CHESTER, MD: KENT ISLAND’S EASTERN SHORE

Kent Island has two zip codes.

21666 is the code for Stevensville. 21666 borders the Chesapeake Bay and includes all that land from the tippy-top of the fabled Love Point down to the legendary southern extremity of Bloody Point. The Bay Bridge begins in 21666, but ends somewhere else entirely. The schools are in 21666, and except for a section of the Cross-Island Trail, so are the parklands. 21666 has a neat little town center – a historic district that has been on the National Register for going on three decades. Presidents, celebrities and royalty have visited 21666.

21666 gets a lot of attention.

21619 – not so much.

Chester’s zip code is 21619. Chester is the eastern section of Kent Island with west to east boundaries from Cox’s Creek to Kent Narrows. The Chester River long eroded any northern point of land that may have ever existed here, but Cox Neck Road runs all the way down to Turkey Point and Eastern Bay. Bodkin Island, Hog Island, and Parson’s Island, among other even smaller and getting smaller islands, are located in 21619.

Parson’s Island is the largest of the three larger 21619 islands and the only one inhabited. Land records going back over 350 years indicate Parson’s “Island” was once Parson’s “Point”. Erosion brought on by centuries of tide and weather split the property from mainland Kent Island by 1865. McCormick & Company bought the island in 1944 for use as an experimental spice farm. For many years Parson’s Island was utilized as a company retreat for hunting and fishing and making plans to rule spice world.

Historically, Chester itself was of two separate sections. The Cox Neck Road area was known as Phillips ‘ Corner. John Phillips was a magistrate and school teacher. At the southwest corner of the main road and what is now called Dominion Road, Jim and Mollie Benton also owned a store, so that area was known as Benton’s Corner.

Other Chester neighborhoods sprouted and grew over the years. These communities were known by colorful names that might give modern day developers and civic boosters nightmares – names like Buzzardsville, Ticktown and Devil’s Dominion. The moniker-shortened Dominion area exists to this day and is located east of Crab Alley Creek, off Little Creek Road. Though it’s no longer solely his dominion, the Devil does still visit on occasion.

In a 1986 issue of the Kent Island Heritage Society newsletter, my great aunts, Myrtle and Lydia Coleman, reminisced about growing up in Chester. Myrtle and Lydia were two of Joseph and Augusta Timms Coleman’s eleven children. They were both born around the time the 19th century slipped into the 20th. As adults, the sisters lived and worked in Baltimore for many years, but Chester was their true home.

In that 1986 article, my aunts talked of growing up near Senator Kirwan’s property, about a mile south of Benton’s Corner. Owning a parcel of land that combined three farms, the prominent Kirwan family operated not only a general store there, but also a coal yard, brickyard and sawmill.

https://easternshorebrent.com/2013/10/03/conversation-at-the-kirwan-house/

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Senator James E. Kirwan, Kent Island’s “Grand Old Man” working his brick kiln.

Myrtle and Lydia named farmers, craftsmen and teachers – there were three schools in Chester in the early 1900s.Surnames of carpenters, sailors and lawyers are remembered and still recognized as local today. Current roads and neighborhoods offer numerous reminders of old Kent Island family names. Golt Road, Gardner’s Purchase Lane and Benton’s Pleasure are examples. Goodhands Creek and Norman’s Point are also named after longtime island families.

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Chester School sometime in the 1920s.

Like everywhere in America, things have changed in Chester. General stores have been replaced by carry-out fast food and specialty retail. Farms have been developed into waterfront subdivisions.

It’s almost impossible to get your hands on any coal.

There are, however, some real 21619 bright spots. The Kent Island Yacht Club will be celebrating its 60th year in 2015. The Kent Island Volunteer Fire Department moved into their state-of-the-art firehouse on the Chester side of the line in 2007. The Chesapeake Exploration and Visitor’s Center offers a hands-on overview of the area’s cultural and historical heritage and The James E. Kirwan Museum houses a living history recreation of an old time country store.

 http://www.kivfd.org/news/index/layoutfile/hom

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http://www.kiyc.org/

http://www.baygateways.net/general.cfm?ID=74

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Yeah, Stevensville might be Kent Island’s Hollywood, but Chester is its Eastern Shore.

I mean, come on.

Buzzardsville? Does it get more Eastern Shore than that?

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My paternal grandmother’s father Joseph Coleman epitomized the early 20th century Eastern Shoreman.

He died while crabbing in Chester’s Kirwans Creek.

 

 

15 thoughts on “CHESTER, MD: KENT ISLAND’S EASTERN SHORE

  1. Wow. This was great – the photos were Soooo… good. Fascinating to look – literally – into the past. Thank you, Brent.

  2. I am a chicken-necker who drove through the Kent Narrows area one day in 1978, and life forever changed for me. I moved to Grasonville – granted that’s the mainland, not the Island – lived in a trailer, and worked for Harold Thomas. I left a good job and just about everything else but the clothes on my back and my son to move to The Shore. Folk didn’t much like my kind back then, and I left the area for a few years, but I met my husband of 31 years here, and when we were able to do so, we bought our home on Kent Island. My parents thought I’d lost my mind, but years late, my Father bought his first home on the Eastern Shore, and spent the happiest 8 years of his life here. Soon my inlaws followed, and built a house here. Even my sister met her husband on Kent Island and was married here. Then other family members came. Now, my son and my husband have gone their ways. My inlaws and Dad are with the Lord, and I will be the only one to stay. This place entered my bloodstream on the first day I saw it, imprinted itself forever on my heart, and filled my spirit with joy, and even if I walk every remaining day alone along it’s beautiful paths, I am not alone, for I am home.

    • What beautiful sentiments. Thank you so much for taking the time to write such a heartfelt comment. For all its good and bad, I too love the Eastern Shore, and your wonderfully expressed sentiments are both eloquent and touching. I hope you continue to read and enjoy my blog.

  3. Fascinating! I moved here about 6 yrs ago and knew none of this! Thanks for info…So does McCormick still own parsons? 3 of us did a SUP (stand up paddle board) this morn to parsons and stopped at the beach for a bit, since there were no signs indicating “private” we took it as an ok.

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