The Electric Railway in Western Maryland

By Allison Luthern, Architectural Survey Administrator

A century ago, there were hundreds of miles of trolley (also known as electric railway) tracks that traversed the state of Maryland. One can easily imagine the prevalence of trolleys in the urban areas of Maryland around Baltimore, Annapolis, and Washington, DC. However, in the early twentieth century, trolleys also operated across the farmlands and mountains of western Maryland.

Trolley descending from Braddock Heights, 1919. Source: Blue Ridge Trolley: The Hagerstown and Frederick Railway
Trolley descending from Braddock Heights, 1919. Source: Blue Ridge Trolley: The Hagerstown and Frederick Railway

Options for the electric railway in western Maryland first began to be realized in Richmond, Virginia in 1888 when inventor Frank Sprague proved that electric traction could travel up and down steep grades. In fact, electric railway could climb steeper grades than conventional steam railway. Further, trolleys used a lighter track than steam-powered railway.

All electric railway enterprises in western Maryland were private (non-governmental) ventures. One of the first such companies, the Frederick and Middletown Railway, was motivated to provide faster transportation of farm produce to markets and to make money through passenger transport. Construction of the new railway line began at Patrick and Carroll Streets in Frederick. In addition to purchasing right-of-way, investors in the company also bought land on the ridge of Catoctin Mountain along the trolley’s future route to Middletown. They developed this area, known as Braddock Heights, into a summer resort village. In August 1896, the first trolleys began shuttling passengers between Frederick and Braddock Heights. This mountain resort contained an amusement park, observatory, dance pavilion, theater, carousel, slide, and casino, in addition to inns and private summer houses. By October of that year, the line extended to Middletown.

Braddock Heights slide, c. 1910s. Source:
Braddock Heights slide, c. 1910s. Source:

Throughout the early years of the twentieth century, various companies constructed lines connecting western Maryland. In 1904, a final passage constructed over South Mountain provided direct conveyance between Frederick and Hagerstown. This full trolley trip took 2 hours to traverse 29 miles with 3,000’ in elevation change.

In addition to linking cities, the electric railway in western Maryland also connected urban and suburban areas. For example, before the end of the nineteenth century, the Hagerstown Railway created a loop around the city of Hagerstown and lines into the heart of downtown on Washington and South Potomac Streets.

Hagerstown Public Square c. 1900. Source: Public Domain,
Hagerstown Public Square c. 1900. Source: Public Domain,

Also, the line connecting Hagerstown and Williamsport, which ran along US Route 11, had a high ridership as a suburban operation.  

The electric railway remained popular for several decades, but eventually several factors contributed to its decline in western Maryland. The companies who owned and operated the trolleys began to realize that they could make more money by selling the electricity that they produced to power their trains to homes and businesses instead. The Hagerstown and Frederick Railway company eventually became an electric utility business known as Potomac Edison. Through various consolidations and mergers, this company is known as FirstEnergy today.

Potomac Street, Williamsport c. 1910. Source: Library of Congress
Potomac Street, Williamsport c. 1910. Source: Library of Congress

The introduction of bus systems, including the Hagerstown city loop that passed the fairgrounds, and the improvement of roads for automobiles, including the reconstruction of US Route 40 over the mountains, also lead to the demise of electric railways. By the early 1950s, trolleys in Western Maryland ceased to provide passenger conveyance, and freight transportation lasted only several years longer.

Some of the places associated with the western Maryland electric railway systems have been retained and preserved. The Boonsboro Trolley Station was restored into a museum partly funded by MHT’s Historic Preservation Capital Grant Program. The Frederick Terminal and Office Building and the Washington and Frederick Railway Car Barn in Hagerstown also survive and are included in the Maryland Inventory of Historic Properties (more information can be found here and here). Additionally, the Hagerstown and Frederick Trolley Trail Association is working to convert the old trolley line between Thurmont and Frederick into a multi-use trail, an effort that was recently awarded a Maryland Heritage Area Authority grant!

Boonsboro Trolley Station. Source: MHT photo


Herbert H. Harwood, Jr., Blue Ridge Trolley: The Hagerstown and Frederick Railway. San Marino, CA: Golden West Books, 1970.

Janet L. Davis, “Braddock Heights Survey District,” Maryland Inventory of Historic Properties Form F-4-8. Crownsville, MD: Maryland Historical Trust, 1992.

Edie Wallace and Paula Reed, “Boonsboro Historic District,” National Register of Historic Places Registration Form. Washington, DC: National Park Service, 2004.

“Virtual Exhibit”, The Hagerstown and Frederick Railway Historical Society, Inc.

Announcing FY2020 MHT Capital Grant Recipients!

By Barbara Fisher, MHT Capital Grant Administrator

We are pleased to announce the FY2020 MHT Capital grant recipients!  The MHT Capital Grant Program provides support for preservation related construction projects as well as for architectural, engineering, archeology, and consulting services needed in the development of a construction project.  Acquisition of properties can also be funded.  All assisted properties are required to be either listed on or eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places.  Nonprofits, local jurisdictions, business entities, and individuals are all eligible.  Projects compete for funding out of our $600,000 program allotment and may request up to $100,000 per project.  

MHT received more than 40 applications for projects in FY2020, requesting over $2.7 million, which demonstrates the very strong demand for this funding. Ten projects were awarded funding for preservation projects throughout the state. MHT is excited to support these sites, which include unique projects such as saving a railroad tower from demolition, inspection of an unusual structural buttress, and restoring Tiffany & Company windows.  Read more about all our newly funded capital grant projects below. 

B&O WB Tower, Frederick County ($15,000) | Sponsor: Mayor and Council of Brunswick

Constructed circa 1910, the B&O WB Tower is the westbound railroad tower for the Brunswick stop and the last tower in operation on the line when it closed in 2011. This vernacular structure is an example of a typical building type for the B&O Railroad at that time. The tower is another link to Brunswick’s strong association with the railroad and interpreting local railroad history. The tower has been given to the City of Brunswick by CSX. Capital grant funds will be used to save the tower from demolition by moving it to a nearby parcel.

B&O WB Tower in Brunswick

Bostwick House, Prince George’s County ($76,000) | Sponsor: George A. and Carmel D. Aman Memorial Trust

Bostwick House is one of four pre-Revolutionary war structures in Bladensburg. Built in 1746 for a prominent merchant, the two-and-a-half-story brick house dominates the property that overlooks the Anacostia River at the former Port of Bladensburg. Capital grant funds will be used for a structural analysis and repairs on the buttress at the south elevation. The buttress was damaged by a microburst weather event in 2012, and then partially deconstructed and studied to understand its purpose as a structural element. 

Structural buttress at Bostwick, then (1890) and now, Bladensburg

Calvin B. Taylor House, Worcester County ($45,000) | Sponsor: Berlin Heritage Foundation, Inc.

The Calvin B. Taylor House is an 1832 front-gable dwelling with Federal and Greek revival architectural features. The house type and style is distinct to Berlin and Worcester County. ​Today the property houses a museum and has been meticulously restored and furnished to reflect domestic life in the 1830s. The wood shingle roof of the building has reached the end of its useful life, so the capital grant funds will be used to replace the roof in-kind. 

Christ Rock M.E. Church, Dorchester County ($13,000) | Sponsor: The Friends of Stanley Institute, Inc.

Christ Rock Church was constructed in 1875. Along with the Stanley Institute School, they are the focus of the African American settlement that arose at Christ Rock, outside of Cambridge, just after the Civil War. The church is no longer used for religious purposes and is now a community center. As part of an ongoing capital project, the church has completed repairs to the building as well as interior work, including faux wood grain restoration. Capital grant funds will be used to repaint the exterior to protect the wood siding, which will help the church reach its final steps to completing their overall capital project. 

Christ Rock M.E. Church, outside Cambridge

Ebenezer A.M.E. Church, Baltimore City ($100,000) | Sponsor: Ebenezer Kingdom Builders Inc.

Built in 1865 for a congregation organized in 1836, Ebenezer A.M.E. Church is thought to be the oldest standing church in Baltimore that was erected by African Americans and continuously occupied by the descendants of the same congregation. This brick Gothic Revival church has a prominent bell tower and the parish house is located in an adjoining rowhouse. Capital grant funds will be used to complete replacement of the slate roof repair, which has reached the end of its useful life.

His Lordship’s Kindness, Prince George’s County ($100,000) | Sponsor: John M. and Sara R. Walton Foundation, Inc.

His Lordship’s Kindness, a National Historic Landmark, is known for its landscape, variety of original outbuildings, and the main house, Poplar Hill. The two-story brick, five-part house is an exemplary specimen of Georgian architecture. The capital grant funds will be used for urgent work on both the main house and outbuildings, where priorities have been identified including woodwork and roof repairs.  

Outbuildings at His Lordship’s Kindness, Clinton

Lovely Lane United Methodist Church, Baltimore City ($100,000) | Sponsor: The Trustees of the Methodist Episcopal Church in the City and Precincts of Baltimore

Constructed 1882-1887, Lovely Lane Methodist Church is the Mother Church of American Methodism and was designed by noted architect Stanford White, of McKim, Meade, and White in the Romanesque Revival style. The entire exterior is constructed of gray ashlar rock-face Port Deposit granite. The chapel has 27 original stained glass windows made by Louis C. Tiffany and Company. The capital grant funds will be used to restore and repair the stained glass windows, which depict beautiful abstract shapes and colors. Several windows were intended to be temporary, installed before the building’s dedication, and are considered rare. The church has also received a $250,000 National Fund for Sacred Places grant, the only one in Maryland. 

Lovely Lane United Methodist Church, Baltimore City

Mount Clare Museum, Baltimore City ($11,000) | Sponsor: The National Society of the Colonial Dames of America in the State of Maryland, Inc.

The Mount Clare Mansion is an 18th century five-part Georgian house with reconstructed wings and hyphens. Also a National Historic Landmark, the house historically belonged to the Carroll Family and is now a public museum with meeting space, while the grounds are part of Carroll Park. Capital grant funds will be used to repair the exterior doors of the house that were badly damaged during an attempted break-in. 

National Park Seminary, Montgomery County ($100,000) | Sponsor: Save Our Seminary at Forest Glen Inc.

In 1887, National Park Seminary was originally constructed as a resort hotel, but spent most of its existence as an educational facility or under ownership of the U.S. Army. In 1927 the grand ballroom, in Ament Hall, was added. Unlike other structures on the campus, the ballroom has Gothic rather than Beaux-Arts features. Capital grant funds will be used to restore all 14 stained glass windows in the grand ballroom. The comprehensive repair of these windows addresses the last major component of the revitalization of the seminary complex’s main building.

Schifferstadt Architectural Museum, Frederick County ($40,000) | Sponsor: Frederick County Landmarks Foundation, Inc.

The Schifferstadt Architectural Museum is one of America’s finest examples of German colonial architecture. A National Historic Landmark, it is one of the earliest known homes in Frederick, and is an outstanding example of a Georgian-period house, influenced by German-American culture and building traditions. Comprised of two sections, a mid-18th century main block of fieldstone construction and an early 19th century brick addition, the highly intact interior retains numerous ethnically German features that speak to the heritage of immigrant Josef Brunner, who was responsible for the house’s construction. The capital grant funds will be used to prevent further water intrusion into the house by repairing windows and doors, installing a gutter system, and interior and exterior repointing of the masonry walls. 

***If you are planning to apply for the FY2021 MHT Capital grant round, workshops will be held this fall and applications will be due in March 2021. Workshops and other information will be announced on the MHT website, through our listserv, and social media accounts. For more information about the MHT Capital Grant Program, please contact Barbara Fisher, Capital Grant Administrator, at 

Highlighting the Maryland Heritage Areas Program’s New Grants Review Panel

By Andrew Arvizu and Ennis Barbery Smith, MHAA Assistant Administrators

Top row (left to right): Heather Ersts, Emily Falone, Kevin McDonald, Marina Herrera, Mary Callis, Eric Beckett, Tony Spencer; Middle row (left to right): Meagan Baco, Jacqueline Woodruff, Peter Morrill, John Seidel, Larry Brown, Ashley Samonisky; Bottom row (left to right): Francisco Ayala, Michial Gill, Tina Busko, Anne Raines, Rico Newman, Cathy Hardy Thompson, Nathan Cabrera

The Maryland Heritage Areas Program went about grants review differently this year. Due to COVID-19, the program held all of its grants review meetings and training sessions virtually, which presented some challenges, from difficult-to-hear audio to confusion about how to call-in. However, there were also bright spots. Reviewers stayed in their own homes across the state, where they could spread out their grants review materials, and – most importantly – they convened safely.

The more substantial change to the grants review process was who reviewed the 169 applications, requesting $7.7 million dollars in grant funds. This winter the Maryland Heritage Areas Program successfully formed a new Grants Review Panel, made up of 20 Marylanders who represent a wide range of areas of expertise related to heritage tourism and education.

In fall of 2019, the program held an open call for panelists, inviting members of the public to be a part of the FY 21 Maryland Heritage Areas Authority (MHAA) grants review process for the first time ever. Nearly 70 nominations were received, including nominations from six state agencies that are represented on MHAA, as well as nominations from Maryland’s ethnic and cultural commissions.

Today, we are highlighting the 20 panelists who attentively pored over budgets and project timelines, who learned the ins and outs of MHAA grants review over a series of group video calls, and who tirelessly weighed the merits of the many applications over two all-day virtual grants review meetings in June 2020.

The panelists include:

Francisco Ayala (Frederick, MD)
Francisco Ayala is representing the Governor’s Commission on Hispanic Affairs. He currently works as an Engagement Specialist for Kaiser Permanente. Previously, he studied Economics at Tecnológico De Monterrey with an emphasis on statistical analysis and business growth.

Meagan Baco (Baltimore City, MD)
Meagan Baco is the Director of Communications at Preservation Maryland, the state’s largest and oldest non-profit dedicated to Maryland’s history and heritage. Meagan is an inaugural fellow of the ARCUS Preservation Leadership program, and the Baltimore Planning Academy. They earned an M.S. in Historic Preservation from Clemson University and the College of Charleston, and a B.A. in Environmental Design from SUNY Buffalo. Previously, Meagan was Acting President of Preservation Action and a Historic Preservation Specialist at Clinton Brown Company Architecture. At Preservation Maryland, Meagan leads the organization’s state and national communications including major programs, like the Campaign for Historic Trades, Smart Growth Maryland, and PreserveCast. They also manage several public history projects including initiatives related to Maryland suffragists, labor history at Baltimore’s mills, and the first-of-its-kind Maryland LGBTQ Historic Context Statement.

Eric Beckett, Maryland Department of Transportation
Eric Beckett is the Deputy Director of the Office of Planning and Preliminary Engineering at the Maryland Department of Transportation. He entered this position after completing his M.A. in Urban Planning from the University of Michigan. With over eleven years of experience in the state agency, Eric brings a wealth of administrative and logistical knowledge. In the recent past, he has participated on grant reviews for the Transportation Alternatives, Safe Routes to Schools, and the Recreational Trails programs. Eric is representing the Maryland Department of Transportation and previously served on MHAA’s Technical Advisory Committee.   

Larry Brown, Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development
Larry D. Brown, Jr. is the Assistant Director of the Baltimore Region for the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development. He has a long tenure of service working for the state, the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhoods, and Neighborhood Housing Services (NHS) of Baltimore. He is committed to fostering community engagement and supporting equitable growth. He has over 13 years of experience in grant-making, project management, and administration. He received his B.S. in Management Science from Coppin State University and a Masters of Divinity from Family Bible College and Seminary. Larry is representing the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development, Division of Neighborhood Revitalization.

Tina Busko (Berlin, MD)
Tina Busko is the Executive Director of the Rackliffe House Trust. She received her B.S. in Horticulture and History from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. After moving to Maryland with her family, she worked as a Naturalist at Assateague State Park. In her current position, at the Rackliffe House Trust, she has become an expert in heritage tourism, grant writing, and administration.

Nathan Cabrera (Dundalk, MD)
Nathan is responsible for outreach and partnership development at Volunteer Maryland, an AmeriCorps program within the Maryland Governor’s Office of Community Initiatives. Nathan has received his B.S in Business Marketing and over his career has worked with merchants incorporating the National Main Street program to help grantees with commercial improvements, homeowners with curb appeal projects, host community events, grow social media presence and website design. In addition he’s overseen hundreds of volunteers and partnered with community leaders to help with clean-up and greening initiatives. Nathan’s friendly manner, can-do attitude, and tireless energy is used to build relationships and reaching people all across the State of Maryland.

Mary Callis (Oakland, MD)
Mary Callis is the Executive Director of the Garrett Lakes Arts Festival. Over her ten-year tenure as director she has engaged her community, built lasting partnerships, managed grants, and significantly grown the organization. She has a strong understanding of the impact of heritage tourism and the role that heritage can play in supporting community development.

Heather Ersts, Maryland Department of Commerce
Heather Ersts is the Partnership and Outreach Manager of the Department of Commerce Maryland Office of Tourism Development. She has over 25 years of experience in the museum field, including tenures at the Annapolis Maritime Museum and Historic Annapolis Foundation. She received her B.A. in History from the University of Maryland College Park, MA in History from George Mason University and her MA in the History of American Decorative Arts from Parsons School of Design/The Smithsonian Associates. Her professional experience has made her an expert in public history, grant writing/administration, and marketing. Heather is representing the Maryland Office of Tourism and served on MHAA’s Technical Advisory Committee.  

Emily Falone (Elkton, MD)
Emily Falone has thirty years of experience as the Delaware State Administrator for Emergency Programs. There, she oversaw numerous state and federal grants and chaired grant review boards. After retiring from her position with the State of Delaware, Emily has applied her expertise at the United States Department of Health and Human Services, where she currently works. She holds a B.S. in Biology and Geology from CUNY Brooklyn College and an M.S. in Geology from the University of Delaware.

Michial Gill, Ph.D., Maryland State Department of Education
Dr. Gill is the Director of Grants Administration at the Maryland State Department of Education. He received his B.S. in Counseling Psychology from the University of Carolina-Columbia, his M.A. in Business Management from Webster University, and his Ph.D. in Higher Education Administration from Morgan State University. With over 20 years of experience working with the state, Dr. Gill possesses a mastery of grants management and administration. Dr. Gill is representing the Maryland State Department of Education.

Marina Herrera (Accokeek, MD)
Marina Herrera is the Development Manager at the Accokeek Foundation at Piscataway Park, where she is responsible for managing and driving communication campaigns and annual fundraising to engage donors and supporters. Prior to joining the Accokeek Foundation, Marina worked in nonprofit development in the higher education space and, before that, as a nurse in geriatrics and Alzheimer’s/dementia care. She received her B.A. in English Studies from the University of New Mexico.

Kevin McDonald (North Bethesda, MD)
Kevin McDonald is the Digital Strategy Assistant at Glenstone Museum in Potomac, Maryland. He received his B.A. in Archaeology and Drama from Tufts University before completing his M.A. in Applied Anthropology and his Graduate Certificate in Museum Scholarship and Material Culture at the University of Maryland, College Park. His academic works, including “An Ethnobotany of the Vaults: A Student Reflection on Anthropology, Biocultural Collections, and Museum Research” and “How death disappeared from Halloween” have been published in esteemed journals like Practicing Anthropology. As a museum professional, he has extensive experience and expertise with exhibit planning, grant writing, and public outreach across the arts and culture sector.

Peter Morrill, Maryland Department of Natural Resources
Peter Morrill is the Curatorship and Cultural Resources Manager at the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. He completed his B.A. in Historic Preservation and Community Planning at the College of Charleston. With experience working for the National Park Service, Delaware State Parks, and the Maryland Historical Trust, Peter is an expert preservationist with experience in research, project management, grant writing, and property acquisition. He currently serves as a board member for Baltimore Heritage and the Maryland Military Monuments Commission. Peter is representing the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and served on MHAA’s Technical Advisory Committee.

Rico Newman (University Park, MD)
Rico Newman is a member of the Elders Council of the Choptico Band of Piscataway Indians. He retired from a career as a Cultural Information Specialist at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian and spent six years serving on the Maryland Commission on Indian Affairs. He currently devotes time to the Accokeek Foundation as a board member and resides in University Park, Maryland.

Anne Raines, Maryland Historical Trust
Anne B. Raines is Deputy Director and Deputy State Historic Preservation Officer at the Maryland Historical Trust (MHT), part of the Maryland Department of Planning.  After earning her Bachelor of Architecture at North Carolina State University, she worked for several years as an architect in the US and UK. She earned her M.Sc. in Architectural Conservation with distinction from Edinburgh College of Art (University of Edinburgh) in 2009; returning to the US, she worked as Capital Grants and Loans Administrator at MHT until assuming her current position in 2017. She is representing the Maryland Historical Trust on the panel.

Ashley Samonisky (Cambridge, MD)
Ashley Samonisky is the project manager of Vision Planning and Consulting, LLC. She has an extensive history of working with federal, state and local government in the fields of hazard mitigation, stakeholder engagement, and public outreach. She completed her B.S. in Emergency management at the University of Maryland and her B.S. in Geography at Salisbury University. Her capstone project centered on researching and mapping historic cemeteries in Dorchester County. In her current role at Vision Planning and Consulting, she uses her project management experience to offer guidance to state and local governments on a variety of projects.

John Seidel, Ph.D. (Chestertown, MD)
Dr. Seidel is an Associate Professor of Anthropology and the Director of the Center for Environment & Society at Washington College. He received a B.A. in Anthropology and Political Science from Drew University and M.A.s in American Civilization and Anthropology before completing his Ph.D. in Historical Archaeology at the University of Pennsylvania. Professionally, Dr. Seidel has over 40 years of experience in preservation and archaeology. Further, he has served on the board of numerous historical organizations including the Stories of the Chesapeake Heritage Area, the Maryland Humanities Council’s History Matters! Program, and the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum.

Anthony “Tony” Spencer (Annapolis, MD)
Born, raised, and educated in Anne Arundel County, Anthony J. “Tony” Spencer has an extensive background as an artist, as well as experience in public administration and a track record of serving his community. His CV includes time spent in the United States Marine Corps and a 23-year career with the Annapolis Fire Department. He holds a Master’s Degree in Public Administration and has served on the Anne Arundel County Public School Board, on the Maryland Association of Boards of Education, and as a grants evaluator for the Maryland State Board of Education. Mr. Spencer serves on and is representing the Maryland Commission on African American History and Culture.

Read more about Spencer, who chaired the new Grants Review Panel in its inaugural year, in a previous blog post.

Cathy Hardy Thompson (Charles County, MD)
Cathy Hardy Thompson is currently the Preservation and Long Range Planning Program Manager for the government of Charles County. Over the past 15 years, she has worked in a variety of capacities for the Charles County Government, including historic sites surveyor, preservation planner, and program manager. She has extensive experience writing and administering grants that support critical heritage tourism products.

Jacqueline Woodruff (Bowie, MD)
Jacqueline Woodruff serves as Grants Manager for the Maryland State Department of Education. She has an M.A. in Business Administration from the University of Maryland University College. This education led her to an impressive work history that includes serving as the acting program director at Lockheed Martin, as the regional coordinator of the Y in Central Maryland, and the executive director of The Vision Foundation. In her current role as grants manager, Jacqueline secures critical federal support for Maryland’s Department of Education. She is an expert in grant-making, project management and administration.


MHAA staff have been amazed by all the ways in which the panelists adapted to each new situation gracefully, and we look forward to working with them again next year. The panel’s recommendations for award will be reviewed at the Maryland Heritage Area Authority virtual meeting on July 9, 2020, which is open to the public.

Long Live the Chestertown Tea Party! (Guest Blog)

By Steven X. Lee

The Chestertown Tea Party Festival is one of Maryland’s quintessential ‘Local
Legacies.’ But this year it too succumbed to cancellation in the quake of the COVID-19
pandemic. In honor of the annual homage to Colonial Maryland’s claim for
Independence, I offer a passage from my forthcoming book, Story of Mr. Thomas Carney – A Maryland Patriot of the American Revolutionary War. Based on the actual war record of a free black enlistee, the work gives a glimpse into Revolutionary War Era Maryland from the perspective of an African American soldier and his family. Here, from the book’s second chapter, the fifty-year-old war hero recounts his experience as a twenty-year-old on a visit to Chestertown.

Now sometimes Pa would have us load our finest wagon with the goods of our farm: produce, crafts and treats, the wagon was like a little store. Then he and I would set out to sell at marketplaces around the Eastern Shore. One fine spring morning in May of 1774, Pa said “We’re a’goin’ to Chester,” and I was glad. Chester’s a grand old town with lots to do, interesting things to eat and drink, and all the latest news. Pa had a cousin there too we’d sometimes see, a waterman who lived near the end of Water Street, at Scott’s Point, Chestertown’s black community.

S. Water Street

South Water Street, Chestertown. While the original 18th and early 19th century houses
are no longer extant, this was once the area of a vibrant African American community known as
Scott’s Point.

However on this day the fine streets were packed with people, activity and uproar, our wagon could make but a crawl; Pa wondered “Have we come to town in the midst of a festival or a really big brawl?” When we finally reached the harbor, as I looked from the shore, there were ships out in the water, with men throwing things overboard: boxes and barrels, crates, papers and more.

Widehall&Tour 2016

Framing the left-side of the harbor’s main plaza, on S. Water Street at the end of High Street, this is the front façade of Widehall, the circa 1770 mansion of Thomas Smythe.

The Chester River had become a sea of bobbing articles and debris. A sailor in uniform was tossed into the water from a ship’s bow. Frantically he swam ashore, stood up and gestured at the men aboard while sounding a defiant vow. Cannons of the ships were fired up into the air, and musket fire from land joined in the fanfare. Even the seagulls, ducks, geese, and other birds of the shore, excitedly rose in frenzied synchronized flights, bringing the clear blue sky to life.

Ringing his bell, a town crier in a hat and waistcoat, yelled “Hear ye! Hear ye! Down with the British, their taxes and tea! We are Maryland, a land of liberty. Hear ye; hear ye!” The crowd’s roar swelled, and despite many a British jeer, the townspeople seemed to dance in revelry and good cheer.

Sultana2b 2-pic

The original 18th-century HMS Sultana patrolled the waterways of eastern American Colonies, including those of the Chesapeake Bay, for the British Royal Navy. It served to collect tea taxes as well as other customs duties, and guarded against smugglers. This Chestertown-built 2001 replica serves as a sailing classroom in Colonial history and environmental science for kids, and for re-enactments in the Chestertown Tea Party Festival.

It was Chestertown’s protest Tea Party we had happened upon they say, when we
came to sell our goods there that day. Maryland, with the other American Colonies,
was joining against the British way of rule and taxation. The Colonies wanted to be
their own new nation.

Chester remains a ‘grand old town.’ The vintage streets, architecture, fine harbor,
and birds of the shore can still be found.


The author, Commissioner Steven X. Lee, serves on the Maryland Commission of African American History & Culture, is Program Director of The Heritage Museum, and served as the Founding Director of the Benjamin Banneker Historical Park & Museum.

Story of Mr. Thomas Carney – A Maryland Patriot of the American Revolutionary War is anticipated to be released in 2021. For more information about the Chestertown Tea Party visit:, and on Chestertown’s history, visit the Historical Society of Kent County: