The Chestertown Plan: A Design Strategy


Since the late 1660s, there has been some sort of plan in place for Chestertown’s growth. From its early beginnings as a prospective port village for the British Crown to today’s comprehensive plan, the “town plan” has governed how it must function commercially and socially, and also lays out a hierarchy of sites for government, religion, residential, retail, shipping, and even death. Local architect Peter Newlin walks us through the Chestertown plan’s many stages over the years and poses interesting and challenging questions for the town’s future.

About Dave Wheelan

Letters to Editor

  1. Finally Somebody Get’s It!!!

    The “Chestertown Plan” is in fact no plan at all. Its basically the same old individuals coming together to collectively speak out against anything remotely resembling growth or opportunity for the working class citizens of this community. Having grown up locally and moved away for a number of years I was able to appreciate that Kent County as a whole is a great place to live. Obviously given the current status of the economy its not so much of a desirable place to work unless you can support a home for under $30k annually. Now for those of you who are living out on “the family farm” this bears no impact to you as more than likely your monthly mortgage outlay looks something more like a car payment. Unfortunately those of us who moved away and took on the burden of student loans and pushing ourselves to grow are now coming back to “home” only to find that property is through the roof and “The County” is more worried about subdivisions then industry.
    Instead of worrying about a development that will never come to fruition why not work to entice industry to settle in our great county? Give the kids growing up on these farms a chance to do something else other than move away to more affordable housing or become a minimum wage employee for somebody else. I wish the county Economic Development Office got near the press that these ridiculous chatter sessions over planning, zoning and worrying about not becoming a Middletown, De.

  2. If I left an impression that Chestertown’s growth has not been governed by a plan, that is 100% wrong. The earliest plan we have for Chestertown designates precise locations for the seats of power (the Courthouse, the Customs House, the Church of England, and the Jail) and lays down the corridor of commerce (shipping warehouses on the river strand, High Street for local commerce, and a Market House in the square, now the town’s fountain park).

    What is extraordinary is the creative sensitivity of that plan, making a broad boulivard of High Street, a smaller but still wide Cross Street, and locating all of the key institutions at the intersection of these two, both the institutions exercising power, and the market house, center of commerce. This is a plan of keen strategy and our spacial generosity.

    Our best buildings from the 18th C. and early 19th fulfill that plan with their own discipline and generosity. If our town plan had been a gridwork without nuance, as the vast majority of town plans of that era were, it is highly unlikely we would have inherited the creativity we see on Water Street, High, Queen, Church Alley and Cannon, – just to name a few.

    Where the town jumps across Barroll Creek (now piped underground) to climb up hill – this is growth outside the original plan, which began in the mid-19th Century, and was governed by the romantic desires to embrace the landscape, enjoy its pleasures and the health of the open air. How much planning was envolved we don’t know, but creating a high quality neighborhood was certainly at the center of people’s asperation. Perhaps this 19th C. outgrowth wouldn’t have succeeded, had it not been attached to a strategically planned urban core. The Washington Street district is beautiful, but at its core, fundamentally suburban. Even Chestertown’s 19th C. churches almost all have there roots in the matrix of the original 18th C. plan.

    Our twentieth century growth shows little of the desire to create special neighborhoods we find in the 19th growth, and almost none of the strategy, generousity or nuance of the original plan. How well will these 20th C. neighbors age? Will subsequent generations think them wonderful historic neighborhoods in 2025? Worthy of preservation? Of coursee don’t know.

    But we do know, if we establish the pattern for the 21st Century growth by town planning that is generous, nuanced and well structured, our chances go way up, we will not be screwing up the richness we have inherited. Our plans, whether for buildings or towns, always embody the aspirations we have for ourselves, and the respect we have for others. They inevitably show the love we have or don’t have for what we have inherited, and the love we are or are not willing to give to our children’s children and beyond.

  3. Nice interview, Peter. Great job.

  4. John Seidel says

    Very nicely done, both the video and the subsequent commentary!

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