Heart of Chesapeake Area Heritage Board reviews 'good year'

By Debra R. Messick, Special To Dorchester Banner
Posted 12/20/22

The Heart of Chesapeake Area Heritage Board had a full slate to celebrate during its annual meeting last week at the Visitors Center at Sailwinds Park.

Board President Lou Hyman opened on an …

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Heart of Chesapeake Area Heritage Board reviews 'good year'


The Heart of Chesapeake Area Heritage Board had a full slate to celebrate during its annual meeting last week at the Visitors Center at Sailwinds Park.

Board President Lou Hyman opened on an upbeat note, commenting, “We’ve had a pretty good year."

Announcing the board's annual award nominees and funding recipients plus heritage projects in the works bolstered that positive outlook.

Hyman added that several substantive changes had occurred during the past year. These included a passing of the tourism department leadership baton, as well as the arrival of the “Beacon of Hope” statue, plus numerous events marking Harriet Tubman’s Bicentennial birth year.

The board also innovated its annual awards presentations, choosing to hold several localized ceremonies.

A noteworthy board vacancy occurred in July with the passing of East New Market Mayor Caroline Cline. To recognize her many years of dedication and lasting contributions, Cline posthumously received the Volunteer of the Year award; it was also renamed the Caroline Cline Volunteer of the Year Award in her honor.

Following the departure of Amanda Fenstermaker, Holly Gilpin stepped into the job of Dorchester County Tourism director. Gilpin also stepped up to head the Heritage Tourism department, and Hyman expressed gratitude for the considerable time and effort she contributed to the group's overall mission.

The Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad State Park and Visitors Center in Church Creek received the group’s Special Event of the Year award for its coordinated yearlong program of events and activities commemorating Tubman’s birth bicentennial, “Tubman 200.”

These included a March weekend celebrating Tubman's birth month; Birds of Tubman Country programs; downtown Cambridge walking tours focusing on Underground Railroad stories and people associated with Tubman’s life; screenings of Maryland Public Television’s extended trailer for “Harriet Tubman: Visions of Freedom”; lectures on vital roles played by Black Jacks and iron furnaces on the Underground Railroad; Tubman's Union Army service and the important roles women played in the Civil War; and a guided tour through the Visitor Center’s Legacy Garden and adjacent Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge showing how Tubman's landscape played a crucial role in the quest for freedom.

Two additional Tubman-related endeavors were among several receiving board mini grants of under $5,000. Alpha Genesis Community Development Corp. was given funding towards its filming and development of the Beacon of Hope statue site. The Harriet Tubman Museum and Education Center received a monetary award toward its series of four programs held over several weeks focusing on various aspects of Tubman’s life and legacy.

“Each program was thoughtfully crafted and very well attended, drawing 15 to 20 people from a cross section of the community, and those leading the events were also a diverse group,” according to Gilpin.

Mini grants were also given to the Friends of Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge toward installing its Night Sky observatory; the Choptank Heritage Trail; Nanticoke Historic Preservation Alliance, for repairs to Handsell House; the Spocott Windmill Foundation, also for repairs; and the Hurlock Fall Festival.

Several board members recalled attending the Hurlock Festival, expressing enjoyment and appreciation.

Board member John Avery, representing Hurlock, noted that he’d received comments of surprise that the event’s popular train ride ticket prices had been able to remain just $8.

Stating the town's desire to keep a train ride within reach of everyone, especially children, Avery thanked the group for the mini-grant funding which helped realize that goal.

In addition, four of nine county organizations nominated by the board received major funding grants from the Maryland Heritage Areas Authority, an unprecedented number.

“That’s almost unheard of,” Gilpin said. “You have some heritage areas that get one approved if they’re lucky. It was very exciting!”

Among the four was Nanticoke Historic Preservation Alliance for interior plaster and electrical work at Handsell House.

At-large board member Midge Ingersoll, also founder and trustee of Handsell’s parent Nanticoke Preservation organization, offered an update on the work’s progress and plans.

“We’re very grateful, and have started the plaster project. Jonas Miller, an expert historic mason, has secured all the plaster in the walls, and he has removed the old ceiling, so the electricians can rewire the chandeliers,” Ingersoll said.

Rather than actually replastering the venerable structure’s brick walls, Miller’s work is “more of a preservation project, rather than a restoration, stabilizing them so that remaining plaster won't continue to fall off,” she added.  However, the ceiling, which was falling down in chunks, will be replastered. To seamlessly incorporate the new work into Handsell's historic appearance, Miller is developing techniques and finishes featuring subtle blending of grays and beiges, Ingersoll said.

Alpha Genesis also received funding to cover some of the considerable costs of putting together the pivotal Beacon of Hope statue unveiling presentation event last September.

In addition, Dorchester’s efforts on behalf of two multi-county programs also won funding, the first of which involves developing a plan to interpret local areas of the Chesapeake Country Byway (spanning the Eastern Shore from Chesapeake City to Crisfield) and the second to document local indigenous history for the Maryland State Archives Indigenous People Project.

Representing the lower part of the county, the South Dorchester Folk Museum received the outstanding Organization of the Year award, to be officially presented during the museum’s upcoming January meeting.

Meanwhile, one of the Heritage board’s new projects involves Medicine Hill, located halfway between Hoopers Island and Golden Hill, featuring a homestead, doctor’s office, store and a small post office, dating from the 1800s.

“Before roads became effective, a rowboat was needed to get there,” Hyman said.

 “We’re working to restore the site, which is critically located right at high tide level. The day we announced that it had been listed on the National Register of Historic Sites, the driveway was flooded; we sort of waded in to go see it,” he continued.

Another upcoming project the group is excited about getting underway is the proposed Three Cultures Center at Handsell, which will involve a multi-year time frame.

The Heritage Tourism Board also plans to continue providing input to and monitoring of the Cambridge Waterfront Development project. V.P. Tom Bradshaw, who represents Vienna, offered to serve as the board's liaison to CWDI.

Several noard members raised concerns about preserving the city’s waterfront view and maritime history, and carefully considering its historic architectural integrity.

Closest to home is the redesign interior of the interior of the Visitors Center’s waterfront headquarters, an effort aimed at effectively drawing people to the lower-level display areas telling the story of Dorchester County’s history, culture, people and wildlife.

For more information, go to visitdorchester.org or call 410-228-1000.

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