In the mid-1980s, members of the Singerly Fire Company started gearing up for the company’s 100th anniversary in 1992. One of the tasks for the centennial celebration was the restoration of two old 19th century hand pumpers that had been the hero of many a fight with the smoke and flames in Elkton. The first piece, a hydraulion, had been built about 1817 and arrived in Elkton in 1827. The second unit, a suction engine, arrived here in 1859.
These aging relics were in need of work so members of the company started searching for some contacts to help them with the restoration. They located Jack Robrecht and Al Wills, two experts associated with the Philadelphia Fire Museum. After visiting Elkton to examine the pieces they suggested we contact an Amish carriage-maker so in 1985 members of the company traveled to Bart, PA and talked with the fire company there. They suggested we visit the Nickle Mine Coach shop just a mile or two up the road. At the shop we met a master Amish craftsman, Christian Petersheim, Jr., who was given the job of restoring the firefighting artifacts.
Today I visited Mr. Petersheim, at the shop on Mine Road in Paradise, PA. He has since retired, but the business is now being managed by his sons. He recalled working on this project nearly 30 years ago and had a photo album containing some of his fire engine restoration work. After finishing the Singerly projects, he restored about seven additional pieces of hand-drawn fire apparatus. The equipment came from VT., FL, PA., NY, and MD and included one hook and ladder. By-the-way, today he was upholstering two museum-quality automobiles from the first decade of the 20th century. He has taken up that work since his retirement from carriage-making.
The work of this fine craftsman appears in the Singerly Fire Company museum, looking as good today as it did nearly thirty years earlier when it was returned home to Elkton.
Sheriff Thomas H. Mogle, Jr., has lined up the members of his department for an inspection in July 1967 and the Cecil Democrat’s photographer was on hand to take picture. About this time, the new sheriff was outlining the challenges he faced with providing around the clock law enforcement with such a small force. A number of the men are special deputies, meaning that they were either volunteers or perhaps worked part-time. In this era Cecil County Law Enforcement agencies maintained a large corps of volunteers to supplement the small number of certified officers.
The Cecil Democrat published a series in 1967, interviewing local officials about moving Cecil County forward in the last third of the 20th century. In the nearly 50-year-old chat with Sheriff Thomas H. Mogle, Jr. he sketched out the minimum needs for effective law enforcement in the county.
The Sheriff’s Department required a minimum of 55 personnel to handle all its functions, including answering complaints, patrolling, serving papers, providing court security, and maintaining the jail, the county’s top lawman noted. That force included 27 road officers, with one assigned to each of the nine election districts, around-the-clock, as a patrol beat. “They would answer complaints and could do a great deal to prevent crime.”
Eight men should staff the 100-year old jail so two deputies would be on duty. “There are just not enough people in this office. When four phones ring and the office is full of prisoners being brought in, one man behind the desk can’t handle it all. We need a turnkey and someone on the radio and telephone.”
Judiciary related duties for the Circuit Court and the magistrates required eight men to handle courts and serve papers. There was also a need for two secretaries and a part-time matron.
One of his problems was hiring and keeping qualified personnel. A deputy in 1967 made $1.50 an hour ($4,000 a year) while a clerk for a magistrate received $2.00 an hour. The Sheriff estimated annual starting pay should be between $6,000 and $7,000.
The reporter estimated a budget of $279,000 for annual staff and when asked if this wasn’t rather high, the former state trooper said, “it isn’t cheap but nothing worthwhile is going to be free.” He also noted that there were other costs, as there should be county owned cars and 13 were required. (The agency fought a long battle to get patrol cars and those vehicles were still a year away.)
Harford County had county owned patrol cars and 24 men in their Sheriffs’ Dept., he noted. They have “police running out of their ears; they have police departments in Bel Air, Aberdeen, and Havre de Grace, they have the state police, and they still hire 24 men for a county-wide police force.”
“Of course the county would be getting a lot better service in return for the expenditures. With a force similar to the one outlined we could almost wipe out crime in this county,” the sheriff suggested. When asked what he felt his chances of getting some of the men and equipment were, especially in light of the new economy moves the commissioners were making, he said: “Neither I nor the next six Sheriffs in this county will ever see this.”
He concluded that he wouldn’t run again unless drastic changes were made for the “betterment of the people and the police force. I thought I could help the county. I didn’t realize what the situation was in this office, I couldn’t. . . . No individual or political group or organization will dictate to the Sheriff’s Department while I’m in office. There’s too much politics entering into these things. That’s why there’s friction. I’m no politician.”
Noting the situation he inherited, he said, “There was nothing here when I came, not even a flag. I’ve ordered a flag and pole now. It will cost $55 and if the county refuses to pay for it I will.”
In the next paper, Samuel duPont wrote in to support the “overworked sheriff and his underpaid, overworked men” as he noted that ”the sheriff has had five men to work with (Aug. 1967). Imagine, just five men to cover the entire county, with its hundreds of roads and hundreds of square miles! this doesn’t mean five men per shift, but five men althogher. Now, start figuring three shifts a day (You want around-the-clock police protection don’t you ?). There are “two few men, too much work — and then we have the gall to criticize our sheriff and his deputies!” We don’t even provide our men with official cars, as most other counties do. We’ll soon be “expecting them to shake tambourines on street corners for contributions, like the Salvation Army folks. We have refused the sheriff sufficient manpower.”
Now that the weather forecasters are finally calling us to shake off these cooler days as a warmer period arrives , Chesapeake City will be humming with visitors as the summer season approaches.
Following a couple of serious fires on Main Street in 1891 that forced Elkton to telegraph the Wilmington Fire Department for aid townspeople decided to establish an efficient firefighting organization. In the waning months of that year, plans were quickly put in place for the William M. Singerly Fire Company and in January 1892 the organization was formally incorporated. To put things on a sound footing, the members started raising funds to purchase equipment to replace those aging veterans of fights with many blazes, the aging old hand pumpers. Before January 1892 faded the company had a steam engine, two hose reels, and a hook-and-ladder.
The ladder was the first piece of that kind in Cecil County. Upon deciding to purchase this piece, the company went to Middletown and Dover to inspect units used in those Delaware towns. That examination resulted in the company ordering a truck from Gleason & Bailey of Seneca Falls., NY. It arrived in Elkton on Monday, January 18, 1892.
At an early hour on a Saturday morning twelve days later, the truck answered its first alarm. Residents were awakened by the ringing of the courthouse bell and the cry of fire as the destructive flames were consuming a frame buildings on the south side of Main Street. The volunteers grabbed the ladder unit and the old hand pumpers and rushed to the scene a few doors east of the courthouse. The steam engine wasn’t in service yet.
After that the hook-and-ladder was on the scene of most blazes in Elkton but by the end of 1914 it had answered its last alarm. On New Year’s Eve 1914, it was resting securely in the closed up paint shop of M. S. Barrett & Son on Bridge Street, waiting for a fresh coat of paint. As people looked forward to the start of another year, shouts of fire went up. A blaze had erupted in the paint shop and by the time Singerly arrived the building was blazing fiercely. The entire building and its content were lost on the last day of 1914.
Today the nation honors fallen law enforcement officers during an annual Candlelight vigil in Washington, D.C. While people across the country remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice I paused briefly at our Cecil County Monument on this cool Monday in mid-spring. It was dedicated a few decades ago to honor county peace officers who made the ultimate sacrifice and there are six names on the monument. The memorial is located at the Cecil County Detention Center on Landing Lane in Elkton.