Save The Meadow! by Jamie Kirkpatrick

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A year after mother died, we gathered to scatter her ashes in the meadow. The place was no longer ours; we had deeded the house and the land to the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, a remarriage of sorts, a gift thankfully returned. High Meadow would now become a central part of Fallingwater’s residential educational program, a facility that would help to foster an appreciation of America’s architectural heritage and of environmental responsibility.

It was the right thing to do. None of my generation lived close enough to enjoy the house or tend the land the way my parents had. Nor did we want to sell the property; it was originally a part of the Kaufman’s preserve on Bear Run and to restore the property to its original configuration was to honor it. The trust that managed Fallingwater was willing to maintain the meadows in perpetuity and would renovate the house to accommodate guests, students, teachers, interns or even artists-in-residence. Maybe it was our way of embracing the land; to paraphrase Robert Frost, High Meadow was no longer our land but we would still be her people. After all, mother was now one with her wildflowers.

We became occasional visitors. The Conservancy was gracious to allow us to return for a weekend every now and then to walk the meadow and the woods and to remember. The renovation of the house had turned out well, all-the-more-so because it still smelled the same and even some of the furnishings held familiar shapes. The morning dew, the afternoon breeze, the evening stillness: all these things carried on as before.

Then came a day in the spring of 2010 when we learned that the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy was working discretely on plans to build six new structures at High Meadow. Described as a “cave-like community pavilion complete with a fire-pit,” the structures were to be built into the ground—troglodyte-style—and would be constructed essentially out of steel culverts. They would be innovative, futuristic, creative, and environmentally sensitive; they would be used for educational purposes or to house potential donors who might advance the Conservancy’s ambitious programs. The only problem, as we saw it, was that the dwellings would be at cross purposes with my parents’ desire to preserve the meadow’s pristine beauty. Now there would be electric and sewer lines; storm runoff and waste water management issues; removal of indigenous plants and grasses. To us, as marginally intrusive as these “pods” might be, they would forever alter the fragile ecological balance of the meadow that my parents had hoped to maintain in perpetuity. We politely objected.

The discourse was civil, even enlightening. There were thoughtful and reasonable arguments on both sides. We reviewed the Conservancy’s plans and the Conservancy listened to our concerns. They hoped to expand and enhance educational programming and to attract new sources of funding. We hoped they would honor donor intent and suggested they renovate existing structures on other WPC properties to achieve their goals. That strategy—making better use of existing structures instead of constructing new ones on or under High Meadow—seemed (to us anyway) more in line with a conservation organization’s mission of protecting and conserving natural resources.

There were more meetings; letters; a FaceBook page; an OpEd article in a Pittsburgh newspaper. To make what has already become a long story a few words shorter, we saved the meadow. The structures will be built elsewhere, or not at all.

So now, here we are at the last panel of the High Meadow triptych. The meadow is as it has always been: a place of peaceful and undisturbed beauty, changing with the tide of the seasons, full of wildflowers and song birds, welcoming summer hikers or winter cross-country skiers. Our old Sears catalog house has had another facelift but it still looks out on the meadow and the mists that rise like memories from the hollows in the fields below.

Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer with homes in Chestertown and Bethesda. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Washington College Alumni Magazine, and American Cowboy magazine. “A Place to Stand,” a book of photographs and essays about Landon School, was published by the Chester River Press in 2015.  A collection of his essays titled “Musing Right Along” was released in May and is already in its second printing. Jamie’s website is www.musingjamie.com.

Our Famous Neighbor by Jamie Kirkpatrick

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A good story is a big river that flows from many small streams. The story of High Meadow might well have begun in 1867—two years after the Civil War came to its sad conclusion—in Richland Center, Wisconsin. That’s when and where Frank Lloyd Wright was born. First mentored by the premiere American architect of the early 20th Century, Louis “form follows function” Sullivan, Wright went on to become the master of modern American architecture, updating Sullivan’s mantra into one uniquely his own: form is function. His masterpieces grace great public places like the Guggenheim Museum in New York, or are hidden away in private residences like the one hovering over Bear Run in the Laurel Highlands of Western Pennsylvania: the jewel in Wright’s crown—Fallingwater.

Or maybe the story of High Meadow begins much later—a couple of years before our Sears catalogue home came trundling up the gravel lane. That’s when father and one of his clients, Edgar Kaufman, jr, began discussing making a gift of Fallingwater, Mr. Kaufman’s home, to an entity to be called the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy that would preserve Wright’s masterpiece of cantilever architecture and make it forever accessible to the public. After one of these meetings—more a conversation than a meeting—Mr. Kaufman invited my parents to walk a trail that wound through the woods behind the main house before opening onto two large adjoining meadows, a total of some 75 acres. Mother and father walked the meadows and upon their return to Fallingwater, Mr. Kaufman asked mother where she would site a home if she had one. She pointed to a spot on the plat and said, “Here.” Mr. Kaufman smiled and said, “That’s exactly where I would build.” That evening, he conveyed the property to my parents for $1.

It was Edgar, jr’s parents, Edgar Kaufman, Sr (known as E.J.) and his wife Liliane, who commissioned Frank Lloyd Wright to build Fallingwater in 1935. After months of delays and unanswered correspondence, Mr. Kaufman decided to visit the master’s lair in Taliesen, Wisconsin to address the problem. Apprised of the not-quite-a-surprise visit, Wright quickly sketched his remarkable design on the back of an envelop and when he showed the sketch to Mr. Kaufmann, the water wheel of modern American architecture began to turn.

Wright claimed the he worked for his clients, but it was often the other way around. “It’s (a client’s) duty to understand, to appreciate, and to conform insofar as possible to the idea of a house,” he once said and that idea was usually more his than theirs. He liked horizontal designs and built with wood and stone, never painting them so they would blend in with the landscape around them. He also believed in bringing the outdoors in, blending his creation with the natural world surrounding it. “Study nature, love nature, stay close to nature. It will never fail you,” he said and he set out to design buildings that complemented – even seemed part of – nature. Nowhere is this more apparent than at Fallingwater where windows have no frames, where the house spills down the hillside and is mysteriously anchored to rock formations and precariously balanced over a waterfall, and where glass-enclosed stairs descend from the living room into a natural rock pool where Mrs. Kaufman took her refreshing morning dip.

But for me, a young boy without any real appreciation of architecture, modern or otherwise, Fallingwater was a playground. I loved to stand under the waterfall below the house, to look for crawfish under the rocks in Bear Run, or to take a plunge in the icy spring-fed pool by the guest house. All the indoor furniture—tables, chairs, beds and desk, were lilliputian because the Kaufmans were diminutive and Wright designed his furnishings to fit them. I remember one evening when Mr. Kaufman invited us to dinner, the meal served by his housekeeper from a great copper kettle that was suspended within the stone fireplace. I couldn’t understand why Mr. Kaufman wanted to leave this place and go to live in New York, but he was a quiet, scholarly and unfailingly polite man better suited to Park Avenue than to the solitude of the laurel and rhododendron of Western Pennsylvania. He died in 1989.

Fallingwater opened to the public in 1963 and since then, more than 2,000,000 people have visited it. Today there are docented tours through the house, the trails through the rhododendron are clearly marked, and the gift shop sells tasteful Wright memorabilia. Whenever we welcomed friends to High Meadow, we always walked them down the meadow to that trail in the woods that emerged behind Fallingwater; I guess we thought it was ok to bypass the official visitor’s entrance. After all, we were neighbors. It never occurred to us that one day we would have to save the meadow, but that’s a story for another week…

(Next week: Triptych, Part 3: Save the Meadow!)

Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer with homes in Chestertown and Bethesda. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Washington College Alumni Magazine, and American Cowboy magazine. “A Place to Stand,” a book of photographs and essays about Landon School, was published by the Chester River Press in 2015.  A collection of his essays titled “Musing Right Along” was released in May and is already in its second printing. Jamie’s website is www.musingjamie.com.

Triptych (Part One): High Meadow by Jamie Kirkpatrick

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Our house came up the lane on two flatbed trailers in the summer of 1962. My mother and father had ordered it out of the Sears catalog, not an uncommon way to build a home in those days. They had already laid down a concrete slab for a foundation and sunk a well down almost 200 feet before they hit water. Within a couple of days, the walls of the house were up and the roof was on. A couple days later, there was a wrap around deck overlooking a large meadow, as well as a large field stone fireplace in the living room with a mantel hewn from a beam salvaged from an old barn that had burned down years before. My mother named the place High Meadow.

I was 14 that summer. We lived in the Squirrel Hill section of Pittsburgh so High Meadow was to be a weekend retreat. Folded into the Laurel Highlands of southwestern Pennsylvania, it was about an hour and a half away—three exits on the winding old Pennsylvania Turnpike. The closest town was Mill Run; the next closest was Ohiopyle which straddled the banks of the scenic and fast-running Youghigheny River, a mecca for whitewater paddlers. To a city kid, High Meadow seemed to be near the middle of nowhere, the end of the road, a place of nothing-to-do.

But it was land my mother and father loved and I quickly came to love it too. They were good stewards: they planted blueberry bushes and an apple orchard, two chestnut trees, and a large garden where we grew corn, rhubarb (my father’s favorite), beans, peas, squash, tomatoes and potatoes. Later we added an arbor for grapes, a shuffleboard court, and two hives for bees. (We planted an acre of buckwheat near the hives so the bees would make buckwheat honey, another of father’s favorites.) We made a wind break of trees along the gravel lane and a local Boy Scout troop planted a stand of pine trees down in the lower meadow. I lobbied for a pond but my parents worried there would not be enough water; I settled for a half a rain barrel sunk into the ground big enough for three goldfish. There was a John Deere riding mower for the lawn that bordered the house and a moon buggy and a go-cart for the grandkids.

Wild daffodils were the annual woodland heralds of spring; the apples in the orchard tasted like summer; the chestnuts made for good roasting in the fall. Mother knew the name of every wildflower that grew in the meadow and along the woodland trails: trillium, sweet alyssum, adder’s tongue, Indian chickweed, witch hazel, May apple, Queen Anne’s Lace. A sturdy Yankee, she loved to walk the meadow and the adjoining trails; I struggled to keep pace. One year, she decided to raise quail in a pen down the hill from the house but she gave that up the next year when she realized hunters liked quail, too. At dusk, the meadow came alive with deer and wild turkey. There was an occasional bear sighting in the woods and once a visiting friend swore he saw a mountain lion.

Two or three times a year, a local farmer hayed the meadow; the bales fragrant as they dried row upon row under the summer sun. In the distance, the purple ridges of the Laurel Highlands looked like waves rolling off toward the time-worn Allegheny Mountains and the Eastern Continental Divide. On hot summer days, we would go down to the river to swim; when there was winter snow, we tobogganed down the big hill or snowshoed through the silent woods. Fall was the season for burning the brush pile; spring was mud time. On the Fourth of July we made ice cream; at Thanksgiving we moved the long farm table into the middle of the living room and packed it with family and friends.

Father died in 1987. His Lazy-Boy chair retained his shape and smell for years. He is buried in the quiet cemetery behind the Indian Creek Baptist Church, a mile or two down the road. Mother passed away in 2000; she asked me to scatter her ashes in the meadow, near where the quail pen once stood. By then, my siblings and I had all moved away and it didn’t make sense to keep High Meadow in the family so with my mother’s blessing, we had already decided that upon her death, we would donate the land to the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy who owned an adjacent property—a very famous one, as a matter of fact. But that’s a story for next week…

(Next Week: Second Panel: “Our Famous Neighbor”)

Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer with homes in Chestertown and Bethesda. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Washington College Alumni Magazine, and American Cowboy magazine. “A Place to Stand,” a book of photographs and essays about Landon School, was published by the Chester River Press in 2015.  A new collection of essays titled “Musing Right Along” will be released in June. Jamie’s website is www.musingjamie.com.

Tommy’s Bell by Jamie Kirkpatrick

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Late one night—so the story goes—Tommy’s grandfather (at the time, a teenager living on a farm near Rock Hall) mysteriously acquired a bell. Tommy thinks the bell might have been attached to one of the excursion boats that plied the waters of the Bay before that modern marvel of engineering known as the Bay Bridge opened in 1952 and forever changed the rhythm of life over here on the Eastern Shore. Back then, there were two highly popular ports-of-call for summertime fun on the Bay: Tolchester Beach had a large hotel and a lively amusement park that attracted families from Baltimore and beyond while Betterton had its own hotel, lots of boarding houses, and a famous (or infamous, as the case may be) pier that drew a somewhat rowdier crowd.

In addition to the cross-Bay ferry services, there was also considerable commercial shipping traffic that transported goods up, down, and across the Bay. Before the blight wiped out the Delmarva peach and pear crops in the early years of the 20th Century, spur rail lines moved tons of fruit that were loaded onto ships bound for Baltimore, Wilmington, Philadelphia, or New York so the story of a purloined ship’s bell has a plausible ring, so to speak. But this also raises another intriguing theory: maybe the bell isn’t from a ship at all; maybe it “fell off” a train. It certainly looks a bell that might have adorned a steam locomotive, particularly one operated by the Pennsylvania Railroad Company. Keep reading…

By the way, this is no small bell I’m talking about. It’s solid brass and weighs at least 40 pounds. And it’s loud. The only marking on it is a large keystone, trademark of Pennsylvania and logo of the aforementioned Pennsylvania Railroad Company, which leads me to believe that it was either cast by a foundry in that fair commonwealth or, at one time, the property of the PRR. Either way, it has all the markings of that other famous Pennsylvania bell.

But back to Tommy’s grandfather and the bell’s questionable provenance. Here’s the problem: what does one do with a large, loud, and nefariously acquired bell? One hides it, of course. In the garage, in a shed, or in the back of the family barn, anywhere it’s out of sight, lest inquiring eyes get suspicious and begin asking embarrassing questions like, “Where did you get that bell, boy?” And how long does one keep it out of sight? For years, until it’s buried under the detritus of farm life and eventually forgotten. Forgotten, that is, until it is haphazardly rediscovered forty or fifty years later, tarnished but no worse for wear, and becomes the stuff of a bedtime story handed down from grandfather to grandson who, upon grandpa’s peaceful passing, removes the storied bell from the soon-to-be-sold Rock Hall farm and takes it to the suburbs of Washington where it’s stashed away in another garage for a couple more twilight decades until one day last month when Tommy came over to our house in Bethesda and said, “So; do you want a bell?”

“Why me?” I asked.

And he began to tell me the story of his young grandfather, and his memories of a long-ago family farm near Rock Hall, and the snitched bell which in Tommy’s now slightly guilty opinion really belongs back across the Bay on the Eastern Shore. “So if you want it, it’s yours. If you don’t want it, give it to the Maritime Museum.”

I wanted it. Wouldn’t you?

My wife and I got some Brasso and some lemon juice and proceeded to polish up Tommy’s bell. We gave it a test ring or two (It’s still loud), lugged it around to a few potential sites, and eventually decided to install it next to our famous (or infamous, as the case may be) front porch where it could ring in the cocktail hour. We called our handy neighbor T.A. who sunk a 6×6 post and bolted the bell to the next best thing to a ship’s bulkhead or a locomotive’s chassis.

So Tommy’s bell is now back home—in plain sight—on the right side of the Bay. The days of excursion steamers, commercial shipping, and rail lines are long gone, but a loud echo of those pre-bridge days resides here right next to the porch. So if you should happen to encounter the friendly ghost of a steamship captain or PRR engineer searching for his lost bell, send him over to our house.

Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer with homes in Chestertown and Bethesda. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Washington College Alumni Magazine, and American Cowboy magazine. “A Place to Stand,” a book of photographs and essays about Landon School, was published by the Chester River Press in 2015.  A new collection of essays titled “Musing Right Along” will be released in June. Jamie’s website is www.musingjamie.com.

Let’s Tea Party! By Jamie Kirkpatrick

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There’s much to celebrate in Chestertown at this time of year. Spring has sprung; the college just graduated another class; downtown businesses are thriving, the arts are vibrant, and the real estate market is picking up. And then there’s tea, as in TEA PARTY WEEKEND! Hold on to your tricornered hats!

Boston’s Tea Party may be a bit more famous, but ours is, well, ours alone. It all began back in May of 1773 Parliament slapped a tax on tea with the royal assent of King George III. It didn’t take long for the economics of surplus supplies of English tea and colonial politics to collide head-on because at least in theory, British subjects (and we still were) could not be taxed without their consent; remember “no taxation without representation?” Trouble was brewing, so to speak.

A few months later, in November and December of 1773, three ships—the Dartmouth, the Eleanor, and the Beaver—arrived in Boston harbor loaded with tea. A group of angry patriots possibly led by brewmaster Samuel Adams and known as the Sons of Liberty disguised themselves as Mohawk Indians, boarded the ships, and proceeded to toss 342 chests of tea—more than 92,000 pounds which today would be worth about $2 million!—belonging to the British East India Company into the water. Needless to say, Mad King George was less than pleased; he closed Boston harbor and Parliament passed a new set of laws known as the Intolerable Acts which were viewed on the this side of the pond as gross violations of constitutional rights and American colonial charters. We were in hot water, so to speak.

Six months later, the brigantine Geddes arrived at the Chestertown wharf with a load of fine English tea on board. Not to be outdone by their Massachusetts brethren, the local chapter of the Sons of Liberty published a list of grievances now known as the Chestertown Resolves in the Maryland Gazette essentially making it unlawful to buy, sell, or drink English tea. But down at Worrell’s Tavern, published Resolves seemed downright insufficient and on May 23, 1774, undisguised and in broad daylight, our own Sons of Liberty boldly boarded the Geddes and dumped her cargo into the Chester. We’ve been partying on Memorial Day weekend ever since, or at least since 1976 when Tea Party Weekend became an official event on the town calendar.

Tea Party is by far the biggest weekend of the town’s year. There are craftsmen and vendors, food tastings and beer, road races, parades (of course), Redcoats and colonial militia firing rifles, fifes and drums and bagpipers, and all manner of period attire and manners. On Saturday, the tea party reenactment always draws a big crowd with Sultana playing the part of the Geddes. (Sadly, a couple of years ago, liability laws precluded throwing actual people overboard so these days a dummy gets dunked with the tea.) Sunday’s main attraction is the annual raft race, a creative and competitive celebration of almost anything that floats, as long as its powered by humans. Don’t miss it!

We may be a small town, but we’re proud, we have a big heart, and we’re steeped in history. So to speak.

Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer with homes in Chestertown and Bethesda. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Washington College Alumni Magazine, and American Cowboy magazine. “A Place to Stand,” a book of photographs and essays about Landon School, was published by the Chester River Press in 2015.  A new collection of essays titled “Musing Right Along” will be released in June. Jamie’s website is www.musingjamie.com.

All Alike by Jamie Kirkpatrick

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In Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy posits that “happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” That sentiment has become more than just one of the greatest opening lines in literature. In sociological/psychological circles, what has come to be known as the Anna Karenina principle describes any endeavor in which a “weak link” among a long set of variables inevitably dooms it to failure while in a successful endeavor, all potentially negative factors have been eliminated or overcome. Since there are many more potentially negative factors than positive ones—and remember, it only takes one negative factor to sink the ship—all families face a stacked deck. Or, as even Aristotle knew, it’s a lot easier to miss the mark than to hit it.

I was musing on this last weekend at my wife’s family reunion. On a rainy Saturday afternoon, about 85 people, all descendants from a single tree gathered to celebrate one thing: family. As one of the cousins said, “In good times or in bad, family is the constant. It’s what sustains us.”

I thought I knew a little about families; after all, my father was the caboose of seven, so I had a lot of first, second, and once-removed cousins. But geographic distance and age differences combined to make our reunions sporadic and as a result, they were more about trying to remember who was whom than about reuniting with old friends who for the most part grew up within a stone’s throw of each other. Looking in the rear view mirror of time, I suspect that the notion of family I developed was of a more Protestant, more distant, and more staid variety. But in my wife’s large Irish Catholic clan, lines and ties were defined by neighboring parishes and by siblings who never flew very far from the nest. The nucleus of family remained tight. It still does.

The protagonist of this story is Maurice Joseph Conley (known as “Doc” because he was a dentist) who arrived in utero from Ireland in 1890. He married Antionette (Nana) Ruppert and together, they had six children: Nancy, Maurice, Jr (“Buddy”), Elise, Jack (my wife’s father), Bill, and Bob. Now the math gets complicated: those six Conleys produced a total of forty-two children. By the next generation, the math began to spiral out of control; I quickly lost count and that doesn’t even include the most recent generation—the great, great grand-kids who were all running around having a great time, not caring a hoot about who belonged to or begat whom.

The last Conley reunion was back in 2006 and a lot of family water has flowed under the bridge since then. At this event, there were color-coded name tags identifying on which branch of the family tree one sat. The star of the current production was (is!) my very dear mother-in-law, Dorothy (“Dar”) who was married to Jack. (Jack was a pediatrician so he surely should have known what he was getting into!) Dar, now 92 and sharper than any tack I know, is the sole survivor of her generation and she presides over the entire enthusiastic brood with elegant serenity. (Dar, mother of nine, was an only child; how did she ever learn to make an assembly line of school lunches?) I asked Dar how many would be at the reunion if everyone were present and accounted for. She thought for a moment and said, “about 300.” That may be as close as we get to a precise headcount.

The Conleys are a beer and dance-or-go-to-bed crowd. (I’m making progress but let’s be honest: sometimes I check out before the lights are turned off, usually well after midnight.) They like to laugh and reminisce and chatter. Oh, how they love to chatter! I’m an outlaw; I hang out with the other outlaws and watch the film run off the projector’s spool and onto the floor. But I will say one thing: Conleys are worker bees so event set up and clean up are all-hands-on-deck affairs, as is the “aha moment” when things are relatively back in order and there’s time to review the battlefield over a last glass of wine or two. Or three.

I count myself lucky—no, blessed—to be included in this family, one Tolstoy would surely have placed among the happy ones. Sure there have been moments of loss, sadness, and pain; all families—even the happiest ones—go through dark tunnels. But in this particular family, there’s always light at the end.

So dance; don’t you dare go to bed.

Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer with homes in Chestertown and Bethesda. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Washington College Alumni Magazine, and American Cowboy magazine. “A Place to Stand,” a book of photographs and essays about Landon School, was published by the Chester River Press in 2015.  A new collection of essays titled “Musing Right Along” will be released in June. Jamie’s website is www.musingjamie.com.

All in a Row by Jamie Kirkpatrick

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We—my neighbors and my wife and I—live comfortably cheek by jowl in Chestertown’s Historic District. (To my way of thinking, all of Chestertown is an historic district, but that’s a thought for another Musing.) Our little row of four complementary-colored houses is parenthetically inserted between one of the town’s loveliest and oldest homes (circa 1800) and the Blue Heron Cafe, one of our finest restaurants. It’s a great place to live!

There are several theories about the origins of our little row but one of the houses provides a clue: carved on one of the porch pillars is the date 1889 which leads me to believe that the houses were originally built for some of the workers who tended the rail line that connected Chestertown to the world across the Bay. The railroad arrived in Kent County on the heels of the Civil War and in its heyday, our spur was one of the major arteries for the Delmarva peaches and pears that were widely regarded as the finest on the eastern seaboard. In 1875, for example, more than 6 million baskets of fruit found their way to markets in Philadelphia, Wilmington, Baltimore, and New York; at 500 baskets to a freight car, that’s at least 12,000 railcars full of peaches and pears heading off to market. Sadly, the industry came to a crashing halt in the waning years of the 19th Century when a blight known as the Yellows killed off the fruit trees and bankrupted local farmers. The rail line withered with the crop and the men and women who lived in our little row of houses moved on.

In the first half of the 20th Century, our little row on lower Cannon Street was in the center of Chestertown’s lively African American community. Down along the waterfront, there were canning factories, a fertilizer plant, shops, restaurants and taverns, even an ice-cream parlor on Water Street all owned and operated by African Americans who lived in the neighborhood. Our little row changed with the times, but one thing stayed the same: porch life. Then, as now, folks lived out front, chatting and laughing late into the night. Sometimes I think I catch a ghostly echo of their midnight conversations.

In 1972, a group of concerned local citizens formed Preservation, Inc. to save Chestertown’s architectural history and preserve the charm of downtown life. Our little row was squarely in their sights and by the mid-1980s, broken architectural bones had been reset, necessary repairs made, and fresh coats of paint applied. New owners moved in. In exchange for helping to finance the restoration project, the Maryland Historic Trust required both interior and exterior easements on the houses to preserve their facades and footprints. As a result, those of us who live there now are not just homeowners and taxpayers but also stewards of Chestertown’s history.

My wife and I are the newcomers on the row: we arrived a little more than five years ago. Our house—I like to think it had been waiting for us—had been recently renovated (within the terms of the easements, of course!) and for readily apparent reasons, we named it Standing Room Only. We loved it and our neighbors from the get-go. We added some sweat equity to the backyard and made the front porch into a verb, as in “Are we porching tonight?” Friends and strangers alike now stop to chat or to admire our little row; artists like to paint it; it feels good to share it with passersby. We’d freeze time if we could, but change is inevitable: recently one of the houses went on the market; it was snapped up in a few days and we’re excited to meet our newest neighbor. Rumor has it that once upon a time, she lived in one of the houses; I hope she has some good memories to share.

History rarely comes in big slabs. It comes in bits and pieces, fits and starts, and in the lives of the people who help to shape it. Like the first snowflake of a blizzard, we don’t recognize what is happening until we wake up the next morning and see the world anew. Our little row is like that: multiple architectural iterations, cultural changes, and lots of human history have stamped its character. Now we’re doing our part. We wouldn’t have it any other way.

Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer with homes in Chestertown and Bethesda. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Washington College Alumni Magazine, and American Cowboy magazine. “A Place to Stand,” a book of photographs and essays about Landon School, was published by the Chester River Press in 2015.  A new collection of essays titled “Musing Right Along” will be released in June. Jamie’s website is www.musingjamie.com.

Study in Blue by Jamie Kirkpatrick

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It’s funny how some colors are descriptive of moods. Red, Mars’ color, is always associated with anger, blood, and war. Yellow has a sunny disposition, but it can also be cowardly. Purple is passionate, green is envious, black is despair, white is virginal. Orange is tricky: it combines the hot energy of red and the happiness of yellow so it’s associated with things autumnal—the cooling of the earth, the harvest, the sensation of heat but not its burn. POTUS will be the first to tell you that gold invokes prestige and wealth, but there’s also a hint of illumination and wisdom, believe it or not.

Then there’s blue. Some say it is a masculine color; it is, after all, the preferred color of glass-ceilinged corporate America. A lot of superheroes wear blue perhaps because in heraldry, blue is associated with strength, sincerity, and piety. Heaven is blue as is the wild yonder. But we all know blue has another aspect: a melancholy aura, grey clouds scudding across a bright sky, weight, heaviness, and an icy, lurking foreboding of lousy things to come. To feel blue is to be a bit down, somber and contemplative, at a remove from the sun, or maybe just be stuck in a rut. We’re all there from time to time; the trick is how to get out of blue, how to right the ship, how to lighten up!

Blue comes in a thousand different shades: teal, aqua, cornflower, cobalt, indigo, turquoise, ultramarine, mazarine (I have no idea), lapis lazuli, navy, steel, robins-egg, midnight, baby, and even something called zaffre to name a few. My personal favorite is periwinkle; someday, I’d love to live in a white house with a periwinkle door and periwinkle shutters. (Maybe I just like saying ‘periwinkle!’)

Blue has an unlikely circle of friends: I grew up in Pennsylvania where the Sunday Blue Laws meant no liquor could be sold on the Lord’s day. I know people who can swear a blue streak. Music is full of blue: Ella Fitzgerald could sing the Blues; The Supremes, The Four Tops, and The Temptations put Rhythm & Blues on the musical map; Earl Scruggs and Lester Flatt were the kings of Bluegrass. (There’s even a “blue note” in jazz, a note that for expressive purposes is sung a slightly different pitch.)

And more: Paul Bunyon named his blue ox “Babe;” blue heelers herd cattle or sheep in Australia while back here in America, bluetick coonhounds are known for their warm personalities and cold noses. Of course, there are blue whales, Blue Cross/Blue Shield, IBM (aka “Big Blue; see second paragraph about corporate America), blue bloods who wear blue blazers, blue moons, bluefish and blue crabs, Ol’ Blue Eyes, blue books (used for exams, social registry, and used car evaluations), Blue Duck (the villain in “Lonesome Dove”), the Navy’s elite Blue Angels, and our very own Blue Star Memorial Highway. Bobby Vinton sang “Blue Velvet” and who could ever forget Tammy Wynette’s ultimate country ballad of suffering and loss, plain old “Blue.” Oh: and 1mg Xanax, a popular antidepressant, comes in a blue pill. (Of course it does.)

Whew! Who knew? Blue.

Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer with homes in Chestertown and Bethesda. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Washington College Alumni Magazine, and American Cowboy magazine. “A Place to Stand,” a book of photographs and essays about Landon School, was published by the Chester River Press in 2015.  A new collection of essays titled “Musing Right Along” will be released in June. Jamie’s website is www.musingjamie.com.

When I’m Away by Jamie Kirkpatrick

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When I’m away from Chestertown, I feel like there’s something missing or that I’m missing something. It’s not a sharp pang, more like a tingling sensation, a very mild form of the phantom limb pain experienced by many amputees. Or maybe more like a heartache—the empty feeling one gets when a very dear friend is too-long absent; or the way a sunny day suddenly becomes moody when the clouds roll in; or like the regret one feels when an opportunity is missed and gone forever.

When I’m away from Chestertown, the clocks all seem to run faster. It’s harder to keep up the pace. There’s more traffic, more noise, more stress, more items on the to-do list; less conversation with friends, less starlight, less time for sitting on a friend’s dock watching the river roll by.

When I’m away from Chestertown, I miss my porch, my neighbors, all my friends about town; my Thursday martini nights at the Kitchen and my Saturday rounds of golf at the club. I miss the river, Hebe and her fountain, the farmer’s market, the clock that strikes the hour from the top of Stam’s Hall. I miss Wilmer Park, the ballet of regatta sails and the smooth power of racing shells. I miss a deadrise heading off to work through the early morning riversmoke and the Martha White at graceful sunset anchor.

When I’m away from Chestertown, I miss watching an osprey dive for a fish or a bald eagle soaring overhead. I miss seeing Sultana under sail and the River Packet under a full moon. I miss napping in my hammock, catching the flash of a hummingbird, or picking crabs in the backyard.

When I’m away from Chestertown, I miss my chefs, my bakers, and my bartenders. I miss our writers and photographers, our potters and artists. I miss the downtown shops: the Wine & Cheese Shop, Bookplate, Finishing Touch, Empty Hangers, Gabriella’s, Twigs & Teacups, Welcome Home, Village Shop, Women in Need, Blooming Wild, Dockside Emporium, and She-She; I miss the Garfield, CRYCC, Washington College, and the White Swan. I miss JBK; my wife misses Tiny Tots.

When I’m away from Chestertown, I miss my four-legged pals: Tessa, Daisy, Glenn, Matilda, Dixie, Sweet Potato, Lullaby, Barkley, Millie, Sammie, and Franklin; I miss Keke the bookstore cat.

When I’m away from Chestertown, I miss a happening First Friday and the friends who spontaneously end up on our porch, the buzz surrounding one of our big weekend celebrations—Tea Party and Downrigging—and a quiet Sunday afternoon. I miss artists painting the town. I miss all the parades. (I’m a sucker for parades.)

When I’m away from Chestertown, a part of me remains here and a part of you goes with me. But when I’m in Chestertown, the shoe fits, all harmonies converge, and everything in the universe is as it should be. I’ve never been quite sure whether I found Chestertown or Chestertown found me, but however it happened, I’m glad the match was made. Whether we’re from here or came here, when we’re here, we’re home.

Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer with homes in Chestertown and Bethesda. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Washington College Alumni Magazine, and American Cowboy magazine. “A Place to Stand,” a book of photographs and essays about Landon School, was published by the Chester River Press in 2015.  A new collection of essays titled “Musing Right Along” will be released in June. Jamie’s website is www.musingjamie.com.