Friday Focus: Historic Sotterley Plantation

sotterleyOccupying a 94-acre piece of land along the Patuxent River, Sotterley Plantation is one of Southern Maryland’s well-known historical landmarks. As the organization enters the final days of preparation for its ever-popular Riverside WineFest event, we caught up with Sotterley’s Executive Director, Nancy Easterling, who shared with us some information about the plantation itself, and gave us an inside look into what 2014 WineFest attendees can expect this year!

Q: Tell us about your organization (who you serve, etc.)

A: Sotterley Plantation is a National Historic Landmark and one of the oldest museums of its kind in the United States, with a history dating back to the turn of the 18th century.  Many people have called Sotterley home over these many years.  Some came here to prosper; others worked the land, either for wages or under bondage.   Sotterley today consists of almost 100 acres of breathtaking beauty on the Patuxent River that includes over six miles of nature trails, Colonial Revival Gardens, and over 20 historic buildings.  Visitors to Sotterley enjoy a wide range of programming, including award winning education programs, acclaimed heritage tours, and a variety of entertaining and interesting special events for guests of all ages.  This jewel of Southern Maryland represents three centuries of our state’s and country’s history, and has become an integral part of the cultural landscape of our region.  Historic Sotterley, Inc. is a non-profit 501(c)(3) public charity with a mission to preserve, research, and interpret Sotterley Plantation’s diverse cultures and environments, and to serve the world as an educational, cultural, and community resource.

Q: What has been your favorite “moment” (example of how your organization helped)?

A: There are so many favorite moments for those of us who work here.  For me, however, the best moments will always be when we touch a guest’s life in such a way that our history comes alive for them, and that from their visit they gain a level of insight into our shared past that had not existed until that moment.

One such moment happened years ago when I took a field trip to Sotterley with my son just prior to my starting to work here.  On the way home while riding in the back of the bus, I heard all of the 8th graders talking – not about what new video games they were playing or what sporting events were coming up for them, but they were actually talking about the information they had learned during their Slavery to Freedom program. Yet another student stood up at her 8th grade graduation ceremony and said that her field trip to Sotterley was her favorite 8th grade memory because it was the best field trip she had ever taken – we had made history come alive for her.  Making that same connection to our students and heritage tourists is at the core of our mission, and for me these “a-ha” moments are always the most magical.

Q: What is your biggest challenge?

A: Sotterley is blessed to be a community that cares, but adequate and sustainable funding remains the biggest challenge we face.  Sotterley raises all of its funding through memberships, sponsorships, special events, site rental, grants, and other donations.  It is reliant on those who understand Sotterley’s mission and the importance of not only preserving the site for future generations, but continuing to provide such a wonderful cultural resource to our community.  There are ongoing preservation and maintenance challenges that far outstrip our limited budget, but we try to address as many as possible through donations or grant funding whenever possible.  Our hope is to one day have a larger and more sustainable base of operational funding, ensuring that we can always preserve Sotterley’s stories and our shared history for the future.

Q: How can people really help?

A: There are so many ways to help and support Sotterley!  Becoming a member is one of the easiest – our members are the bedrock of our financial support, and we provide our members with special ways to experience the site and its programming.  Businesses can be a part of Sotterley through financial support in the form of sponsorships, memberships, or donations.   Monetary donations are of course critical, but In-kind donations of goods and services  are also invaluable to Sotterley, and range from the time and talents of professionals in our community to the donations of serviceable equipment (from lawn mowers to golf carts to computer printers – the list is endless!).  We also invite everyone to Make History and Volunteer!  Sotterley volunteers are simply the best, and no matter how much time you have to give or your area of interest, there is a place for you in the Sotterley family: from helping the Sotterley Garden Guild, becoming an Interpreter or Guide, working in our Museum Shop, helping with the Hospitality team, or simply coming to support our special events.   No matter how you choose to support Sotterley, know that you WILL make a very real difference!

Q: What advice can you give someone looking to work at a non-profit?

A: Working at a non-profit is one of the most rewarding jobs you will ever have, even though the pay will almost always be limited and often the hours long.  To serve a cause or mission that you believe in, however, is a incalculable joy, and you have the opportunity to work alongside people every day who truly care and who are dedicated to giving back and making a difference in our community.

Q: What events do you have coming up?

A: There is so much to do at Sotterley Plantation in the months ahead!  First of all, our Riverside WineFest at Sotterley is just around the corner on October 4th and 5th from noon until 6pm each day! With over 20 Maryland wineries boasting award-winning wines, an amazing live music line-up, artisan vendors, food and beer vendors, demonstrations, free mini tours of the Plantation House and Colonial Revival Gardens, and fun children’s activities, there is truly something for everyone!  Discounted tickets can be purchased through September 28th, but members old and new can buy at the gate for only $15!

A mere two weeks later we begin our Ghosts of Sotterley tours which will be held on October 17, 18, 23, 24 & 25.  On this walking tour of Sotterley’s grounds, you will encounter inhabitants of the past and those not of this earth during this year’s production: “Reapers in Red Coats: The Ghosts of Sotterley 1814.”   Tickets may be purchased on-line, and advance reservations are required.

But that’s not all!  There will be one more wonderful and FREE Speaker Series event on October 29th, “SPAT: Bringing Oysters Back to the Chesapeake Bay”, and then right around the corner will be our holiday events in December: Family Plantation Christmas, and our expanded Sotterley Christmas Traditions by Candlelight tours.

We hope that all of our guests will remember that by simply coming and having a great time with us, you ultimately also support Sotterley and its mission. Truly a win-win for all!  We hope to see you soon!

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