Reinvigorating the Past in Elkton, MD

In Aug.2007, the Cecil County Arts Council and the Historical Society of Cecil County hosted a Smithsonian traveling exhibit in Elkton.  The exhibit was called Key Ingredients and it was about the unique foodways of a region.  As the Mayor and Commissioners and the Alliance continue to work to revitalize downtown, we tripped over this piece we wrote for the Smithsonian Blog, “Road Reports,”so we thought we’d repost it here since it seems to have demonsrated one market opportunity that could be repeated by the town’s revitaliztion authority.

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Road Reports – Museums on Main Street

The Historical Society of Cecil County and the Arts Council sponsored Key Ingredients in northeastern Maryland. Building on the Museum on Main Street product, they curated a display, held lectures, and sponsored a photo contest. When the evening arrived to kick off the activities, 17 downtown Elkton shops, galleries, restaurants, and bars stayed open to celebrate the Smithsonian’s arrival. The organizations also partnered with the Elkton Alliance, the Maryland Main Street’s revitalization authority, for the visit, which was made possible through the Maryland Humanities Council.

It was an unsually comfortable August evening on the Chesapeake Bay when the doors opened to welcome the public and a great crowd turned out. People filled the museum as fantastic original music flowed and shop owners and restaurants greeted some 400 visitors. Before strolling through the business district on the “Taste Loop,” I was already so pleased with the pleasant evening, the outstanding exhibit, and the astounding turnout that filled Elkton.  But as dusk settled on Cecil County, I strolled down Main Street with Jean Wortman from the Maryland Humanities Council and her husband. That’s an experience I will long recall for it was wonderful to see the business area filled with strollers enjoying the ambiance of the evening, the entertainment and displays, and the samplings of local food that a dozen restaurants offered. As we passed from shop-to-shop, enjoying conversations at every stop, it was reminiscent of a downtown I recall from forty or more years ago, when Elkton’s business district regularly filled with shoppers and strollers on Friday and Saturday evening.

This was a wonderful opportunity for the community. Hundreds of patrons visited the museum and businesses on opening night and a large portion of the assemblage was new to our downtown. After the show, a number of the older businesspeople remarked about how much they too enjoyed the evening for it reminded them of a time long ago when the heart of the historic town was a bustling place on shopping nights. It was wonderful for the sponsoring organizations to facilitate this occurrence for it demonstrated to key community stakeholders the power of museum as an anchor in an old town that is working to draw people downtown and it demonstrated the value of working together on large initiatives.

The Smithsonian and the Maryland Humanities Council are to be thanked for making these programs possible and showing organizatins  the opportunity to building on broad based demonstration projects.

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