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Remembering the Work of Cecil County’s Public Safety Communicators During National Public Safety Telecommunications Week

This is National Public Safety Telecommunications Week (April 13-19, 2014), a time when the United States honors the professionals who answer 911 calls and dispatch emergency responders. While the nation thanks public safety communicators, Window on Cecil County’s Past pauses to tip our hat to the County’s 911 calls-takers, dispatchers, and technicians who maintain our emergency communication system.

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Rosemary Culley dispatching from the county courthouse in the 1970s

These men and women are on the front line of every urgent situation in Cecil, dealing with life and death situations 24 hours-a-day, 7 days a week. They answer thousands of calls each year, coordinating the response of police officers, paramedics, fire fighters, hazmat technicians, medevac helicopters, and much more to incidents, while also providing guidance and instruction to citizens until first responders arrive. Their service is greatly appreciated.

At the same time, we pause to remember the four professionals who were the pioneer emergency communicators in Cecil. On Monday, October 2, 1961 at 12 p.m. sirens all across the county sounded, marking the beginning of professional, centralized communications as “fire headquarters” was on the air.

The Whig explained the operation. “It will be manned around the clock with trained personnel who have a knowledge of every piece of emergency equipment in the county, where it is located, what it can be used for, and the method for dispatching it without loss of time.”

Four fulltime county employees staffed the 24/7 operation. The one dispatcher alone on the shift juggled the telephone calls, handled radio traffic, and kept the FCC log. The “chief operator” Jack Cooke, was assisted by “operators” Rosemary Culley, Marie Cooling, and Jim Penhollow. Robert Eversole served as a relief operator.

Jim Penhollow recently recalled that it was a couple of days before the first emergency call came in. The times sure have changed and public safety communications has grown more complicated with each passing year. The week is sponsored by the Association of Public Safety Communications Officials (APCO).

We salute our public safety communications professionals, current and past.

Rosemary Culley, another original dispatcher, handles the fire board in 1966.  Source: Cecil Whig, Dec. 14, 1966

Rosemary Culley, another original dispatcher, handles the fire board in 1966. Source: Cecil Whig, Dec. 14, 1966


Marie Cooling, a fire dispatcher, takes a call.  Source:  Cecil Democrat, Aug. 30, 1967/

Marie Cooling, a fire dispatcher, takes a call. Source: Cecil Democrat, Aug. 30, 1967/


Spring Time at Rev. Duke’s Log House


Liz McLaughlin operates the tiller.


LIz McLaughlin and Russ Hamilton start the tiller.

Spring has finally arrived on the Upper Chesapeake and at old Rev. Duke’s Log House things were busy on this sunny Thursday afternoon as the temperature approached the mid-60s.  It was a perfect, early April afternoon as Arts Council volunteers tilled the soil on the front lawn for a community garden.


State Police Patrol Northeastern Maryland Out of Conowingo & Provide Ambulance Service

The Susquehanna Power Company built a police sub-station at Conowingo for the use of the Maryland State Police in 1929, leasing the land to the agency for $1 a year. When it opened that April, a staff of two sergeants, a corporal and four officers were assigned to the post. It was modern with offices, a kitchen, a cell room, and sleeping quarters for twelve men. In addition to motorcycles for the patrol, one horse was detailed to the post.

The force consisted of First Sergeant Atkinson, Sergeant Katz, Corporal Dyas, and Officers Weber, Klapproth, Phillips and Holland. The troopers were centrally located to handle the increasing traffic on Route 1 and they policed Harford County north of Deer Creek, Cecil County, and Kent County.

In an era when ambulances weren’t commonly available, the Maryland Police responded to the need for medical transport and quick response to automobile accidents. The agency acquired five ambulances in 1935, and one of those units was assigned to sub-station F at Conowingo.

Over the years, additional barracks were constructed to meet the growing demands for police service and operations at Conowingo were scaled back. At some point in the early 1970s or late 1960s, it was scaled down from a 24-hour-a-day to an 8-hour operation. On September 1, 1973, the old station passed into history as it was deactivated. It was the oldest installation at that point, having served the public for 43 years, but barracks in North East and Bel Air provided greater coverage to northeastern Maryland.

The Maryland State Police Post at Conowingo in 1929

The Maryland State Police Post at Conowingo in 1929. Source: private collection.


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Photo of Maryland State Police Ambulance. Source: MSP Yearbook.

Video From This Afternoon’s Bootlegger’s Ball

To drink or not to drink was the question at this month’s program at the Historical Society of Cecil County as the organization examined the days of temperance, prohibition, speakeasies, bootleggers and Bathtub gin. Afterwards everyone was invited to a secret rendezvous at the Bootlegger’s Ball, over at the North Street Hotel. There the guests toasted the repeal of prohibition and socialized after the talk. To help the “drys,” those temperance and teetotaler types, catch the spirit there was temperance run, a nonalcoholic beverage that even the saloon smasher, Carrie Nation, would approve of. So it was bottoms up for everyone as we remembered the “noble experiment.”

Here’s a brief YouTube video of scenes from the Bootlegger’s Ball.

Duck & Cover at the Perryville LIbrary – April 8th — Cecil County prepared for Armageddon

From the Cecil County Public Library
Date: 4/8/2014
Start Time: 7:00 PM

 Local historian Mike Dixon recounts national and local Civil Defense activities, from World War II to the nuclear age, when government officials planned for the worst. Registration required.

Library: Perryville Branch
Location: Meeting Room

to register click here.

Duck and Cover at the Perryville Library, April 8th.

Duck and Cover at the Perryville Library, April 8th.


Columbia University Professor Talks About Biography of John Randel, Jr., Chief Engineer of the C & D Canal Comany April 12

The Measure of Manhattan

The Measure of Manhattan

The author of a biography about the chief engineer of the C & D Canal, John Randel, Jr. will speak at the Historical Society of Cecil County April 12 at 2:00 p.m. “An eccentric and flamboyant surveyor,” Randel was “renowned for his inventiveness” and his irascibility.

After “drafting and executing the street grid plan for Manhattan,” he took on other important engineering projects. In 1823 the accomplished surveyor was hired to oversee the building of the Canal. But after the Company dismissed him four years later, he filed a wrongful dismissal suit, collecting a staggering settlement of more than $5-million in today’s dollars.  With that, he bought a 1,000 acre estate, Randelia, in Cecil County, the New York Times notes.

Marguerite Holloway, the director of Science and Environmental Journalism at Columbia University has written for Scientific American, Discover, the New York Times, Natural History and Wired. While researching the eccentric engineer, she spent days in Cecil County, working at the Historical Society and visiting the land Randel traveled.  “I am really thrilled to be talking at the Society.  It is where my quest for Randel really took hold,” the professor remarked.  There she found newspapers, the Martinet map, and journal entries from the diary of Judge McCauley.

“The Measure of Manhattan: The Tumultuous Career and Surprising Legacy of John Randel, Jr: Cartographer, Surveyor, Inventor,” was published in 2013 by W. W. Norton & Company. Illustrated with dozens of historical images and antique maps, it is an absorbing story about a fascinating man. “Marguerite Holloway offers up a well-deserved biography of the chronically aggrieved and litigious visionary,” the New York Times writes. “Professor Holloway . . . deftly weaves surviving fragments of Randel’s life . . . with a 21st century scavenger hunt by modern geographers to find the physical markers of his work.”

Date:       April 12, 2014 at 2:00 p.m.

Location:  Historical Society of Cecil County, 135 E. Main Street, Elkton, MD.

Admission: Free

Chart of the Chesapeake and Delaware Bays, Fielding Lucas:  Source:, the David Rumsey Collection

Chart of the Chesapeake and Delaware Bays, Fielding Lucas, 1840: Source:, the David Rumsey Collection


Chesapeake City Library Talk Examines Historical Evolution of Crime, Punishment, and Police Work in Cecil County – March 24

Social historian Mike Dixon will present an engaging presentation on the evolution of crime, punishment and police work in the region.  This engaging talk will examine old county jails, headline-grabbing criminal escapades of long ago, discontinued methods of punishment, and unheralded peace officers.

Registration is required.

Date: 3/24/2014  at 6:30 p.m

Library: Chesapeake City Branch

Contact: Chesapeake City Branch Library, 410-996-1134

The Elkton Police Department acquired this patrol car, in the late 1920s. (L to R  Mayor Taylor McKenney, the night officer, and Chief Potts).  This was the first county or municipal police vehicle in Cecil.

The Elkton Police Department acquired this patrol car in the late 1920s. (L to R Mayor Taylor McKinney, the night officer, and Chief Potts). This was the first county or municipal police vehicle in Cecil.

Recalling an Elkton Landmark, the Howard Hotel

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Evelyn V. (Vaggi) Scott

There was lots of inspiring talk about old Elkton during the middle third of the 20th century at the Historical Society of Cecil County this afternoon. Remembering those lively, youthful days was Evelyn V. (Vaggi) Scott, the 80-year-old daughter of George D and Mary G. Vaggi, who purchased the Howard Hotel, a long-established downtown business in 1923.

The place bustled with activity as waitresses served fine meals, the bartender dispensed drinks, and overnight guests booked comfortable rooms. This was long before Interstates and dual highways bypassed town centers and hotel chains sprouted up along those new roads.  In that earlier age, traveling salesmen, families making their way up or down the east coast, and others passing this way came right down Main Street.  There on this busy thoroughfare, Mrs. Scott grew up in the business, maturing, going off to college, and eventually marrying and moving to Michigan. Her parents decided to retire in 1973, when they sold the well-known establishment to the Ruth family.

It was a pleasant walk down memory lane, as Mrs. Scott recalled stories while looking at photographs of earlier times in Elkton.  Thanks Mrs. Scott for sharing your narratives and for donating so many fine pictures and materials to the Society.

The Society taped part of the interview and will stream a portion of it later, along with samples of the donations.  By-the-way, Mrs. Scott was back in Elkton as the property is now in the hands of new owners and they are creating an Irish Pub at this old landmark, which has anchored downtown for centuries.

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Mrs. Scott sharing photographs and being interviewed at the Society.

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The Clydesdale Budweiser team visits Elkton. Mr. George Vaggi is seated next to the Budweiser driver. Source: Mrs. Scott

Genealogical Research Guide for Cecil County

The Genealogical Research Guide for Cecil County, Maryland (revised edition) by Darlene McDowell McCall is an informative out-of-print title packed with guidance and information for anyone starting on genealogy in the county.  Last updated in 1997, it served as a good starting point for anyone seeking to discover records and sources.

The last edition of this twenty-year-old volume was published just as the Internet age was starting to transform research.  Records, in the mid- and late-1990s, were paper or microfilm based, requiring a visit to the courthouse, the Historical Society, State Archives, or some other special collections library.

Of course, in the passing decades we have seen a revolution in research methods as records became available in digital repositories for online access.  But still the methods and records groups one needs to access to investigate genealogy haven’t changed.  The transformation has been in the way we access the records as the research strategies have largely remained the same.

Since the title still provides insightful guidance for anyone beginning on genealogy in this area, the author recently gave the Historical Society of Cecil County permission to publish it online in the Society’s virtual library.  Here is the link.

Remember it is a publication from 1997 so many of the addresses and locations of records have changed in the age of the World Wide Web.  But you will find helpful pages addressing the types of records you need to access to dig into family history and the types of insights you will be able to extract from primary sources.  Too, there may have been additions to collections.

Thank you Darlene for allowing us to place your helpful work online.

Bootleggers’ Ball and Talk on Temperance and Prohibition in Cecil County April 5th


Click here for more information.