Mark R. Edwards
Charles Sumner Post #25, Grand Army of the Republic
206, South Queen Street, Chestertown, Kent County
Constructed as a meeting hall c. 1908, the Charles Sumner Post #25, Grand Army of the Republic, is a two-story gable-front frame building with a rectangular floor plan. Built on brick piers, this meeting hall has wood clapboard covered with asphalt siding and a low-pitched corrugated metal roof pierced by two small brick chimneys. Seventeen 1/1 sash windows (four on either floor of the southwest and northeast facades, and one in the second floor of the southeast principal facade) adorn the building. Its upper and lower floors are open to facilitate its use as a meeting and entertaining space. An 8' deep, 10" high sage runs across the rear of the second floor. Access to the upper floor was via two stairways flanking the main entrance. The left stairway space was later partially removed to accommodate a restroom. A narrow room at the rear of the first floor was used for food preparation. All wood details in the building, including windows, doors, casings, wainscoting, and floors have their original finishes intact. The doors at the top of the stairs leading to the second floor have 3" peepholes cut into the center stile, with a screw hole above that once likely held a piece of tin that would be pushed to the side in order to identify visitors. The first floor walls feature a highly distinctive 10" wide blue stripe painted along the ceiling, which, with white plaster walls and red painted wainscoting, represent the colors of the American flag. Unlike the surrounding residences that are built very close to the street, the Charles Sumner Post is set back approximately 20'. The building faces southwest and is situated on a 30'-wide by 75'-deep lot, a typical size for the neighborhood. The building is located in the Scotts Point area, a historically black area with in the Chestertown Historic District. The meeting hall has been abandoned since 1985. Between 1985 and when the building was purchased by Preservation Incorporated in 2002, several panels of the corrugated metal roof blew off, leading to extensive interior and exterior damage beneath those areas. The building also became completely overgrown with vegetation and trees. Since the purchase of the property the overgrowth has been removed, the roof has been closed in, and the building has been stabilized in preparation for restoration.
The Charles Sumner Post #25, Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) is significant for its association with the GAR, the principal fraternal organization for Civil War veterans and the only integrated social organization in 19th-century America. Some 8,600 GAR posts were established in the country after 1866 to provide support and fellowship for Union veterans regardless of race. The GAR maintained a strict policy of accepting posts made up wholly or in part of African-American members; the Charles Sumner Post, established in 1882 by 21 veterans who had served in the U.S. Colored Troops, was one of 22 African-American GAR posts in Maryland. The Sumner Post served the local GAR from its construction around 1908 until the last member died in 1928, and continued to be operated by surviving family members until the building was sold in 1950. It remains substantially unaltered, and derives additional significance as an example of a type of social building characteristic of the period and region. The Charles Sumner Post is one of only two GAR halls known to survive in the Nation. Although the last of the original members died in 1928, female relatives and descendants of the veterans continued to carry on the work of the Post until 1950, holding meetings, participating in Memorial Day observances, and making the hall available to Chestertown's black community as a venue for social events. The "Army Hall," as it became known, was often rented out for meetings, weddings, graduations, and concerts. Many jazz notables performed at the hall, including Ella Fitzgerald and Chuck Webb, who traveled by steamboat from Baltimore in 1937 to perform on the small second-floor stage. In 1950, five remaining women sold the property to the Centennial Beneficial Association, a group that had been meeting there and who performed a similar function in the black community. The property changed hands several more times until 1985, when it was purchased by a real estate developer.