Monday, February 16, 2004

Chestertown's African-American Civil War Veterans Hall Topic Of February 23rd Lecture

Chestertown, MD, February 16, 2004 — Washington College's C.V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience presents “With Sacred Vigilance: Chestertown's Charles Sumner Post,” a lecture by Kees de Mooy, Program Manager at the Center. The talk will be held Monday, February 23, at 4:30 p.m. in the College's Casey Academic Forum. The event is free and the public is invited to attend.
Few may know that on South Queen Street in Chestertown stands one of only two African-American Civil War veterans' halls left standing in the United States. Decaying and abandoned since 1985, the hall was built in 1908 by local African-American veterans of the Civil War, and named for the famous abolitionist Senator from Massachusetts, Charles Sumner. The Charles Sumner Post #25, Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R.) lodge, served a vital function in the local community. Members of the Sumner Post, including the Women's Relief Corps #1 (the first in Maryland), provided aid to fellow veterans, and the widows and orphans of Civil War soldiers. Army Hall, as it was commonly known, was used primarily for meetings and functions related to the veterans group, but was also rented out for graduation parties, weddings and musical performances. In 1937, Ella Fitzgerald and Chick Webb traveled by steamboat from Baltimore to perform on its second floor stage, and many other jazz notables passed through its doors. In 1955, the building was sold to the Centennial Beneficial Association, a group of men and women who formed themselves into “a society for the purpose of soothing the sorrows and softening the pillows of the sick and drying up the tears of the children.” Gradually, the building became known as Centennial Hall, and the structure's original name and function were all but forgotten.
The Charles Sumner Post is a living monument to African-American Civil War veterans and a vitally important part of local, state and national history. The C.V. Starr Center at Washington College and Preservation Incorporated—a local non-profit group dedicated to the building's restoration—raised the money to purchase this local treasure and save it from demolition. Restoring the building to its former glory will be a challenging but worthwhile undertaking.
De Mooy, a board member of Preservation Incorporated, will talk about the history of the post and its members, and discuss the restoration work that is planned. Funding and assistance for the project are provided by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Maryland Historical Trust, Preservation Incorporated, Kent County Heritage Trust, Historical Society of Kent County, C.V. Starr Center, Kent County Arts Council, and the many Friends of the Charles Sumner Post.

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