Nautilus stop vital addition to Heritage Park
With the launch of a second full season of its popular Thames River water taxi and a recent Connecticut Magazine article praising that attraction, the folks overseeing the Thames River Heritage Park deserve to bask a bit in the park’s hard-earned success. As the saying goes, however, the best still may be yet to come for the park that demonstrates how the Thames links some of the region’s individual communities into a single shared history.
The Connecticut Port Authority earlier this month approved a $730,000 grant that would enable the Submarine Force Museum and historic ship Nautilus to become part of the Heritage Park. The grant, expected to be approved by the state’s Bond Commission, will pay to design and build a new dock at the Groton museum. The dock will allow the heritage park’s water taxi to land there.
Both Port Authority Chairman Scott Bates of Stonington and New London Mayor Michael Passero, who is a member of the Thames River Heritage Park board, praised the grant approval saying it will help spur economic development and tourism in the region.
Most important to the park’s mission, adding the Nautilus and Submarine Force Museum to the water taxi stops would be another step toward illustrating the totality of the immense breadth and span of the region’s history, a history in which the Thames always has played a vital role.
The park and water taxi already feature sites highlighting the region’s history over a more than 350-year time span. Visitors can glimpse the Colonial past at the Hempsted Houses, learn about the Revolutionary era at Fort Griswold and come to understand the significant role New London’s U.S. Custom House, now a maritime museum, played in the 1839 uprising aboard the ship La Amistad by African natives who were headed for a life of slavery, but won their freedom.
Water taxi riders motor past the Electric Boat shipyard, which has built submarines for the Navy since the early 20th Century. The Nautilus, the first nuclear-powered submarine, was built in Groton and launched at the EB shipyard in 1954. After its decommissioning, the submarine returned to Groton in 1985 and opened to visitors as part of the Submarine Force Museum in 1986.
The addition of the Nautilus will be a leap forward in history for the heritage park. Park board members also, however, must continue to delve deeper into the region’s more distant past and set sights further north before considering their jobs complete. It should be a goal to incorporate Norwich, with its rich Civil War and Industrial Revolution history, into the heritage park in the future. So, too, the stories and culture of the Native American tribes who for centuries before European settlement lived and traded on and near the Thames.
The Thames River Heritage Park has a bright future as it continues to grow and show the full scope of the region’s history, stretching back into the depths of the past and forward into the future.
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