Cars on High Back for Third Year, Plans September Car Show

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Checking out the classic cars at Cars on High — car photos by Jane Jewell, 2017

At the Chestertown Council meeting, March 18, the council approved a third year of Cars on High, a monthly gathering of vintage car enthusiasts. For the event, the 300-block of High Street is closed off from 6 to 8 p.m. on the third Thursday of each month from April to October, weather permitting. Collectible cars are parked on both sides of the street and around Fountain Park for the public to enjoy. Cars on High is sponsored by Main Street Chestertown.

John Slocum, the organizer of the event, told the council that the turnout for Cars on High has increased over the first couple of years, with 20 to 25 each month during the first year and 30 to 40 a month during the second year. Owners bring their cars from as far away as Washington, DC, and Wilmington, Delaware, he said.

John Slocum of Cars on High at the Chestertown Council meeting, March 18

Slocum also announced that he would like to present a car show, tentatively the afternoon of Sept. 14. He said he would ideally like to close off the 200- and 300-blocks of High Street, depending on response. He said the idea of the show came about partly because the Cars on High events are drawing about 50 percent new exhibitors each month, so there are far more interested car owners than the monthly turnout suggests.

He said he would like to offer five to eight judged categories, and invited council members to participate as judges, along with downtown business owners and other “local folks.” He said, “I think it would be good for downtown and good for business, as well.”He said the entry fees, minus the cost of trophies for the winning cars, would be donated to the Chestertown Garden Club and Main Street Chestertown. He added, “There are some spectacular cars here in town and in the surrounding area, which we’ve all been shocked when they show up – because where are they the rest of the time?” He mentioned one resident who has 25 Ferraris – “He brings two of them out every month.”

As part of the proposed show, Slocum asked the council to allow the show to park five or six cars on the Fountain Park grass. These would be invited cars of special interest, he said. There was some discussion of how the park grass would be affected by having cars parked on it. Slocum said many famous car shows have the cars displayed on golf courses. He said the condition of the park is such that a few cars parked there for an afternoon wouldn’t make much difference. He said he’d be willing to plant grass if the areas could be roped off long enough for it to grow.

Ingersoll said that with the farmers’ market running year round, it’s nearly impossible to find a time when nobody is using a given area of the park. He said he thought the idea of the car show was “a great idea if done properly.” Slocum said he would email the council a diagram of where the cars would park. The council unanimously approved the permit for Cars on High, and tentatively approved the car show, pending Slocum’s providing more detailed plans.

Cars on High for 2019 begins on April 18.

Ted Capel and his wife, Brenda, and daughter, Kimberly, with his ’34 Plymouth hot rod.

Chestertown Rotary Award to Sumner Hall

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John Murray, president of the Chestertown Rotary Club (L) gives the club’s Dr. Paul Titsworth Service Award to Sumner Hall; President Larry Wilson accepts

At its regular luncheon meeting Tuesday, March 12, the Chestertown Rotary Club awarded Sumner Hall G.A.R. Post 25 the Dr. Paul Titsworth Service Award for 2019. The award is named for the former Washington College president who was one of the founding members of the Rotary Club in Chestertown.

The ceremonies were held in Sumner Hall, one of the last two remaining posts of the Grand Army of the Republic founded for and by black veterans of the Civil War. The Chestertown chapter of the G.A.R. was founded in 1882.  The hall, built in 1908, was named for Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner (1811-1874), a prominent opponent of slavery. It was an important social center for the local African American community for 60 years.

Sumner Hall

After the death of the last local black Civil War veterans in 1928, the building continued to serve as a gathering place, at one point hosting musical acts such as the Chick Webb band with a young Ella Fitzgerald on vocals, and the “all-girl” band, the Sweethearts of Rhythm.

The building fell into disrepair in the 1970s and deteriorated until the 1990s. It was scheduled for demolition until a group of preservationists entered into a campaign to restore it. The building was reopened in 2014 and is now on the National Register of Historic Places.

 

Vic Sensenig, Washington College Chief of Staff

At the award ceremony, Rotary president John Murray introduced Vic Sensenig, Washington College chief of staff, who gave a brief summary of Titsworth’s career at the college and as a Rotary founder in 1926. Titsworth came to Washington College in 1923 and served as president for 10 years. He is credited with transforming the college from a small local school to a recognized regional institution, increasing enrollment and raising academic standards. Sensenig quoted from an address Titsworth gave at graduation in 1931, in which he exhorted the students to dedicate themselves to community service, which he characterized as “a fine art.”

Rotarian Garret Falcone then gave a history of the service award, which is in its second year. The initial award was given in 2018 to the Save Our Hospital committee. Falcone then read from the nomination for Sumner Hall’s award, noting that it has become a “showcase for African American history and arts.” He cited Sumner Hall’s partnership with local institutions including the college and the public schools, the Kent County Library and the Historical Society to educate the public on the important contributions of African Americans to the community.

The award was then presented to Sumner Hall president Larry Wilson and 2nd vice president Barbara Foster. Wilson thanked everyone who attended the ceremony and invited them to return for other events and exhibits. He gave a brief history of the G.A.R. post, citing several of the founders and detailing its history of community service after the death of the Civil War veterans. He ended by quoting Sumner Hall’s mission, to preserve the building as “a place of remembrance,” to promote understanding of the African American experience, to honor the contributions of African American veterans, “to promote the pursuit of liberty for all, and to advocate for social justice.”

Titsworth, founding member and first president of Chestertown Rotarian CLub and President of Washington College from 1923-1933.

Foster described Sumner Hall as “a very special place,” with which she has been involved as a board member for five years. She recognized the courage of the founders for their effort to ensure that they and other veterans received the benefits they had been promised for their service. She also called attention to the hard work of restoring the building, returning it to the condition it was in during its heyday – recalling one older community member who looked at the restored building and said it was just the way he remembered it being when he had his wedding party there years ago.

She also recognized several of those who made special contributions, including Carolyn Brooks and Nina Johnson for helping forge a relationship with the Smithsonian Institution, Airlee Johnson for bringing the Legacy Day celebration to Sumner Hall, board treasurer Yvette Hynson, board members Dale Alexander, Larry Samuels, Ben Kohl of the Hedgelawn Foundation and Cheryl Hoopes, who is in charge of Sumner Hall’s participation in the Tea Party Festival this year.

In response to an audience question about upcoming events, Foster mentioned the appearance of saxophonist Jason Blythe and his band in the April 13 installation of the African American Roots concert series. She said the organization’s newsletter and email list are available to anyone and she invited Rotary members to sign up. She also gave a brief account of the other surviving African American G.A.R. post, in South Carolina.  The South Carolina G.A.R. building, though restored after fire damage, has no museum or artifacts and is only open by appointment or for rental events such as weddings and private parties.  Following the Civil War, there were hundreds of Grand Army of the Republic chapters across the country, some of which were integrated, others which were segregated by race.  The G.A.R. was equivalent in its place and importance in its day as the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars have been in more recent times.

At the end of the meeting, Rotarian Beverley Birkmire encouraged attendees to talk to members about the Rotary Club’s activities and meetings, every Tuesday at noon.

Sumner Hall board member Carolyn Brooks shows the Rotary Service Award

Larry Wilson, President of Sumner Hall and US Navy veteran

Remembering Owen McCoy

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Owen McCoy – in June 2018

Owen Stanton McCoy, manager of the Chestertown farmers market, died July 5 after suffering a series of strokes. He was in home hospice, surrounded by family.

Owen was a familiar figure not just at the farmers market, which he had managed since its reorganization in the 1980s, but at the Mainstay in Rock Hall, where he could be found taking tickets for almost every concert. He was a parishioner of Old St. Paul’s church, where he served on the vestry and sang in the choir for more than 25 years. And he was one of the many volunteers with Kent County 4-H, where he was a 4-H leader for more than 20 years, teaching aspiring farmers the ins and outs of raising goats.

Born Nov. 2, 1946, Owen grew up in Primos, Pa., the son of John and Mary McCoy. After graduating from the Haverford School, where he played on the football team, he attended Cornell University. He graduated in 1969 with a degree in horticulture and entered the Peace Corps, spending several years in the village of Hojancha, Costa Rica, where he taught agricultural techniques and took part in a program to collect and hatch sea turtle eggs to help increase the numbers of the endangered turtles.

He returned to Costa Rica many times in later life, visiting friends he made during his Peace Corps service, taking family members to see this country and meet the people that meant so much to him. His daughter said he adopted the Costa Rican slogan, “pura vida,” meaning to live life to its fullest, a “pure life”.  As anyone who knew him will attest, he lived up to this slogan, a life well and fully lived.  His loss leaves a large hole in the community.

Owen began coming to Kent County to visit his married sister, Cindy Bankhead.  Then he bought land here in 1976 and had completely moved to Kent County by the early 1980s. He owned a farm outside Rock Hall, raising goats, sheep, cattle, pigs, chicken, ducks, geese and turkeys — and a horse. He had a large orchard of various fruit trees.  He grew figs and persimmons and was known as “the fig man” to many farmers market patrons where he sold his farm’s produce. He took pride in cooking with ingredients from the farm.  He often brought his special home-made goat-milk fudge to parties and meetings. In addition to farming, he worked as a landscaper.

The McCoy family in October 2016- David Benton (son-in-law), Danya Benton (daughter), Owen McCoy, Josh Tyer (grandson), Grady Dierker (grandson, in arms), Kaia McCoy (daughter), David Dierker (son-in-law)

Friends remember his ready laugh and the twinkle in his eye, as well as his lifelong dedication to Philadelphia sports teams. In the latter capacity, he took his family to countless Phillies games — and was thrilled to see his Phillies win a World Series and the Eagles’ Super Bowl victory.

At a game, Owen, with daughters Kaia & Danya

Owen loved music.  He had a fine tenor voice and enjoyed singing – particularly Irish songs. He had a special fondness for what he called “hanged outlaw ballads,” such as “Roddy McCorley.” He also had a rich stock of Irish jokes, and his Irish heritage inspired him to learn to play the bagpipes.

He was for many years a member of Col. Leonard’s Irregulars, a band named for the road his farm was located on. Owen sang and played guitar in the group which performed regularly at the Chestertown Tea Party, and also appeared at the Mainstay, as well as performing St. Patrick’s Day concerts at Heron Point, Andy’s Bar, the Imperial Hotel, and other venues. It also formed the nucleus for a musical revue, “The Great War and the Lost Generation,” featuring songs of World War I and the Roaring 20s. The show was produced at the Prince Theater, Heron Point, and the Mainstay in the early 2000s.

Owen McCoy singing at the Imperial Hotel on St. Patrick’s Day ca 2014

Owen appeared in several productions at Church Hill Theater, playing the lead in “Damn Yankees” and adding his strong voice to other musicals including “South Pacific,” “Brigadoon,” and “Once Upon This Island.

He was also one of the founders of the “Natural Living Exchange” potluck dinner, which he attended regularly for more than 30 years — including the most recent dinner at the end of April just days before his first stroke, when many of his friends saw him for the last time.

Owen McCoy – Manager of the Chestertown Farmers’ Market since the early 1980s

He is survived by his daughters Danya Benton (David Benton) of Chestertown and Kailee McCoy (David Dierker) of Rock Hall; grandchildren Joshuah Tyer, Grady Dierker, and his sister Celinda Bankhead.  A new baby sister for Grady and first granddaughter for Owen is expected any day now. 

Memorial services will be held at 2 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 4 in St. Paul’s. A celebration of his life will be held at a later date.

Contributions in his memory may be made to Kent County 4-H or to Compass Regional Hospice.

Photo Gallery byFamily and Friends

Owen McCoy in Phillies shirt and crown – June 2018

Can you find young Owen? Answer at bottom of Photo Gallery – Primos, PA Elementary School, 5th grade 1957-58

Peter Heck & Owen McCoy play at Chestertown Tea Party 2015 – photo from Owen’s FaceBook page, photo credit Steve Atkinson

Owen McCoy with his grandson Josh Tyer in 2015

An incredibly young Owen McCoy with baby Danya in early 1980s

Owen McCoy on a visit with fellow musicians to the Martin Guitar factory in Nazareth, PA, several years ago.

Owen McCoy at Chestertown Farmers Market

Owen McCoy at home on his Kent County farm – happy as a pig!

Primos Elementary School picture above – Owen McCoy 2nd row, 3rd from left in a striped shirt between two girls.

 

 

 

 

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

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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

A Visit to the African American Museum

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National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, DC. The building design was based on a traditional West African hat style.

Saturday, Feb. 17, 55 local residents traveled by bus to the National Museum of African American History and Culture, on a trip organized by Sumner Hall. It was a striking and memorable experience – a powerful reminder of the stark history of African Americans and of the enormous contributions they have made to our nation.

The bus pulled out of the parking lot in Chestertown a little after 8:30 a.m. The weather was good — cold but sunny with a blue sky– and we were at the museum in less than an hour and a half, arriving in Washington in plenty of time for our 11 a.m. appointment.  That gave the group  over five hours to explore the exhibits – and eat lunch – before the 4 p.m. return trip. While that may seem plenty of time, it was barely time to scratch the surface of this incredible rich institution.

The museum was packed – like all Smithsonian museums, admission is free, and the African American museum has been enormously popular ever since it opened not quite a year and a half ago in Sept, 2016. Going to the museum will give you a clear indication just how rich and complex the African-American contribution to our society has been. To draw on an area I happen to know a fair bit about, my first reaction in walking around the musical exhibit that occupies much of the top floor was astonishment at just how much the museum has packed in. Here’s Chuck Berry’s bright red Cadillac convertible, as well as one of his guitars; here’s footage of Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie playing “Hot House” on a 1952 TV show; here’s the gown Marian Anderson wore at her historic concert at the Lincoln Memorial; here’s the Mothership that the funk bands Parliament and Funkadelic used in stage shows; here’s Leadbelly’s 12-string guitar; here’s a photo of Robert Johnson I didn’t know existed – and that’s just scratching the surface. The mind boggles!

Dizzy’s horn

Then I began to notice what wasn’t there – or at least what I didn’t find in the hour or so I walked through the musical exhibits. Was there anything about Lester Young or the Mills Brothers or James P. Johnson or Nina Simone – or did I miss it? And then I realized there just isn’t room for all that – they’d need a building bigger than the one they have, just dedicated to the music, and they’d still have to pick and choose to get in a representative sample of the subject matter – and there’d still be gaps in the coverage. That brought home even more powerfully the impact of black Americans on music. And if that’s true of one area, what does it say about the museum as a whole? The same has to be true of its coverage of writers, athletes, painters and sculptors, and all the other areas where African Americans have made an impact on our national culture. Ultimately, I came away even more impressed with what the museum has done.

That was especially true of the historical displays, which make up the bottom three floors of the museum, covering a range from the earliest days of slavery through the modern era. The exhibits present detailed, often intense, documentation of the African American experience in the New World – full of historical maps, documents, archaeological artifacts from Africa, Europe, and the Americas, with ample audio-visual material to put them all in context. An entire slave cabin from the Carolina coast sits in the middle of one floor; one of the Tuskegee Airmen’s planes hangs from the ceiling as you go up the ramps between floors; life-sized statues of historical figures are spread around the exhibit. Seeing it all in a single visit is literally impossible – even if you take in only the surface aspects. A good idea on your first visit – an opportunity we missed, but will probably take up next time we go – is to follow around one of the docents guiding tour groups. But again, to really appreciate it, you need to plan more than one visit. It’s well worth it.  There’s even a section on African Americans and the Chesapeake Bay with a display about the Eastern Shore of Maryland including black watermen and the seafood industry.

Upon our arrival at the museum, the group split up into smaller groups, each exploring on their own, at their own pace. A few who had been to the museum before were helpful with their recommendations of things to seek out. Many groups met up again around lunchtime in the museum cafe, where the menu features dishes from the various African American communities — catfish, fried chicken, grits, gumbo, the whole range of American soul food –an important aspect of the culture the museum documents. (Also note — outside food can’t be brought into the museum, so you might as well enjoy the cafe.)

Even in our five-hour visit, we saw far more than one article can possibly include (we plan to do several follow-up stories in the Spy to try to do the museum justice). But a few vignettes stuck out, A young man stood by the statue the  of the 1968 Black Power protest at the Mexico City Olympics, raising his fist in emulation; a group of Naval Academy cadets in uniform toured the museum, solemnly taking in the history; teenagers took in the exhibits, for once looking at something other than their cell phones. And at almost every turn people could be heard responding to what they were seeing.  It wasn’t a loud crowd. People were speaking quietly, respectfully.  And they were polite and considerate, moving aside for people, offering to take pictures for each other.  Neither was it a completely somber atmosphere.  The history exhibits were unflinching in their stark and honest portrayal of slavery, segregation, and oppression but they also showed how enslaved peoples managed to find love and joy in their lives, despite the constant hardships. The culture sections on music, arts, and sports literally had people dancing around, excited and laughing as they came across artists they remembered from their youth or saw some new, beautiful work of art.  Displays on African Americans in the military and as entrepreneurs were inspiring and enlightening.   A truly involving experience for everyone!

Airplane flown by the famous Tuskegee pilots in World War II

We noted above that the museum is crowded. This is good, in that people are making an effort to learn about and understand this vital element of our history and culture. But it makes for a challenging experience at times. For some displays, standing in front of the exhibit long enough to absorb all the information felt awkward when there were lots of other people waiting to get a look. When that happened, we just walked ahead or dropped back to find an uncrowded exhibit. Be aware that there’s a lot of walking to see everything but there were also frequent benches where you could take a quick break as well as escalators and an elevator. You’ll definitely want to go back several times to really get all this museum has to offer. Several people on our tour had been before and still were eager to go this time and commented on how much they enjoyed a repeat visit, seeing things they hadn’t before. The next time we go, we’ll try for a week day, when crowds are likely to be a bit smaller.

The weather had been very good in the morning when we left, but snow and sleet had been  predicted and it showed up right on time for the trip home.   Joe, our Jor-Lin bus driver, was an excellent driver and guide.  The trip back took over two hours and we saw several cars in the ditch on 301 on this side of the Bay Bridge.  But we made it back to Sumner Hall without incident – thank you, Joe! – where most of us trooped inside to feast off a sumptuous spread of hors d’ouvres, desserts, and some fabulous chicken salad with  wine and other drinks on  hand.   All this in honor not of the bus trip but for the reception before author and Patrick Henry Fellow Will Haygood’s speech at 7 p.m., which some of the more indefatigable members of the bus trip stayed to attend. (More to come on Haygood in future Spy articles.)

All in all, it was a wonderful day at the museum.

Tickets for the National Museum of African American History and Culture, though free, must be ordered in advance — go to the museum’s website. The museum is sold out until June, so plan ahead — and try for a weekday, if you can, to reduce the crowd pressure. It’s well worth waiting for.

Photo Gallery by Peter Heck and Jane Jewell

Chuck Berry’s Cadillac Eldorado – a favorite place to get your picture taken

The P-Funk Mothership AKA The Holy Mothership – a key feature of the stage act of the Funkadelic and Parliament bands’ concerts.

Statue of 1968 Olympic Protest

Henry Highland Garnet – born in Kent County – escaped slave, civil rights activist, and first Black minister to preach in congress

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Chester River Bridge

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We often cross the Chester River Bridge several times a day, appreciating the view of the river as we go but not really thinking much about the bridge itself.  Yet this bridge is a lifeline, a vital link connecting Chestertown and Kent County to Queen Anne’s County and the rest of Maryland.

The bridge’s importance came into focus not so long ago when The State Highway Administration (SHA) announced that the bridge would be closed for inspection, maintenance, and painting for four to six weeks in the summer of 2016.  In the summer?  Tourist season?  Unthinkable!

The proposal met with opposition from the entire local community, which cited the disruption to businesses, access to the hospital and other facets of local life. Traffic between Queen Anne’s and Kent counties would have been required to cross either at Crumpton or Millington, a rather long detour for many who live just across the bridge from Chestertown, who can often see Chestertown from their own yards .  What was normally a quick, five-minute drive from Kingstown to the grocery store in Chestertown would suddenly be a 30-minute, 15-mile drive down to Crumpton, across the bridge there, then back up to Chestertown.  Then reverse it for another 30-minute, 15-mile drive back home.  Given that choice, Chester Harbor residents and others on the QA side of the river might decide it was easier to drive 20 minutes to Centreville for groceries. Chestertown might never regain their business.

However, those who live on one side of the Chester River but work on the other would have no alternative.  They in their cars would have to schlep through Crumpton and over that bridge every day.  Both ways.

Emergency workers worried about quick access to the hospital for residents on the other side of the bridge.  Could heart attack or accident victims get there in time?  And what about fires?  Could firetrucks get to the scene in time?  The Chester River Bridge was not just scenic; it was essential.

Eventually, a task force of residents, business owners and government officials from both counties hammered out a plan requiring closure of the bridge only at night for the necessary work and in the fall after the summer season. The agreement left the bridge open for the town’s Harry Potter festival and Downrigging weekend, both of which bring significant numbers of tourists – and revenue! – to town.

The maintenance work and painting was completed in the fall of 2016, and the SHA gave the bridge a clean bill of health, stating that the paint was expected to last another 20 to 25 years. And in fact, the older bridge it replaced had lasted more than a century.  (Bayly La Palme, in a presentation at the Historical Society of Kent County in November last year, gave a fascinating overview of the Chester River crossings – of which the current bridge is the third. Copies of her article “The Old Chester River Bridge” are available from the Historical Society.)

But that completion of the maintenance just over a year ago didn’t end the controversies about the span. As long ago as the 1960s, residents proposed the need for a second bridge to take heavy truck traffic around rather than through Chestertown.  A second bridge would also serve as a backup, an alternate route whenever there might be problems or closures of the other bridge. With an estimated 17,000 vehicles crossing the bridge daily, the congestion on local streets can be considerable, especially on Rt 213 – Maple and Washington Avenues.  The SHA now prefers the word “boulevard” to “bypass” but the function is the same.  Many residents blame the vibration of heavy trucks for damage to historic homes along the main routes through town. The Kent County Commissioners have regularly included a second Chester River bridge in their annual list of infrastructure priorities presented to the state for some 25 years.

The SHA, between 2007 and 2010, conducted a study for a second bridge over the Chester River at Chestertown. In the process, it looked at several options for the location, including a bridge entering Chestertown at the foot of High Street – an idea instantly rejected by residents as making the existing problems even worse. The route eventually identified as best ran east of town, running from the vicinity of Chester Harbor on the QA side to a route behind the property currently owned by KRM and being used for the new Dixon Valve warehouse. It would have connected to route 213 in the vicinity of Worton road.

That proposal met with strong opposition from Chester Harbor residents, who objected to a major road and bridge being built in close proximity to their quiet residential subdivision. Perhaps more important, from SHA’s point of view, was the multimillion-dollar cost of such a project, especially as it was in one of the less populous areas of the state. And while a second bridge across the Chester is high on Kent County’s priority list, Queen Anne’s is much more interested in the heavily-traveled Route 50 corridor between the Bay Bridge and Ocean City.

Recently, a Spy reader raised the question of the bridge’s condition in an email, writing, ” I understand that the Chester River Bridge was built in 1929 and was presumably sized for vehicles at that time. I was again startled driving across it on Friday to see a large semi-trailer loaded with pallets coming the other way.  God only knows how much it weighed.  I looked to see if there are any weight limits on the Chester River sign and there are none.  I do not know about you but I find that surprising because I frequently see less essential bridges with size limits.  Why is there no size limit on the Chester River Bridge? Why can’t the large trucks simply be routed up 544 to 301 and then down?”

The Spy checked and discovered that, in fact, according to the SHA website, there is no weight limit for the bridge – or, for that matter, on the other two state-maintained bridges in Kent County, one in Georgetown and the other in Crumpton.

Given the age of the bridge, it seems rather surprising that there is no weight limit. The question arises, has the bridge gone beyond its normal life expectancy?  The SHA’s 2010 study rated the bridge as “functionally obsolete,” though it also found that the bridge is “NOT structurally deficient.”

The study found that “The bridge across the Chester River has an ADT [Average Daily Traffic] of approximately 17,000 vehicles per day with about 10% of the vehicles being trucks or buses. Most of the trucks are classified as light or medium. The light and medium trucks are 7.5% of the total traffic. The average daily traffic volumes along High Street range from 2,000 vehicles per day south of Cross St. to approximately 11,600 vehicles per day between MD 291 and MD 514.”
The study continued by forecasting that if no second bridge is built by 2030 “…traffic volumes are anticipated to increase to approximately 9,000 to 28,600 vehicles per day along MD 213 with the highest volumes being south of the MD 291 intersection. The traffic volume across the Chester River Bridge is expected to grow to approximately 26,000 vehicles per day [by 2030].”

The complete 2010 SHA study is online here.

It has also been suggested that improvements on Route 301 now underway in Delaware may lead to much of the truck traffic now using Route 213 shifting to that route, which could potentially eliminate the need for the “boulevard.”

But that is only a possibility. There are still many questions about the current bridge and the need/prospects for a second bridge.  What does the state’s pronouncement of the bridge being “functionally obsolete” mean in practical terms?

The last study was completed in 2010; is a new study in order?

Hopefully, the various issues concerning the current “functionally obsolete” but “NOT structurally deficient” Chester River bridge will continue to be explored.  However, the towns and counties affected can argue and lobby all they want, but  the decision will ultimately be made at the state level. The state is not averse to spending money on local infrastructure — the roundabout at the top of High Street in Chestertown is a recent example. But realistically, the financial constraints and a lack of agreement on a location mean that a second Chestertown bridge with accompanying bypass, no matter how much they are needed, are unlikely to be in the cards in the foreseeable future.

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Chester River Bridge Work Monday, Dec 18, May Cause Delays or Brief Closures

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The Chester River Bridge at Chestertown on Rt 213. 

The Maryland  State Highway Administration, as part of the State’s Bridge Preservation Program, will have a contractor performing routine maintenance operations on the Route 213 drawbridge over the Chester River on Monday, December 18.

According to an email from Bob Rager, SHA District Community Liaison, work will be done from 9  a.m. to 3 p.m. and may include test openings of the draw section of the bridge that should last no longer than those needed for an average vessel’s passage. Travelers between Kent and Queen Anne’s counties should allow for possible delays or plan alternate routes.

Traffic should be able to cross during the maintenance work except for short intervals when the draw-bridge is being tested.  Closures of one lane are also possible.

  Work will be performed by Covington Machine and Welding, Inc. of Annapolis, Rager said.

“Project Protein” Completes First Year with St. Martin’s Food Pantry

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Sara McGill and Hunter Hague, employees at Harborview Farms, make a Project Protein delivery at Saint Martin’s. Since its inception last year, the program has provided more than18,000 pounds of bulk chicken from Mountaire Farms, thanks to the generosity of 12 business sponsors.

RIDGELY, MD –When you live in a rural community surrounded by farms that grow food, the idea that there are families right in your community who need food seems illogical. So when Trey Hill of Harborview Farms of Rock Hall learned that Saint Martin’s Ministries (SMM) of Ridgley was having a hard time keeping up with the demand for food in its pantry he brought together his team and people he knew in the agricultural community to create Project Protein, which is completing its first year.

Now Saint Martin’s Ministries says “thanks” to local volunteers and donors as the local agricultural community unites to complete the first year of Project Protein!

Project Protein is a monthly sponsorship program that has provided more than 250 Caroline County families with over 18,000 pounds of bulk chicken from Mountaire Farms. The way it works is that a business commits to a donation to SMM to cover the cost of purchasing the chicken. Hill and his team pick up the chicken from Mountaire Farms and deliver it to SMM food pantry for distribution to their clients.

For Hill, it is very much a united effort with the local agricultural community. “I am in a very fortunate position that I work with and do business with great people who were all alarmed by the fact that we live in an area that grows an abundance of food and yet we have people who are going hungry,” he says.

“When I mentioned this dilemma to my immediate Harborview team, I received a positive response and their support to use our agricultural connections to help these families in need. I then called twelve of the business partners that I work with and had each of them “sponsor” a month of chicken. Currently, the demand is just over 2,000 pounds per month and has been quite manageable given the great teamwork that exists within the community,” he adds.

In addition to Project Protein, the program has branched out to provide Thanksgiving dinner to 250 families with vegetables, fruit, bread and whole 6-pound roasters. Mountaire has agreed to provide Christmas dinner for 250 families as well.

For SMM the project is a great example of generous community response to a need. “Saint Martin’s is the place where the families who are struggling can go when they need help and hope,” says Deborah Hudson Vornbrock, executive director at SMM. “While we celebrate this season of giving, we want to say thank you to those who support Saint Martin’s 365 days of the year. Our volunteers, donors, and people like Trey Hill, his team at Harborview Farms, and the 12 businesses that committed to Project Protein are helping us make a difference in the community,” she adds.

Harborview Farms employee Gene Leonzio loads boxes of chicken into the Saint Martin’s freezer during a Project Protein delivery.

Project Protein has already received commitments for sponsors for 2018.  Hill is encouraged by the positive response. “The support from everyone has been overwhelming. I am very proud to be surrounded by such a compassionate and generous group of people,” he adds.

            The 2017 sponsors include Mid-Atlantic Farm Credit of Chestertown, Willard’s Argi-Service of Worton, Air-Ag, LLC of Laurel, DE, AET of North East, Binkley & Hurst of Seaford, DE, Joe Hickman Farm Management of Chestertown, FAM & M Insurance of Chestertown, Crop Production Services, Inc. of Centreville, William Loller Farm of Rock Hall, Atlantic Tractor with a combined effort for their stores in Cecilton, Queen Anne, Chestertown, and Clayton, DE, Pioneer Seed of Rock Hall and Hoober of Middletown, DE.

Saint Martin’s Ministries (SMM) of Ridgely, MD, is a non-profit organization that has provided a safety net for individuals and families living in poverty for more than three decades. SMM’s mission is to help meet basic human needs for impoverished people on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, to respect and affirm their dignity, and to address the root problems that perpetuate the cycle of poverty. SMM provides an array of services through a single point of entry, with a dignified case management approach, to address immediate and long-term needs. Its four assistance programs are its Food Pantry, Homelessness Prevention, Transitional Shelter and Thrift Store.

To learn more about Project Protein, please contact Deborah Hudson Vornbrock at (410) 634-2537 x 102 or by email at DHVornbrock@StMartinsMinistries.org. You can also visit StMartinsMinistries online or connect with them on Facebook (St. Martin’s Ministries).

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First Friday: Celebrate International Game Week at the Library

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In Celebration of International Games Week: Join Us for Game Night at the Library!

On First Friday, November 3rd, 5-7 pm, the Kent County Public Library and the Chestertown Recreation Commission are joining forces to celebrate International Games Week.

From familiar favorites to more modern games, there will be something for everyone! Try a round of “Bring Your Own Book” (don’t worry – we’ll have plenty of books on hand!), collaborate with a team of fearless adventures to see if you can survive the “Forbidden Island,” enjoy a familiar favorite family game, play life-sized chess, and more! 

If you’re curious about role-playing games, you’ll have the chance to learn about collaborative storytelling, character creation, and other elements that make narrative games engaging and fun to play.

Bring your friends, drop by, play games, and have fun!

For more information, visit the library’s website or call 410.778.3636.

First Friday, November 3  |  5-7 pm

Kent County Public Library  |  Chestertown Branch, 408 High St.

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