- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
No one would live in the historic area of Port Tobacco under a preservation plan suggested by Charles County government staffers and a private consultant, presenters told the county commissioners Tuesday.
Some of the town’s fewer than 15 residents like the idea, while others resist it, they said, but none would be forced out to realize the plan.
The commissioners unanimously adopted the plan, authorizing staffers to form a committee and consider buying land. There is no precise schedule for implementation.
Port Tobacco, built on the site of a former Native American village, was the county seat from 1727 to 1895, said consultant Stuart Sirota. Residents established a museum there in 1948, but the depopulated village leaves much to be desired as a tourist attraction because it is “not recognizable as a coherent village. People who come seeking it out are left with the idea that there should be something more there,” Sirota said.
Historically, there was “not a village green, per se, it was mostly dirt,” and it was used as a roadway, Sirota said. “We feel very strongly that there is a very relevant opportunity to make this a central civic place that could really turn into, really, a beloved place where people could come for all sorts of events, markets, even weddings,” Sirota said.
Realizing this vision requires the county to buy private land in the historic district, which Cathy Thompson, county community planning program manager, said would be less than 20 acres.
The cost of the purchases is unknown.
“Do you have any pushback, people wanting or not wanting to sell their land or turn over their land?” asked Commissioner Debra M. Davis (D).
“I think, going through this process, there are lots of ideas on how to move forward. That’s why we’ve relied so much on a consensus-building approach,” Thompson said.
Some members of the village’s four remaining families — the Barbours, Wades, Volmans and Jamiesons — don’t want to see their ancestral town deserted, Thompson said.
“We had a lot of discussion about the appropriate use for the residences. They’ve been residents for most of their history. Certainly for the last 230 years, families have been raised there. It’s a wonderful community to raise children. There’s an honest debate about whether that is the best use or whether a civic use is most appropriate. I think for the families that have raised children there, it’s difficult to think about that changing, and families no longer being there,” Thompson said.
Jerry Volman said he wants to see the town preserved and is open to selling the family land to the county. But first he wanted to know what would be done to neighboring Stagg Hall, a Colonial-era home, something planners haven’t specified.
“Basically, I’m trying to sell my home. It’s old and big for one person. None of my children want to move back here. If my house is part of the plan, that’s great, as long as it does what the plan says,” to preserve the town.
Decades ago, people talked about turning Port Tobacco into another Colonial Williamsburg. But the money just isn’t there, said Sheila Smith, a member of the board of the Society for the Restoration of Port Tobacco.
“If you’re not going to have a Rockefeller behind you, it’s going to be hard to bring back,” Smith said.