Photo by Karly Kolaja
CHESTERTOWN, MD—Washington College First Lady Elisabeth Reiss has two goals in mind for Saturday, December 8, 2012 — draw more visitors to Chestertown to enjoy its Colonial charms, and raise money for the local schools.
As an organizer and chief cheerleader for this year’s Holiday House Tour sponsored by the PTAs at Garnett Elementary and Kent County Middle School, she sees the holiday tour, now in its 28th year, as the perfect opportunity to showcase the town’s lovingly preserved Colonial character. Some 10 buildings in the historic district, three of them College-owned, will be decorated for the holidays in authentic Colonial style. The official self-guided tour, with docents at each site, is offered from 1 to 4 p.m. that Saturday afternoon. Also on tap: wagon rides with historical interpreters on board, children playing Colonial games, and members of the Maryland Loyalist Battalion encamped in the riverfront garden opposite Hynson-Ringgold House.
In addition, visitors are encouraged to start the day early at the award-winning Chestertown Farmer’s Market (open 9 to noon), enjoy lunch in a downtown eatery, and stay late for a creative staging of A Child’s Christmas in Wales at the Garfield Center for the Arts at the Prince Theatre.
A native of England and a former resident of Williamsburg (where husband Mitchell was a professor and administrator before becoming WC’s president), Elisabeth has seen the power of the words “Colonial” and “living history” to draw tourists. “And we have it all here in Chestertown,” she says. Supporting the local schools has been a favorite cause since she arrived in town in summer of 2010. Each year on 100th day of school, she and Mitchell have donated 100 books to the Garnett Elementary School library, and she has organized clothing drives for some of the neediest students.
The three College buildings on the tour are Hynson-Ringgold House, the circa 1743 brick mansion where the Reisses live as the First Family; the Custom House, built in the 1740s when Chestertown was a bustling port of entry for Maryland’s Eastern Shore; and the circa-1735 Patrick Henry House, where the C.V. Starr Center’s visiting Fellows are housed. New to the tour this year is stately Widehall, a privately owned riverfront mansion built around 1770 by wealthy merchant and shipbuilder Thomas Smythe.
The tour begins at Emmanuel Episcopal Church, 101 Cross Street, the site where a 1780 vote first renamed the former Church of England as the Protestant Episcopal Church in America.
Tickets are $15 in advance, $20 at the door. For information about the Holiday House Tour, visit http://www.holidayhousetour.org.