Brod­er­ick talks about James Kir­wan, his legacy

Record Observer - - News - By DOUG BISHOP dbishop@kibay­times.com

GRA­SONVILLE — Kent Is­land Her­itage So­ci­ety Pres­i­dent Jack Brod­er­ick spoke about the James Kir­wan House, Store and Mu­seum, lo­cated about a mile down Do­min­ion Road in Ch­ester, dur­ing the county’s sec­ond an­nual His­tory Sum­mit.

Bord­er­ick first spoke about the man, James Kir­wan, a water­man, farmer, even­tual store owner, and later state se­na­tor in the Mary­land Gen­eral Assem­bly. Brod­er­ick praised Kir­wan for “be­ing in­volved in the com­mu­nity.”

“Kir­wan earned the name of ‘Grand old man of Kent Is­land,’ and that name was well de­served,” Brod­er­ick said.

At age 16, Kir­wan was sail­ing up the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay as a skilled water­man, in­volved in com­merce on the Bay. At age 19, he mar­ried Re­becca Gard­ner of Queen­stown. At age 20, he started his own gen­eral store. and re­mained ac­tive on the Bay as a mem­ber of the Oys­ter Navy, a vol­un­teer group of water­man who pro­tected oys­ter beds in the Bay from be­ing robbed. All of these things oc­curred be­fore 1887.

Shortly there­after, the famed John­stown, Pa., flood hap­pened, and fin­ished lum­ber lined the shore­line around Kent Is­land as a re­sult. Ap­pear­ing as a “God­send of lum­ber,” Kir­wan used it to build a new store (the one that still stands on Do­min­ion Road today along­side his house).

Brod­er­ick said, “The store was a true gen­eral store of its times. You could buy any­thing there.”

The house was even­tu­ally do­nated to the KI Her­itage So­ci­ety by the late Kather­ine Kir­wan, James Kir­wan’s grand­daugh­ter, with di­rec­tions that it be used to pro­vide a “liv­ing his­tory” to ed­u­cate the pub­lic about a por­tion of Kent Is­land his­tory. In the years since, the house, store and farm have been care­fully re­stored to ap­pear as they did in the very early 1900s.

Brod­er­ick cred­ited lo­cal cu­ra­tor Linda Col­lier for the restora­tion. “She spends so much time there, you could say she lives there,” Brod­er­ick said with a laugh.

Brod­er­ick called Col­lier’s com­mit­ment to mak­ing the Kir­wan prop­erty come alive, her pas­sion.

“She is of­ten dressed in turn of the cen­tury at­tire as she greets tourists and vis­i­tors to the house and re­stored store,” Brod­er­ick added. “It’s like step­ping back in time when you walk in­side the build­ing.”

Brod­er­ick cred­ited James Kir­wan for sav­ing Kent Is­land from turn­ing into a mil­i­tary test site.

“In 1917, there was a se­ri­ous pro­posal to make Kent Is­land the place for test­ing bombs be­ing de­vel­oped for use dur­ing the war. Three mil­lion dol­lars had been al­lot­ted by Con­gress to pur­chase all of the Is­land for this use; 600 lo­cal cit­i­zens, un­der the lead­er­ship of James Kir- wan, trav­eled to Wash­ing­ton, D.C., to lobby Con­gress­men to vote against turn­ing Kent Is­land into the pro­posed bomb­ing site,” Brod­er­ick said.

Thanks to Kir­wan’s ef­forts, a site was lo­cated in Ab­erdeen, not at Kent Is­land. Brod­er­ick asked, “Can you imag­ine what Kent Is­land would be like today if that had been al­lowed to hap­pen?”

Brod­er­ick en­cour­aged any­one who has not vis­ited the Kir­wan prop­erty to do so. KI Her­itage So­ci­ety sites are open the first Satur­day of each month May through Oc­to­ber and on Kent Is­land Day in May.

PHOTO BY DOUG BISHOP

Part of the orig­i­nal re­stored kitchen in­side Kir­wan House, this pie cabi­net and wood stove are on dis­play.

PHO­TOS BY DOUG BISHOP

From the left, KI Her­itage So­ci­ety Past Pres­i­dent Nancy Cook, cur­rent KIHS Pres­i­dent Jack Brod­er­ick and of­fi­cial Queen Anne’s County His­to­rian Mary Mar­garet Rev­ell Good­win stand near the shore­line of the Ch­ester River, Satur­day, Nov. 12, as they at­tended the Queen Anne’s County His­tory Sum­mit at the Hol­i­day Inn Ex­press at the Nar­rows.

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