Prisoners’ mural portrays Georgetown history

Date Published: 
March 21, 2014

Delaware native and award-winning artist, writer and consultant Kay Wood Bailey, born in Wilmington and raised in Milford, became the first statewide Prison Arts Program Administrator in 1986 and served in that capacity for more than 15 years. A barometer of her success is the low recidivism rate of inmates who participated in the program.

In the early 1990’s, she organized and designed a program at the Sussex Correctional Institution (SCI) that assisted in the prisoners’ rehabilitation as citizens and produced a work of such consequence and relevance that officials selected it to adorn a public building.

The project involved the creation of a mural consisting of three 6-foot square panels depicting the history of Georgetown. According to the June 29, 1994, edition of the Sussex Countian newspaper, they were “measured, drawn and painted by inmate artists.”

Each panel consists of two subjects. A portrait of George Mitchell, from whom the town derived its name, and an image of the Old Courthouse grace the first panel. The latter building still stands today but in a new location a short distance away on South Bedford Street. A new courthouse replaced it on The Circle.

Panel No. 2 features “Liz and the Cow,” a painting of a slave girl who “cleared the center of Georgetown, enabling it to become the center of all town activities.” Also featured is Gen. Alfred T.A. Torbert, a Georgetown-born officer who served in the Union army during the Civil War.

Torbert survived the Civil War only to die tragically and heroically at sea when a steamer on which he was traveling wrecked off Cape Canaveral, Fla. He drowned while attempting to save the lives of other passengers. The town of Milford — where Torbert and his wife, Mary, made their home — erected a statue in his honor outside the Milford Museum on South Walnut Street.

The third panel is an overhead view of the Treat Company and the Georgetown Railroad Station. The Treat Company made household products and was known for introducing mass-production manufacturing in Georgetown. Both structures remain in use in commercial and residential capacities.

The likeness of a distinguished-looking George Alfred Townsend completes this third panel. During his lifetime, he was a youthful Civil War correspondent, a syndicated political columnist, and a popular novelist.

“Gath,” as Townsend often signed his columns, was a Georgetown native, his family’s home located on Market Street just off The Circle, as noted on a nearby historical marker. My recent “Civil War Profiles” series in the Coastal Point featured Townsend’s articles for the New York World describing the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln and its aftermath.

Considerable planning, diligence and pride on the part of Bailey, selected as Art Educator of the Year in 2000, and her inmate students went into the creation of the three panels. The combined painting memorializes Georgetown’s founding, adoption as county seat, history of slavery in an expanding community, involvement in the Civil War, development of industry and its talented citizenry. The mural was destined for Georgetown’s Town Hall on The Circle.

Funding for the transportation of the mural from SCI, its framing and installation on the wall over the entrance to the Town Hall was provided by the Town of Georgetown, Sussex County Council, Georgetown Historical Society, Central Delaware Civil War Round Table and the Return Day Committee.

Return Day is an event dating from the 18th century, held in Georgetown following elections, to bring winners and losers together “to bury the hatchet.” The president of the Return Day Committee, Rosalie Walls, was the hostess for the mural’s installation ceremony in Town Hall during Return Day of 1994. She continues to serve as president of that event, as well as corresponding secretary of the Georgetown Historical Society.

Kay Wood Bailey’s work during the mural project resulted in a successful rehabilitative endeavor for aspiring artists serving prison sentences. In recognition of their talent and commitment, the mural they originated found a permanent home in Town Hall for all who enter to see and appreciate.

Bethany Beach resident Thomas J. Ryan is the author of “Essays on Delaware during the Civil War: A Political, Military and Social Perspective” (available at Bethany Beach Books or through his website at www.tomryan-civilwar.com). Contact him at pennmardel@mchsi.com.