Courtesy Kent Manor Inn
The Kent Manor Inn, located on Kent Island, the largest island in the Chesapeake Bay and the third oldest permanent English settlement in the America, has a long, grand history.
This luxurious waterfront hotel is located on 220 acres that was originally part of a larger tract of land granted to Thomas Wetherall in 1651, 20 years after Kent Island’s founding by the surveyor and fur trader William Claiborne. Wetherall was eventually purchased by Dr. John Smyth and renamed Smithfield.
The still-existing tenant house, a private residence, may date back to the late 1700s.
Kent Manor Inn today consists of a large middle section with nearly matching wings on either side, the easternmost of which is the building’s original structure, circa 1820. A large, prestigious home for its day, Smithfield featured a living room, dining room, a large kitchen, and a pantry on the first floor, four bedrooms on the second floor, and two large rooms, perhaps for servants, on the third. The property remained in the Smyth family, until Sarah Smyth Thompson, wife of Dr. Samuel T. Thompson, granted the estate to their son, Alexander Williamson Thompson (1816-1875) in 1843. The current center portion of the manor house, with its iconic eight-window cupola, was added by Alexander Thompson just prior to the Civil War.
The Thompson heirs sold the property to James Benjamin Bright in 1898. For a time, during the days of the fine Chesapeake Bay resort hotels (which lasted from late in the 19th century until around the time of the Second World War), Bright’s oldest son operated a summertime hotel here called The Brightsworth Inn.
There is still graffiti from this era on the walls leading up to the cupola.
Brightsworth Inn closed in 1911. The Bright family farmed the property until selling it to John Reifsneider in 1917. Reifsneider maintained an agricultural operation until he sold to Theodore Elliot Tolson in 1922. Tolson reopened the house again as a summer hotel, renaming it Kent Hall. After the death of Mr. Tolson in 1951, the farm was bought by T. Worth Jamison and called Pennyworth Farm.
By the 1970’s, the old mansion, once derided as Alexander’s (Thompson) Folly, by some locals, sat abandoned and neglected, a sad rundown version of what must have once been an active, beloved, and dignified homestead.
c. 1980 Courtesy Reggie Jones
Fred Williams, a successful Washington D.C. area land developer and construction entrepreneur, armed with vision and resources, purchased the property in 1986.
The general consensus was that Fred had bought a white elephant, and the only plausible thing to do with the old house was tear it down.
Instead Fred Williams built a brand new west wing, restored the existing structure to its former grandeur, and outfitted his Kent Manor Inn with modern restaurant and lodging facilities. Moving forward with focused deliberation, Fred was dedicated to maintaining the inn’s historical accuracy wherever possible – from the handwrought wooden staircases and Italian marble fireplaces to the graffiti on the cupola walls.
Before and after
Fred Williams eventually sold the Kent Manor Inn, and after changing hands a couple times, the property was purchased by Sunny and Jigna Patel in January 2017. The Patels modernized some, but like Fred Williams before them, tried to maintain the property’s historical legacy, as well as it’s connection to the land and the water of the Eastern Shore.
Always a popular wedding destination and business retreat, The Kent Manor Inn, with its 24 guest rooms (many featuring fireplaces, four post beds, and balconies) and proximity to Annapolis, Baltimore, Washington D.C., and Virginia, also provides a retreat for smaller, more personal romantic getaways
Fred Williams passed away on Saturday, December 30th, 2017.
From Fred’s obituary:
“Born June 9, 1925, son of the late Frederick G. Williams Sr. and Anna Olinger Williams, and predeceased by his brothers Warren and Robert. He was also predeceased by his first wife of 44 years, Jean Huff Williams. He is survived by his second wife of 24 years Leslie Rose Harper Williams. Fred had four children from his first wife, Dale, (Lenorah), Gary, (Margaret Hagerty), Cindy, (Rick Wojcik), and Steve and four step-children; Mickie Nevel, (Keith), John, (Ann), Susan, and Dean. He is also survived by his beloved grand-children Kristin, Jason, Rachel, Mark, Laura, Kyndall, Kolten, Sean, Sydney, Harper, Harrison, Vanesa, Drew, Ryley, and McGarity as well as four great-grandchildren; Siena, Sol, Ashton and Everett.
“He graduated with a degree in Mechanical Engineering from Cornell University, and as part of the Navy V-12 Program during WWII he was transferred to Columbia University. He was commissioned there as a Naval Reserve Officer and was recalled to active duty during the Korean War. He served as Engineering Officer on board the USS Iowa and the USS Kearsarge. After the war he began his career at the Washington Gas Light Company. He became a construction superintendent at a local construction company when he decided to start his own company. Soon after starting Fred G. Williams Inc. he met his longtime partner, Neil T. Coakley, and started Coakley & Williams, Inc. Together they built a building, management and development company. They went on to build, own and operate many churches, schools, warehouses, office buildings and hotels. Many of the buildings they developed are still owned and operated by their children.
“Fred loved God, his wife Leslie, his entire family, his best friend Glenn Cade, America, his church and all people. He was a past President of the Terrapin Club and past Chairman of the Board of Trustees for the Calvary United Methodist Church in Frederick. At Cornell he was on the swimming, hockey and soccer teams. He was an avid hunter and loved singing and playing the harmonica. He was most proud of the fact that he was the patriarch to such a large, loving and successful family. We will see him again in heaven.”
Fred Williams and friends courtesy of Anne DeMarco
I tended bar at Kent Manor Inn for Fred and Leslie from the time it opened in 1987 until 1991. Fred was a true gentleman who treated employees like friends and family. I’ll never forget how he once stood up to a group of his colleagues who were being somewhat rude to one of our waitresses. He said, “She’s my friend, just like you are. Treat her that way.” It was a real moment of strength and compassion, and I often think of that when I remember Fred.
He was a role model who was always a heck of a lot of fun.
A real slick cat. A good man. A friend.
RIP, Fred Williams
All three books by Brent Lewis are available on Amazon.com
Thank you Brent for this tribute to the finest most loving person I’ve ever known. He walked the walk and was pure inside and out. I can truly say he made all of my dreams come true and is my hero. Thanks also for the excellent description and history of KMI. I shall print and frame this to hang next to the drawing of the Inn I have in my foyer here in Georgia. Those were happy productive days! I cherish the memories I have of all of us working hard, playing hard and being a wonderful “ family”. Bless you Brent. With highest regards, Leslie