I read with great interest the January 24, 2024 piece in the Chestertown Spy, “Washington College to Begin Work Transforming Former Dixon Valve Property”. Within that article was a link to the Washington College Starr Center for Study of the American Experience. I saw on the website that, “Washington College’s Starr Center explores the American experience in all its diversity and complexity, seeks creative approaches to illuminating the past, and inspires thoughtful conversation informed by history.” I also learned from the Starr Center website that Washington College is engaged in the National Home Front Project which has set out to record oral histories of civilian men and women who experienced WWII. It states,” By pulling together in the spirit of wartime Americans, we can ensure that future Americans hear their voices, and that our country never forgets its past”.
To be honest, I was somewhat taken aback to read about the National Home Front Project considering the ongoing debate and drama surrounding the status of the Chestertown Armory. My overall impression is that the college has been somewhat cavalier in their approach to, and reasoning for, demolition of the Armory. Now I must ask, how does Washington College justify the horrible condition and deterioration of the Armory on their watch when they have a major project aimed at preserving the story of WWII at home. Where was the story of WWII on the Homefront playing out in Chestertown? In part, at the community dances and big band orchestra performances held in the Armory.
Being able to tell the collected Homefront stories in the Armory as a hotel would embody the, “creative approach to illuminating the past” purpose of the Starr Center and it would ensure that future Americans hear the voices and never forget the past missive of the National Home Front Project.
I understand that converting the Chestertown Armory to a boutique hotel is an enormous project and would come at great expense. But now, considering that the Starr Center, one of Washington College’s three signature centers, has a project specifically working to highlight civilian life during WWII, the plan to demolish the Armory comes across as irreverent and disingenuous.