William M. Singerly, the Philadelphia Record from the American Editors Series for Allen & Ginter Cigarettes. Source: The Metropolitan Museum of Art
As you travel around northeastern Cecil County, you notice the name all over the place. On the road heading north from the county seat (Route 213), almost making a straight line for Pennsylvania, signs let you know that you’re rolling along on Singerly Road. When the shriek of an Elkton fire engine or ambulance punctuates the calm of the day, the vehicle markings inform you that it is an emergency unit from Singerly Fire Company. If you are near Union Hospital searching for a parking spot, glance at the street signs. Singerly Avenue is what some say. Pause to pour over a county map, and you’ll notice that there is a place called Singerly.
It is not a popular name for a community or for that matter a wide spot in the road. According to the people who keep track of such things, the U. S. Geological Survey, there are only two other places named Singerly. Compare that with Elkton, Perryville Rising Sun. or Cherry Hill. There are a dozen or more of each of these across the nation. As for localities called Singerly, there is what the survey calls a “populated place” in Cecil County and another one in Virginia.
It is not even a common family name. A search of a couple of national telephone directories on the Internet leaves no question about that. There is one living somewhere out in Ohio.
The road, the street, the fire company, the “populated place,” how did this infrequently cited name become so common here? If you are a student of history or just someone with a bit of curiosity, perhaps you have wondered about this too. So let’s look at the record to see if we can explain its origin.
One day in 1880, a prosperous-looking gentleman from Philadelphia stepped off the afternoon train at Elkton. He climbed aboard a carriage for a trip to Providence, where he carefully examined an old paper mill on the Little Elk Creek. It had “gone to wreck under the weight of years,” the Cecil Whig reported. This stranger soon procured the title to the property and set out to build a modern paper mill on the site. It was not too long before a passerby on the road from Andora to Fair Hill, looking down into the “beautiful and picturesque valley,” observed a small village, in the midst of which was a busy mill, the newspaper noted.
The visitor was William M. Singerly, the editor and publisher of a popular one-cent daily newspaper, the Philadelphia Record. And he was a wealthy industrialist. He owned about a thousand houses in the city, operated a huge dairy farm there, and had major interests in manufacturing operations.
Having “pitched his tent amongst us,” the industrialist purchased a wharf and ground along the Big Elk Creek in Elkton, where he constructed a pulp mill four years later. For many years the “quiet and staid old town has been undisturbed in its slumbers by the busy hum of manufacturing industry but now there was another great Singerly boom,” the newspaper observed. He was providing work for nearly 200 men at the two factories.
His mills were about nine miles apart. When he built them, the road connecting the two factories was one of the worst in Cecil. At his own expense, he “piked” the route, covering the greater portion of it with crushed stone. After it was built the Whig said it was confident that there was one good road in the county, if no more.
With his enterprises growing here, he erected a handsome summer cottage for himself just a few blocks from the railroad station, over near Bow and Cathedral streets in Elkton. The handsomely furnished cottage cost about $15,000 to build, an enormous sum for that era (that is about $300,000 today).
There was some criticism of the capitalist, a few saying that he paid lower wages than other mills. This was not true for he paid all the skilled laborers $2.70 per day and the unskilled men $1.25 per day, the Whig wrote.
The last spike was driven on a new railroad across the county, the Baltimore and Ohio, in 1886. Near where the tracks cross Singerly Road, the Company built a Queen Anne Style Station and named it after the newspaper publisher. Mills along the busy Little Elk Creek hauled goods to the station for shipment to city markets.
The obituary for William Singerly. Source: New York Times, Feb. 28, 1898.
One Sunday evening in 1898 distressing news flashed across the wires from Philadelphia to the county seat. William M. Singerly, the man who had brought a significant measure of prosperity to the county, had died suddenly of “tobacco heart.” The next day, the headquarters of the Singerly Fire Company was draped in mourning. It was a testimonial to a man who had supported the fire company with liberal donations at the time of its organization.
The street he lived on, a place tucked in alongside Route 213 near the CSX tracks, a major state highway, and the fire company that he contributed money to have helped keep the name well known in these parts.
The late William M. Singerly. publication unknown. Source: New York Public Library Digital Collection