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



June’s First Friday is Chestertown’s Best First Friday


The Dover English Country Dancers at Chestertown Tea Party

First Friday in Chestertown is always a treat, but for June, the Downtown Chestertown Association is putting on a show you won’t want to miss! A varied array of sights, sounds, and tastes awaits visitors of all ages from 5 to 8 p.m. — and beyond! — June 1, all over the downtown shopping area.

First of all, to welcome Washington College alumni back for their annual alumni weekend, the Dover English Country Dancers will be putting on a show of Colonial-era dancing in honor of Martha Washington’s birthday. Come to the High Street side of Fountain Park to see the dancers – and to get a lesson in 18th-century dancing! While you’re at the park, be sure to check out the Kent Center Summer Bake Sale, proceeds of which will support programming for adults with developmental disabilities here in Kent County.

Early birds can enjoy a Fish Fry at Janes Church beginning at 11 a.m. – if you’re looking for something tasty for lunch, stop by the corner of Cannon and Cross and help support this historic church.  Or check out the wine tasting starting at  4:00 p.m. at Chestertown Natural Foods just around the corner from Janes Church on Canon St. They are celebrating their 25th anniversary year with a free sampling of biodynamic/organic wines from Chateau Maris Vineyards, one of the top five greenest wineries in the world.  If you find one you like, it will be 10% off on First Friday.

Charlie Graves’ Uptown Club on the corner of Calvert Street and College Avenue, where many musical stars of the ’50s and ’60s performed. The club closed in 1988.

Fans of more modern music and dancing should check out Sumner Hall’s “Uptown Cabaret” – a celebration of Charlie Graves’ famous Uptown Club, with live music by Best Kept Soul recreating the Motown era of the ‘50s and ‘60s between 8 and 10 p.m. at 206 S. Queen St. There will be only one show, so be sure to get your tickets in advance. Space is limited, so call 410-778-6300 to make a reservation; tickets are $25, and there will be a cash bar available. 

For art lovers, Massoni Gallery’s annual exhibit of Marcy Dunn Ramsey’s work – this year called “Tangles & Knots” – is a must-see. In addition to Ramsey’s evocations of the river and its environs, this month’s exhibit includes Catherine Kernan’s woodcuts, photographs by Michael Kahn, new work from Vicco von Voss and a great garden bench by Rob Glebe!

Marcy Dunn Ramsey, “Tangles & Knots”

A little farther up High Street, the Artists’ Gallery will open with a body of new oil paintings by Jeanne Saulsbury in “From the Land of Pleasant Living.” Jody Primoff will also be featured and will be showing her paintings created in mixed media, acrylic, ink, and watercolor.

Book lovers will want to drop by Twigs and Teacups. 111 S Cross St., to meet author Gail Priest. Eastern Shore Shorts is Gail’s new release of short stories all set in familiar towns on the Eastern Shore, including Chestertown! Get your copy inscribed by Gail.

There are special guests and activities at plenty of other downtown shops, as well. Welcome Home is hosting River Warrior Yoga and Purple Lilly Studios. The Finishing Touch is hosting Big Brothers Big Sisters, while Gabriel’s of Chestertown is hosting the Soroptimists, She-She is hosting Kent Cares, and The Historical Society of Kent County is hosting the Daughters of the American Revolution. And don’t miss the new juried June exhibit, “Art & Process”, opening Friday at River Arts located in the gallery behind Dunkin Donuts. 

Looking for something to entertain the kids? Drop them off for a fun night of art-making at Kid’s Night at Kaleidoscope, 312 Cannon St.! This kids-only art party will include painting, tie-dying, and art games from 5 to 7 p.m. For ages 4 and up, $20 admission. While you’re there, ask about summer art classes for kids. 

There will also be tasty snacks and little sips available in shops and galleries all over town. Or drop by Bad Alfred’s Distilling or the Pub at the Imperial all evening long.

What could possibly top First Friday? Well, June is the beginning of the National Music Festival – a month-long celebration of the musical arts all over Kent County.

Check out the concert schedule and be ready to be amazed!

An open-air brass group performs at a previous National Music Festival

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.

RiverArts’ Annual Empty Bowls Raises $4500 for Food Pantry


Chestertown’s 8th Annual Empty Bowls, sponsored by the RiverArts Clay Studio, is pleased to announce that it raised $4500 in funds for to benefit the Kent County Food Pantry. This popular community event was held April 11 at the First United Methodist Church.

For the price of a $25 ticket, $10 for students with ID, guests enjoyed a meal of soup, bread, and dessert in a keepsake handmade pottery bowl. The Clay Studio potters  created the bowls, which are a reminder of all the empty bowls in the world.

This event was sponsored by Chestertown RiverArts, the Kent County Arts Council, Bookplate, MassoniArt, Mimi’s Closet, Peaceful World Enterprise, and Welcome Home.

No one should go to bed hungry.

42nd Tea Party Festival Needs More Vendors


Just a few weeks before the 42nd Tea Party Festival, a couple of the Festival’s largest food vendors decided they can no longer participate due to a lack of volunteers. The Optimists, who sold crab cakes and fried clam strips, as well as Christ United Methodist Church who supplied the crowd with pit beef and a variety of kabobs, will not be at the Festival this year. Both organizations had a very large set-up and were known to feed many of the visitors

Tea Party president Sabine Harvey is worried. “Especially with the Clydesdales coming, we are expecting a larger crowd than usual,” she said. Even in regular years, the lines for food can be long and food vendors do sell out well before the end of the day. Harvey wonders how the Festival will feed and please the expected visitors.

Food vendor spots at the Festival are reserved for Kent County non-profit organizations. There are no upfront costs, but after the Festival each organizations pays 15% of their net profits back to the festival to cover the costs of insurance, security, port-a-potties, equipment, advertising, entertainment and much more. Organizations are asked to sell a signature dish which is preferable not the same as dishes that others are already selling. In addition, any organization can sell burgers, hotdogs and fries. If worse comes to worse, Harvey is considering breaking with tradition and asking local establishments to set up a food booth.

Any non-profit organization that is interested in participating in the Tea Party Festival can contact Harvey at greenbien@hotmail.com. The registration form is also available on the Festival’s website, chestertownteaparty.org


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


Self Driving Tour of 12 Kent County Museums set for May 5


A self driving tour of 12 museums in Kent County MD, will be held on Saturday, May 5 from 10am to 4pm. Appealing to all ages and interests, they exhibit the culture, lifestyles and history of this Eastern Shore county.Knowledgeable guides, some special events, and free admission await visitors. Brochures with a map available at Visitors Center, Kent Library, Sumner Hall and The Bordley Building in Chestertown. Supported by the Kent County Tourism Department and the Kent County Arts Council.

Massey Aero Museum: A living airport-museum reminiscent of rural airports of bygone eras. Vintage aircraft, artifacts and touch and feel exhibits. A restoration shop operates most days. Frequent fly-ins. Open 10-4 33541 Maryland Line Rd Massey MD 21650

Kent Museum: Farming equipment representing the rural heritage of agriculture and domestic life. Charley’s House c. 1840, last surviving dwelling of a small black community. Open 10 – 3 13869 Turners Creek Rd Kennedyville MD 21645

Knocks Folly 1796 Federal style brick home houses exhibits which highlight the history of farming, the native American Tockwogh tribe and visit of Captain John Smith during his voyage on the Chesapeake Bay. Open 10 – 4 3761 Turners Creek Rd Kennedyville, Md 21645

Betterton Heritage Museum Betterton Fishing Ark open for tours. Speed Joiner decoys on display. Photos show fishing and hunting as main occupations. Popular beach in early 1900’s with photos of the grand Rigbie Hotel. Gift Shop. Open 10 – 3:30100 Main St Betterton MD 21610

Bordley History Center Headquarters for the Historical Society of Kent County. Many resources are available to the researcher within the library, genealogical and archival spaces. Historical exhibits and shop. Open 10 – 3 301 High St Chestertown MD 21620

Sumner Hall Restored and listed on National Register of Historic Places, it honors African-American Civil War vets of Charles Sumner Post #25, Grand Army of the Republic and features historical roles of African-Americans in Kent County. Open 10 – 4 206 S. Queen St Chestertown Chestertown MD 21620

African-American Schoolhouse Interpretive panel and exterior viewing only. Still in its original location. St. James Newtown Rd, north of Worton MD 21678

Cliffs Schoolhouse One room school with seven grades and one teacher served families of rural southern Kent County from 1878-1939. Furnishings, books and artifacts of the era. Blackboards with lessons. In its original location. Open 10 – 4 Cliffs City Rt. 289 S 8.5 miles south of Chestertown MD 21620

Rock Hall Museum Hand crafted boat and ship models, decoy carving shop replica, seafood processing, boat oystering rig, ice buoy, representing the marine culture of Rock Hall. Open 10 – 4 5585 Main St Town Building, Rock Hall Md 21661

Waterman’s Museum Artifacts and a fishing shanty from the early days of oystering, crabbing and fishing. Photographic documentation of past and present watermen. Next to Haven Harbour Marina. Open 10 – 4 Rock Hall Avenue, Rock Hall MD 21661

Tolchester Beach Revisited Presents and preserves the history of this amusement park 1877 to 1962. Pictures, artifacts and memorabilia of the most popular resort along the Chesapeake Bay. Open 10 – 4 Oyster Court off Sharp & Main Rock Hall MD 21661

Rock Hall Marine Restoration and Heritage Center Located in the historic Clam House on Rock Hall’s harbor. “Steamboats on the Chesapeake and Chester River” exhibit shows the history of recreational and working vessels on the ‘Bay. Open 11-4 21083 Chesapeake Avenue Rock Hall MD 21661

For more information please contact Carol Cordes (cordescarolb@gmail.com) or John Schratwieser(john@kentcountyartscouncil.org)