Cliff’s Schoolhouse Looks For New Owner


Somewhere out there, someone is needing to own and curate a little bit of Eastern Shore history.

How about a mint-condition 135-year-old school complete with a pot-bellied stove, lesson assignments on the blackboard and the sounds of children playing “Red Rover” and “Simon Says” echoing down the decades?

Local non-profit Preservation, Inc. hopes to find a new owner for Cliff’s Schoolhouse, Kent County’s only existing one-room school. Preservation Inc. was the driving force behind saving the GAR Charles Sumner Hall.

Built in 1878, the quintessential “little red school house” on Quaker Neck Landing near Pomona was one of several small schoolhouses serving children of local farming and watermen through seven grades. In its day, the schoolhouse would rely on neighbors for water, the older children trekking buckets to and from local houses

In its day, the schoolhouse would rely on neighbors for water and emergency care if a student fell ill and twice a year the site for community social events.

Some years before her death in 2003, Thelma Vansant reminisced about her first teaching job at Cliff’s School in 1928 writing “We had few materials furnished. I bought extra crayons, colored paper, and pencils. We often made do or improvised.” Despite the hardships—cold winters, impassable muddy roads—Vansant said “the first big thrill of my first year was to have my six little first grade boys reading by Christmas. The older children joined in helping the younger ones.”

Since its closure in 1939, the gable-roofed, single room structure has been owned, managed, and renovated by several non-profit groups. Currently, Port of Chester Questers, with assistance from the Retired Teachers Association, manage the historical one-room building, opening it weekly to the public, and caretaking the grounds.

Preservation Inc., a driving force behind saving Sumner Hall GAR building from demolition, will make a presentation to the County Commissioners at Tuesday night’s meeting with the hope that the county might consider becoming the schoolhouse’s new proprietor. Terms are negotiable.

“The yearly taxes and maintenance fees run about $2,000 a year,” says Chris Havemeyer, founder of Preservation, Inc.


For serious inquiries, call 410-778-1399


Mid-Shore Health Future: The Risks of Repealing the ACA on the Shore with Jeananne Sciabarra


On Thursday, Jeananne Sciabarra, Executive Director of Consumer Health First spoke at the Democratic Club of Kent County about the implications of repealing the Patient Protection and Affordable Act (ACA), also known as “Obamacare.”

Founded in 2006 as the Maryland Women’s Coalition for Health Care Reform, the organization transitioned into CHF in 2016 with the same mission: to work collaboratively to promote health equity through access to comprehensive, high-quality and affordable health care for all Marylanders.

While the impact of repealing and replacing ACA with the currently proposed American Health Care Act (ACHA) would cause profound changes to healthcare nationwide, Sciabarra focused on what Marylanders, and specifically Congressional District, 1 would lose.

Talking about the rollback of Medicaid expansion, Sciabarra said that “the bottom line is that will push back the matching (between state and federal) to 50-50 which is going to make it extremely expensive for Maryland to continue that provision.” She added that on top of that, a block grant per capita system for each person enrolled in Medicaid would force the state to decide who doesn’t get services.

Also, in regard to hospitals, Sciabarra noted that Maryland has a unique rate-setting system that provides services at the same rate anywhere in the state and that during the expansion of Medicaid, uninsured costs went down $311 million between 2013-2015, and that with set amounts or “global budgets” hospitals were incentivized to participate in wellness programs to help people stay healthy and out of the hospital. A rollback of those kinds of programs would have a “catastrophic” effect on people not covered in the health exchange, especially older people.

The district’s uninsured rate has gone from 8.3% to 4.1% since the ACA was implemented. This 4.2 percentage point drop in the uninsured rate could be reversed if the ACA is entirely or partially repealed.

401,400 individuals in the district who now have health insurance that covers preventative services like cancer screenings and flu shots without any co-pays, coinsurance, or deductibles stand to lose this access if the Republican Congress eliminates ACA provisions requiring health insurers to cover essential preventative services without cost-sharing.

445,400 individuals in the district with employer-sponsored health insurance are at risk of losing important consumer protections like the prohibition on annual and lifetime limits, protection against unfair policy recession, and coverage of pre-existing health conditions if the ACA is entirely or partially repealed.

15,800 individuals in the district who have purchased high-quality marketplace coverage now stand to lose their coverage if the Republican Congress dismantles the Marketplaces.

11,800 individuals in the district who received financial assistance to purchase Marketplace coverage in 2016 are now at risk of coverage becoming unaffordable if the Republican Congress eliminates the premium tax credits.

8400 individuals in the district who are receiving cost-sharing reductions to lower out-of-pocket costs such as deductibles, co-pays, and coinsurance, are now at risk of healthcare becoming unaffordable is the Republican Congress eliminates cost-sharing reductions.

32,900 individuals in the district who are covered by the ACA’s Medicaid expansion now stand to lose coverage if the Republican Congress eliminates the Medicaid expansion.

This video is approximately nine minutes in length. For more information about Consumer Health First please go here. Sources: US Department of Health and Human Services, Urban Institute, Families USA, The Commonwealth Fund, National Women’s Law Center.

New Series: The One Thing

Bill Drazga, with many ukuleles.

Bill Drazga, with many ukuleles.

The Spy decided to take advantage of a warm day by visiting some of Chestertown’s shops and asking “What’s the one thing people should know about your business today.”

Our first stop in this new series was Music Life on High Street where we ran into Bill Drazga who was in the middle of stringing a violin.

So, what’s the one thing people should know, Bill?

Short pause. Lightbulb and widening smile.

“The one thing would be that we are about to head into our Spring semester at Music Life at the Eastern Shore School of Music and we invite any, all ages, with an interest in any instrument to come in and find out more about our classes and even take an evaluation lesson to determine the right instructor for them.”

Sounds good to us.

Check out or call 410-778-7010 to find out more.

Sweet: Figg’s Ordinary Opens March 15


If you are one of those people whose eyes cross when you hear the words “gluten-free”, keep them closed and have someone guide you to Figg’s Ordinary because on March 15 Ingrid Hansen will introduce you to a gluten-free and refined sugar-free world abundant with gourmet fare.

The custom-designed bakery and store joining the enclave of Old Mill Shops at 200 South Cross St. will be open 6 days a week and serve gluten-free and refined sugar-free breakfast and lunch.

“Breakfast menu offerings include quiche, various warm grains, and house made yogurts. The lunch menu features salads, soups, sandwiches, and a selection of pastries,” Hansen says.

Ingrid Hansen talks with guests at her Figg's Ordinary Sneak Peak last week. The bakery will open March 15.

Ingrid Hansen talks with guests at her Figg’s Ordinary Sneak Peak last week. The bakery will open March 15.

Figg’s Opening Menu offers examples of delights to come: a Protein Powerhouse salad with choices of romaine or kale, hardboiled egg, roasted chickpeas or got feta cheese, plus fresh carrots and sprouted pumpkin, sunflower, hemp and flax seeds, topped with shaved coconut; or a Guacamole by way of Morocco Sandwich with plain or buckwheat focaccia bread, mashed avocado, lemon juice, chopped hardboiled egg with splash of pepper and harissa.

All items will be available for take-out and custom orders will be welcomed, and ingredients are listed for every menu item.  Many vegan options will also be available and all ingredients are locally grown.

Figg’s Ordinary — formerly the Old Mill Bakery and Café—has been completely renovated as a sleek glass and stainless steel open kitchen and bakery (Hansen also does interior design). Several round tables and quirky-cool chairs from the Naval Academy make for a cozy dining area and outdoor tables will be added this spring.

Many in the community remember Ingrid Hansen from 2015's Saturday Market and are excited she is opening a permanent bakery and store.

Many in the community remember Ingrid Hansen from 2015’s Saturday Market and are excited she is opening a permanent bakery and store.

Hansen isn’t new to Chestertown. She and her wife, Lynn, have been splitting their time between DC suburbs and Chestertown for the last two decades, originally attracted to the Eastern Shore for its access to horseback riding.

“We really consider Chestertown our home. It’s the place we chose to raise our two girls, Claire and Lorentz. Claire graduated from Washington College in 2014 and Lauren is a senior at the University of Chicago. They think of Chestertown as home.”

The newly-minted restaurateur has not always been involved in the food industry. With an academic background as an art historian, her own gallery in DC, plus an MBA that led her into international trading, a restaurant seemed like an unlikely part of her trajectory.

Figg's Ordinary will be a Zero-Waste site and suggest customers bring their own refillable cups. They can also buy one of local artist/potter Marilee Schumann's special Figg's cups.

Figg’s Ordinary will be a Zero-Waste site and suggest that customers bring their own refillable cups or they can use one of local artist/potter Marilee Schumann’s special Figg’s cups.

“When the recession hit in 2008, the art gallery world struggled and I decided to get out.”

It was about this time that Hansen decided to experiment with gluten-free baking.

“I’ve been baking since I was 12, throwing yeast all over the place, so I decided to try something different and I discovered how much better I felt when I cut out gluten and refined sugar. Also, my daughter Lorentz seemed to have some sort of food allergies that couldn’t be pinpointed, so we tried gluten-free with her and it made a world of difference,” she said.

Noting that the standard American diet uses white flour, refined sugar and processed food stripped of most nutritional value, Hansen hopes that people don’t get hung up on the notion that gluten-free products are bland because that’s far from the case.

Gluten intolerance has been on the medical radar for some time, most notably as celiac disease which affects about 1% of the population. Millions of others, however, may benefit from eliminating gluten from their diets, citing depression, anxiety, headaches, fatigue, skin problems, painful inflammation in their joints, bloating and abdominal pains as possible indications of gluten sensitivity.

David Johnson, former chef at Kent Center and Culinary Institute of America graduate will be assisting Hansen in the new bakery.

David Johnson, former chef at Kent Center and Culinary Institute of America graduate will be assisting Hansen in the new bakery.

In 2015, Hansen tried another experiment—to sell her gluten-free and refined sugar-free goods at Chestertown’s Saturday Market. It was a surprise success and the encouragement from the community to open a permanent bakery and store.

“I was amazed at the number of people at Saturday Market who were well-informed about food allergies and aware of their dietary needs or just curious about healthier eating,” she says.”

Figg’s Ordinary joins a growing number of health-related businesses that may become a new facet in defining Chestertown’s strength’s and opportunities.

“There’s an increasing number of health practitioners in Kent County. From acupuncturists and yoga instructors to herbal therapies and nutritionists, and I think we will see it grow. There are more plans afoot for collaboration between businesses and room for others to join.”

Hansen also wants to strengthen the community’s health network by participating in hospital nutrition programs and with other organizations.

What’s next?

“I’m going to try going wheat-free and see how that goes, ” she says. “But what really gives me joy is working with people and introducing them to a new food experience. See you on March 15.”

And how did she arrive at the name, Figg’s? The Spy thinks you should go in and ask her.

207 S. Cross Street Suite #102
Chestertown, Maryland
 (410) 693-188
Facebook: Figg’s Ordinary

Wednesday-Monday  7:00 am – 3:00 pm

Closed Tuesdays

Museum of African American History Director Visits Sumner Hall

Dr. Lonnie Bunch, founding director of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture Director talks at Sumner Hall roundtable.

Dr. Lonnie Bunch III, founding director of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture Director discusses locally produced exhibitions to be shown along with the upcoming Smithsonian exhibit “The Way We Worked”.

It’s not often one gets to visit with the founding director of one of the country’s most prestigious museums, let alone be cheered on and counseled for one’s endeavors.

And yet, Friday, Sumner Hall hosted a roundtable discussion with National Museum of African American History and Culture Director Lonnie Bunch III to talk about Chestertown’s participation with the March arrival of the Smithsonian’s “The Way We Worked” traveling exhibition.

The photographic exhibition was adapted from an original project created by the National Archives and offers a lens into the shared experience of work, the history of its changes and how work shaped the American experience. By honoring the history of work as the backbone of society nationally and in Kent County, the exhibitions seek to portray commonality and the unifying experiences of life.

The traveling exhibition exploring the history of work in Kent County are sponsored by Maryland Humanities and Smithsonian and the participation is cosponsored by Sumner Hall and Washington College’s C.V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience.

Bunch, who visited C.V. Starr Center three years ago has taken a shine to Chestertown. It was during that visit the historian and museum director became interested in the restoration of Sumner Hall and its development into a masterpiece of cultural preservation and learning center. “A museum is a constructed space. This is a sacred space,” he said, noting that the 100-year-old structure embodied the spirit of preserving and curating history.

Dr. Lonnie Bunch III

Dr. Lonnie Bunch III

“How humbled I am to be here,” Bunch said. “It is my hope that a museum is a safe place that people trust, and what you have done here is the best of what this could be—to focus not on what divides us, but what brings us together.”

Bunch spent an hour at the Sumner Hall roundtable listening to and answering questions from student interns, high school teachers, and volunteers involved with researching and creating the regional exhibits that will complement the traveling exhibit. Downtown Chestertown Association, RiverArts, Kent County Historical Society, Sultana Education Foundation, the town of Chestertown, Kent County Public Schools and other local organizations will be contributing to the three-week event.

Bunch praised the direction the individual groups were taking. “In essence, what you have done is to recognize the most important thing a community can do: remember. By remembering you honor the past and help shape the future.”

When asked for his recommendation about how a film-maker could contribute to telling the story of Kent’s past, Bunch said, “start with the present and work your way back because that allows people to see the continuity righty in front of them.”

Bunch, who was appointed as founding director of the Smithsonian’s new museum in 2005, implores museums and historical preservationists to take the long view of their mission to educate. “The key is to figure out how this ripples long after. You have lots of effort and people working together, but the question is what are the things you are going to do that will allow this to live forever.

Sumner Hall and its partner, Washington College’s C.V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience, will host the traveling exhibit along with locally produced exhibitions showcasing research on “The Black Labor Experience in Kent County” from March 31 to May 20.

Smithsonian “The Way We Worked Introduction” introduction

“Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain
Must bring back our mighty dream again.”

-Langston Hughes, “Let America Be America Again,” 1938

To find out more about Charles Sumner Hall and the “The Way We Worked” exhibition go here.



Town Council Responds to Immigration Forum


A two-hour town council meeting on Tuesday addressed the rumor that Chestertown was considering sanctuary status as a response to the high-profile undocumented immigration deportations continuing to sweep the nation.

The rumor was dismissed noting that sanctuary cities functioned as a protest by local law enforcement by refusing to act as an extension of federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Since the Town of Chestertown does not have its own jail, any consideration of sanctuary status would have to be taken up at the county level.

Instead, the council allowed a forum for speakers to talk about the overarching undocumented immigrant deportations and what it means personally to them and to the community they represent. Kent and Queen Anne’s counties are home to over 2,000 undocumented immigrants.

As mentioned by Mayor Cerino, over three million undocumented immigrants, the majority with criminal convictions, were deported during Obama’s twp-term presidency.

This week Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly removed many of the restrictions for targeting the 11 million undocumented immigrants now living in the US, the kind of messaging that inspired many to attend the packed meeting at City Hall.

The Spy notes yesterday’s LA Times report that new enforcement targets will now include:

  • people in the country illegally who have been charged with crimes not yet adjudicated.
  • those who have not been charged but are believed to have committed “acts that constitute a chargeable criminal offense.” That would include the 6 million people believed to have entered without passing through an official border crossing.
  • those who receive an improper welfare benefit.
  • those who committed minor infractions such as driving without a license.

Due to the length of the meeting, the Spy’s Wednesday’s video of the council meeting did not include the council’s response to the issue.

Here are the highlights of responses by Councilwomen Liz Gross and Linda Kuiper, and Councilmen Sam Shoge and Marty Stetson.

The video is approximately eight minutes in length.


No Sanctuary City Vote: Chestertown Council Holds Immigration Dialogue


Chestertown did not awaken today as a sanctuary city despite rumors that the town council would be voting on the emotionally charged immigration status issue.

Mayor Chris Cerino prefaced Tuesday’s Town Council meeting to a packed room by saying, “I want to make it very clear tonight that we are not here as the town council to vote on becoming a sanctuary city. This is basically an information gathering session. It’s what I’ve always intended it to be.”

The issue of sanctuary city status, pitting cities, towns and states against President Trump’s executive order has been a hot button issue from Miami to Los Angeles.

A sanctuary city, or state, is defined by its refusal by local law enforcement to assist in federal policies to deport undocumented immigrants. Although the local law enforcement participation is voluntary, the Trump administration has threatened to penalize non-participating cities and states with federal funding cuts, although the Supreme Court has previously ruled against funding cuts unless directly related to national interests in the issue. A state-level proposal for sanctuary status, “The Maryland Trust Act”, is currently under consideration in Annapolis.

Cerino said that his office had been flooded with emails both supporting and denouncing sanctuary city status and although two weeks ago an agenda item to present a request for sanctuary city status had been added to the council’s list, the request was tabled because of Maryland’s consideration of sanctuary status.

Because no vote was to be taken by the council, speakers from the Kent-Queen Anne’s Indivisibles, one of 6,000 national grassroots with a “focus on local, defensive congressional advocacy and to embrace progressive values”, along with others, spoke more generally about immigrant status in the US and sought to demythologize attitudes about legal and undocumented immigrants’ roles in our society.

Rose Granillo, a member of Indivisibles said, “We’re not here to ask Chestertown to be a sanctuary city, yet we are seeking clarity on what lies ahead for families who feel terrified or uncertain about their place in our society. Kent County is home to 850 immigrant families, 1700 in Queen Anne’s, and we don’t know and don’t feel we need to know their status. They are our neighbors, friends and family member and most of them have been here for many years,” she said.

Marcia Brown told a personal story about a neighbor who 19 years ago crossed the border with his stepfather and sister, went to school, learned English and translated for the neighborhood, worked on a dairy farm to help the family, passed his GED, started a landscaping business, married and had two children only to be threatened by ICE that he and his wife would be deported but “not to worry, because his two children would be well taken care of in foster care.

Town Councilwoman Liz Gross described her path to citizenship from Canada when she came to the US in 1992. “One might think that 10 years before 9/11 the immigration process would have been simple for a Canadian speaking English and who was about to marry an American who served in the senior executive service of the US government. It was far from easy. The process took over a year even back then. I was subjected to personal indignities that are hard to describe,” she said. She continued to explain disrespect verging on abuse to non-white immigrants requesting temporary visas to visit families for Christmas when making their presentation to the US consulate in Montreal.

Lynda Kuiper addressed the fiduciary responsibility of government to its taxpayers citing Chestertown’s application for a USDA grant for work to continue on the marina and questioned if property taxes would be affected by sanctuary city status, or if the ongoing financial stress on the county’s educational system would be impacted even more. “I haven’t heard anyone ask what it would cost if the town became a sanctuary city,” she said. When asking “how many here would take in immigrant into their homes?” Many attending the meeting yelled, “we would.”

Chairman of Queen Anne’s County Republican Central Committee Tim Kingston also attended the meeting. He said that as a member of State Legislative District 36 which includes Chestertown he was concerned with the rumors of a possible Chestertown sanctuary city status. Although not listed on the on the agenda’s speaking list, Mayor Cerino welcomed his participation in the dialogue. Kingston, underscoring Councilman Marty Stetson’s remark “that we are a nation of laws,” said that “the only concern I have at this point is illegal immigration. He cited the 1996 US Immigration Reform and Immigration Responsibility Act. “Simply put, that act, from Congress to state and local governments said that you should not hinder local personnel from relaying information about someone’s immigration status to Customs.” He added that he did not see that as being an issue locally.

Cerino’s summation included a key issue that makes Chestertown a nonsensical choice for sanctuary status: Chestertown has no town jail. It is through local municipal jails that Immigration and Customs Enforcement request assistance either by requesting additional hold-over time for suspected undocumented immigrants, or for police to act in their stead by enforcing federal immigration policies, requests usually made by cities with large immigration populations.

The Mayor said that since any arrests are taken to the county jail, the consideration of any kind of sanctuary status could be taken up at the county level.

More coverage of the council’s response to the fact-finding meeting will be available Thursday.

This video is approximately ten minutes in length

Chestertown Environmental Committee Polishes Up Web Site


A project update by the Chestertown Environmental Committee was presented to the town council during their meeting on Monday.

Master gardener and committee member Shane Brill displayed the newly designed Committee’s web page now appearing on the town’s website and pointed out that the new format is easily searchable.  The page is replete with helpful videos from dealing with high energy bills to growing niche crops and learning how to compost along with precise instructions on how to participate in Chestertown’s environmental health.

Helpful “Resouce” and “Take Action” sections fulfill the Committee’s mission to “promote careful stewardship, research, and wise use of natural and economic resources with the goal of achieving an improved quality of life for the community and future generations through sustainable initiatives”.

The site also highlights upcoming events like the March 2 “Garbage Warrior” documentary to be shown at 7:00 pm at Sumner Hall.

Goals for the group include:

  • Improve Chestertown’s natural environment through the incorporation of sustainable best practices for the Town’s land use and management, stormwater infrastructure, watershed stewardship, and tree canopy.
  • Strengthen the Town’s economy through initiatives that foster sustainable business practices, reinvestment in vacant storefronts, and green purchasing policies.
  • Encourage healthy living for the Town’s populace through the expansion of parks, walking trails, bicycle lanes, and wellness programs.
  • Reduce the Town’s carbon footprint through the expanded use of alternative energy systems, energy-saving practices, and recycling programs.

See their new site page here. The can also be found on Facebook.

This video is approximately three minutes in length.

Dreaming a Business: J.R. Alfree has Plans to Renovate High Street Building


Local restaurateur and entrepreneur J. R. Alfree has a dream, and he’s serious about making it happen.

Faced with sky-high costs for maintenance, patchwork repairs, and upgrades, Alfree wants to completely renovate his 27,000 sg ft building on High St. and turn it into a multi-use venue for wedding receptions, six B and B type apartments, and a cake, candy and ice cream shop.

Alfree bought the building, home to the popular Lemon Leaf Café and JR’s Past-Time Pub, two years ago, after moving from his start-up restaurant on Cross Street.

“All that space is empty, so what do I do? Instead of saying the building is falling apart, I say the building has so much potential.”

While considering his options, he was introduced to architect Peter Allen, Peter Allen Construction Management, who knows the High Street building and has been involved with other Chestertown renovation work including Widehall on Water Street. A third, commercial architect Joseph Skinner, Skinner Associates, joined in the conversation and who also recognized the potential in overhauling the structure to take advantage of the rest of the building.

“Within a few minutes, we formed a team that wants to take this building to the next level. I think it’s something that Chestertown needs. I think there’s a need for places for people to stay, and a venue space for wedding receptions, banquets, and live music.”

The three worked together to design a basic structural plan to accommodate the overhaul and expansion.

“We’d try to finish the work in phases to try not to disrupt the current businesses,” Allen says. “It’s a big commercial project. The roof, for example, would have to be completely replaced along with the structural rebuilding. Even then, the group foresees only a day or two of closures during the construction.

Alfree understands a community’s sensitivity to change. For decades, like Andy’s, the back room was Chestertown’s iconic hotspot and venue for professional musicians.

“Some might look at this change as the wrong thing to do with this room—it has a lot of history—but it’s the only right thing to do to save the entire building. You have to understand we’re trying to protect the emotional connection, but it does have to be altered in the long run.”

Despite projected costs of up to a million dollars for the project, Alfree has researched and connected with a list of available loans.

“The thing that I want to say about Kent County is the six years I’ve been here is that there are more resources to help you grow your business than ever before. When I first moved here from Cross Street, I received funding from the Greater Chestertown Initiative, an amazing program,” he says.

Afree points out that various loan opportunities also exist from programs like PACE (Property Assessed Clean Energy) financing available for energy efficiency upgrades and renewable energy installations, along with casino money used to reinvest in local communities.

“The investment group visited Chestertown, fell in love with it, and read our business plan and we’ve developed a great dialogue with them,” Alfree said.

Some might call it risk taking,  but Alfree is quick to recite the history of Dixon Valve’s founder, HW Goodall who at 15 in 1887 quit school to become an errand boy for a company in Philadelphia. Goodall began to design hose couplings but was fired for being too ambitious. Rather than seeing the job loss as a setback, the young man started his own company.

“He saw an opportunity after weighing the needs in his industry. Am I taking a risk? I don’t think so, but every achievement holds a risk,” Alfree says.

The Spy talked with J.R. last Friday.

This video is approximately 6 minutes long.