Salon Discussion - Poplar Grove, Part 2 with Adam Goodheart, Dr. Edward Papenfuse, Jeremy Rothwell, and Albin Kowalewski

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The Poplar Grove Project

On a peninsula in Queen Anne's County lies Poplar Grove, a 400 year old former plantation on a remote site outside of Centreville. The property is still in the hands of a family whose ancestors were granted the site by Lord Baltimore in 1669.

In 2008, Washington College Historian and Director of the Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience Adam Goodheart and his students discovered a trove of papers there: documents from the mundane to the extraordinary, dating back to the 17th century. Papers that had lain unread for generations were stashed in attics and outbuildings in a crumbling, mouse-eaten jumble.

The Poplar Grove Project was directed by Dr. Edward C. Papenfuse, State Archivist of Maryland, and Adam Goodheart, Hodson Trust-Griswold Director of the C.V. Starr Center. The student team included Washington College undergraduates James Schelberg '11 and Jeremy Rothwell '09, as well as Olivia Wood, an Emory descendant and a student at Rhodes College at the time of the project. The team supervisor was Washington College alumnus Albin Kowalewski '07

For some background on Poplar Grove and the archive project, follow these links:

Click here to read as Starr Center for the American Experience Director Adam Goodheart sets the stage. 

Another post by Adam Goodheart about the letters between two siblings that Olivia worked on most, funny because the teenage sentiment is timeless!

One of the thousands of images of Poplar Grove documents preserved in the Maryland State Archives. In this case, a document from 1786 describing the boundaries of Corsica Farm

NPR coverage

A contemporaneous article by Simon Kelly’s in the Queen Anne's County Record Observer 

Click here for My Darling Alice, a book by local author Mary Wood based on "Letters and Legends from an Eastern Shore Farm 1837-1935" and set on Poplar Grove and its environs.

Adam Goodheart

Adam Goodheart is a historian, essayist, journalist, and New York Times bestselling author. In 2006, after several years as a part-time scholar-in-residence at Washington College, Goodheart was appointed Director of the College’s Starr Center for the study of the American Experience. The position was endowed by the Hodson Trust later that year as the Hodson Trust-Griswold Directorship. Under his leadership, the Starr Center has focused on exploring new approaches to America’s past and present, on fostering the art of historical writing, and on opening doorways to on- and off-campus opportunities for Washington College students. The Center is interdisciplinary and works with faculty and students in a broad range of academic departments. During Goodheart’s tenure, the Starr Center was awarded a $2.5 million grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the largest federal grant in Washington College’s history. He forged partnerships with the Smithsonian on the American Pictures Distinguished Lecture Series and with the New York Times on the “Historically Corrected” series of columns, created in collaboration with Washington College students. New annual writing fellowships bring nationally distinguished authors to live in Chestertown and teach at the College. Starr Center student fellowships at leading museums, libraries, and cultural institutions – across the U.S. and overseas – award fully paid summer positions to outstanding Washington College undergraduates in many different fields.

Dr. Edward Papenfuse

Dr. Papenfuse is the retired Maryland State Archivist and Commissioner of Land Patents. He received his undergraduate degree from the American University, an M.A. from the University of Colorado, and a Ph.D. in history from The Johns Hopkins University. He holds an honorary doctorate of letters from Washington College. As director of the Maryland State Archives in Annapolis, Papenfuse was responsible for the Archives' collection of government and private materials which are described and inventoried in detail at, Guide to Government Records and the Guide Special Collections. In 2003, he conceptualized and initiated the design of, which contains over 200,000,000 indexed images of permanent archival records and has public usage statistics. In addition he has created an interactive editorial website for archival documents which currently accesses over 500,000 pages of original source material on the experimental web sites, Remembering Baltimore,, and virtual From June 2010 until October 2013, he was also the acting City Archivist for the Baltimore City Archives, becoming a catalyst for change in an archives in disrepair.

Jeremy Rothwell

A native of Cecil County, MD, Jeremy is a 12th-generation Eastern Shoreman, and currently resides in a circa 1910 Victorian home in the village of Massey (Kent County). He earned a B.A. in political science and history from Washington College, an M.A. in Urban Affairs and Regional Planning and a Graduate Certificate in Historic Preservation, both from the University of Delaware. He is employed as Planner for Smyrna, Delaware, and is responsible for managing and directing new growth and redevelopment efforts within the municipality. He previously worked as a planner for Talbot County, Maryland and Harrington, Delaware. He serves on the Delaware State Historic Review Board, the Kent County Historic Preservation Commission, and on the Board of Directors for both the Cecil Land Trust and Preservation Delaware, Inc. 

Albin Kowalewski

Albin Kowalewski graduated from Washington College, and is senior historical editor at the Office of the Historian, U.S. House of Representatives. 

Above, Dr. Papenfuse works with the Poplar Grove papers.

One thing I’ve often reflected on in the dozen years since we worked on the papers is how invested everyone was in the project—those of us who collected the papers at Poplar Grove and who spent long hours in a dreary business park in Glen Burnie processing them, as well as those who followed the blog and the media coverage. It was like this collective urgency to protect and preserve and understand something you didn’t even know was lost. It is also a testament to the generosity of the Wood family to make this collection available to the public. I’ve often compared the Poplar Grove papers, and documentary editing projects like it, to the establishment of a new state or national park—both become public resources that help us access and understand the past and present in new ways.

Abbie Kowalewski

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