The Day the Railroad Cars Crashed into the Susquehanna River

After four CSX freight cars plummeted off the Susquehanna River Bridge Friday night during the late winter nor’easter, we had a few questions about whether anything similar had ever happened there before.

There was at least one similar accident.  On September 23, 1908, “with a splitting roar, like a park of artillery in action [part of] a loaded coal train sank through the great Baltimore and Ohio bridge between Perryville and Havre de Grace, plunging into the Susquehanna River below,” the Baltimore Sun reported.

A locomotive and four cars passed over safely, while six cars remained on the portion of the bridge that survived the collapse.  But, 12 cars went down 100 feet into the river along with a 377-foot span of the bridge weighing thousands of tons.

“Due almost to a miracle” no lives were lost, and only one man – Watchman William Wilson —  was injured.  Wilson was standing on the bridge and when the crash came, he went down with the debris, landing on the eastern bank of the river.  When rescuers reached him they were overjoyed to find that the timber was scarcely touching him.  He was taken out of the mass of twisted timbers without any difficulty and carried  home to Havre de Grace.

“It was almost a miracle too, that one of the fast express trains did not go down instead of the freight.  The New York and St. Louise Express had rushed safely across the bridge shortly before the coal train chugged onto the span.   About 6:30 a.m. the heavily laden New York and St. Louis express, running on limited time from New York blew for the bridge.  A few moments before the coal train on the other side had been given orders to hold up for the limited.

Once the fast express rushed pass, Freight Engineer Patrick Lynne of Baltimore pushed onto the bridge.  Just as the engine and lead cars safely rolled off onto Harford County soil, the engineer heard a series of terrifying roars and felt a mighty jerk on the engine.  “He looked back to see through the fog the whole bridge over the eastern channel giving way.”

Conductor McCullough was standing on the top of the caboose when he heard a noise like the explosion of dynamite cartridges, and through the fog he saw most of the train disappear into the river and a great yawning gap in the bridge.  He leaped onto the bridge and hurting his ankle.

The crash was easily heard in Perryville and Havre de Grace, and people men rushed to the scene from every direction.  “Like wildfire, the news spread – the bridge is down.  The Baltimore and Ohio bridge is at the bottom of the Susquehanna with a train on top of it.  The excitement in Havre de Grace and Perryville was intense, for in the fog it was difficult to tell just what had happened.”

In 1907, the American Bridge Company and Eyre-Shoamerk Company started renovating the structure, and timber falsework was used to shore up sections of the bridge under construction, allowing construction to proceed with minimal disruption of traffic.

“A coal car derailed on the bridge and struck a mobile crane” according to Wikipedia.  “The crane collapsed, bringing down the eastern channel truss, which sank in deep water.”

See this Facebook page for a collection of photos of the bridge


An Early Pottery at Saint Mary Anne’s in North East

March Lecture Sponsored by the Archeological Society the Northern  Chesapeake
Date: Wednesday, March 14, 2018
Time: Light refreshments at 6:30 pm, program at 7:00 pm, followed by a short
Chapter meeting.
Location: Historical Society of Cecil County, 135 E. Main St., Elkton, MD.

Program: “An Early Pottery at Saint Mary Anne’s – A Cemetery Discovery of No Grave Concern”. Jim Kotersky and Dan Coates.

Abstract/Preview: Clay-rich Cecil County, MD, attracted a number of potters and fire brick makers during the 19th century. One site in North East located between the church structure at St. Mary Anne’s and the North East River was home to kilns burning both pots and bricks. The predominate potter, J. B. Magee, hailed from Canada, but left his finger prints in clay along a trail from Vermont to Virginia. With a focus on his decade-long tenure in North East, discussion will include clay sources, pottery types and “pott-house” operations. Not only will some examples of his decorated stoneware be on display, but artifacts from a recent site unearthing will provide a better understanding of his wares and kiln stacking techniques.

For additional information on Dr. Koterski’s books click here. 

Dr. Jim Koterski holds a piece of early pottery. Photo Credit:

Cecil County’s First Newspaper

The first printing press to ever rest on Cecil County soil came here 195 years ago. In that era, long before steam locomotives chugged along on rails or telegraphs tapped out lightning-fast messages, a young newspaper editor from Lancaster, Pa., named John McCord arrived in Elkton. He was also a printer since in those days the two jobs often overlapped.

For the entrepreneurial, yet inexperienced scribe, the task of getting his press moved here must have been a challenging undertaking. Although the record is silent as to precisely how he transported the heavy equipment, he probably loaded it carefully aboard a wagon for a bumpy journey over dusty country roads.

However, he went about it, the editor put the first edition of the Elkton Press in the hands of patrons the day after Cecil County celebrated the 47th anniversary of American independence in July 1823. McCord assisted by James Andrews and Samuel Stanbaugh, rolled up their sleeves and got ink on their hands as they toiled throughout the long summer publication day on the hand press.

Putting ink on paper is simpler today with laser printers, computers and desktop publishing software, but it was a complicated matter at the top of the 19th century. Each word had to be laboriously set by hand and each letter plucked from the cases of type. As the composition man worked, he placed individual blocks of words in a special frame until the entire page was laid out.

Each frame was mounted on the press, and an absorbent ball dipped in ink was rubbed on the type form. A helper laid a clean sheet of paper on the device, and by tugging on a lever, created an impression by causing a metal plate to press the paper onto the inked form.

Once one side was completed the type for the other side of the paper was set. Eventually the weekly four-page edition was ready to make its way into the hands of readers, who paid an annual subscription price of $2. McCord wrote that advertisements not exceeding a square could be conspicuously insert three times for $1.

After that July day so long ago, handbills, calendars, cards, stationery, legal forms and a variety of other printed matter started rolling off those clanking presses. But newspapers came floating out as well, spreading information to a waiting audience.

Perhaps to serve a wider audience, its name was lengthened to the Elkton Press and Cecil County Advertiser for a few years, starting in 1829. Although ownership changed a few times, the weekly last untiled 1832. That year, shortly after the presidential election race between Andrew Jackson and Henry Clay, the compositor set type for the last time.

An astounding number of publications followed. Newspapers blossomed in Chesapeake City, Elkton, North East, Perryville, Port Deposit and Rising Sun, as others rushed to serve readers. Over the course of centuries, the county has had over 40 different titles, often with many changes in ownership, format and titles.

You could say that McCord, Andrews and Stanbaugh pioneered the evolution of periodicals in Cecil County. Arriving in Elkton with a hand press and a font of type, these men were directly responsible for this county’s information age. Long before folks worried about young men marching away to the Civil War, the efforts of those publishing pioneers from Lancaster introduced home-based media that brought information to homes, farms and businesses.

Cecil County’s first newspaper

Muller Led Cecil County Emergency Services into the Modern Era

Frank Muller retired as the county’s director of Cecil County Emergency Services in October 2007, after spending nearly forty-years responding to car wrecks, heart attacks, bar room fights, fires, chemical accidents, and almost any type of emergency you might name.  He got his start in a line of work that often stretched from dawn to dusk on good days and never seemed to end on particularly bad ones as a 16-year-old when he started volunteering with Elkton’s Singerly Fire Company.  It was the exciting thing to do in rural Cecil County he said and his interest was in firefighting, but then he discovered ambulance work.

The emergency services world Muller came to know in the early ’70s as a teenager was far different than the one he retired from.  “Back then you mainly loaded folks into the ambulance and rushed as fast as possible to Union Hospital,” he said.  “If you had American Red Cross training you had the best skills available for the time for things like CPR were just coming into general knowledge.  Now paramedics do just about everything.”

Over the years training requirements and technology changed and Muller was always in the forefront of leading Cecil County in the advances.  He recalls that after graduating from high school he learned that Ocean City was looking to hire summer help so he and a few friends went down there, looking forward to an exciting summer as paid “ambulance drivers at the Maryland shore.”  Of course, the pace was different in the summer when the place throbbed with tourists and calls.  While working there, Maryland started a pilot program to train Cardiac Rescue Technicians (CRT) or what was then called paramedics.  Anxious to get out of Ocean City during the cold winters when time passed slowly at the beach and excited about learning the latest in pre-hospital care, Muller volunteered for the training program.  After successfully completing the course, he returned to become the resorts first advanced life support provider.  But with the demand for more ALS personnel at the shore, Ocean City Mayor Roland “Fish” Powell asked him to return to the classroom to become a certified instructor, which he did.

After a four-year stint at the beach, he returned home, getting back into his old role as a volunteer with Singerly and starting to eventually work as a road deputy for the Sheriff’s office.  This was about the time volunteer fire companies across the county struggled to find enough volunteers to keep answering the volume of calls they were facing.  So Muller, certified as a CRT and a law enforcement officer, proposed an innovative idea, the Deputy-Medic program.  Deputies were on the road 24/7 so why not have the officers certified as EMS providers support the fire companies he reasoned.  Lots of local people agreed, including Sheriff John F. DeWitt and the fire companies, so one day in 1982 medics started prowling the county, but they weren’t in ALS Units.  These medics, in patrol cars, answered police calls and responded as support units to the fire companies.

That approach helped for years, but eventually the county had to start employing full-time paid technicians to deliver the service.  Frank, with his extensive experience as a field provider and instructor, was hired as the first person to head Cecil’s Emergency Medical Services program in 1988.  As the coordinator for the medic units staffed by county employees, he reported to Rosemary Culley, the Director of the Department of Emergency Services.  While working in that position, EMS took another big step forward when Muller became a board certified national paramedic in 1990.

When Culley retired, he was appointed to head the entire-department, which in addition to EMS is now responsible for the 911-center, communications, emergency planning, and hazmat response.  When the paramedic first associated with the agency in the Cold-War era, the staff dispatched the fire companies and worried about protecting Cecil County from nuclear attack.  Over the decades the department took on much more responsibility as public safety became more and more complex, and after the Sept. 11 attack its work was significantly transformed.  Muller has seen tremendous growth in Emergency Services as the agency evolved from being largely a county dispatch and emergency coordination center to a government unit that uses a wide spectrum of programs and information to respond to natural disasters and attacks.  In this role, he was responsible for coordinating county-wide responses to major disasters and during the next 15 years he saw his share of major emergencies, from train wrecks to hurricane, tornadoes, and chemicals releases.

With nearly 40 years of public safety work completed, he retired in the fall of 2007.  Muller was responsible for creating a modern, first-class Cecil County Department of Emergency Services.  He taught over a generation of Cecil County emergency service providers sophisticated medical skills, such as how to give fluids intravenously and electric shocks to people have heart attacks.  The career of the seasoned public safety official concluded with a stint as the Director of the Department of Emergency Services, at a time when the agency modernized its communications systems and reacted to the changing world of threats and risks.

Senator Robert Kennedy’s Funeral Train Passes Elkton

Late in the afternoon of June 8, 1968, the long-delayed funeral train carrying the body of Senator Robert F. Kennedy to Washington passed through Elkton. It was around 6 p.m. and the train was about 4-hours late. Larry Beers, a teenager, took his 8-mm home movie camera and captured the scene that hot June afternoon so long ago. Recently the footage, which had been unseen for nearly 50 years, was retrieved and Professor Rein Jelle Terpestra digitized the film. Here is Larry’s 3-minute film with some introductory comments and a few additional photos.

Cecil County History


Cecil County History

Follow Cecil County History on Facebook.

On a daily basis, social media networks distribute a hefty volume of content, creating a public square that is jammed with posts.  This crowded universe suggests that additional approaches are needed to help readers quickly find subjects of interest and we’ve been contemplating the best approach to this opportunity.

After experimenting with alternatives we’ve decided that the best strategy is to create a a Facebook channel focused on Cecil County history.  On this new public space original and curated content concentrating on the Cecil County story will be shared, making information findable while also facilitating Cecil County’s heritage conversation.

As we do with Delmarva History, our Cecil County page will share created and curated content about the past at the head of the Chesapeake Bay.  It is our goal to have the page serve as a public history commons, a place to share and discuss stories and rich media posts related to Cecil County’s heritage.  Like this page to keep up with narratives about Cecil’s past from many source on Facebook.

Also be sure to check out our Delmarva History newsfeed where you will find shared posts from all around the Peninsula, while the Cecil page will focus on the local narrative.

A 1927 Accident Takes Life of Harford County Fire Chief

When Maryland Public Television started working on the Conowingo Dam documentary a research question came up about workers killed on the project. Since this matter hadn’t been investigated previously, a registry was compiled containing information I was able locate through archival records.

On Labor Day 2015, I wrote a blog post identifying twelve fallen workers, though I noted that the Darlington Coroner, William S. Selse, told the Baltimore Sun that more than twenty men had lost their lives at the hydroelectric plant. The other day Harford County Genealogist Chris Smithson added to this registry, providing the name of another lost workman. Here is the story.

The first shovel of earth for construction on the Cecil County side was turned March 8, 1926, newspapers reported. Soon some three to five thousand men flocked to the rural area of northeastern Maryland seeking to earn good pay. In addition to those on the Stone and Webster and the Arundel Corporation payrolls at the hydroelectric, there were laborers on the railroad, contractors on roadways, and crews erecting transmission lines stretching to Philadelphia.

To accommodate the incursion of this massive population in the rural, remote area of northeastern Maryland, the two construction companies established large work camps. Since houses and barracks were going up in the boom town, public safety had to also be provided. There was a hospital capable of accommodating about two dozen patients. It had a resident doctor and a staff of nurses, as well as operating and sterilizing rooms.

Conowingo Dam Fire Truck

The fire truck for the Conowingo Dam. source: Conowingo Visitor’s Center

Col. Claude B. Sweezy, the former warden of the Maryland Penitentiary, was the director of public safety. He supervised fire protection, a police force, roads and other things. Under his command, a police force of nine members was headed by Chief Robert Whitney, a former motor traffic officer at the Bel Air Station.

The Conowingo Fire Department, equipped with an engine, protected the works camps and the construction site. Chief George R. Chapman commanded firefighting operations. On April 25, 1927 at 6:05 p.m., he was riding in the command seat on the pumper as it traveled on the state highway in Harford County. The machine suddenly crashed into a roadside bank, overturning and pinning him under the truck. He was dead when taken from under the vehicle, newspapers reported. The Chief, 53, was from Baltimore and he was buried at Loudon Park Cemetery. the death certificate recorded.

Acknowledgement — Chris Smithson, a Maryland Genealogist, brought this loss to my attention and he provided the research. Thanks Chris for helping to remember the worker and first responder who made the ultimate sacrifice.

Here’s a link to the article on other worker deaths.…