Become a Photo Historian: Learn to Identify and Preserve Your Family Treasures

There is a great interest in learning how to identify and protect old pictures, and the Cecil County Public Library is presenting a how-to talk to help you get started with that task.  So if you are the family archivist or the records custodian for  your church or civic group, working to sift through old boxes of cherished pictures, this helpful program will introduce you to the basics and help assure your precious snapshots are passed along to future generations.

The program by Historian Mike Dixon takes place at the Chesapeake City Branch Sept 15, 2014 at 6:30 p.m. Mike will show you how to identify and preserve your historic photos.

Click here for more details and to register for the program.

A faded, Cherry Hill postcard mailed from that community Nov. 26, 1908.  It was mailed to Miss Anna Pedrick, Dover, NJ.  This was a Ed Herbener photo and the message simply said "arrived home safe."

A faded, Cherry Hill postcard mailed from that community Nov. 26, 1908. It was mailed to Miss Anna Pedrick, Dover, NJ. This was a Ed Herbener photo and the message simply said “arrived home safe.”

Simple adjustments made to the Cherry Hill postcard with a freeware program.

Simple adjustments made to the Cherry Hill postcard with a freeware program.


The Cecilton Chevy Dealer, H. W. Cheyney Celebrated 26 Years in Business in 1954

H. W. Cheyney Marked 26 Years in business in 1954. Source:  Cecil Democrat, June 20, 1954

H. W. Cheyney, Cecil Democrat, June 20, 1954

H. W. Cheney, the Cecilton Chevrolet dealer marked the 26th anniversary of taking care of the automobile needs of residents in the southern part of the county in 1954.  And he was featuring some great bargains on the used car lot.

Mr. Chyeney established the business in 1928, “starting out with only himself and a mechanic,” the Cecil Democrat reported.  By 1954, his workforce had grown to himself, 2 salesmen, 4 mechanics, a parts man, and two clerical personnel, the newspaper reported.

The Democrat reported that the dealership “was one of the oldest in continuous operations in Cecil County.”  Mr. Cheyney was active in civic affairs, serving the community in many ways, which includes the town board.


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Cheyney's use car sale.  Source:  Cecil Democrat, June 20, 1954

Cheyney’s use car sale. Source: Cecil Democrat, June 20, 1954


Need an Ambulance in Cecil County in 1953, Call Ernie’s Cab Company

Fire department based emergency medical services in Cecil County evolved slowly after World War II. The first company to acquire an ambulance was Singerly in 1941.  Before that the American Legion in Elkton operated a unit for many years, but as the war approached they pulled back.  After that, Taylor McKenney’s Garage in Elkton, answered medical transport calls, until the fire service got involved.  Also, beginning in 1935 the Conowingo State Police barrack operated a transport vehicle and they continued with that service into the 1940s.

In the next decade after Singerly inaugurated its ambulance service, other companies joined in.  In 1955, the Community Fire Company of Perryville and the Community Fire Company of Rising Sun started providing emergency medical transportation to the western end of Cecil.  North East Volunteer Fire Company followed in 1956.  In the 1960s, two more organizations added ambulances to their fleets.  The Volunteer Fire Company No. 1 of Chesapeake City started in 1963, and Water Witch of Port Deposit added a unit in 1964.

But in the early 1950s, there were few ambulances available in the county to answer accident and medical calls.  So perhaps Ernie’s Taxi saw a business opportunity, for the Elkton cabby announced in 1953 that he now had available for public use a fully equipped and approved ambulance, available on a 24-hour basis to all residents of Cecil County and surrounding areas.  What’s more the rates were reasonable for local and local  distance calls.

Cecil Democrat April 9, 1953.

Cecil Democrat April 9, 1953.

John Denver, a Past President of the Maryland State Firemen’s Associaton, Talks to the Singerly Listening Station

John Denver (center), in a photo from his time as president of the Maryland State Firemen's Association.  HIs two vice-presidents stand with him.

John Denver (center), in a photo from his time as president of the Maryland State Firemen’s Association. HIs two vice-presidents stand with him.

John Denver, a past president of the Maryland State Firemen’s Association, joined the ranks as a probationary member of the Singerly Fire Company in 1968.  Over the decades, he served the company in many positions, and two years ago he served as in the senior leadership position with the State Association.

In this session with the Singerly Listening Station, an oral history project of the Elkton Fire Department, John shares his stories about the company.  This is a brief outtake from a much longer interview, which is being archived for future projects and research purposes.

Singerly Firefighter Robert McKinney

Firefighter Robert McKinney in the center of the photo.

Firefighter Robert McKinney in the center of the photo.

Last month, Singerly Fire Company launched an oral history project to document the Department’s story.  The project is initially focusing on recording interviews with the most senior members.

As the initial interviews are collected, we are sharing brief outtakes from the much longer sessions.  In time, as the initiative advances, we will use the raw footage from the extended tapings to interpret the company’s history and produce materials to share the Singerly Story.

In the meantime, we are sharing these segments as we continue our work

Firefighter Robert McKinney shares his story, in this interview from July 12, 2014.  Bob joined the company in 1969, and served in many positions.  He was often the company’s top responder to alarms.

Click this link to watch the presentation.

Links to High Quality Digital Content for Local & Family History Research in Cecil & Harford counties

Since there is an enormous, rapidly growing body of research information available on the web, there is a need for a curated landing page, a place in the public commons on the net, to help someone digging into the past. This opportunity to help researchers is something I encounter often during public lectures and courses as I get questions about how to find helpful e-information. As a result, I beta tested some curated social media products and apps, such as and

I have decided that the best way to point someone to valuable e-resources is to simply create a series of web pages, based on that test. Thus I have established this series, which focuses on linking to quality family and local history research resources related to the Delmarva Peninsula. This section of my website provides links to digital repositories, which have richly organized information and provide access to collections of quality resources for family and local history resources.

The landing page has general resources and the supporting pages are divided into major regions on the Peninsula.  Select your region of interest and on the page you will find topical headings to direct you to rich content. The pages will concentrate on linking to high quality digital repositories of online data to help local and family history researchers.

Hopefully this helps you with your study of the past. If you have suggestions for additions or how to improve the product email me. I will continue to monitor the web and e-news outlets for developments, which should be added to the pages and add items as they come up, in order to help all of us with research in the region.

Click here to go to curated links site.

This curated site links to rich content digital pages, which help with family and local history research on Delmarva

This curated site links to rich content digital pages, which help with family and local history research on Delmarva


Diggins Works With National Park Service to Nominate Two Cecil County Sites For Underground Railroad Listing

By Milt Diggins

Myths and legends abound about the Underground Railroad. Old houses with a secluded space set off speculation that it was a station on the Underground Railroad, despite the lack of documentation. Quilts hanging up in yards supposedly gave secret signals to escaping slaves. The Underground Railroad was presumably a vast sophisticated network that brought thousands upon thousands of people out of slavery. The traditional history of the Underground Railroad justly heralded the efforts of white men and women who helped freedom seekers, but often neglected to mention the free blacks who assisted and the freedom seekers who escaped on their own initiative.

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Milt Diggins, 2nd from left, meets with members of the Maryland Commission on African American History and Culture

Broadly defined to include individual efforts to seek freedom as well as organized and spontaneous efforts to assist freedom seekers, the Underground Railroad played an important role in our national heritage. In the 1990s the national government recognized the need for an accurate depiction of the Underground Railroad in order to preserve that heritage. Congress charged the National Park Service with organizing and coordinating a national effort to gather and verify the accuracy of Underground Railroad stories tied to sites and trails, and to promote partnerships and educational programs to share those stories.

The National Park Service website Network to Freedom ( provides a fuller explanation of their Underground Railroad Project. The website also features a database of designated Underground Railroad sites, facilities, and programs. Teachers and organizations offering programs can find a wealth of educational resources. Another section of the website presents Underground Railroad history through essays, individual stories, research reports, a map, a timeline, and multimedia.

Cecil County did not have any officially designated UGRR sites. In April, the National Park Service, in partnership with the Maryland Department of Tourism, asked if I would select, research, and verify the UGRR connection with a few county sites or trials, and submit detailed applications in July. If the applications are approved, the National Park Service will officially designate the proposed sites as UGRR sites. I focused on transportation links for the nominations.

Location has made Cecil County a significant transportation link on the east coast. Waterways and roadways in Cecil County have carried traffic between Philadelphia and Baltimore ever since the colonial period, and in the 1830s one of the nation’s earliest railroads linked the two cities. This transportation heritage offered the best candidates for UGRR nominations. Frenchtown, the Chesapeake Bay, the Susquehanna River, the Philadelphia, Wilmington and Baltimore Railroad, and the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal have documented UGRR stories. I researched and wrote up applications for two obvious trails used by UGRR conductors and freedom seekers: The Philadelphia, Wilmington, and Baltimore Railroad station and steamboat ferry at Perryville, and the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal.

If the applications are approved, summaries of 200 words or less will be available on the Network to Freedom website, and the detailed applications are available on request through the website. The following are the summaries for the two nominations (The C&D summary is slightly larger than the one on the application):

The Philadelphia, Wilmington, and Baltimore Railroad Station and Steam Ferry Landing site in Perryville, Maryland, at the mouth of the Susquehanna River, is relevant to the resistance to slavery. The site is associated with famous and lesser known escapes, and one kidnapping and rescue of a free Pennsylvania citizen. At the Susquehanna River, trains stopped in Havre de Grace, passengers and cars crossed on the railroad ferry, and resumed their journey from the Perryville station. Frederick Douglass escaped on this railroad in 1838, and the Crafts in 1848. Charlotte Giles and Harriet Eglin escaped from Baltimore on this railroad. Henry “Box” Brown was freighted across on the ferry in 1849. Rachel Parker was kidnapped on the last day of 1851 by Thomas McCreary, who Frederick Douglass and other abolitionists referred to as “the notorious kidnapper from Elkton.” Part of the drama of her abduction, her rescue, and her pleas for freedom unfolded at Perryville. In 1853, Aaron Digges, fleeing from a Baltimore butcher, entered the train at the Susquehanna crossing, but he fell into the hands of Constable Thomas McCreary. In 1854, Henry fled from John Stump, who owned the land at Perry Point, by taking the train out of Perryville.

The US Army Corps of Engineers currently owns and operates the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal. This canal, build in 1829 by investors, provided a route for freedom seekers on steamboats, schooners, and other water craft. Boats entered at Elk River in Cecil County, Maryland and exited at Delaware City, New Castle County, Delaware. This eliminated approximately 300 nautical miles between Baltimore and Philadelphia. This Chesapeake Bay to Delaware River route to Philadelphia was also safer for smaller watercraft than a voyage into the Atlantic Ocean and Delaware Bay. William Still and Sydney Gay recorded escapes on steamboats and schooners passing through the canal from Baltimore, Norfolk, and Richmond. Local newspapers reported unsuccessful canal-related escapes, and complained about suspicious Philadelphia oyster boats assisting escapes. When some freedom seekers fled from the lower Eastern Shore, a newspaper commented that the close watch kept on the canal would make it difficult for them to pass that way.

Part of the c hart of the Chesapeake and Delaware Bays showing the Upper Peninsula.  Published by Fielding Lucas Jr., Baltimore, 1840.  Source:

Part of the c hart of the Chesapeake and Delaware Bays showing the Upper Peninsula. Published by Fielding Lucas Jr., Baltimore, 1840. Source: