Share on Facebook
Share on Twitter
E-mail this article
Print this Article

Fred Dellinger, of St. Leonard, moved to Calvert County because of its historical value. As a history lover, Dellinger knew the Calvert Historical Society was an organization he “had to join.”

“Anyone who wants to learn about the history of the county can start right here,” Dellinger, a volunteer and treasurer on the CCHS Board of Directors, said. “There’s so much available here.”

About 20 of the society’s volunteers, board members and directors gathered on Friday, Dec. 20, for their yearly lunch to celebrate the end of another year.

The society turned 60-years-old in 2013, after being formed in 1953 by a group of concerned and involved Calvert County residents. At that time, the society faced a challenge of compiling the county’s historical records after most were destroyed.

In 1882, the county’s courthouse suffered two major fires, one by accident, the other a suspected arson, which destroyed records starting from around 1835.

“There are so many questions we have,” Leila Boyer, the society’s director said. “It’s up to people’s personal family records to help fill in the blanks.”

The society operates out of an approximately 145-year-old white house, named Linden, off of Church Street in Prince Frederick that was purchased in 1997 and recognized as a Historic District by Calvert County, the Maryland Historic Trust and listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Before then, the society operated out of member’s homes and historical records were kept in closets and trunks of their vehicles.

“A historical society is based on archival reports and you need a place to hold that,” Boyer said.

Since then, Linden has undergone some extensive rehabilitation, including building the society’s archives in 2000 and restoration efforts.

“I used to wander around here and wonder how we would get the resources to fix this place up,” Hagner Mister, a former Calvert County Commissioner, CHS president and longtime volunteer, said of when he first joined the society in 2003.

Rehabilitation efforts began in 2004, when Mister wrote a federal grant for $400,000. Mister received a call from U.S. Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md., 5th) in November 2005 saying he was awarding the society a grant for $250,000.

“If it hadn’t been for that I don’t know where we’d be today,” Mister said, adding that about $200,000 was used just on the interior of Linden.

“Everyone was just knocked over,” Boyer said of the grant.

The society has been involved with many of the county’s signatures, including the county seal and flag as well as establishing the Calvert Marine Museum, the Chesapeake Beach Railway Museum and supporting projects like the Battle Creek Cypress Swamp development and the Jefferson-Patterson Park and Museum in St. Leonard.

“The county has done a lot for the society and the society has done a lot for the county,” Boyer said.

In 2011, the society began concentrating on compiling the Calvert County African-American Archives, a demographic that has historically made up more than 50 percent of the county’s population, Boyer said.

“They’re significantly under-represented,” Guffrie Smith, the society’s president and 10-year volunteer, said of the project he is most passionate about. Serving his second term as president of the historical society, Smith said he is “particularly interested” in getting markers for significant African-American sites, of which there are too few, he says.

In addition to compiling records of the county’s past, the society’s volunteers help residents discover their own family history with almost 750 family files compiled from Calvert County marriages and burial records.

“You’d be surprised how many people just want to find out about their family history,” Boyer said. “…It’s understanding that whole way of life that’s gone… You gotta have one place to find out about where you live.”

The society boasts a membership of about 290 households comprising of 336 members that has grown 16 percent in the past year. Thanks to outreach and word of mouth, the membership fees and donations received help keep the society going.

The society publishes multiple monthly newsletters, host annual dinners and volunteer lunches in addition to occasional special events.

Right now, the organization is looking to raise enough money to purchase a $33,000 flatbed scanner to electronically house the delicate historical documents. With the scanner’s optical character recognition technology, finding family records and conducting research would be easier and more efficient, Boyer said.

More important than the funds, grant and endowments, however, are the people that keep the society alive, these members say.

“The biggest resource we have now is all the volunteers who give their free time and keep us going,” Boyer said.

“Our volunteers are very active,” Guffrie Smith, the society’s president, said, who refers to the organization as “a hidden treasure.”

“[The Calvert County Historical Society] generates an interest in the county by recognizing the past so that youths and others, especially youths, will have a better appreciation and understanding in the county,” Smith said. “…[So they will] have respect for it and try to preserve it and keep Calvert alive for future generations.”