Chestertown – Revolutionaries and convicts. Slave traders and heroes of the Underground Railroad. All of them will soon be returning to the streets of Chestertown, thanks to a new multimedia walking tour of the waterfront area that debuts to the public on October 9.
The new program, "History on the Waterfront: A Journey into Chestertown's Past," has been created by Washington College's C.V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience, working with students, faculty and staff, and members of the wider community.
Major funding was provided by the Maryland Humanities Council and other organizations, which saw the project as a landmark opportunity to connect Chestertown's rich history to the larger stories of America, of the Chesapeake region, and of freedom and slavery in the 18th century.
The audio-guided tour, lasting approximately one hour, will begin at the home of the Starr Center, the c. 1746 riverfront Custom House. As participants stroll along the historic waterfront, they will hear music, reenactments, and firsthand accounts of life in the colonial port.
Exploring the inside of the Custom House, they will delve into the lives of past residents, including Thomas Ringgold IV, who was both a leader in the fight for colonial rights and, at the same time, a large-scale slave trader.
Other actual historical figures in the tour include Isaac Mason, a young Chestertown slave who escaped through the Underground Railroad.
Participants will have an opportunity to see one of Washington College’s most treasured artifacts, a 200-year-old painting of Chestertown, done by an anonymous artist a few years after the Revolution. One of the very few surviving depictions of an 18th-century Chesapeake landscape, and perhaps the richest in detail, the painting provides a unique visual entry point into the world the tour recreates.
"History on the Waterfront" was orchestrated by the Starr Center's associate director, Jill Ogline Titus, and narrated by the Center's director, Adam Goodheart. The Center's program manager, Michael Buckley, who also produces the weekly radio series "Voices of the Chesapeake Bay," oversaw the technical aspects of the production.
Students and faculty across several Washington College departments offered their talents to the creation of the tour, which showcases College and community expertise not just in American history, but in music, drama, and audio production. Those familiar with the local scene may make out several familiar voices, including that of Kent County’s beloved vocalist Karen Somerville.
The project, which will eventually include a web component and virtual tour, is funded by grants from the Helen Clay Frick Foundation, the Stories of the Chesapeake Heritage Area, and the PNC Foundation Legacy Project, with support from the Maryland Humanities Council.
“The tour will connect the evocative landscape of the Chestertown waterfront to the powerful stories of those who once populated it,” Titus said. “In so doing, it will offer visitors and residents alike an opportunity to deepen their sense of place. In walking in the footsteps of sailors, adventurers, and slaves three centuries gone, they will encounter the unique character and history of the Chesapeake region in new ways."
"One of the reasons we are especially excited about launching this program is that although Chestertown is so rich in history, there are relatively few opportunities for members of the public to explore it in any depth," Goodheart noted. "We hope that as people stroll through our town, this will give them new sense of the lives that were lived and the history that was made here."
Beginning October 9 and continuing indefinitely, “History on the Waterfront” will be available Friday afternoons from noon to 4 p.m. and Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., with the exception of College holidays. Reservations to take the tour at other times may be made by calling 410-810-7161; please check the Starr Center website at http://starrcenter.washcoll.edu before visiting. Tours begin at the Custom House, 101 S. Water Street, at the intersection of Water and High Streets. They are free of charge.
* * *
About the Starr Center
The C.V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience explores our nation’s history – and particularly the legacy of its Founding era – in innovative ways. Through educational programs, scholarship, and public outreach, and especially by supporting and fostering the art of written history, the Starr Center seeks to bridge the divide between past and present, and between the academic world and the public at large. From its base in the circa-1746 Custom House along Chestertown’s colonial waterfront, the Center also serves as a portal onto a world of opportunities for Washington College students. Its guiding principle is that now more than ever, a wider understanding of our shared past is fundamental to the continuing success of America’s democratic experiment. For more information on the Center and on the Patrick Henry Fellowships, visit http://starrcenter.washcoll.edu.
This project was made possible by a grant from the PNC Foundation Legacy Project with support from the Maryland Humanities Council. The Maryland Humanities Council is an affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this program do not necessarily represent those of the PNC Foundation, the Maryland Humanities Council, or the National Endowment for the Humanities.