It Happened on Queen Street


David and Anne Singer of Chestertown were out of town for a few days at the beginning of July.  When they returned, they noticed a puddle in the driveway but thought nothing of it.  Maybe it had rained.  But the next day, the puddle was still there.  Was it a little larger?  Long story short, a pipe under the driveway from the house had sprung a leak.  They turned off the water to the house and called their plumber.  However, it was now in the middle of the July 4th holiday.  Their plumber was out on a job and not available.  They called several other plumbers but each was either busy or didn’t have the large equipment necessary to dig down to the pipes. The Singers had now been over 24 hours with no water in their house.  Finally, they found Doug Nicholson, Sr, plumber and electrician, who had the equipment and was willing to come in over a holiday for an emergency job.  After excavating the full length of the driveway to a depth of about five, Nicholson unearthed something the Singers had never seen before – “tar-paper” pipes.

The Singers’ house is one of those wonderful old brick homes on Queen Street. Built around 1790, number 109 N. Queen Street is listed as “The Chambers House” in Michael Bourne’s Historic Houses of Kent County (p 350). According to Bourne, it was probably built at the same time (1788-90) as the Nicholson House, next door, with which it shares several architectural features including a molded Doric cornice, one of the earliest documented in Kent County.

The plumber-to-the-rescue, Doug Nicholson, Sr., is not related to the next-door Nicholson House family from the 1790s, – as far as we know. But then again, it’s Kent County, so who knows!

The Chambers house is not known to be listed in any official records until 1811 when it appeared on a deed. The land was acquired in 1786 by Benjamin Chambers, a prominent attorney in the town who served as Clerk of the Court and later as a general of the militia at the Battle of Caulk’s Field. His prominence can be measured by the fact that in 1810 he moved to Widehall. At that point, he transferred the house to his son Ezekial Chambers, a prominent attorney in his own right and later a judge. The younger Chambers moved to Widehall in 1822, and the North Queen Street house became a rental property until 1865, when Chambers sold it to a local contractor, John Greenwood.

Then Greenwood sold the property just a year later to the Vestry of Chester Parish, who converted it into a residence for the rectors of Emmanuel Church. It remained in the hands of the parish until 1910. During that time, the house was expanded to add a pantry and dining room on the first floor and two bedrooms upstairs. Thereafter it had several owners until 1994, when the Singers bought it and began restoring it.

The tar-paper pipes were a surprise to the Singers but not to Nicholson who said that he had seen them often in the older parts of town. They looked like hollowed out logs.  Not at all like today’s plastic pipes. The tar-paper pipe is made of wood pulp and pitch. It represents a less expensive alternative to classic clay piping which has been used throughout history, in ancient Rome, through Chinese dynasties, and into modern times, and is usually referred to as terra cotta.

In addition to tar-paper pipes being used as sewer pipes, they were frequently used as conduits for electrical wiring – notably in the Empire State Building and other skyscrapers. Tar-paper pipes were also adopted by the oil industry to pump salt wastewater out of drilling sites. Its use as sewer pipe was very common during World War II and into the 1950s, which fits Nicholson’s estimate that the pipe at 109 N. Queen St. was “about 70 years old.”  The pipes are commonly called Orangeburg pipes from the name of the upstate New York town where they were manufactured by the Fiber Conduit Company, which later changed its name to the Orangeburg Manufacturing Company. Orangeburg pipes were widely used from 1860 until 1970, when plastic pipe such as PCV came into common use.

Bob Sipes, Utilities Manager for the town of Chestertown, said the sewer system on Queen Street was installed in the first decade of the 20th century, so it’s conceivable that the Orangeburg pipe, which is a lateral line leading from the town sewer mains to the house, dates back to that period. However, that would be unusually long for that sort of pipe to last.  The town’s water and sewer systems were not built using Orangeburg.

Orangeburg pipe’s main liability is its tendency to flatten under pressure. The layers of rolled-up tar paper can also begin to separate, creating “bubbles” or humps.  While its normal life expectancy was listed at 50 years and some can last considerably longer, Orangeburg was often known to fail within 10 years, usually due to the pressure of the soil in which it was buried. So this one, at 70 years old, did pretty well.

While we were there taking pictures and talking to the Singers and several neighbors who came by to see the progress, we noticed a steady stream of cars come slowly up the one-way street, carefully negotiating the speed bump and the construction.  David Singer sighed and said that for some reason many GPS systems give this narrow, one-lane, one-way, residential street as the preferred route to downtown Chestertown rather than the wider Cross or Spring streets.  At least, he noted, the drivers first view of Chestertown is the beautiful, historic homes of Queen Street.

Well, now the pipes are all replaced with modern longer-lasting pipes.  The water is turned back on. The Singers can heave a sigh of relief. Until the next time.  That’s the joys of owning an historical home – you never know what’s in the attic, under the stairs or the paint or even the driveway.  But you learn a lot of fascinating history along the way.

(This article, “It Happened on Queen Street,” is the first in an irregular Spy series on the homes and history of Chestertown and Kent County.  Please contact us if you have an idea for a future subject in the series, either below in the comments or by email to

All done! But then it’s never all done with an old house, is it?

Our Magical Town by Jamie Kirkpatrick


The clock atop Stam’s Tower had just chimed seven. We were on our way to JR’s to grab a quick bite to eat. A summer storm had come and gone; the pavement glistened and we were bathed in ethereal light. A unicorn was making its way down High Street…

OK; maybe there wasn’t a unicorn, but for a moment there was a rainbow arching its way across the street and it made me realize—yet again—what a magical town this is and that we should never, ever take it for granted.

Things just seem to unfold here in the most natural way. Like Friday night after we returned home from a delicious meal (soft shells!) at Barbara’s on the Bay and friends came over to sit on the porch and talk late into the night. Or on Saturday morning when I was on my way to the Farmer’s Market and got distracted by a Civil War era brass band playing Union tunes in front of the new memorial on the Green. Or later that afternoon when Sandy Hoon—one of the lions of Chestertown—was laid to rest in the cemetery at St. Paul’s and wonderfully memorialized at Emmanuel Church. Or later yet that same evening when the Chester River Association gathered in Wilmer Park for its annual celebration of the summer solstice. All in the space of twenty-four hours! I could go on (and on), but you get the point.

I realize we’re far from perfect. The town needs more thriving businesses and good jobs; our schools need to keep improving; the waterfront and the marina have been works-in-progress for an awfully long time; there are people who battle addiction or need better health care or simply live too darn close to the bone. The college is going through another transition of leadership. Yes, change comes slowly around here—that’s both a blessing and a curse—but there is always the will to improve and to look out for one another. I’ve lived in a lot of places around the world and I’ve never experienced a place with more inherent good will than right here in Chestertown.

Sometimes I wonder: do people make Chestertown a better place or does Chestertown make us better people? Probably both suppositions are true, but that doesn’t diminish either. It’s no accident that so many good folk reside here. Whether you’ve been here for generations or only come on weekends, you feel there is that rainbow’s promise of good things to come. You feel deeply connected to your neighbors and to the natural world in a way that’s—well, magical. At least I do and I doubt I’m alone. Feel free to chime in like that clock atop Stam’s Tower if you agree.

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

KRM Development’s Dixon Square Project — an Update


There are big doings in the works just north of Chestertown.

Well, technically the area is already in Chestertown – some 80 acres north of Scheeler Road and east of Route 213 were annexed by the Mayor and Council last year at the request of KRM Development, which owns the tract. The property, currently undeveloped, is destined to be the site of Dixon Square, a new warehouse complex for Dixon Valve and Coupling – and a lot more. The Chestertown Spy sat down with Kate Gray, president of KRM, and Bryan Matthews, KRM’s vice president, to talk about plans for what appears to be one of the most ambitious projects to come to Chestertown and Kent County in a long time.

Kate Gray and Bryan Matthews of KRM Development  (photo by Jane Jewell)

Spy: Could you tell us how this project came about?

Kate Gray: We looked at an opportunity for Dixon, which is our parent company, to expand and to grow in the area.  Their success is going well, and the opportunity to grow in Chestertown was an exciting venture for us. So as a real estate division of Dixon, a manufacturer, we were able to look at property in town and look to construct a business campus.

Bryan Matthews: I came on board last July, and at that point the team had already acquired 80-plus acres just north of town, where we remember the old airport used to be, and that had already been annexed, so the design process, the concept of not only expanding some Dixon facilities but also the opportunity and possibility of other properties there, was well under way at that point.

Kate: The initial piece of it is the warehouse or distribution center for Dixon Valve, currently located in the Chestertown Business Park, across from Dixon’s main building. It will be an expansion of that facility and enable them to have an upgraded warehouse and distribution center here in town – which will be the kickoff project within this business campus. We’ll actually be starting site work on that within the month of June. So it’s very exciting to be able to put a shovel in the ground here shortly. Soon after that we will be beginning the site work for the apartment complex. There will be two phases for the apartments. The first phase is three buildings, which is about 85 to 88 apartments. And ultimately there’s the potential for six buildings, so there could be double that, depending on the market absorption.

Bryan: This will be and in all likelihood will be a mixture of one-bedroom, two bedroom and three- bedroom apartments. And most importantly, I’ve been asked by members of our mature population, will there be elevators? And the answer is yes, we will.

The next phase would be a fitness center, and assuming everything else in the development happens, it’s logical to move the Kent Athletic Club up where the corporate headquarters and warehouse are. That’s also in the design phase that we’re working on at this point. Then ultimately what you see in this picture is the possibility of multiple commercial speculative space, which is what KRM does – build business parks and then attract new businesses and new jobs to Kent County. And that’s one of the exciting pieces of this project to all of us, the economic opportunity of impact to the local area, with new jobs and new businesses.

Site plan for Dixon Square

Kate: (showing site plan) On the west is Route 213 and on the south is Scheeler Road. The apartments will be off Scheeler Road. There will also be a road that goes in – it’s currently Haacke Drive, which will extend into the business campus. There will also be an entrance off 213, which will be the main entrance to the business campus. So the buildings can eventually be accessed from 213 or off of Scheeler Road by Haacke Drive. KRM Development is managing the full business campus development with our construction company KRM Construction, with some contractors that they’ll hire as well. Ultimately we will not be operating the apartments. The large blue building will be the Dixon Valve distribution center, the potential headquarters building; the purple is the potential future fitness center, which would be Kent Athletic Club moving to that location. The yellowish-gold are the speculative spaces that could be a variety of uses. Flex, commercial, warehouses, maybe even restaurants.

As you can see, this is an unprecedented economic development opportunity for the area – the town, the county and really the region. We haven’t seen development of this scale in Chestertown in quite some time, and it’s really important to us that the town and the school systems and the jobs that the town area are able to offer are quality – and it all builds one healthy community. It’s growth opportunity and the hope that this business campus will be the live/work/play theory of development.

Bryan: Another example of how when you get involved in a large project like this, new and exciting opportunities kind of present themselves. Within the first phase of the warehouse, there’s the possibility of utilizing some of the space there as a career training center there, which would be a workforce development opportunity. Dixon already does a tremendous amount of training for their employees. And the thought is that we double down on it. Dixon’s already good at it for their employees — can we expand that to the greater community for other job training, not just Dixon? And we’re in conversation with some potential partners on that. We may really help provide an opportunity for training and retraining for new careers and jobs for people in the Upper Shore. If you have a world class training program right here, people might want to come in from anywhere, spend six weeks here, get the training, get the certification, then be job-ready in that particular field. The high-speed fiber coming to Kent County is the game changer for us as well. For a project like this, when we’re talking to businesses in other parts of the country, trying to attract them to come here, one of the keys certainly is having that high-speed fiber.

Kate: Putting all the pieces together, the fiber coupled with all the exciting things that are happening in the downtown area, the arts and entertainment and the marina, and this project, I think Chestertown’s really poised to grow and to benefit from it. We need to attract young people to the area – I know that’s said over and over again, in many different venues – but from our standpoint of KRM and Dixon, having young people to work at Dixon and the ability for them to live and work within the business campus is certainly attractive.

Bryan: That’s one of the reasons why the apartments are part of this project. Residential housing is not what KRM usually does – it’s not the business we’re in – but with the need for housing in this area, both to attract young people and for others to be able to stay in this area of the community, it’s why we included it in this project.

Spy: What encourages you to believe that this project will have a better chance than some of the past ones that didn’t turn out (Stepney, Clark Farm, etc.)?

Kate: We’ve had a lot of cooperation with the town and the county and the state also, and it’s encouraging that there can be growth in the area. We’re fortunate that Dixon is, if you will, the anchor tenant for the space. In terms of the apartments, we also have done feasibility studies and there is a shortfall of rental property in the area. So the feasibility studies have come back with glowing results that the market certainly can handle this type of multi-family housing. But from the business campus perspective, it certainly is Dixon being the anchor, and then the hope with the fiber, and the other economic development excitement that’s happening in the area – those things can make for a successful business campus – which we have done in other areas. The Chesapeake Bay Business Park in Stevensville has certainly been the old adage – “you build it and they will come.” And it’s been extremely successful. We have about 80 businesses that occupy space in our buildings there, with about 1100 employees that make up those businesses.

Bryan: Paul Reed Smith is back in there. And the Chestertown Business Park is larger than most people realize – between 25 to 30 businesses there, and more than a couple of hundred jobs, people working in there. So as Kate says, there’s experience doing this. We’re not new at the business park side of things.

Spy: How are the hospital’s plans going to impact you?

Bryan: Especially when it comes to trying to recruit and attract new businesses that are considering relocating to Kent County, schools and medical care are two of the highest priorities, and the first questions we get, along with what kind of a trained work force do you have in your area. So having a quality hospital here is absolutely a key piece of the puzzle for us. That’s why we are very vested in that process and the communication that’s going on. We certainly are encouraged by what seems to be moving in this direction, but we’re paying close attention to it, because it makes a difference.

Spy: You said you’re breaking ground on warehouse in June; what’s the time frame for the apartments?

Kate: The apartments will follow shortly behind that; some of the site work will actually overlap, because of the road structures and water and sewer that need to be put in. So I believe that within the next week we will be awarding the contract and within the next month start with the site work and with them rolling into the apartments as well.

Sp;y: Do you have a completion date?

KG: We had that conversation yesterday – we’re not quite ready to pinpoint that yet. We’re working on the schedules, though.

Bryan:  As you can imagine, there’s a lot of initial site work that has to go on before you see any buildings go up. There’s water, sewer, stormwater, roads – so there’s quite a lot of infrastructure work that will have to be done before we start seeing any buildings.

Kate: The first step is to mow it.

Spy: Will you be moving your offices there?

Kate: Right now, KRM will stay where we are in this building (the former Chestertown Bank on High Street). The office space is fully occupied, but the old bank lobby and former teller area still remains beautiful and untouched. We were able to get permitting to add some restrooms and we’ll be able to rent it out as a venue or event space. We’re probably a few months out from that since we’ve just begun renovations.




Jim Crow Discovered Alive on Park Row with Architect Peter Newlin


My wife, Gale Tucker, and I purchased this building on Park Row intending to tear it down. The seller, a bank president, agreed it is slowly collapsing, and all he wanted was the value of the land alone. We owned the property for three years before learning how much it is really worth.

The evidence is obvious. This building has three front doors, but only one of them enjoys the shelter of its spacious porch. What are the other two flanking doors for?

Inside the center door, there’s a foyer, with a door that opens to the rooms on the left, but there’s no door anywhere inside to access the facilities on the right. We have to go outside, on to the porch, and into the rain before we can enter those facilities. How does that make sense?

Architecture is a language about what we dearly want, as well as a means to get it. Yet I failed to understand what the setup meant, even though I’ve spent forty-some years working with historic structures. As a society, we don’t want to recognize our 88 years of Jim Crow segregation, from 1876 soon after the Civil War until the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

This building was built in 1928, at the top of the Roaring 20s, a time of liberation, at least for us, and not so much for them. As we experience the next four years, it may be helpful to remember who we are capable of being for a full third of the history of our country.

Peter Newlin is the founder at Chesapeake Architects in Chestertown.This video is approximately five minutes in length

ESLC Plans a New Life for the Phillips Cannery in Cambridge


When the Eastern Shore Land Conservancy made good on their promise to convert the McCord dry-cleaning plant in Easton into a new center for environmental organizations, it not only gave that town a first-class facility which brought in dozens of well-paid professionals to improve its downtown economic viability, it also created a model and how to take an abandoned building and repurpose it.

It is with these new skills that the organization has now begun work on the long neglected Phillips Cannery building in Cambridge in the hope of turning it 60,000 square feet facility into a hub for creative food production, retail and small business or entrepreneurial initiatives that build off of the Eastern Shore’s famed farming resources and growing local food economy.

Originally constructed in 1920 as a furniture factory, the building later became part of the Phillips Packing Company empire, which employed nearly 10,000 people at its peak in 1937 and purchasing over $1 million in products from Delmarva farmers annually. The plan calls for an open floor plan, soaring ceilings, and the opportunity to retain many historic architectural features in keeping with its authentic Eastern Shore manufacturing past. It will also be the future site of Cannery Park, a new “central park” that will incorporate active and passive spaces for recreation for Cambridge.

The Spy sat down with the Phillips project manager, Katie Parks last week at Bullitt House to talk about the project and its potential for Cambridge and the surrounding area.

This video is approximately six minutes in length. For more information about ESLC  or the Phillips project, please contact Katie at 443.695.1349 or

The Low Hanging Fruit of Being a Bike Friendly Community with Salisbury Mayor Jake Day


The way the current mayor of Salisbury, Jake Day, tells it, the small city’s move to qualify as a “Bike Friendly” community by the League of American Bicyclists (LAB) was a total no-brainer.

While reviewing the city’s master plan for transportation, Jake, and other Salisbury leaders realized that with only minor changes to their street and sidewalk goals, they could qualify under LAB guidelines of being “Bike Friendly”at the “bronze” level by simply applying for it. They agreed to do that quickly, and last year, the city of Salisbury was the only town on the Eastern Shore to join a handful of towns and cities in Maryland to earn this special badge of distinction.

It is fair to ask, what, if anything, a town gains by going through this exercise. And Mayor Day has some interesting and hopefully encouraging words for other communities looking into this kind of strategy. In his Spy interview, Jake outlines the history and benefits of being bike friendly for pennies on the dollar.

This video is approximately four minutes in length. For more information about the League of American Bicyclists program, please go here.

Gardening in a Changing Climate


Climate change is our new reality. Increasing temperatures have led to longer, warmer winters and hotter summers, with significant impacts on both plants and animals. Spring now comes earlier, inducing changes in the timing of critical life stages in native plants and the species with which they interact.

Dr. Sara Via will share how these diverse effects of climate change also affect gardens and home landscapes and how adopting climate-friendly gardening strategies will improve success and help to reduce future change.

Adkins Arboretum, in partnership with the Garden Club of the Eastern Shore, presents:

Gardening in a Changing Climate
with Dr. Sara Via
Professor of biology and entomology at University of Maryland.

The event will be held Wednesday, November 9 at the Talbot County Free Library, 100 W. Dover St. in Easton at 11:15 AM.

Admission is FREE and open to the public.

The Gang of Four: KCPA Organizes to Fight Wind and Solar to Protect Open Space in Kent County


The founders of the Kent Conservation & Preservation Alliance are the first to say that their new organization walks in the footsteps of some remarkable Kent County citizen committees. From Chestertown’s own little tea party prior to the Revolutionary War, to Kent Preservation’s stunning victories in turning back nuclear power plants and waste incineration plants in the 1970s and 80s, and more recently grassroots efforts to save the local hospital from downsizing, this small region on the Eastern Shore has had over 300 years of pushing back on what it considers to be threats to its special way of life.

But Kent County farmers Judy Gifford, Pat Langenfelder, and Janet Christensen-Lewis joined by heritage consultant Elizabeth Watson; all believe that their cause to prohibit large-scale wind and solar land use rises to the same level of concern as these other causes.

In their Spy interview, the organizers behind KCPA make their case that large corporation plans currently under consideration for new solar and wind farms in Kent County will permanently and negatively impact the region’s most precious asset, its open spaces.

This video is approximately twelve minutes in length. For more information about the pending case (Case No: 9411) mentioned in the inverview please go here.  For previous stories related to the use of wind turbines, please go here

Horticulturist Barbara Ellis Asks: How Does Your Chesapeake Bay Garden Grow?


Local horticulturist and author Barbara Ellis can relax and garden this summer. For the past six years she’s been working on her book “Chesapeake Gardening and Landscaping: The Essential Green Guide”, and that labor of love has taken precedent in her life. Now it’s out.

The book, which promises to become one of the horticultural bibles for Chesapeake Bay region gardening, was published in association with Adkins Arboretum by University of North Carolina Press this month.

The 328-page book offers 317 color plates by Neil Soderstrom.

UNC Press’ Southern Gateways calls Ellis’ book “comprehensive guide shows homeowners, gardeners, garden designers, and landscapers how to do just that for the large and beautiful Chesapeake Bay watershed region.”

Mollie Rideout, Director of Horticulture, Historic Annapolis Foundations writes, “An important, valuable, and timely resource for Chesapeake gardeners, and the only book of its kind for the region. The volume’s structure and practical how-to nature will make it useful both to readers just starting their gardening endeavors and to experienced gardeners inspired to bring their landscapes into more conformity with their natural contexts.”

Barbara Ellis was former managing editor at Rodale Press and publications director at the American Horticultural Society.

The Spy was happy to have caught up wither last week and talk about her new book.