If buildings could talk, The Waterfowl Building, formerly known as the Easton Armory, could tell some interesting stories, from boxing matches to the site of a presidential campaign visit.
The imposing brick and masonry building is reminiscent of a medieval castle with twin towers flanking the arched entrance. It’s a building meant to be noticed and built to last. It dominates the corner of Harrison and South streets in Easton.
Originally completed in 1927 to serve as a training facility for Maryland’s State Militia, the building was also the home to the local Maryland Army National Guard unit until 1976.
Throughout its history, the building was used for a wide variety of activities – from flower and poultry shows, to boxing matches, dances, and fund-raising events. In 1960, then candidate, former President John F. Kennedy, Jr., made a campaign stop at the Armory to talk about federal farm policy.
The building also served as a training center for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, perhaps a precursor to now serving at the headquarters for the Waterfowl Festival.
Enter Waterfowl Festival, Inc.
In early 1997, the Board of Public Works of the State of Maryland, the Maryland Historical Trust, and the Town of Easton, jointly conveyed the property via a “Deed of Easement” to Waterfowl Festival, Inc. [a non-profit 501 (c)(3) corporation].
The building’s exterior structure, as well as various interior features, are subject to the terms and conditions of the Easement. And because the building also resides within Easton’s Historic District, it must be maintained in keeping with its original historic construction.
Since 1997, the building’s offices along with the former drill hall, now fondly known as Festival Hall, have significantly helped the Waterfowl Festival promote its waterfowl and wildlife art, outdoor sporting and recreation, and conservation efforts. The festival is truly a celebration of life on Maryland’s Eastern Shore and is fondly referred to as Talbot County’s homecoming.
Waterfowl Festival, Inc., has also turned that corner of Easton into a photo stop for residents and visitors alike, with the large sculpture by world-renowned artist, Bart Walter. The grand presence of the “Waterfowl Building” has fostered a regional, if not national, recognition of the Waterfowl Festival’s premier annual three-day event each November.
During the building’s stewardship by Waterfowl Festival, many organizations within Talbot County and beyond have benefited from use of the Festival Hall and conference room, including the Avalon Foundation’s Plein Air Festival; Academy Art Museum’s Craft Sale; UMC’s Horn Point Laboratory “Chesapeake Champion for the Environment” Award ceremonies; Jazz Alive concerts…and countless other community-oriented events.
Preserving a Treasure
In keeping with its responsibilities for stewardship of the building, the Waterfowl Festival has periodically made improvements, most notably the addition of a passenger and service elevator, a kitchen and, more recently, the restorations of the building’s windows paid for with a $100,000 grant from Maryland Historical Trust.
While the organization celebrates the window restoration, many critical improvements and upgrades remain to be done. Some of those include roof membrane replacement; exterior brick and masonry restoration work; lighting and electrical component upgrades; HVAC and humidity control systems; and installation of fire control and life safety systems.
“Once the Waterfowl Building’s infrastructure is updated to 2022 standards, this storied building will provide exceptional meeting and use space for countless organizations, locally and throughout our entire geographical area,” states Kenneth Miller, President of Waterfowl Festival, Inc. “The festival’s current Board shares this viewpoint and firmly believes that an adequately updated and maintained festival building would be used almost weekly by non-profits as well as other organizations.”
If buildings could talk, the Waterfowl Festival, Inc., headquarters could provide countless stories from Easton’s interesting and historic past. The organization hopes to preserve this treasure and ensure it will continue to be one of the premier gathering places in Talbot County.
Written by Pam Keeton