Mid-Shore History: Chestertown’s Black Entrepreneurs


Thanks to a small grant from the Maryland State Arts Council, volunteers Airlee Johnson and Lani Seikaly had the resources to move forward with an ambitious project to document, record, and display an extraordinary era of Chestertown’s black entrepreneurs during the 1960s and 1970s.

The exhibition, now being shown at Sumner Hall, the project tells the stories of twenty-four African-Americans who were either business owners, a member of their family, employees, or customers of the fifteen businesses that formed a very vibrant commercial sector of Chestertown.

The Spy sat down with Airlee and Lani to talk about these unique entrepreneurs and through the unique blend of Airlee’s memories and Lani’s video documentation (now on Youtube) resulted in a compelling story of independence, creativity, and self-sufficiency.

This video is approximately minutes in length. The Exhibit will run until mid-August. For more information please go here. To watch the project’s video profiles please go here



Maryland 3.0: Checking in with KRM’s Bryan Matthews


Just a few years ago, the Dixon Valve & Coupling Company made a corporate decision that would have a significant impact on Kent County’s economy and yet very little was said about at the time. The company, faced with growing pains and stiff competition for their range of piping and fitting products, had to make a difficult choice to either expand their business locally in Chestertown or take advantage of lower production costs, larger workforce populations, and reduced taxes by moving operations to another state or perhaps even another country.

This kind of significant call is not an uncommon one for American manufacturing companies. And in most cases, these businesses very quickly conclude that their bottom line profits will improve dramatically by migrating to a more business-friendly location. But in the case of Dixon, which would impact close to 375 employees in Kent County, their final decision went against that popular trend. Dixon quickly made up their mind that they would stay put in Chestertown.

While most communities in America would have held parades or honored local politicians for saving a town’s anchor manufacturing business, the Dixon decision, like so much of the rest of the family-owned business culture, was a low-key affair. Once they concluded that Kent County would remain their home for the foreseeable future, Dixon leadership assigned the task of building facilities for that future growth to the company’s subsidiary, KRM Development, and thus began a complicated multi-year plan to move warehouse, production and administrative functions to new locations.

A good part of that job is now in the work portfolio of Bryan Matthews, who retired as Washington College’ athletic director and facilities manager after thirty years of service to his alma mater to join the KRM team two years ago. In his Spy interview, Matthews talks in detail about the intricate planning required for this kind of major undertaking as well as some of the vision behind Dixon’s plans for their North Chestertown campus.

This video is approximately five minutes in length. For more information about KRM Development please go here.

Mid-Shore Authors: The Unexpected Environmentalist J.I. Rodale with Andrew Case


It’s pretty clear that J.I. Rodale did not set off in life to be what we now call an “environmentalist.” The godfather of the “natural food” lifestyle, founder of Prevention magazine, and advocate of organic farming, Rodale saw himself first and foremost as a publisher.

That’s one of the many takeaways from Washington College professor Andrew Case’s new book, “The Organic Profit:
Rodale and the Making of Marketplace Environmentalism,” (University of Washington Press) which chronicles Rodale’s unique role in building a marketplace for organic products and supplements.

Nonetheless, Rodale began a movement that eventually led to the popularity of organic products, the awareness of the dangers of pesticides, and the importance for taking care of one’s own body and what it consumes. All which encompass the fundamentals of our current environmental movement in this country.

All of this proved to be irresistible to Case whose scholarship has focused on the history of environmentalism and consumer culture. He began to document Rodale’s rise after World War II, the rapid success of the Rodale Press, and a family business that has left a permanent legacy in the annals of the American environmental history.

The Spy sat down with the author at Cromwell Hall on Washington College’s campus to talk about the overarching themes found in Organic Profit and the fascinating profile of one of America’s great entrepreneurs.

This video is approximately five minutes in length. Please go here for more information on “The Organic Profit:
Rodale and the Making of Marketplace Environmentalism.”


The Beginning of an Oasis on the Delmarva with ESLC’s Rob Etgen


When you look at a map of the Delmarva, or from one of those NASA photographs from space, it’s hard not to think that this perfect peninsula must be its own state, or, secondarily, is part of just one state. And yet for reasons known and not known, the great Delmarva Peninsula is divided into three different states.

This helps understand the name itself, with the states of Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia getting equal billing, but for centuries, this artificial division it has also lead to very unique identities for each section. Maryland has its own “Eastern Shore,” Virginia identifies itself as the “Lower Eastern Shore,”with Delaware picking up the rest by default. And alongside with those manmade divisions in government jurisdictions have come differences in culture, agricultural practices, and maritime use.

For many conservationists, this forced separation of what could be one of the East Coast’s most remarkable ecosystems has been a frustrating deterrent to large landscape strategies to protect the peninsula’s food production, its need for habitat protection and a sustainable approach to public access for the 20o mile land mass.

That frustration has not stopped state governments and environmental organizations to make substantial progress in protecting much of the Delmarva’s most important natural assets, particularly over the last forty years. But with the mounting evidence of climate change, and the dire predictions of significant changes in sea levels, a new push to see the Delmarva as a whole ecosystem has started to take place.

Starting with the visionary work of environmental writers such as E.O. Wilson, and more recently Tony Hiss, there is a growing consensus with many of the Delmarva’s most important stakeholders to double down at looking at the peninsula as one huge ecosystem, requiring more interstate strategies and cross-disciplinary initiatives. The result being the creation of the “Delmarva Oasis” as the collective name for all these long-term goals.

The Spy was interested in exploring with one of those essential stakeholders how this might work on the practical level. That is why we sat down with Rob Etgen last week to understand why the Eastern Shore Land Conservancy is taking a leadership role to make the Delmarva Oasis a reality over the next decade.

This video is approximately six minutes in length. For more information about the Eastern Shore Land Conservancy and the Delmarva Oasis inviitivide please go here.

Senior Nation: A Different Kind of Homecoming for Washington College Alumni at Heron Point


With just over a dozen Washington College alumni living at Heron Point in Chestertown, it’s hard to say that there is a WC  dominance at that retirement community which has over 300 residents. But that doesn’t mean the graduates of the local liberal arts college don’t hold a distinct advantage over their Heron Point neighbors.

Knowing the school so well over fifty plus years since they graduated, the WC alumni at Heron Point have the unique experience of watching this 238-year-old institution grow and prosper from the early days of their undergraduate life to now enrolling in classes at WC’s Academy of Lifelong Learning.

They also are part of a national trend where alumni are returning to their former college towns to not only continue their educational interests but to take full advantage of music and theatrical productions, nationally known speakers, and the fun of watching their alma mater compete sports and develop pan-generational friendships with younger students.

While retirement community developers and colleges have been marketing to these traditional retirees, particularly in the 80-plus range, with significant levels of success, there now is a movement afoot to reach out to the “just retired” 62-plus group as well.  Stressing independent living and the benefits of reconnecting with old college friends, hassle-free maintenance and these kinds of projects for several years, universities and colleges themselves are playing an increasing role, seeking new sources of revenue and a way to cement ties with alumni.

The Spy sat down with several of the WC alumni at Heron Point, including Mackey Dutton, Dick Fitzgerald, Bill Russell, Jack Stenger, Helen and Bob Tyson and Sigrid Whaley, to talk about their homecoming experience and reminisce about a school they clearly love.

This video is approximately six minutes in length. For more information about Heron Point in Chestertown please go here


Kent County’s Most Pressing Needs with United Way’s Glenn Wilson


For sixty years now, the United Way of Kent County has unquestionably been successful in supporting great organizations in the community that handle a multitude of social needs. And while its Board of Directors has been proud of this track record, it did occur to them recently that as stewards of hundreds of contributions made every year to further their mission, they didn’t exactly have the best overview of what the most pressing and underserved needs are that currently exist in Kent County.

As a result, the United Way of Kent County commissioned their first comprehensive study, working with the consulting firm of  Chesapeake Charities, to provide that kind of needed in-depth analysis, as well as a review of existing stakeholders and other assets that might partner with the UWKC to better align solutions to address those concerns.

The results of that study are now complete, and the Spy thought it would be a good time to check in with the president of United Way of Kent County, Glenn Wilson, to help summarize these findings.

This video is approximately four minutes in length. Please go here for a copy of the report

A Bridge Not Needed with Kent Conservation and Preservation Alliance’s Elizabeth Watson


To be very clear, the State of Maryland is a long way from breaking ground on a new span across the Chesapeake Bay.  The process that started this year with a “tier one” analysis is a first step of a decade-long review of the feasibility of building a third Bay bridge to Kent County, the Lower Shore, or a new bridge to Bay Bridge’s existing location.

But this long-term planning process has not slowed down a grassroots effort to provide organized opposition to  a new link from Baltimore to Kent County. In fact, like many other controversial issues in the past which would permanently impact the County’s centuries old cultural landscape, resistance began almost simultaneously as the State seeks comments on  a “Purpose and Need” report to the Governor which will identify ten to fifteen locations that hypothetically could support a new bridge.

The Kent Conservation and Preservation Alliance, the same group who recently played a critical role in stopping wind turbines from being built in Kent County, has now stepped up early to make their concerns known. And leading that effort for the nonprofit is board member Elizabeth Watson who is uniquely qualified to make a case against a bridge in Kent County.

With an extensive background as an independent consultant since 1993, Watson has worked in more than a dozen heritage protection sites or greenway initiatives, which combine regional planning with resource conservation, tourism development, and community education initiatives. She is also the co-author of Saving America’s Countryside: A Guide to Rural Conservation which grew out of her earliest working experience worked for the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Rural Program.

The Spy sat down with Watson at the White Swan Tavern a few weeks ago to talk about her case against the bridge, her observations about Kent County’s economic development potential, and her insistence that this is the time for the citizens to speak out clearly and loudly to oppose this environmentally threatening new infrastructure.

This video is approximately eight minutes in length. For more information about the Kent Conservation and Preservation Alliance please go here.

The Therapy of Tapping on the Mid-Shore with Barbara Young


In this new era of modern psychotherapy, there are dozens of new approaches used to manipulate how one’s brain copes with the day-to-day stress of our 21st-century world. And most of these centers on a tiny part of our brain that control our thought process called the amygdala, which handles things like memories, decision making, and most emotional responses.

From acupuncture to cranial therapy, experts are discovering that even the most subtle disruption of blood flow or contact with our bodies can, by its very nature, relieve acute melancholy and emotional distress.

One of these techniques gaining a significant following over the last decade also appears to be one of the simplest to use which is called “tapping.”

And one of the great advocates locally for this common sense strategy is Barbara Young, a licensed clinical social worker affiliated with Chestertown’s High Street Psychotherapy and, in Easton, with Eastern Shore Psychological Services.

Over the past few years,  Barbara has been using this method effectively with almost every client who struggles with depression or anxiety with significant success by allowing gentle taps to the body to cue the brain reprogram and redirect negative thought patterns.

The Spy was particularly interested in her observations and caught up with Barbara a few weeks ago to talk about this new tool to improve the mental health of people living on the Mid-Shore.

For more information about tapping or to contact Barbara please go here


A Neurosurgeon Treats a New Patient: The Chesapeake Skipjack


In this new world of redefining what “retirement” means, it probably comes as no surprise that a Johns Hopkins neurosurgeon would retire to the Eastern Shore and start an entirely new vocation related to the skipjacks of the Chesapeake Bay.

That’s precisely what Dr. Randolph George did when he eventually retired from the operating room and embarked with his brother in law, Allen Rawl, on the restoration of a skipjack named Martha Lewis.  And as Allen was doing much of the physical work on the boat, Dr. George began to explore and document the boat builder, his family and the many stories that surrounded the Martha Lewis.  It also led him on a journey to discover every remaining skipjack on the Shore.

All of this is now documented in a new book that Randy has authored entitled “Memory of the Skipjack,” published by SaltWater Media.  It not only records the unique history of the Martha Lewis but documents the fifty-two remaining of what was once a fleet of 700 iconic examples of the Chesapeake Bay’s distinctive heritage.

The Spy spent some time with the author at Bullitt House a few weeks ago to chat about the book.

This video is approximately three minutes in length. For more information or purchase “Memoir of a Skipjack” please go here