The Historical Society is the only organization dedicated to keeping the record of all aspects of Kent County history. The Society is determined that the history of Kent County remain an integral part of its future, and seeks to not only preserve but promote local history in such a way that it enhances the sense of place for both visitors and residents of Kent County. The organization also engages in facilitating preservation efforts whenever possible.
The Society offers resources for local history through its museum; research library; and programs, publications and website. We also offer a venue for history lovers to support history keeping, and to become an active and integral part of the community.
The Historical Society was founded in 1936 to preserve and disseminate information pertinent to local heritage; in 1958 the organization purchased the Geddes-Piper House, beginning a rehabilitation project that ushered in the significant restoration effort that led to the establishment of the Chestertown Historic District, now a National Landmark District. Through contributions and volunteer efforts, the Geddes-Piper was decorated and furnished with period pieces, and became the only of Kent County’s historic houses open to the public on a regular basis. In 1970, the Society organized the first walking tour of Chestertown’s Historic District, opening up the doors to historic homes and buildings on an annual basis.
In the 1980s, the Society partnered with Kent County and Chestertown in conducting an extensive site survey of many of the historic buildings throughout the county, primarily built before the 1860s. In the 1990s, the results of the survey were expanded upon, and the Society produced and published Historic Houses of Kent County, written by Michael Bourne, and edited by Eugene Johnstone. Now in its second printing, the book remainsan extraordinary work of architectural history.
In 2006, as the Society entered its 7th decade, it reevaluated its mission, and the products and services that it offered its community. A long range plan was developed in which the need to establish an accessible and comprehensive resource for Kent County history was emphasized.
An interpretive plan for the Geddes-Piper House exhibit space was developed, in which the period rooms are utilized as backdrops for the unfolding story of local history; funding from Maryland Heritage Areas, Stories of the Chesapeake Eastern Shore Heritage Area; and the Midshore Community Foundation made the implementation of the first major phase of this interpretive plan possible.
A significant private grant enabled the Society to begin a major emphasis on its library collection, the only library dedicated to local history. Items in the collection were properly encased in archival preservation materials by volunteers and student interns. A grant from the Hedgelawn Foundation made possible the purchase a cataloging software program. Through the efforts of staff, volunteers and interns, a major portion of the library’s collection has been cataloged, and the catalog is searchable from this site.
Beginning in 2007, the Society began publishing The Key to Old Kent, expanding upon the tradition of local history writing begun in the Society’s newsletter, Old Kent (now published simply as a newsletter).
In 2011, the Society produced The Key to Kent County History, a significant web resource for local history funded by the Maryland Historical Trust. Containing an overview of the story of Kent County by time period, with links to other websites, relevant holdings in the Society’s collection, essays, and other resources, this site serves as a framework to offer continually expanding resources on local history.
The organization continues to collect oral histories, nurture research and writing, and develop projects and programs that preserve, promote and make accessible the record of local history. The ultimate goal of the Society is a handicapped accessible facility to house the Society’s local history research library and offices..
In 2015, the Society opened the Bordley History Center on 301 High Street in the heart of downtown Chestertown as the new location for the Kent County Historical Society and late sold the Geddes Piper House.
We take very seriously our role as history keepers; after all, if a place does not keep its own history, then no one else will.
Please visit us, and be certain to join us for our annual Historic House Tour on the first Saturday in October. This tradition is one of the oldest historic house tours on the Eastern Shore.