History of the Chestertown Farmers' Market
Chestertown farmers' market established in 1700s
article by Peter Heck of the Kent County News (May 3, 2012)
It's well established that the current incarnation of the Saturday morning farmer's market began in 1981, after a group of local farmers wanted an outlet for their organic produce. On the urging of Jamie Gaudion of Quaker Neck Landing, then Mayor Elmer Horsey and Town Manager Bill Ingersoll set aside the Park Row side of Fountain Park for vendors, and, under the leadership of Owen McCoy, the market has become one of the town's institutions. It has twice been voted "Best in Maryland" in an annual contest sponsored by the American Farmland Trust.
But as older residents will recall, there were vendors in the park before that. In the 1940s and '50s, "hucksters" would bring seafood or produce to the park on Saturdays, often selling their wares from horse-drawn wagons. While the practice faded out in the 1960s, most local historians would have guessed it originated well before the advent of supermarkets – in the previous century, if not even earlier. And, like many aspects of daily life, it was taken for granted and not much noted by historians or official records.
Or so it seemed until Michael Lane of Chestertown uncovered a 250-year old act of the Maryland General Assembly. Lane announced his discovery at the April 14 meeting of the town council, and forwarded the text of the act to the Kent County News. It reads, in part:
"An Act to establish a Market, at the Market-House in Chester-Town, in Kent County, and for the Regulation of the said Market. (passed April 23, 1762)
"Whereas it has been represented to this present General Assembly, That by the Survey of the said Town, there is a convenient Square of Ground laid out for a Market-Place, and that the Inhabitants of the said Town have built a convenient House on the said Square for a Market-House, and that if their Market was put under a proper Regulation, it might be rendered very useful to them, as well as to the Inhabitants of the said County, and the adjacent County, and clandestine Bartering and Dealing with Servants and Slaves be prevented; and it is prayed that an Act of Assembly may be passed for holding and regulating the Market at the said Market-House:
"Be it therefore Enacted, by the Right Honourable the Lord Proprietary, by and with the Advice and Consent of his Lordship's Governor, and the Upper and Lower Houses of Assembly, and the Authority of the same, That from and after the Eleventh Day of June next, Two Days in the Week shall be held as Market Days, within the Town of Chester aforesaid, to wit, Wednesdays and Saturdays, and that all Victuals and Provisions whatsoever brought to the said Town for Sale (except Fish and Oysters that shall be brought by Water, and Beef by the Quarter or larger Quantity, and Pork by the Hog or Hogs brought either by Land or Water) upon those or any other Days, shall be carried to the Public Market-House of the said Town, there to be sold to the Inhabitants at the stated Market-Hours, to wit, from any Time in the Morning to Twelve at Noon."
It is notable that the act established Saturday and Wednesday as the days the market would be open. The modern market added Wednesday afternoons to its operating hours a couple of years ago, though not all vendors are there both days. * It is also notable that there was an existing market house when the act was passed, so that some informal version of the market was obviously already in operation.
So next time you're in the park of a Saturday morning, take time to reflect that you're looking at something almost as old as the town itself. And thanks to Lane, we now have a better idea just how historic our beloved farmers market is.
* Currently there is no Wednesday market.