Heritage Society picnic honors Kirwan
CHESTER— The Kent Island Heritage Society held its annual picnic Sunday afternoon, Sept. 17, at the James E. Kirwan House and Museum in Chester. This year the picnic was moved up a week ahead to coincide with an important date in Kent Island history — the anniversary of possibly the biggest event that state Senator James E. Kirwan orchestrated to help save Kent Island from being purchased by the federal government to turn it into a munitions proving ground.
In 1917, the U.S. officially entered World War 1, which had already been blazing in Europe. To ramp up the
war effort and do a quick military build up here in the U.S.,the federal government was eying Kent Island as a proving ground.
Remember that much of Maryland was still very rural in 1917, especially the Eastern Shore. Not many people were concerned about the environment.
“Locating a proving grounds like the one that was eventually located at Aberdeen on Kent Island would have changed the Eastern Shore dramatically,” said KI Heritage Society President Jack Broderick. “It would have changed the history of the Eastern Shore in ways most people can’t even imagine. I’m sure the Bay Bridge would not have been located where it is in the early 1950s had a proving grounds been put here!”
Broderick added, “If people think the bay is polluted now, using an island next to the Bay waters for a proving grounds for bombs would have contaminated the Bay beyond the toxic levels. The entire Eastern Shore would have been affected with a move like that.”
Several people who attended the picnic are native Kent Islanders. One of those, Carol Frederick, was born on her grandfather’s farm at Love Point.
“Had the island been purchased by the federal government for a proving grounds, my family would not have been living here when I was born,” she said. Frederick, as a longtime member of the KI Heritage Society, has a very dear sentiment about her island home.
Numerous others who moved here in more recent years said they would never have been able to have that choice, as the government would have owned all of the island.
Harold Wilson, who moved here from Annapolis, said, “I can’t imagine Kent Island being turned into a proving grounds. Seriously, were people going to turn the place where English speaking people first had a settlement in Maryland as a colony into a bomb site? Were people in 1917 that unthinking?”
Following a potluck luncheon, a special ceremony was held honoring the late James E. Kirwan for saving Kent Island. Broderick spoke about Kirwan’s three-anda-half month effort lobbying the U.S. Congress not to purchase Kent Island. Kirwan arranged for some 500 Queen Anne’s County citizens to go directly to Washington, D.C., to speak personally to congressman.
In short, the efforts worked. “Because the U.S. was now involved, sending soldiers to fight in Europe during WWI, some people accused the people of Kent Island as being unpatriotic for asking not to have their lands considered for war preparation purposes,” Broderick said.
At exactly 3:15 p.m. Sept. 17, 1917, it was announced by Congress that Kent Island was no longer being considered as a proving ground by the federal government. On Sunday afternoon, Sept. 17, 2017, exactly at 3:15 p.m., a cannon was fired three times in the Kirwan backyard, and a bell was rung at least 12 times.
Broderick said, “That, symbolically, is the only time we would ever have to hear a cannon on Kent Island, what James Kirwan saved us from!”
The ringing of the bell represented that Kent Island was free from the destruction that certainly would have come to the island had a proving ground been placed here.
Queen Anne’s County Historian Mary Margaret Revell Goodwin read a proclamation signed by all of the county commissioners recognizing Sept. 17, 2017, as “James E. Kir wan Day.”
Following the ceremony, Linda Collier, curator of Kirwan House and Museum, announced that homemade ice cream would be served inside the house to conclude the festivities.
“Capturing a moment in time!” John Conley of Chester, dressed as the late Sen. James E. Kirwan, stands next to an old-time camera and mannequin during the annual KI Heritage Society picnic, Sunday afternoon, Sept. 17.
Kent Island Heritage Society President Jack Broderick, right, welcomes everyone to this year’s picnic, Sunday afternoon, Sept. 17, at the James. E. Kirwan House and Museum in Chester. Behind Broderick is local author Mark Lidinsky, who also spoke, recognizing the birthday of longtime KI Heritage Society member Myrtle Bruscup of Chester.
Locals enjoy a “hay ride” around the James E. Kirwan property during the Kent Island Heritage Society picnic, Sunday afternoon, Sept. 17.
Part of the crowd attending this year’s KI Heritage Society picnic at the James E. Kirwan House and Museum in Chester, Sunday afternoon, Sept. 17.
Colin Carlton, 5, of Arnold cranks the old-time apple squeezer as KI Heritage Society President Jack Broderick watched over his efforts with instruction and encouragement. Later, the fresh squeezed apple juice was shared with those who came to the annual picnic at the James E. Kirwan House and Museum.
Members of the Shore United Bank looked at many of the artifacts assembled during the KI Heritage Society picnic, Sunday afternoon at the James E. Kirwan House and Museum, Sept. 17. From the left, bank employees, Lisa Marvel of Denton and Vice President David Thompson with his wife Geri Thompson. Shore United Bank helped sponsor this year’s picnic.