May 31, 2007 (c/o The News Journal)
By: Jennifer Marie Zeberkiewicz, Special to The News Journal
Wilmington- In the early 1980’s, Bayard Marin became acquainted with the neighborhood of Quaker Hill while looking for a location for his law office. Since then, he’s devoted countless hours to the preservation and promotion of Quaker Hill, a community rich in history, culture and architectural splendor.
Marin is one of Delaware’s nominees for the Jefferson Awards, given to volunteers.
Catherine Coin, a Wilmingtonian active in preserving Quaker Hill, nominated Marin. In her nomination, she wrote: “He has contributed countless hours of time and a large amount of personal funds to promote the area as a place to live.”
Marin still remembers his first impression. “My wife and I were in the car, and we happened to turn the wrong way only to discover these old buildings-most in such bad shape, pretty much just shells- and I thought to myself these buildings were probably so beautiful at one time. They still had so much potential, not just because of the fantastic architecture but because of the location near Friends Meeting House and St. Peter’s Cathedral.”
Marin said his wife Sonia loves history and antiques and greatly influenced his decision to locate the law office, at Sixth and West streets. “She always wanted a period building. She was so impressed with the architecture. It was built at a time that the style is hard to characterize. It’s a combination of Federal, Empire and Greek revival but also Victorian.”
After purchasing the property and renovating it in 1983, he started researching his building and the Quaker Hill district, which is roughly between Tatnall and Jefferson streets from Second to Eighth streets. He also joined the neighborhood association.
“The neighborhood association was good in the sense that it received some grant money and offered a gathering place for neighbors to discuss how the district could improve on crime and loitering,” Marin said. “But it didn’t talk about the positive aspects like the incredible history, great architecture and great potential for tourism. I decided we should create a separate organization to emphasis the positive and I did, in 1992.”
The Quaker Hill Historic Preservation Foundation is dedicated to preserving, restoring and promoting the history and architecture of the district. Marin has a table in his lobby with information on and photos of Quaker Hill-items that one day could be in a museum.
“I’d like to see Quaker Hill restored. It’s like climbing Mount Everest. It seems impossible, but it can be done,” he said.
According to Marin, many residents of Quaker Hill have dedicated their lives to improving the community and society at large. In this tradition, the foundation strives to foster a growing appreciation of the rich social history and architecture of Wilmington’s oldest residential neighborhood.
The foundation has developed several educational programs. The HARTS Project focuses on historic preservation, art and community service for children 9 to 14. An Underground Railroad workshop for children 6 to 14 includes studies about the region’s association with the Underground Railroad, discussions about the social history of Wilmington, and artistic projects relating to these issues.
For adults, the foundation offers several tours and programs. There is a free, self-guided walking tour with a map, available during business hours from the foundation’s office at 521 N. West St. The foundation also offers guided tours for groups of 10 or more. The tours feature visits to Wilmington Friends Meeting, the Cathedral of St. Peter, Tabernacle Full Gospel Baptist Church and, when possible, at lease one residence. They have frequent special events and some fundraisers. “We have various programs; we like to do fun things,” he said. “We’ll do an architectural treasure hunt periodically.”
Along with local-scale educational programs, the foundation raised $175,000 in 2000 to help create the movie “Whispers of Angels” which stars actors Edward Asner and Blair Underwood, who portray the two most prominent abolitionists on the eastern line of the Underground Railroad, Thomas Garret and William Still. Marin and several board members of the foundation were actors in the movie and provided historical data for the film, which was filmed in Wilmington and produced by Wilmington resident Sharon Baker, one of Marin’s friends.
Baker, co-founder of Teleductions Productions, said Marin “is a long-serving devoted and quality guy who does not seek attention for himself, just for the good of the area. He’s been civically engaged for many years and is extremely loyal to the cause. He’s never given up on that neighborhood and is indeed worthy of the Jefferson Award.”
When asked why he’s so passionate about Quaker Hill’s history, Marin offered this: “I guess I’ve always been a sentimental fool. Any significant historical building or monument should be preserved.” And he feels especially sentimental for Quaker Hill; it contains authentic architecture that spans three centuries; Colonial, Federal, Georgian, Georgian Revival, Gothic revival, Italianate, Neo-Gothic and Victorian.
“It’s where I spend my waking hours. The satisfaction of owning a historic building is tremendous,” he said. “Quaker Hill presents a great economic profitability that is untapped. As the city develops the Riverfront and other areas, I hope they don’t forget about the great heroes and history of the hill.”