CHESAPEAKE CITY — Few who visit Chesapeake City today can imagine what it was like nearly 50 years ago.
It wasn’t a family-friendly destination with boutique shops and boat tours of the Chesapeake Bay, but rather a corner of the world replete with rowdy bars and boarded-up homes.
One lifelong resident could see the gem worth polishing though: Jayne Foard. She passed away Friday, July 5, at the age of 90.
The Chesapeake City of the 1970s was a town in despair, still smarting from the collapse of the Chesapeake City Bridge in 1942 and its rebuilding of a higher bridge that largely avoided the town, as well as the widening of the C&D Canal that demolished an entire street of 39 homes in the ‘60s.
It was Foard who helped Allaire du Pont organize a group of residents as the Women for Federal Restoration, Chesapeake City District, in 1974 to purchase and restore the historic Franklin Hall, home today to Chicks boutique shop at 20 Bohemia Ave.
With the help of du Pont, they achieved their goal and then focused their attention on fixing up the rest of the historical district and building what today is known as Pell Gardens, the centerpiece of south Chesapeake City.
After retiring from her career as a teacher in Cecil County Public Schools, Foard purchased the J.M. Reed General Merchandise Building, next to Franklin Hall on Bohemia Avenue, and renamed it The Back Creek General Store, creating the first gift shop of its kind in south Chesapeake City. For 32 years she ran the store before retiring from that venture in 2018 at the age of 89.
Foard also purchased the Hager-Kinter House across the street from her store and named it the “Victorian Lady,” where she ran a second gift shop for several years.
For her efforts, Foard was named Woman of the Year in 1977 and in 2012 received the Chesapeake City Chamber of Commerce’s first Legacy Award, which honors a town resident or businessperson who has made a lasting impact.
A surprised Foard accepted the 2012 award and told the more than 100 people in attendance that night that her efforts all began with a dream of seeing Franklin Hall restored and lit up at night.
“I traveled over that bridge many times and looked down and thought that for the town to have that building and to see a candle in that third story would be a dream unbelievable,” she said.
She deflected much of the credit to the dozens of people who helped with the restoration though.
“What a journey that was for a lot of people,” she said. “It was absolutely wonderful.”
Cecil County Executive Alan McCarthy, who moved to Chesapeake City in 1978 and has been an area resident ever since, said he could recall the town before the efforts of Foard and others helped to change its future.
“She was certainly one of the pioneering people of this town,” he said. “She and Allaire du Pont really worked hard to bring this town back to life.”
Former Town Councilwoman Rebecca Mann, who is a lifelong town resident and daughter of the late Mayor Roy Mann Jr., said she too could recall the impact that Foard had on the town’s revitalization.
“Jayne was a big promoter while Mrs. du Pont had the bucks behind it,” she said. “I can remember most of these houses being boarded-up … I think the Hole In The Wall bar and maybe two other homes were the only places occupied on the entire stretch (of Bohemia Avenue past 2nd Street).”
At Monday’s town meeting, Chesapeake City Mayor Rich Taylor said the town owed Foard a debt of gratitude for her revitalization efforts over several decades.
“Mrs. Foard was a resident of the town for 90 years — one half of the town’s existence,” he said, noting Chespeake City celebrates its 180th anniversary this year. “She was probably a key contributor for at least a third of those 180 years. I would venture to say that if we had a Mount Rushmore of Chesapeake City she would be on it.”
Taylor said that he can recall helping work on the Cropper House, which is today home to Cafe on the Bay coffee shop, and Franklin Hall when he was a kid.
“I’ve actually been under Cropper House, and when I say under I mean under the floor of the building,” he said.
Foard was a charter member of Historic Chesapeake City Inc., which was a group of teachers who purchased the Cropper House for $4,500 — at the time one of the biggest purchase prices in town, Taylor said — and restored it.
“You could buy houses on George Street for $500, so the Cropper House was a big endeavor,” he said. “Then she opened the first store of its kind in the Back Creek General Store.”
Taylor also noted that the Victorian Lady is a Sears and Roebuck kit house that was brought to town by wagon from the Middletown, Del., railroad station.
“She was an incredibly consequential person,” the mayor said. “Farewell to Mrs. Foard. We thank her for her contributions.”
The town draped its Welcome to Chesapeake City signs with black bunting in her honor and made a contribution to the Chesapeake City Volunteer Fire Company, as per her wishes, Taylor said.
Foard is survived by her daughter, Paula Foard Lutz and her husband George, of North East; and son, Robert T. Foard Jr. and his wife Patti, of Fair Hill, along with numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
An evening visitation will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. on Wednesday, July 10 at R.T. Foard Funeral Home, P.A., 318 George St. in Chesapeake City. A celebration of life will be held at 11 a.m. on Thursday, July 11 at Trinity United Methodist Church, 450 3rd St. in Chesapeake City, where family and friends may visit beginning at 10 a.m.