Volume 81, Issue 4
October 2, 2009

This Week in SIFE

By Andrew Antonio

SIFE Correspondent

After the Civil War, Union soldiers built Grand Army of the Republic Posts as meeting places. In Chestertown, a group of African-American veterans who had served with the Massachusetts unit depicted in the movie “Glory” formed a G.A.R. post, and in 1908 built the Charles Sumner Grand Army of the Republic Post #25 meeting hall on Queen Street. At its peak, the Chestertown G.A.R. Post #25 was a thriving center for African-American social and cultural affairs. Nationally acclaimed musicians and personalities often graced the post with their presence. Wedding receptions, scholarly lectures, dances and concerts all contributed to a vivid and vital history of self-determined lives led by African-Americans during the last century. Today, the members of WC SIFE have been given a chance to help secure that legacy and take steps to insure that the Charles Sumner Grand Army of the Republic Post #25 plays an active role in Kent County’s future.

The past 30 years ushered in socio-economic conditions that eventually led to the near collapse of the Charles Sumner Building. In 2005, in an effort to preserve its cultural spirit and build support for its preservation, the post was listed on the National Register of Historical Places. Since then Preservation Inc. has stabilized the structure, installing a new foundation and upgrading exterior siding. In 2008, the African-American Schoolhouse Museum and Heritage Council of Kent County, Preservation Inc., and the Historical Society of Kent County met to discuss future uses of the site. The conclusion was that the Post should be “fully restored and revitalized into an event and performance space, with an emphasis on African American cultural and social gatherings…attracting visitors from a regional, and ultimately, national audience…” (Proposed plan)

WC SIFE was invited to help revive the G.A.R. Post #25 to a place of prominence in the Kent County Community by providing suggestions for both a business and marketing plan. After being given a tour of the post by drama professor Robert Earl Price, WC SIFE has begun the extensive research into museum operation, financing, marketing, and programming that will be necessary in engineering a business plan geared towards the specific needs of the G.A.R. Post #25. WC SIFE is looking forward to playing a significant role in the long road to restoring one of Kent County’s and our nation’s remaining historical and cultural gems.

If you’d like to join WC SIFE in this effort, contact project manager Whitney Donald at wdonald2@washcoll.edu.