The architecturally distinctive, art deco Armory Building on Quaker Neck Road stands as one of the rough jewels of Chestertown’s four entryways. Sadly, the Historic District Commission and town council — at the behest of owner Washington College — claim it should be torn down for a new building.
What else ugly is coming from that direction? How about three-story, cheaply constructed apartments and townhouses to be built across the street from the old Armory? They would be erected on the historic/cultural setting (open-space) surrounding Stepney Manor. And not only is that field the original farm built in Chestertown, it has survived during five centuries. The field is the location of a historic racetrack visited by George Washington, and the longtime site of the Kent County Fair. Both the Armory and Stepney Manor face the open waters of the Chester River.
Why all the ugly coming this way? Why are town fathers demolishing a grand building and historic setting that amazingly still survives? Apparently, they made these decisions in ways that this town long ago decided should not be used.
Barbara Jorgensen, Historical Society of Kent County, and major-buildings engineer Stephen Mitchell point the finger at some of these mistakes in letters to the editor. I have heard from a Historic District Commissioner that at their October meeting, commissioners were presented with an inches-thick report on the Armory Site, and told to vote immediately. Regarding Stepney Manor, the town planning panel voted to increase density on the farm site minus input from the general public. No public notice or debate were raised in Kent County News or Chestertown Spy. That’s not the Chestertown way, and the results are not Chestertown goals.
As a former county Preservation Commission Chair in Prince George’s, and a member of the Maryland Historic Trust I speak on the ascetics of these bad, hopefully temporary decisions. They are genuinely unfortunate. No matter Dixon’s and Washington College’s importance as key interests, no matter the trust we had placed in civic leaders like archaeologist John Seidel and town official Kees de Mooy, all of it smells bad. Undo these decisions. Save the Armory now, and let’s give the general public a look at Stepney Manor’s future.
David A. Turner