March 5, 2002

Friends of Rockwood and New Castle County government apparently are friends again, having resolved differences over furnishings the private organization acquired for the county-owned Victorian Age attraction, Delaforum has learned.

Anne Hampton, of the county's community services department, confirmed that an agreement ending the nearly four-year-old dispute has been reached. It will be 'ratified' at an event in the mansion on Mar. 8, she said.

County Executive Thomas Gordon, in a statement, hailed the agreement as paving the way to "make Rockwood the first-class museum it deserves to be." He previously has referred to Rockwood Mansion Park, off Washington Street Extension just north of Wilmington, as the 'crown jewel' of the county parks system.

"I think it's great," said Rose Abbott, president of the volunteer organization. She said the group intends to remain in existence with the intention of "helping the advisory committee and the museum staff."

The dispute arose a few years ago when the county began a major redevelopment of the 72 acre property which had received minimal attention under previous administrations and was operated then, mostly on a volunteer basis, by the Friends.

The furnishings became a bone of contention when the advisory group decided that the museum, once the home of the Bringhurst family, should be 'interpreted' as of 1895. Most of the items in the Friends-assembled collection had been acquired later than that by the Bringhursts, who had moved there only a few years earlier. Victorian Age refer to the reign of British Queen Victoria from 1837 to 1901.

Historical and esthetical considerations aside, the Friends admittedly were miffed that the organization was not given an instrumental role in developing the county's plan for the property. As a result, the Friends pulled the furniture out and put it into storage. Both the organization and the county claimed ownership. Although litigation was threatened, the dispute never reached that stage.

According to the agreement, released by county spokesman Tom Hubbard, some of the furniture and other items  in question will be taken out of storage and put back into the mansion. The rest will remain in outside commercial storage until the planned visitors center is constructed on the property. A portion of the collection not on permanent display will then be stored in the center. Abbott said the organization will then help to "weed out" items that would be inappropriate or are in too poor a condition to be displayed.

The county has agreed to hire McKelvey Museum Services to determine which items will be taken from storage for immediate display, to keep the rest of the collection intact for four years and to "defer to the professional guidance, advice and expertise" of the advisory committee concerning ultimate disposition of the rest of the collection.

The agreement provides for the committee to be increased from seven to nine members with Gordon appointing the additional two members from a list  of candidates provided by the Friends which will include the organization's directors and up to five other persons.

The Friends organization has agreed to give up any claim to ownership of the furnishings, which Abbott acknowledged had been given to or purchased for the museum, which the last Bringhurst heir had left to the county as a public resource.

The organization also agreed to give up any claim to about six acres along Shipley Road, which the county agreed will remain "an integral part" of the park.

The organization will be allowed to keep its treasury to pay for continued storage of the furnishings and to finance additional acquisitions, programs and other activities benefiting the park and museum. It will be required to furnish annual reports detailing such spending.

2002. All rights reserved.

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Read about Rockwood Museum Park on the New Castle County Web site.