College given OK to demolish 4 buildings on former Dixon site

CHESTERTOWN — Soon, Washington College will begin work on the former Dixon Valve property in the 800-block of High Street, which the college took ownership of four years ago.

Last month, the Town of Chestertown issued a permit for demolition of four buildings on the site.

In December of 2019, KRM Development Corp., the real estate division of The Dixon Group, “gifted” the 11-acre property to the college as the company prepared to move to its new, purpose-built campus just north of Chestertown. 

Since then, according to a news release, the college has embarked on a process to engage members of the greater community in envisioning a collaborative makerspace and innovation hub to be housed in a 200-by-80-foot section of warehouse at the back of the property that would serve students and members of the public as they develop new ideas, build prototypes and possibly launch small businesses.

Public meetings and a working group involving Washington College faculty, staff and several community members have worked to inform the plans for that space since last October.

The feasibility study and stakeholder engagement process, funded by a $24,500 grant from the Maryland Technology Development Corporation, will help frame the eventual use of the section of warehouse.

A final report is expected in June, according to a Jan. 24 news release from the college.   

Honoring the past
The site’s history and meaning are significant,  especially for the nearby upper Calvert Street neighborhood, a historically Black community.

For generations, the buildings at 800 High St. provided jobs, first as a Vita Foods pickle processing facility and later as the Dixon Valve and Coupling Co. headquarters and manufacturing plant.

Using its considerable resources and the expertise of faculty, staff and students, Washington College continues to conduct heritage, oral history and archival work — including capturing 360-degree photography, conducting 3D laser scanning and digitizing past photographs — to better tell the site’s history as well as preserve some artifacts for potential future installation.  

Several recorded interviews and more than 300 photographs have been digitized so far.

Nearly 100 of those past images are currently housed and accessible to the public in the Chesapeake Heartland digital archive, which aims to preserve, digitize, interpret and make accessible materials related to African American history and culture in Kent County, Maryland and beyond.

In collaboration with the National Museum of African American History and Culture and a diverse array of local organizations, The Washington College Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience’s Chesapeake Heartland Project seeks to build a model of grassroots preservation, curation and interpretation for communities across the region.

The public is invited to peruse the Vita Foods collection at archive.chesapeakeheartland.org/Gallery/24.  

 “The former Vita Foods site was a place where community was forged,” Pat Nugent, the Thomas V. “Mike” Miller director for civic engagement at Washington College, said in the news release. “Here, pickles were fermented, and fish was processed. It was a place where white and black worked side by side — a meeting ground for young and old alike. This place has long been a diverse space for making, innovating, connecting, and building careers. We want to honor and do right by that history moving forward.”  

Looking ahead 

For the immediate future, in addition to the cell tower and the warehouse being considered for a makerspace, the building which housed the former YMCA will remain and is under consideration as a student wellness center.

The four buildings set for removal will make way for open space while the college explores a new campus master plan and charts the future use of the property.  

Largely funded by grants from several state programs and offices, the project to remove structures from the property will get underway later this spring, according to the news release.

More information about the site, future uses and accessibility will be shared with the public as plans take shape, according to the news release.

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