Over 250 people, including politicians, historic preservation advocates, community members, park staff and volunteers attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the Corson Maritime Learning Center on May 16, 2008. The event was the culmination of an 11 year, $6.4 million project.
The Corson Building, which is located next to the park visitor center, consists of two three-story brick structures built in 1875 and 1884. For many years the Corson Building housed Moby-Dick Marine Specialties on its first floor, a popular shopping stop for visitors to the historic district. In 1997, a devastating fire ripped through the building. The Waterfront Historic Area LeaguE (WHALE), a non-profit preservation organization, came to the building’s rescue after the fire, acquired the building through a donation from the Piva family, and secured the funds for its stabilization. WHALE, in turn, donated the building to the National Park Service in 2004.
Senator Edward Kennedy, the keynote speaker of the event and instrumental in the creation of the park in 1996 remarked, “Today, we celebrate New Bedford’s history and reaffirm our commitment to build on the great legacy of those who came before us, such as Herman Melville and Frederick Douglass, to build a strong future for this unique city, a city that Melville called the ‘dearest place to live in, in all New England.’” In addition to Senator Kennedy, Congressman Barney Frank and State Representatives Mark Montigny and Antonio Cabral were present to offer their congratulations on the National Park Service’s great achievement in preserving the historic structure and creating a multi-purpose learning center.
The Corson Maritime Learning Center includes an entire floor dedicated to educational activities, office space for staff, an archives room, new exhibits and a 55-seat theater.