Like many 18th century communities, Easton’s initial development began at its waterfront. Those who grew up in the Hill District and other in-town neighborhoods remember their grandparents telling them about walking down to the Tred Avon River to enjoy a picnic or launch a boat for a relaxing afternoon.
After the construction of the Easton Bypass, the link from the in-town neighborhoods changed and development between the By-pass and the river became primarily industrial. Londonderry’s decision to build its retirement community on twenty-nine acres at the corner of the By-pass and Port Street, including 1500 feet of the Tred Avon River’s shoreline, was an important step toward redevelopment of this area.
The Town of Easton and the Easton Economic Development Corporation took the next step and began a long-term planning process that led to The Port Street Small Area Master Plan. The goal of the plan is to guide future development for the area christened “Easton Point,” and the Port Street corridor connecting Easton Point to downtown Easton. The development will be the catalyst to enable Port Street to become a vibrant portal into the Town, with diverse uses including cultural, housing, open spaces, walkability, recreation, restaurants, and retail. One of the components of the plan is a much-needed boathouse located on the NW side of Port Street.
Another stakeholder in the redevelopment of the Port Street Corridor is Evergreen Easton Point, a not-for-profit wellness and learning center. They are currently housed in a converted small residence and a detached modular building and need more space for their community outreach. Two years ago, the group approached Mitch Hager to help in the redevelopment after seeing his other project on the Tred Avon. The project happened to be his own personal family home.
After months of meetings, which included examining the Port Street Master Plan and discussions on the mission and vision for Evergreen, Hager created designs for a two-story Boathouse Cultural Center. He presented the plans at a recent meeting of the Town Council.
The design is for the second floor to serve a variety of functions including a full commercial demonstration kitchen, bar, sub-dividable event spaces, and office space. The Boathouse on the ground floor will support large regatta events (think thousands of spectators). It will also accommodate storage for up to twenty 60’ long crew boats with significant additional smaller crew boat and kayak space. This will be a welcome benefit for both the Freedom Rowers and the Eastern Shore Community Rowers, who currently store their boats on Evergreen Easton Point’s property.
The planned one-way drive will facilitate the movement of cars and trailers for regattas and other events. The aggregate concrete drive first passes by plantings and leads to a row of parking spaces on each side of the site to allow separate parking areas for the multipurpose nature of the cultural center. In the middle is a large grassy area for events and other special gatherings. The drive continues around the perimeter of the grassy area and passes by the Boathouse Cultural Center back to the entry drive to Point Street.
The state-of-the-art building will include the three principles used by Hager in all of his designs: (1) Place/Site—the seasonal path of sun, the use of indigenous plants, geological conditions, etc. (2) Craft –the innovative use of materials, and (3) Tectonic Culture—artistic expression of the materials to be used. As such, the building will be in a park-like setting, naturally lit, geothermally heated/cooled, and self-sustaining. “It will be the first building of its kind in the Mid-Atlantic region,” says Hager. “It will be at the forefront of sustainable practices, using an approach not done on the Eastern Shore ever before.”
In the plan’s development, Hager paid homage to neighboring Londonderry’s Manor House, built at the end of the Civil Was by prominent architect Richard Upjohn. His Boathouse will reflect and respect the sensibilities of the scale and materiality Upjohn used for his own work.
Hager also incorporated the site’s towering evergreens which were apparently planted by a German immigrant who moved to Talbot County to escape the Nazi regime. Since the mature trees created a woodland atmosphere, a decision was made to expand that setting in the plan, making it broader and more open than it is currently.
But it is the placement of the site towards the Tred Avon River that most excites Hager. “The building’s ground floor is oriented in a southwestern orientation. The second floor is oriented in a true north-south axis. During the darker winter months as the sun gets low on the horizon, its light is filtered through the evergreens, flooding the space with warm natural light. Yet you still have an uninterrupted and glare-free view of the Tred Avon River. As the sun rises and as the season approaches the summer solstice, the angles and array of the structural components start to filter out the sunlight and shade the interior spaces when they need it the most. “Simply put,” says Hager, ‘this is a building that respects the local vernacular convention, the ecology of the Chesapeake Bay, and the compelling vision of Evergreen for the Community.”
According to Hager, the Town of Easton, Easton Economic Development Corp., and multiple nonprofits are excited and supportive of the project. “We already also have subcontractors that are helping, including Weems Brothers, Spearhead, Blessing Environmental, and REHAU.” As for what’s next, Hager said final design plans are being approved. “We’re also looking to make the project as inclusive as possible to the entire community and welcome additional partnerships.”
Stay tuned to the Spy for updates and progress on this exciting and landmark project.
Val Cavalheri is a recent transplant to the Eastern Shore, having lived in Northern Virginia for the past 20 years. She’s been a writer, editor and professional photographer for various publications, including the Washington Post.
Jennifer Martella has pursued her dual careers in architecture and real estate since she moved to the Eastern Shore in 2004. Her award winning work has ranged from revitalization projects to a collaboration with the Maya Lin Studio for the Children’s Defense Fund’s corporate retreat in her home state of Tennessee.