By Scott Budden. English settlers first explored the banks Chester River in the 17th century and the town of Chestertown was established shortly after the turn of the 18th. A trading port, the colonists became wealthy landowners who profited off the export of cash crops. This economy thrived and by the mid 19th century, Chestertown was second to only Annapolis as Maryland’s premiere port.
Today, this colonial preeminence is evident in the uneven cobble stone streets, 18th century brick farmhouses and traditional maritime vocations. Families can trace their lineages back to legendary sea captains and abolitionist leaders. The past is a very tangible presence; you are never far removed even in modernity.
The sense of community that is derived from such pasts’ is also tangible. It is what makes going to the hardware store a tolerable chore. Catching up in the checkout line is decidedly more personal and genuine than reading someone’s Twitter update. Families grow up and old together.
Strolling along Chestertown’s historic waterfront on a summer day, or watching the snow fall silently on a frozen creek in one of the county’s many waterfront communities, you will understand the allure of the place. Surrounded on three sides by the Chesapeake Bay and two large tributaries, almost a third of the county’s total area is comprised of water. It is a pastime and a way of life.
The interior of the county is comprised of many unincorporated municipalities, each offering something unique. Fresh produce brims from roadside stands from spring to fall in Fairlee. Outdoorsmen and women seek the thrill of the hunt and competitive sporting clays at Hopkin's Game Farm outside of Kennedyille. The outdoor culture is just as prevalent as the marine one and Kent County features some of the best-guided hunting expeditions in Maryland. Whether it’s fur or feather, there is no shortage of hides, blinds and experienced local guides.
The close-knit community is just that, close. Closed though, it is not. Kent County, like many communities on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, has witnessed a demographic shift over the past twenty years. Many from the nearby metropolitan areas of Washington DC and Philadelphia have chosen to relocate here or purchase second homes. While one might expect a level of tension between locals and newcomers, this is not the case. Interjecting oneself into the local community is not difficult. Washington College, the nation’s tenth oldest college, is the only one that George personally lent his namesake to. The college helps diversify the town’s cultural scene by attracting speakers and fostering the arts. Volunteer organizations offer citizens a chance to participate in the community. The Chester River Association is committed to improving the health of the large tributary and employs “Chester Testers” to collect water samples. The Echo Hill Outdoor School, situated on the bay near Betterton, and Schooner Sultana Project in Chestertown, are dedicated to environmental education and historical preservation. One doesn’t have a lack of options if the effort is made.
The county is a unique blend of a historical legacy and modern trends. Its people are as diverse a group as you will find anywhere. It’s not uncommon to see a furniture maker from Brooklyn sharing a coffee with locals who have never resided outside of the county. Nestled, almost secretly, within two hours of the Washington metro area and the greater Philadelphia region, the county is an undiscovered gem to many. Those who are drawn to the place and its people often cannot leave once they unpack. Over 25 years ago, Richard and Vicki Budden unpacked, raised their Son and Daughter, Scott and Nichole, and have been calling Kent County their home ever since.