacant lot.

"All that time, we were working with the Historical Society and WHALE, trying to buy that property, and we were able to buy it this year," Blake said.

The Histocial Society has been able to fund the park through donations from a number of organizations, including a $40,000 grant from the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

"We competed (for the grant) with parks and cities across the country, and Abolition Row Park was the number one choice," Blake said.

She said the park will also feature information about the notable abolitionists that spent time in New Bedford, including perhaps the most famous, the great Frederick Douglass. The park will be open in time to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Douglass' birth next year.

"This park will be up and running as people come to the place where Frederick Douglass really got his grounding and his feelings and his foundations on social justice," Blake said. "He got that from members of our community."

The meeting will take place at 5:30 p.m. Thursday at the New Bedford Friends Meeting House at 83 Spring Street. The designer of the park, COGDesign of Cambridge, will be on hand to share plans and take questions from the community.

Then on May 12, the official groundbreaking of the park will take place beginning at 10 a.m.

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