By Susan Nolan
After 16 years at Historic London Town & Gardens, Executive Director Rod Cofield is saying goodbye to the historic property. He isn’t going far, however.
On Aug.10, he will assume his new duties as executive director of Jefferson Patterson Park & Museum in Calvert County.
While they are separated by over 40 miles, the two historic sites share some similarities. Both sites are located on rivers: London Town on the South River and Jefferson Patterson on the Patuxent. They both have extensive grounds used for historical interpretation and programs.
“Rod’s local knowledge of Southern Maryland coupled with his tremendous service in the history and museum field are a perfect fit for JPPM,” said Maryland Department of Planning Secretary Rob McCord. “We look forward to his innovative ideas to find new and creative ways to continue to make JPPM a premier site to interact with our past in Maryland.”
“One of the things I’ve learned about myself,” says Cofield, who began his museum career at Historic St. Mary’s City in 1999, “is that I would not be content working indoors in a traditional museum setting.”
A native Marylander and 16-year resident of Calvert County, Cofield served for the past nine years as Executive Director of Historic London Town and Gardens in Edgewater, Maryland, leading the organization in a period of strong capital investment, increased external support, and rising attendance.
During Cofield’s tenure, Historic London Town & Gardens added more outdoor components to enhance the visitor experience. The gardens now include the popular Sound & Sensory Garden, an all-natural play area; the historic area added a reproduction carpentry shop; and the parking lot was improved and expanded.
Cofield has also overseen the renovations made to the 1760 William Brown House, a brick, Georgian-style tavern. Over the past five years, the building has undergone work to mitigate water damage and to reinforce attic supports. The electrical system, including HVAC, has been updated. Porches on the south and riverfront sides and the exterior door leading to the tavern room have been repaired. A reproduction of a colonial era bar was added to the interior.
Over the next few years, the museum will continue implementing the plans that began under Cofield’s leadership, such as the building of an education pavilion, creating ADA accessible trails and enhancing the waterfront.
As impressive as the capital improvements are, Cofield says he is most proud of how the site has expanded its interpretation to show the diversity of London Town’s colonial population and the increased visibility it now enjoys. “We see return visitors, local people who become members and then return with family and friends. The gardens and the historic area are enjoyed by so many people who share their love of the site.”
According to Bob Leib, board chairman of the London Town Foundation, over 25,000 people visit the property every year. He credits Cofield’s “strong and steady vision.”
Cofield, however, is quick to acknowledge others when discussing the museum’s many successes. “I’ve worked with great people—the staff, the volunteers, the board, the community. Everything we do here is a group effort,” he says.
Lauren Silberman, London Town’s deputy director, has worked with Cofield since 2015. According to her, Cofield’s modesty and team-building skills are assets. “He values the team effort that it takes to not only maintain but grow an organization like this. He’s very patient and tries to lead people into understanding, valuing, and buying into the vision for the site,” she says.
Silberman also notes Cofield’s leadership during the pandemic was invaluable. While most museums relied heavily on virtual programming, Cofield recognized the need to provide the public with a refuge. “When the pandemic started, we closed for about two months, but under Rod’s direction, we worked hard to reopen quickly and safely. He knew it was critical to provide people with a safe place to step away from the world, where you could be outside and feel rejuvenated by the gardens and the South River,” she says.
Prior to his tenure at Historic London Town Gardens, Cofield was a visiting instructor at St. Mary’s College of Maryland and has taught various courses related to history and museum studies. He has additional service with professional organizations, including the Maryland Museum Association and the Small Museum Association and he participates as a peer reviewer in both the Museum Assessment Program at the American Alliance of Museums and for the National Leadership Grant program for the Institute of Museum and Library Services.
Cofield holds a bachelor’s degree in history and political science from St. Mary’s College of Maryland and a master’s degree in liberal arts from St. John’s College.
In his honor, the London Town Foundation has created the Rod Cofield Fund. The fund’s first fundraising endeavor is Buy A Beer For Rod, where an online purchase of a symbolic $16 beer is 100 percent tax deductible and will be used for priority projects and London Town’s long-term sustainability.
To contribute or learn more: historiclondontown.org.