Chestertown’s “history happy hour” was especially fascinating this month as John Wennersten examined the evolution of the Oyster industry in Maryland. The retired University of Maryland Eastern Shore professor focused on the rise of the oyster from a poor people’s food to the status of a delicacy.
When he discussed the deadly violence that broke out among watermen over the harvesting of this shellfish he introduced a special guest, Buddy Hurley of Chestertown. The 80-something Mr. Hurley began his law enforcement career on the Chesapeake as a conservation officer in the early 1950s, a time when watermen still fought over this resource. While he shared some of his experiences as an oyster policeman working for Maryland’s Tidewater Fisheries Commission, the audience had lots of question.
An elderly gentleman seated nearby kept watching Mr. Hurley intently, almost the way a police officer might keep an eye on a suspicious person. Toward the end of the talk someone said you know we have another oyster policeman in the audience so Dr. Wennerstein started a conversation with the gentleman.
It turns out it was 85-year old William Dixon of Cambridge, who also worked as a conservation officer starting in the early 1950s. Watching the two aging policemen recall their years of no-nonsense work protecting the Bay’s natural resources was fascinating as they chatted after the talk.
Thanks to the Historical Society of Kent County for these excellent First Friday programs and to the discussion’s sponsor, the Maryland Humanities Council. In a time when there are changing expectations for public programming, the Historical Society has specifically branded its First Friday initiative as the “history happy hour,” a program that brings “laid-back history” to Chestertown while guest enjoy fine wine and cheese. They’re having a great deal of success with this approach, as the meeting room is always packed and periodically move to larger venues. This time in the standing room only crowd there were 40 guests.
As evening settled on a fine old Maryland downtown, those two gentlemen ambled up the street rekindling memories and swapping stories about things long ago. Keeping peace on the Bay, protecting Maryland’s natural resources a half-century ago, and lawmen they’d known were subjects that were on their mind this enjoyable spring evening. Out on the street things were livening up as a vibrant crowd gathered around various venues featuring music, art exhibits, readings, of literature, and much more. Clusters people stood outside offices, galleries, shops and banks sipping beverages and sampling light refreshments while chatting. The entertainment and socializing would continue for hours in Chestertown on this First Friday.
It was an enjoyable evening in Chestertown as a community leverages it assets and pulls together to create vitality in an old town center.