Singerly Junior Officer Recalls Fire Company Working a Presidential Detail

2014-07-24 09.20.31arElkton, July 24, 2014 — Today a veteran firefighter, Leroy Hampton Scott, III (Scotty) sat down to help fill in Singerly Fire Company’s past at the department’s listening station. With over a half-a-century under his belt, Scotty shared stories that are part of a structured initiative called the Singerly Listening Station, an oral history project that is documenting the public safety agency’s heritage and honoring the memories of those who served.

The teenager joined the ranks as a rookie in 1958.  After that, he contributed countless hours to the service, fighting blazes, hanging onto the back of rushing fire engines, doing fundraising, and helping keep the organization running. He reached the rank of deputy chief before retiring from active duty.

Scotty had many recollections, but some stood out more than others for him. When the senior volunteer was asked about an extraordinary thing etched in his memory, he quickly mentioned an event that took place 51 years ago this autumn, something he still vividly recalls.

“The things you got to do, but you’ll never get a chance to do again,” he explained. “As near as I am to you [about 5-feet away),” he motioned with a sweeping hand gesture, “I was that close to the president.”  The Singerly junior officer was part of a November 14, 1963, detail, helping protect President Kennedy during his 62-minute visit to dedicate the new interstate highway.

Long before the chief executive touched down on Cecil County soil, security, crowd control, and safety arrangements had carefully been pinned down. Elite secret service men guarded JFK, Maryland and Delaware State Police established secure perimeters, and the fire department stood by at the landing site.

When Marine 1 came into view, newspapers estimated that there were 5,000 people on the Mason Dixon Line. That helicopter eased down to the ground, bringing the nation’s leader to the famous old Line where a speaker’s stand was set up for the ceremony. The Delaware National Guard “played Hail to the Chief,” while the president walked to the stand to offer remarks.

The large, enthusiastic crowd greeted the energetic leader warmly on that memorable day in mid-autumn. As JFK, the governors and other dignitaries delivered speeches, an engine and rescue truck stood by, in case they were needed. “I recall that Aetna Hose Hook and Ladder of Newark, Delaware was there too since it was on the state line and I believe we had an ambulance,” he noted.

“We were right up front. They wanted us nearby in case something happened, as it did eight days later.”  Chief Edgar (Spec) Slaughter commanded the operation that day and “I was on 27, the old rescue. The rescue got placed closer in,” Scotty recalled.

After snipping the ribbon and unveiling a marker on the state line, the president shook hands while returning to the helicopter. At the door of the craft he waved to the crowd before disappearing inside. “While the bird faded into the eastern horizon, the area was bathed in a dramatic sunset as people headed back to their cars on this chilly Thursday afternoon,” the Morning News reported.

Scotty was also a rural mail carrier in 1963, and when he came back to the post office on November 22, 1963, he learned about the death of the president. Practically everyone in Cecil County recalled that it was only eight days earlier that the president had visited Cecil to open the Northeastern Express, which was soon renamed the John F. Kennedy Memorial Highway.

While many here had seen John F. Kennedy on that historic day, Scotty’s work as a volunteer firefighter had allowed him to see the energetic, youthful man up close and that made the entire sequence of events "mean that much more to me,” he concluded.

While most people settled down to listen to news flashes out of Dallas and to deal with the shock, Scotty wasn't done.   “I also worked with my dad in construction, after finishing the mail. We had just poured concrete at the First National Bank of North East. I had to stay and finish the concrete and everybody in the world was coming by to tell us what had happened.

This was just one of Scotty’s many stories, a moment when a volunteer fire department assignment brought him to the dedication of the new expressway, where he stood feet away from the President of the United States.  His encounter with Kennedy was thrilling and was something he shared 51 years later.  Since it is a unique Singerly story we decided to share it now. A video summary of Scotty’s full interview will be posted in the next few weeks.


Residents hold signs greeting President Kennedy.

Residents hold signs greeting President Kennedy. Source: Historical Society of Cecil County


Hampton Scott at Sta. 13

Hampton Scott at Sta. 13

Singerly Listening Station Opens as Senior Fire Service Members Share Memories

Singerly Fire Company officially kicked off an oral history initiative, the Singerly Listening Station, on July 12, 2014.  Part of a larger process that is preserving and documenting the history of the department, the recordings will be archived in the company museum.  Longer, raw footage is retained for research and future use.  A shorter edited video production of about 10 minutes will feature highlights from each interview.

For the first session, fifteen of the most senior members gathered to reminisce and share memories, speaking from first hand knowledge and experiences.

In this interview, a past president and assistant chief, Walt Morgan, shares the story about over a half-century of volunteer service, having joined in 1961.

Look for additional screenings of interviews in the weeks ahead, as we archive and edit over 9 hours of recordings.

This is an ongoing process and a data collection strategy has been devised. The company started with the oldest members and in the months ahead more interviews will be done. In addition as command officers (administrative and line) retire from positions, they will be interviewed.

As we continue our work, here is Walt sharing the narrative about over a half-century of volunteer service in Elkton and Cecil County.



Video Overview Demonstrates Use of Helpful Cecil County Government Product, Cecil Maps

Cecil County’s GIS Map is a helpful product for family and local history research, as well as everyday use.  This video provides a brief overview of some of the system’s capabilities and demonstrates some of the navigation options.

Link to article on Cecil Maps

Link to Cecil Maps

Large Collection of Topographic Maps of Harford & Cecil County Available on USGS Historical Map Explorer

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and Esri, a geographic information technology company, have partnered to make the enormous collection of the Survey’s map readily available to everyone. While these resources have been downloadable on the Internet since September 2011, this new, user-friendly website is a significant improvement over the original system, which was more complicated.

The explorer brings to life more than 178,000 maps from 1884 to 2006, allowing users to easily access geo-referenced images, which can also be used in web mapping applications. The timeline allows visitors to easily explore the collection by place, time, and scale, and the sheets are easily downloaded.

Use of the landing page is simple. Visitors enter the desired location in a query box, and once you click on the map a convenient timeline comes up, showing the survey for that place. The user is able to visual see the products that were produced over time and move along the line to see the changes over time.

Check this out, as you will find lots to help with your local and family history research,

Click here to go to the map explorer.

Darlington in 1950, after the construction of the Conowingo Dam.

Darlington in 1950, after the construction of the Conowingo Dam.

The Darlington area before the Dam in 1900.  You are able to zoom in and download these products.  Note the timeline at the bottom showing the available products.

The Darlington area before the Dam in 1900. You are able to zoom in and download these products. Note the timeline at the bottom showing the available products.

The modern edition base map is used to locate your point of interest.

The modern edition base map is used to locate your point of interest.

Port Herman: An Annual Gathering Place for Vacationers

In recent decades, modern condominium  units have been built at the edge of Port Herman.

In recent decades, modern condominium units have been built at the edge of Port Herman.

In the early part of the 20th century Port Herman was the place to be during the hot, humid months of summer.  The small, waterfront community on the Elk River shore attracted city folks seeking to lighten the oppressiveness of the season by catching fresh breezes and enjoying the cooling water.

It all started about 1843 when Robert H. Thomas, an entrepreneur from Philadelphia, purchased a large tract along the Elk River from John Rawlings.  He planned to develop the land that had been part of Augustine Herman’s vast Bohemia Manor estate, and in short order improved his holding.  Streets, such as Cherry, Front, and Second, were laid out and land was subdivided into building lots.

The businessman also built a steam saw and plaster mill, while also commencing a large steam driven cotton factory, the Cecil Whig reported.  Mr. Thomas’ involvement with steam and the capabilities provided by his saw mill must have created an interest in boat construction for in August 1852 the Whig noted that he was having a steam boat built.

Port Herman’s “little steamer,” the John C. Groome, was launched that year.  The vessel needed no wharf because she was only 21 feet wide and with a shallow draft it was designed to run to Elkton, Head of Sassafras, Head of Bohemia and other narrow tributaries inaccessible to larger steamers.

Working out of Port Herman, the vessel was running up the waterways at the head of the Chesapeake when the next sailing season arrived.  An auxiliary boat, she connected with the Philadelphia and Baltimore boat, the Lady Wilmer, at Port Herman.

Sometime In the 1850s Mr. Thomas sold his building lots to Thomas Marshall, James Van Horne (a steam boat captain), G. A. Thompson and others.  During his time he built a few more boats.  When the executors settled his estate in the late 1850s, there was one unfinished vessel on his Port Herman property.

Area farmers used Port Herman and its facilities to ship crops to city markets.  There was a wharf, warehouses, and a store on the 1877 atlas of Cecil County.

The year the steamboat launched was a time for big happenings in Port Herman.  A few months after that important event, the Postmaster General gave villagers a place to post and pickup mail.  “Seventy inhabitants and fifty families living within two miles of Port Herman now had regular mail facilities, the Cecil Democrat observed.

Thomas C. Mashall served as the postmaster, according to government records.  In his first half-year of business the postmaster collected $3.17 and received $3.28 in compensation.  Somehow, about two months before the pivotal, bloody Civil War battle at Gettysburg, the federal bureaucracy found time to shut down the little station (April 7, 1863).

A school, the Town Point School, opened in 1877, just outside the village.  Located where the road branches off to Town Point, it was adjacent to the store of W. S. Way, Esq, on land previously owned by Col. Joshua Clayton.  It superseded an earlier one listed in county records as being in Port Herman.  The building was sold for $166 in 1938, according to “Cecil County, Maryland Public Schools 1850-1958.

port herman 072a5

The Elk River House

A large boarding house or summer hotel, the Elk River House, opened in September 1888.  Having rooms for 50 boarders, Thomas Griffin built it for Wm. J. Fears.  Two years after the hotel opened, the Elkton Appeal editorialized that the number of city residents who could afford to spend summer time in the country was increasing.  “This is seen in the numbers who have visited the few boarding places that have been open the past summer along our rivers.”

Port Herman’s hotel capitalized on the growing vacation trend, becoming an annual gathering place for long vacations.  A July 1919 advertisement said, “Elk River House Now Open – boarding by meal, day or week.  Automobile and yachting parties taken care of – WM. FEARS.”

The year before World War I was a progressive one.  Citizens formed the Town Point Improvement Association, which had better roads for the area as its chief goal.  Everyone residing in Town Point Neck was invited to join.

port herman 078aa

A sailboat glides past the Elk River House.

On the Fourth of July 1916, the Improvement Association hosted the “first celebration” on the banks of the Elk River, surrounding the hotel.”  Celebration-goers were favored with the finest weather, as several hundred visitors in automobiles and boats attended.

It was a great day in the village.  There was a parade, a patriotic speech, songs, and refreshments, in the morning.  After lunch, boat and tub races and a ball game were featured.  Illuminations, fireworks and a phonograph concert in the evening finished off a perfect day.

In the midst of a fierce storm of wind and rain, ground was broken for the new Town Point. M.E. Church in February 1916.  By September, residents were invited to take part in the “most important event in the history” of the village, the laying of a corner stone of the new Methodist Church.  Previously the church had met in a building that was either a vinegar mill or a blacksmith shop, old postcards indicate.

They weren’t going to miss a summer holiday that year before the Great War disrupted life.  On Labor Day, the American Mechanics raised a flag and conducted a patriotic program at the school, which had been enlarged to accommodate the increasing population of the area.  After the celebration everyone marched over to the church where a lawn party was held.

Today the Elk River House is on the market, according to a sign on Front Street.  But in 1998 I had the pleasure of speaking with the elderly owners, Francenia Johnson.  She recalled hearing older residents talk about the summer hotel.  “The Ericsson steamer would bring vacations down from Philadelphia each Saturday during the summer and the hotel would send its wagon down to the wharf to pick up the guests.

After World War II, Mrs. Johnson recalled that Bob Fears had a public beach along the shore.  To accommodate guests, he built a concession stand, a bathhouse and summer cottages.  The cottages were rented for the season, she remarked.  And each year when the summer months rolled around, the village freshened up as guests looked forward to a vacation here.  Dips in the river, crabbing, canoeing, rowing and launching, all the favorite water sports were on the schedule.  Of course, there were walks on the beach, dances, enjoyable meals, camping, music, picnicking and much more at this breezy spot on the Elk River.

A unique part of Cecil County’s history is preserved in this picturesque, little riverside community.

Click here for additional modern photos.

Click here for additional postcards.

A 20th century postcard of the cottages at Port Herman.

A 20th century postcard of the cottages at Port Herman. Source: personal collection.


Fire & Police Protective Services at Perry Point – The Early Decades

A birds-eye view of the Perry Point Village, from a postcard, circa 1922.  Source:  personal collection

A birds-eye view of the Perry Point Village, from a postcard, circa 1922. Source: personal collection

As the United States advanced plans to support combat in World War I, the federal government purchased some of Cecil County’s most scenic property, the Perry Point estate. This expansive 516-acre tract at the head of the Chesapeake Bay was leased to the Atlas Powder Company early in 1918, and by March the erection of the huge explosives plant was underway.

Along with the production facilities, the company also built a village for the workers. This community contained over 200 houses for workers. Also there was a school, parks, stores, motion picture theatre, church, fire house, everything a modern 20th century town needed, according to the Architectural Review of January 1919.

The 6,500 construction men advanced the work rapidly, but the war ended quickly. So the government converted the plant into a medical facility for the treatment of veterans in 1919. The U.S. Public Health Service managed this hospital, and the Veterans Bureau took over the campus in 1922.

Beginning with the powder plant there was a fire department, which adjusted over time as the purpose of Perry Point evolved. By the late 1920s The Perry Point VAH Fire Department protected the hospital, dwellings in the village, nurses’ quarters, schoolhouse, theatre, club, stores, warehouses, and other structures.

To carry out this protective service, one fire marshal and thirteen firefighters were detailed to the station, four men working a shift, in the late 1920s. The department operated an “American La France pumper, one White Chemical Truck and one American-La France combination chemical and pumping machine, with a Ford light truck” to carry equipment, according to the Perry Point Bulletin, June 1929.

To call out this modern force, 33-pull boxes were distributed around the campus. Pulling the handle caused a large gong to ring out the number of the activated box. While the calls sounded on a bell, a permanent tape punch machine recorded the call box number, too. Test runs revealed a rapid response, as it took 59-seconds to answer the average call, the Bulletin reported.

Another aspect of the Federal protective services was the police department. In the late 1920s, the force consisted of a chief and ten patrolmen. Officers were on duty around the clock. Someone was continuously assigned to the gate, while other men made patrol rounds.

The Perry Point Fire Department, From the Perry Point Bulletin, Feb. 1930 in the collection of the Historical Society of Cecil County.

The Perry Point Fire Department, From the Perry Point Bulletin, Feb. 1930 in the collection of the Historical Society of Cecil County.

A postcard dated April 1922, with the following message:  "Our fire engine house, U.S. Veterans Hospital # 42, Perry Point, MD. :  Source:  Personal Collection

A postcard dated April 1922, with the following message: “Our fire engine house, U.S. Veterans Hospital # 42, Perry Point, MD. : Source: Personal Collection

Another image of the Perry Point Fire Department from a postcard.  Circa:  1920s.  Source:  Personal Collection.

Another image of the Perry Point Fire Department from a postcard. Circa: 1920s. Source: Personal Collection.

Writing About the Slave Era, “The Unwritten History” Discusses Slavery, Emancipation, USCT & More

A USCT Reenactor at the dedication of the Charles Sumner GAR Post in Chestertown.

A USCT Reenactor at the dedication of the Charles Sumner GAR Post in Chestertown.

While attending an excellent event hosted by the Kent County Arts Council to mark the reopening of the Charles Sumner GAR Post # 25, we listened to an informative and engaging talk by Dr. Clara Small. The retired Salisbury University professor sketched out the history of the post, the United States Colored Troops in Maryland, and life before the modern-era Civil Rights movement. As we listened to her remarks, we thought about a little title from the days of slavery in Cecil County, the “Unwritten History” by Bishop Levi J. Coppin.

The Bishop was born in Fredericktown, Maryland thirteen years before the Civil War started. His mother, Jane Lilly taught the youngster to read and write and at the age of 17 he began to study scriptures. After moving to Wilmington when he was 17, he joined the Bethel AME Church. In 1877, Levi became a minister, eventually becoming the 30th Bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. During his life-time he also served as an editor, educator and missionary. Coppin University is named after his wife, Fanny Jackson Coppin. She was a noted educator.

The Bishop published his autobiography in 1919. “Intermingled with this ‘Unwritten History’ is the story of my life. . . Those who are found of reading novels about men who never lived, and things that never did and never will happen, may enjoy a change to something that is historic and real,” the foreword notes. Of the nine chapters the first five concentrate on Cecil and Kent counties and his life here. The fifth chapter is entitled “Farewell to Cecilton.” He passed away in 1924.

This book is a helpful, seldom used local source for anyone studying the antebellum and Civil War era on the Delmarva Peninsula. In the antebellum period many land owners in the lower part of the county relied on slave labor for harvesting crops and performing plantation work. This valuable title provides information on the families in the area, slavery, some insight on the Underground Railroad, the arrival of Union Troops in the town, news of Emancipation in lower Cecil, and life in general for African-Americans during the slavery era.

“Imagine the feeling of our people at the first sight of colored men in soldier’s uniform” the Bishop writes. “When the call was made, generally, many responded. When later on, a recruiting office opened in Cecilton by Lieutenant Brown, some of our boys who had joined the army were selected to come, now as soldiers, to their own home and induce others to enlist. Under shoulder arms, they would march through the little village, “as proud as Lucifer and without fear. While Lt. Brown and his men remained, many volunteered. Some slaves, whose masters still held them in bondage, came to the recruiting office, enlisted and placed themselves under the protection of the flag. When the colored soldier came, it left no doubt as to whether or not freedom had some.”

In another section he talks about news of the Emancipation Proclamation. “Father Jones was promptly on hand with Lincoln’s proclamation, but there was no one present with authority to say to the slave, “You are free, so all were in suspense . . . .”

Speaking of the Underground Railroad, he writes: “The talk of war, so absorbed the thought of the people, and controlled public sentiment that the colored people were no longer the sole objects of attention. The fact is, on one was buying slaves, for it began to look like they would be set free. This put the Georgia Trader out of business. The slaves were not watched so closely. Some masters boldly said if their slaves ran away, they would not try to find them. Under this influence of this changing sentiment quite a number made their escape, some going no farther than Pennsylvania, but even more going to New Jersey. But many concluded to stand still and see the salvation of God. . . “

This digitized e-book will help local and family history researchers investigating this era. It is available on the Internet Archive.

Tablet of Contents, the Unwritten history by Bishop Levi J. Coppin

Tablet of Contents, the Unwritten history by Bishop Levi J. Coppin