Broderick talks about James Kirwan, his legacy
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.
Part of the original restored kitchen inside Kirwan House, this pie cabinet and wood stove are on display.
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.