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The Historical Society of Kent County is a non-profit organization dedicated to the collection and preservation of documents and information that aid in the interpretation of all aspects of Kent County’s history and of its people. The Society shares this information through its research library, museum, programs, publications, and website in order to foster a knowledge and understanding of the shared heritage of all parts of our community. The Society supports and encourages the preservation of historic buildings and sites throughout Kent County.
The Society is the only organization dedicated to keeping the record of all aspects of Kent County history and offers its resources to the residents and visitors. The Society is determined that the history of Kent County remains an integral part of its future, and seeks not only to preserve but promote local history in such a way that it enhances the sense of place for both residents and visitors of Kent County. The organization also facilitates preservation efforts whenever possible.
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, an 18th century Philadelphia-style townhouse that was threatened to be demolished. Its rehabilitation 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 House was restored, decorated, and furnished with period pieces, and was until 2015 the only Kent County historic house open to the public on a regular basis. The Geddes-Piper House remained the headquarters of the Society until 2015, when it was sold to private owners.
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. Suspended in 2020 and 2021 due to the Covid crisis, the Society hopes to hold its 50th House Tour in Spring 2022.
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 those built before the 1860. 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 remains an extraordinary work of architectural history and the single best authority on Kent County architecture.
In 2006, as the Society entered its 8th 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.
A significant private grant enabled the Society to begin a major emphasis on its library collection, the only library dedicated to local history. A grant from the Hedgelawn Foundation made possible the purchase a cataloging software program. Through the efforts of staff, volunteers and interns, a portion of the library’s collection has been cataloged using Past Perfect software, and that Past Perfect catalog is searchable from this site.
In 2007, the Society began publishing The Key to Old Kent, a series of essays on local history by local professional and amateur historians. The latest editions of this series focused on African American history and can be found here at the History tab.
In 2011, the Society produced “The Key to Kent County History,” contained here at the History tab. This is 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 Society 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.
In 2014, the Society was gifted a building at 301 High Street in the heart of historic downtown Chestertown by the family of Ellen Bordley Schottland, whose family operated a men’s clothing store there until the mid-1960s. Opened in 2015 as the Bordley History Center, the Center commands the principal corner of the Chestertown Historic District, sitting at High and Cross Streets immediately across from Fountain Park. The Center houses the Society’s museum, gift shop, research library, and administrative offices.
The Society is a membership organization, governed by officers and directors elected by its members. Officers are elected annually; directors are elected to staggered three-year terms.
Historical Society of Kent County
Board of Directors 2021-22
Barbara Jorgenson, president
Gibson Anthony, vice president
Bridget Mahoney, treasurer
Erik Gulbrandsen, secretary
Robert Bryan, Jr.
Carol Roe Combs
History Lovers! We are in need of volunteers for a variety of tasks. You can become involved in our mission of keeping Kent County history. Some of our ongoing volunteer opportunities include:
Docent at the Bordley History Center: You don’t have to know about Kent County history to be a regular docent – you can learn as you go. You just have to enjoy meeting people of all types and welcoming them to the Historical Society’s museum and gift shop.
Tour guides: Do you enjoy learning history and telling stories? You might enjoy being a tour guide for regular walking tours or for our fall Ghost Walk of Historic Chestertown.
Library tasks: We are in need of all library skill levels, from cataloging (easier than you may think, but does require computer skills) to indexing serials and publications to clipping articles.
Genealogists Cemetery research: Our volunteers are updating cemetery records.
Research: If you have experience in conducting research, we are always in need of qualified volunteers to explore and document information on various topics.
Special events and programs: planning and we always welcome help with event execution.
Project Coordinators: For those who have experience and time to take on project management, we have oral history and digitization projects waiting.
Exhibit planners: We like our window exhibits to change quarterly, and our museum exhibits to change semi-annually. Ideas and assistance are always needed and welcome.
Outreach: We always welcome volunteers to staff a table for the Society at events.
Or, think of a project of your own that you would like to pursue! Please call us at 410-778-3499, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Historical Society always welcomes new members. You do not have to live locally to join; a number of our members support us in our efforts from afar. If you are a resident, however, we hope you will not only become a member, but join us at our events and activities, or consider volunteering. We offer a welcoming venue for community involvement for all ages.
As a member, you will receive:
*Unlimited personal use of our Genealogy and Local History Research Library by appointment
*Discount on our Genealogical Research Services
*Quarterly Members’ Newsletters
*Discount on books in the museum gift shop
*By Invitation Only Previews of our new exhibits
*By Invitation Only Receptions with our guest lecturers
*Preferred/reserved seating at our programs
*Invitations to our Historic House Parties and other private events (some of these may have a charge but are offered only to members and their guests)
You may become a member by making a donation of any amount. A donation of $25 is recommended for an individual, and a donation of $40 is recommended for a family. Student memberships are free.
Students can receive a free, complimentary membership to the Historical Society. To attain membership, please fill out the student membership application.