ST. MICHAELS — When you are driving into town passing schools on the right, Talbot Street in St. Michaels suddenly takes a rightward direction, leaving your eyes to rest, very briefly, on a large vacant lot on the left that claims two corners.
It’s the empty lot of the old doctors’ office building, and it’s hard to miss.
A small band of citizens has organized to turn the 19,110-square-foot property into a veterans park, with restrooms, town parking and, at the very end, a museum or visitors center of sorts out of the tiny historic St. Michaels train station that could be moved there.
“We are trying to accomplish a few different things there,” said Jeff Knapp, who is a member of the group and also chairman of the St. Michaels Planning Commission.
“Create a memorial park, which the town doesn’t have,” he said. “A lot of towns have (them) to honor military and first responders and that type of thing. Also, it creates extra parking and another restroom.”
Knapp presented the group’s ideas at an informal public gathering “Conversation with a Commissioner,” along with Town Commission Vice President Michael Bibb, on Aug. 17.
A presentation on the project that will allow public feedback will be held this Tuesday, Sept. 10, at the legislative meeting of the St. Michaels commissioners.
A plan view, developed by Kurt Gant, shows the addition of 16 new public parking spaces for the town and a large, circular walkway that incorporates flagpoles displaying colors from each branch of the U.S. military, honoring veterans, along with first responders.
Other features include a large, central tree that could be lit for the holidays and a welcome sign.
Public restrooms are planned to be sequestered at the back of the eastern end of the property, which got the approval of some residents in attendance.
“The people on West Chew come in from boats and walk through town. We live on West Chew.” Sue Raring said. “We haven’t done it a lot, but we have allowed our bathroom to be used, because it’s a long way to the other side of town.”
“The facilities are already there, because the building was there before,” Knapp said of the restrooms. “So the infrastructure is an easy one. It’s a no-brainer.”
A quite significant, albeit small, feature of the plans show the historic 1893 St. Michaels train station, moved and renovated, at the western end of the Boundary Lane property.
The historic St. Michaels train station is tiny, at 19 by 38 feet, and it’s been moved before.
For decades, beginning in 1893, the station was the focal point for train activity on Railroad Avenue, carrying passengers, grain crops and seafood on a line that stretched to the Claiborne Ferry west, Easton and beyond to Delaware east.
After its closing, it was moved from Railroad Avenue next to the cemetery on North Street and turned into a residence, Commissioner Bibb said.
No one has lived there for a couple years, he said, and their group has been negotiating with the owner to sell the building so it can be moved, restored and placed in a park setting for the public to enjoy.
The Boundary Lane property is owned by the town. The St. Michaels commissioners bought the property in 2017 for $200,000 with the purpose of building a new town office there. An additional $39,000 was spent tearing down the old doctors’ office.
Then it was decided the location was not ideal for a town office and a different site was chosen on Fremont Street.
The group working on developing a veterans park there has no formal name but is composed of Knapp, Bibb, Kurt Gant, Tad duPont, most recently Doug Rollo and several others. Anyone is welcome to join them, they said.
Their plan is that the town still will own the property, but their group, which is becoming more formal and organized, will own the old railroad station, much in the way the town owns property on St. Mary’s Square but not the museum that’s on the property.
Bibb said first step was approval from the St. Michaels commissioners.
Grant money for much of the park’s development is available through veterans groups and railroad associations, he said.
A local collector has contacted the group, saying he has a complete conductor’s uniform that belonged to a St. Michaels conductor. Others in town have offered other items for display.
St. Michaels groups that have expressed support for the project include the St. Michaels Business Association, which has offered to man the railroad station during festivals and high-volume tourist weekends, Bibb said, although the complex will not need to always be manned.
The project will be presented with public feedback welcome at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 10, at the St. Michaels Town Office on Mill Street.
“Anyone who wants to support — emotionally, financially — any way you want to do it, it would be greatly appreciated,” Knapp said.