Mold-covered tombstones at Burial Hill were cleaned; the inside of the Mayflower II was painted; and a 300-foot timber palisade in a recreated 17th-century English village was replaced, all in a one-day, elbow-grease blitz by hundreds of volunteers who are helping Plymouth prepare to party like it’s 1620.
The work, recently done by 275 volunteers from 21 states and organized by Canton nonprofit Tourism Cares , is part of the monumental undertaking by town officials, historic site curators, and volunteers leading up to the yearlong celebrations starting in 2019 and into 2020 commemorating the 400th anniversary of the Pilgrims’ arrival in Plymouth on the Mayflower.
As the countdown clock on the Plymouth 400 Inc. website indicates, there are six years and nine days until the kickoff for a series of large-scale events. But preparing the town to accommodate an anticipated influx of up to 2 million visitors has been a longtime undertaking that picked up steam three years ago, said Town Manager Melissa Arrighi.
Plymouth Rock, the replica Mayflower II, and other historical attractions will be the belles of the ball, but preparations leading up to the festivities will involve a slew of infrastructure upgrades in the downtown and harbor district, estimated to cost $15 million to $16 million.
“All that behind-the-scenes work, although it won’t be the highlight or the signature event the 400th will be known for, they’re all subtle influences that will benefit our community in the long term,” Arrighi said. “The amount of work that needs to be done to celebrate our history, but through public safety, transportation, the actual logistics . . . takes a tremendous amount of people, resources, planning, and I think that we have the commitment to do that.”
In the coming weeks, residents will finally start to see the first of many construction projects, including work on Samoset and Water streets, said Jonathan Beder, public works director. New street signs will also be installed, directing people to attractions and downtown shops.
The first phase of the work, culminating next year, will be partly funded with a $1.5 million grant from the state’s MassWorks Infrastructure Program.
“It’s a lot of work; it’s a great challenge. It’s something that is important to this community and we want to make sure it’s done right,” Beder said. “We don’t want to wait until 2019 to do this.”
Town officials have applied for $7.3 million in a new round of MassWorks funding for the second phase, proposed for 2014-2015. A proposed third phase that would take place in 2015-2016, includes completion of all road and utility projects, particularly those on Court, Leyden, Market, Water, and Summer streets.
A new downtown parking garage, with an estimated cost of $20 million, and restoration of the 1820 Courthouse to serve as the new Town Hall, a job estimated at $35 million, are long-discussed projects that town officials would also like to see completed before 2020, Arrighi said.
Planning is not limited to just Plymouth, she added. The 400th celebrations are being prepared for global consumption, much like the 400th anniversary of the settlement in Jamestown, Va., in 2007, attended by Queen Elizabeth II . Event organizers, Arrighi said, are coordinating plans with their counterparts in the city of Plymouth, England, from which the Mayflower departed on its trans-Atlantic voyage.
Organizers and town officials are also reaching out to surrounding communities — which will reap economic benefits from tourism and which are historically tied to the founding of Plymouth Colony — in hopes that they can become involved or pitch in financially. Arrighi said she planned to meet with several area town managers, as well as with the Plymouth Regional Development Foundation, to discuss the anniversary.
“This is an opportunity to be part of something that will never happen again,” she said.
The 400th festivities played a large role in Tourism Cares’ decision to pick Plymouth for its latest restoration initiative, said Mike Rea, CEO of the Canton nonprofit, which brings together volunteers from the travel and tourism industry to help restore American landmarks.
“The 400th adds to the narrative ‘why should people care about Plymouth now?’ ” Rea said, adding that the organization also donated $10,000 to Plimoth Plantation to cover the cost of paint and other materials for a daylong event held last month.
It would have taken Plimoth Plantation staff 2,113 hours to do the work that Tourism Cares volunteers did in one day, said museum spokeswoman Sarah Macdonald. Plimoth Plantation is in the midst of a seven-year plan leading up to 2020 that includes restoration and repair of the Mayflower II, estimated at $2 million and still in need of funding; and the $1.2 million restoration and expansion of the educational Craft Center , which could break ground this year.
“The timing couldn’t have been better,” Macdonald said of the Tourism Cares work. “It’s a great kick-off for the big anniversary. It’s great to let the town and the public know that this is going to be here sooner than we think; 2020 is right around the corner.”
Established as the event coordinator and nonprofit fund-raising arm, Plymouth 400 Inc. organizers have begun drumming up interest in 2020 festivities through marketing efforts, including advertising, an annual fishing tournament, and setting up information booths at local events, said Brian McGuire, president of the organization. They have also launched a campaign to have a special license plate to commemorate the anniversary.
In order to have the $40 plates made, Plymouth 400 needs at least 1,500 people to purchase one. There is no deadline for purchasing the plates, and as of this week, 1,036 people had pledged to buy one. For each plate purchased, $28 will go to the 2020 fund.
The organization is also planning an interactive traveling exhibit to spur interest and “bring the story of Plymouth and the founding of America across the country,” making its way to museums nationwide perhaps as soon as 2016, McGuire said, adding that it would travel for a year.
While the list of signature events hasn’t been finalized, the kickoff date has: Nov. 9, 2019, commemorating the day the Mayflower approached Cape Cod, eventually reaching modern-day Provincetown. McGuire said organizers have reached out to Provincetown and neighboring communities as part of the planning.
“I’m really excited,” he said. “When you think about it, this is really the story of America. It affects everybody. When you think about it in those terms, it’s very exciting. It’s a very big event.”