Matthewstown Remains One Big Happy Family

August 25, 1991|By Elise Armacost | Elise Armacost,Staff writer

One hundred and one years ago, Papa Nick Matthews and his wife, MamaRose, bought 40 acres near Harmans and gave parcels to their 10 children.

Two years ago, one of their descendants had a vision from the Lord, telling her to plan a neighborhood celebration. This weekend,the party begins in the little hamlet of Matthewstown.

Roxann Jones' eyes fill up as she contemplates the fulfillment ofher vision, which came to her two years ago as she was lying in bed.

"I really didn't think it could be done," says Jones, a great-granddaughter of Papa Nick and Mama Rose. "It's like a dream come true. It's like a blessing from the Lord."

True to the religious spirit of the community, The first Matthewstown Festival and Parade kicks off Friday night with a gospel service at Joe Cannon Stadium in Harmans. Pastors, choirs and worshipers from as far away as Havre de Grace are scheduled to join their Matthewstown hosts.

"We're just going to be singin' and praisin' the Lord. Maybe there'll be some hollerin' in there too, honey," says Jones' sister, Carol Gaither, who now lives in nearby Queenstown.

At 11 a.m. Saturday, a parade will leave Joe Cannon Stadium, proceed down Ridge Chapel Road to Harmans Road, then up Post Road and Matthewstown Roadbefore ending at the stadium.

There will be floats and fire trucks, clowns and antique cars, dancing girls, Clydesdale horses and marching bands. Matthewstown's seniorcitizens -- a group held in special esteem -- have been invited to share the spotlight.

An afternoon festival will include games, tournaments, rides, craft tables, bingo, barbecue chicken and a ton of other food. (Food is very big in Matthewstown -- fried chicken, sweet potato pie, biscuits.)

A street party will continue into the evening.

All this activity centers on a tiny area inhabited by 50 families who, with four exceptions, are all related to one another. Everyone is descended from Papa Nick and Mama Rose.

As happy as they are and as much as they like their neighborhood the way it is, you'd think they'd want to close ranks against outsiders, to isolate themselvesin their own pleasant world. But that isn't how it is.

"What you got ought to rub off on people," says Theodore "Jack" Matthews, a great-grandson of Papa Nick. "If you got love, you got to spread it."

Love is the No. 1 commodity in Matthewstown. Just go to one of its weekly civic association meetings. In most places, such meetings are run like business conferences. In Matthewstown, they're more like family reunions, with pleasant banter, reminiscences and a prayer -- witheveryone holding hands -- to start things off.

If someone from another neighborhood decides to come, well, honey, that's fine! Come onin! Have some grape juice and a piece of pie. Says Ira Ollie of nearby Harmans Woods, "I was welcomed with open arms. You can see the love generated when you walk in."

Everybody's house is open to anybody in Matthewstown. You need a slice of bread or a cup of sugar? Just walk next door and get it.

"I remember years ago the kids would take picnic tables and use them, then bring them back and sit them in the yard," says Adrain Miller, great-niece of Nick Matthews. "That's the way we were brought up: to love and respect one another."

Though he has been dead for nearly 30 years, Nicholas Matthews still loomsas the powerful presence who instilled such values. "He was like a blinking star in the element of Matthewstown," recalls Samuel Johnson,a retired railroad worker who, at 90, claims to be Matthewstown's oldest resident. His wife, Viola, was Papa Nick's sister.

Born in Patuxent in 1875, Papa Nick moved to Harmans early in life and, along with his father and brother, started working on Shipley's farm. Eventually he and Rosie had 10 children and bought 40 acres of land.

Matthewstown residents have written a short biography of their patriarch. "Nicholas, not having the good fortune of getting a formal education, possessed a doctoral degree in wisdom," it says. "Evidenceof this was his insight in putting his trust in God and his investment in real estate."

Deeply religious, Papa Nick belonged to St. Mark's Methodist Church, where many of his descendants still worship. "All he knew was his Bible. He would preach the Bible all the time," Johnson remembers.

Though this is a black community, race is not and never has been an issue. Papa Nick didn't think that way and neither, his descendants say, do they. Even those who went to segregated schools saythey have pleasant memories of those days; that's just the way it was.

"Everybody is the same," says Jones. "If you got love in your heart, you don't care what color somebody is."

Papa Nick died in 1962, leaving behind 43 grandchildren, 105 great-grandchildren, 81 great-great-grandchildren and three great-great-great- grandchildren.

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