Monday, September 8, 2008

Historic House Becomes Washington College's Patrick Henry Fellows' Residence

Public Tours Announced

Chestertown, MD — It is one of the oldest houses in an 18th-century riverfront town filled with old houses. A witness to nearly three centuries of history, the venerable house is now a witness to the writing of history—as a residence for visiting scholars to Washington College.

When award-winning historian Henry Wiencek arrived in Chestertown this month to begin his year-long residency as the college's first-ever Patrick Henry Fellow, the circa-1735 Buck-Chambers House, newly restored and refurnished, began a new chapter of its life, as the Patrick Henry Fellows' Residence. The newly inaugurated Patrick Henry Fellowship, overseen by the College's C.V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience, offers a highly competitive yearlong residency to authors doing innovative work on America's founding era and its legacy.

Henry Wiencek is perhaps best known for An Imperfect God: George Washington, His Slaves, and the Creation of America, published in 2003 to superlative reviews and named Best Book of that year by the Society for Historians of the Early American Republic. His previous book, The Hairstons: An American Family in Black and White (St. Martin's, 1999)—the epic story of two extended southern families who share a surname and a legacy, though one is black and the other white—was a selection of the Book of the Month Club and the History Book Club.

Wiencek will use his year's residence in the Patrick Henry Fellows' Residence to complete a forthcoming book about Thomas Jefferson and his slaves. He also will teach a class at the College and be involved in many of its programs. He will have an office at the Starr Center, just down the street from the Fellows' Residence in the 18th-century Custom House.

The refurnishing of the Buck-Chambers House was truly a community effort. Donations of furniture, housewares, books, and artwork poured in from local residents eager to help make the house an inviting home for those writing new stories of our nation's past, and their families. The outpouring of generosity that furnished the house has made the Fellows' Residence one of Chestertown's special places, a tangible expression of the community's commitment to understanding and appreciating the past. Future generations of Patrick Henry Fellows will produce new works of history deeply shaped by their time inside its walls.

The public will have the opportunity to become acquainted (or reacquainted) with the life story of this noteworthy Chestertown landmark when Adam Goodheart, Hodson Trust-Griswold Director of the C.V. Starr Center, presents "The Buck-Chambers House: A Doorway Into Chestertown's Past" at Washington College's Litrenta Lecture Hall on Wednesday, October 1, at 7:30 p.m. Goodheart will explore the story of Chestertown through the story of the house, its occupants, and artifacts that have come to light during the restoration process. Litrenta Lecture Hall is located in the John S. Toll Science Center. Admission is free.

In conjunction with Goodheart's talk, the house will be open to the public for the first time since the completion of its restoration. In appreciation of community support for the house's rebirth as a home for writers, public tours of the Patrick Henry Fellows' Residence will be offered on Saturday, October 4, from 1 to 6 p.m. The tours are being presented in association with the Historical Society of Kent County's annual Chestertown house tour; those attending Goodheart's October 1 lecture will receive the requisite ticket granting access to the October 4 walk-through.

Located on Queen Street in the heart of the historic district, the Buck-Chambers House is, in addition to being one of the oldest buildings in Chestertown, perhaps the only one to preserve its 18th-century interior substantially intact.

The house has fascinating ties with American history, and with the history of Washington College, stretching back into the 18th century. An early owner, General Benjamin Chambers, was a Revolutionary War soldier who became the College's first treasurer in 1782, and later served as president of its Board of Visitors and Governors.

In recent decades, the house was the home of legendary English professor Norman James, and afterwards of Ted Widmer, the Starr Center's founding director, and his family.

Washington College bought the house in January 2007 with a $1.05 million gift from the Barksdale-Dabney-Patrick Henry Family Fund, established by the Nuttle family of Talbot County, direct descendants of the patriot Patrick Henry. The gift also made possible the house's restoration and furnishing, and will endow its longterm maintenance.

As the Patrick Henry Fellows' Residence, the house had its official unveiling with a ribbon-cutting ceremony on September 18.

For more information on the Buck-Chambers House lecture and tours, call 410/810-7161.

September 08, 2008

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