The Crisfield Heritage Foundation (CHF), has a dynamic history, one that has progressed and grown to preserve the history and culture of the community in which it serves. The CHF’s origins began in 1977 when a group was formed to create a museum which would preserve and display the memorabilia, speeches and documents of J. Millard Tawes, the 54th governor of Maryland and a native son of Crisfield, MD.
In June of 1977, this group was incorporated under the name J. Millard Tawes Foundation (JMTF), and work began towards fulfilling its mission. Over the next few years, the JMTF began realizing that to truly honor the memory of the late governor, it needed to expand its vision to encompass preserving the heritage of the city that has contributed so much to the entire Chesapeake Bay region.
In 1983, the J. Millard Tawes Historical Museum was constructed on the waterfront of Somers Cover Marina and for over 35 years educated countless school children, local citizens, tourists and has served as cultural center for Crisfield and the surrounding area.
During the last decade of the 20th century the JMTF took aggressive steps in evolving into what is today known as the Crisfield Heritage Foundation. The organization hired a full-time executive director, renovated the Tawes Museum to accommodate exhibits telling the history of the Chesapeake Bay from it’s geological formation to present day. In addition to these steps, the JMTF decided to take action in saving, restoring and preserving historically significant structures and homes that were being lost at an alarming rate.
In 1996 the JMTF took a stupendous action by purchasing and restoring the childhood home of Governor Tawes – a mansion that was built in the 1880’s. Two years later they acquired the workshop of the world-famous decoy carvers, Lem and Steve Ward. Over the past two decades the Foundation has preserved and maintained these historical attractions and used these attractions to educate visitors of all types.
These significant actions were followed by the acquisition of Jenkins Creek Environmental Research Center, 300 acres of marsh that the Foundation renamed the Cedar Island Marsh Sanctuary. Due to the pristine environment, this area is a favorite of science teachers who want to immerse their students in the environment.
The board of directors recognized that the J. Millard Tawes Foundation had become a catalyst for propagating a wide range of historic and cultural assets and attractions, and on April 7, 1999 the organization officially changed its name to the Crisfield Heritage Foundation.
In the opening years of the 21st century, the CHF continued progressing its mission and instituted new programs including the prestigious Road Scholar program which is a weeklong university level educational experience promoting lifelong learning.
In conjunction with these new programs, the CHF continued its educational programs and preservation initiatives, and in 2015, purchased the century old historic Port of Crisfield Customs House building in downtown Crisfield. Due to the efforts of the CHF, City of Crisfield and private citizens, the Customs House has been sparred of its imminent demise. The roof and windows were replaced in 2016 which stopped further deterioration, and a new floor is being installed as of February 2017.
As we look forward to the coming year, the CHF is aggressively working towards not only saving our history, but making history as well.