The Historical Society of Kent County is going out of its way to celebrate the recent donation of the letters and drawings of Kent County preservationist and historian Michael Bourne for good reasons.
The first, of course, is the material itself since Michael’s lifetime of research and preservation architecture in throughout the Mid-Atlantic is now safely in the hands of good stewards for countless numbers of scholars in the future. Bourne’s work faithfully documented almost every historic structure in Chestertown and the surrounding region, which motivated dozens of philanthropic projects to rescue those houses from demolition.
The Bourne research also led to the 1998 publication of Historic Homes of Kent County, a painstakingly comprehensive survey of architectural history that deservedly won praise from the academic community and the general public.
The second reason this is such good news is that more local people need to know about Michael and his critical role in saving some of the very best examples of Chestertown’s past.
Working discreetly with a handful of active volunteers under the banner of Preservation, Inc., Michael and town preservationists such as Wilbur Hubbard, Maynard Presley White, Dave Ferguson, David Williams, Karl E. Miller, and myself, the group would rescue such important landmarks as 518 High Street, The Buck Bacchus Store at 116 High Street, The John Greenwood House at 126 Queen Street, The Bolton and Dunn Houses at 135 & 137 Queen Street, and, finally, the Sumner Hall GAR Post.
The same group was pivotal in finding new owners to save numerous Scott’s Point area buildings and four houses on the 200 block of Cannon Street. In all of these projects, Michael Bourne was the linchpin, instrumental in the selection, stabilization, design, and supervision of the restoration of all of them.
He was also the guiding light as a restoration consultant for notable projects like the Customs House and The White Swan Tavern. In total, Bourne’s body of work included preserving and restoring more than 100 structures throughout the Chesapeake region.
After Preservation, Inc. sunset in 1995, Michael worked for the Maryland Historical Trust as an easement administrator and certified approximately 400 buildings throughout the state.
One of Michael’s last projects before retirement was a collaboration on Cloverfields outside Centreville.
The one consistent factor in all of Michael’s work was his modesty. Reserved by nature, Bourne, who had at one point seriously considered becoming a priest, prioritized staying under the radar, which endeared him to shy landowners and modest donors.
But a lifetime of discretion also meant that when Michael passed away last year, perhaps only a handful of us knew firsthand how impactful his role was in saving these irreplaceable historic assets.
And that is why I am so pleased that the Historical Society, of which Michael was a proud member, has made it a priority to preserve his work and celebrate his legacy.
Chris Havemeyer was a board member of Preservation, Inc. from 1974 to 1996 and former owner of the White Swan Tavern in Chestertown.
The Historical Society of Kent County will be honoring Michael Bourne on October 8 from 2pm to 4 pm. For more information please go here.