EASTON — Parks and Recreation Director Preston Peper and Talbot County Economic Development and Tourism Director Cassandra Vanhooser held a community meeting on Monday, Oct. 28, to discuss the future of a historic county-owned property at Easton Point.
About 25 citizens gathered at Easton’s Talbot County Free Library to brainstorm ideas.
The property, located at 925 Port Street, was acquired for a house and tavern in anticipation of the “new” courthouse commissioned in 1790. Cloudsberry Kirby built the the modest home in 1791 when Easton was barely a town, with only a few residences near the site of the Talbot County Courthouse.
Easton Point was one of the busiest ports on the Eastern Shore after the American Revolution and this area is the focus of redevelopment now.
“I see history and historical assets as something that visitors are interested in,” Vanhooser said. “If you don’t believe that, look at the interest that was generated by the house moving. People came out every night to watch. That shows that there is a lot of interest in history still.”
The architecture of the building features important 18th century elements that are character defining and are found in some of the county’s most prestigious estates.
“The architecture is exceptional, frame buildings are rare and this is second only to the Third Haven Meeting house for important features,” Vanhooser said. “Cloudsberry Kirby was a master craftsperson. There is every reason to believe that he was building these wonderful (features) for other people and put them on his own house down in Easton Point. The location is key.”
The Port Street house property was bought with Program Open Space funds, a source through Maryland that is funded by a 0.5% State Property Transfer Tax. According to Peper, each county gets a disbursement every year.
“If anything were to happen to the property, there are certain procedures we would have to follow,” Peper said. “Counties have ... Program Open Space funding, and all the municipalities within Maryland have another grant funding source called Community Parks and Playgrounds.
The attendees divided into three groups to address what could happen, should happen and will happen.
The first group’s reporter, Priscilla Morris, expressed that her group went into a lot of discussion to save the property, annex it and solve the issue of parking.
“This is an investment. We talked about all kinds of uses, from a museum which I think is probably the hardest, but having a public-private or maybe a nonprofit environmental office,” said Morris.
The second group’s reporter, Claiborne resident John Sener, said his group shared the same sentiment as the first group and thinks it should be annexed and be made into a not-for-profit, community-based foundation.
Because of its location on the Tred Avon River, “annexation is an extreme priority,” Sener said. “The best use we can come up with at this point is an interpretive center — that would be a good use for it. Resolving the parking issues and traffic so that it can be the go-to place.”
Easton Economic Development Corporation Executive Director Tracey Ward was group three’s reporter, and her group discussed turning the property into a historical storytelling place.
“We were imagining log canoeing images and models, steamboat history, heritage cultural story, Easton Maritime-telling story,” Ward said. “We talked about the potential of engaging the private sector in order to generate some kind of revenue around it.”
“We have recognize that it is a gem and it is central to Easton Point’s future,” Ward said.
During the Talbot County Council meeting on July 9, council members discussed the topic of forming a citizen group to discuss the future of 925 Port Street. Peper requested council’s consideration to convene a group of citizens with a vested interest in the property.
All council members agreed with the formation of a group, the gathering of public input, and partnering with the town of Easton to determine the best use of the property.
There was also a request from Historic Preservation Commission to perform ahistoric documentation survey. Assistant Planning Officer Miguel Salinas requested the council’s approval of the Historic Preservation Commission’s recommendation to have Encore Sustainable Design provide a historical documentation of the property to include drawings of the floor plans and architectural details of both the interior and exterior of the building.
Salinas also said that only a brief description of the property currently exists in the Maryland Historical Trust inventory of historic properties which was completed in 1977.
Council approved the Historic Preservation Commission’s recommendation to utilize $4,500 in FY2020 budgeted funding for architectural surveys and for Encore Sustainable Design to conduct a historical documentation of 925 Port Street.