By Jen Sparenberg, Hazard Mitigation Program Officer
Easton’s Bottom and Hammond Town neighborhoods served vibrant African American communities in the decades after the Civil War. Located adjacent to “the Hill,” an early free African-American settlement, both neighborhoods have suffered a slow decline over decades. As Easton considers the redevelopment of nearby Easton Point, the Port Street Master Plan presents an opportunity to revitalize the Bottom and to record and interpret the history of the Bottom and Hammond Town.
As a first step towards documenting the history of both communities, the Chesapeake Multicultural Resource Center and Port Street Matters/the NAACP-Talbot County sponsored a community outreach meeting to record existing and vanished important places in the communities. Residents, ex-residents, and community elders met at the American Legion Blake-Blackston Post #77 in Easton to participate.
Large aerial maps of the Bottom, Hammond Town, Easton Point, and the Hill were set up as different stations with markers, pens and notepads so that residents could move between stations and record the location of important places on the maps and share their memories of those places. The mapping led to a lively discussion among residents as they shared their memories of growing up and living in the Bottom and Hammond Town.
What emerged from the memory mapping was a portrait of lively communities that were eroded over time by forces beyond the residents’ control. There were ballfields, pastures, schools, markets that sold fresh produce and seafood, retail establishments, places to eat and drink, a doctor’s office, a funeral home, a filling station and houses of worship – all owned and run by African Americans. Residents had few needs that could not be within the communities. Today, only a handful of the places remain and fewer still are African-American owned.
With further outreach and consideration of the Bottom and Hammond Town communities, the Port Street Master Plan has the potential to help rejuvenate the neighborhoods and bring businesses back in a way that benefits current residents. The project also offers an opportunity to conduct a historical investigation of the Bottom and Hammond Town: two communities that have been overlooked due to the prominence of the Hill, but which are no less important in telling the history of Easton.