It is summer time in Cecil County and before these warm days are over you may jump in your car to join a steady procession of people cruising toward the beach, mountains, or some other vacation spot. Perhaps your outing will take you to quiet forests, ocean-cooled breezes, or clear mountain waters. Whatever the case, this is the time of year when the road calls and we steer toward some rest and relaxation. Automobiles make our vacation trips relatively simple these days, but getting away long before President Eisenhower made “interstate” an everyday word was much more difficult.
When the first decade of the 20th century rolled around, there was no I-95, Route 40, U.S. 213, or other improved road to ease the way as people headed to getaway spots. A railroad excursion or leisurely steamboat ride provided the means to escape to that relaxing place in the era before automobiles dominated transportation. However, as the 1900s slipped all too fast toward World War II, good-hard surfaced roads started connecting towns, Americans began hitting the road in record numbers, and gas stations popped up. The allure of easier car travel and the desire to find refreshing, cool waters during hot months caused many from Wilmington, Philadelphia, Chester, and Baltimore to come to Cecil County to sit under the sun, enjoy the refreshing Chesapeake Bay, and relish the scenic shoreline.
As word spread about Cecil’s first-rate beaches, day-trippers and folks on short escapes started heading this way with bathing suits, beach towels, and picnic baskets. Holloway Beach, Port Herman, and White Crystal Beach were some of the sandy spots that called out to vacationers. Though these spots could be reached by other means, the automobile had a tremendous impact on opening them up for ever-larger crowds. As early as the Fourth of July 1916, you could begin to see the affect it was going to have on little resorts at the top of the Chesapeake. That year, not so long before young men would march off to war in a far away place, the Town Point Improvement Association held a grand celebration on the “beautiful Elk River at Port Herman,” the Cecil Whig reported. Signing, sack and tub races, baseball, river trips, night illuminations, fireworks, and a phonographic concert, what more could one ask for. Come anyway you could, boat, auto, or carriage, the association urged. When the sun set on the Chesapeake, hundreds of visitors, many in automobiles, had enjoyed the patriotic celebration, the newspaper wrote.
As vehicles helped put the roar in the 1920s, an Elkton newspaper, the Cecil Democrat, noted that if plans were carried out Charlestown would be “one of the most popular summer spots in this section of Maryland.” Over the past couple of years, cottages had been erected there” by city people. By 1923, Holloway Beach’s popularity was rising, according to the newspaper. That summer, before the nation knew anything about the dark, dark days of the Great Depression, thousands of people visited the beach at one time, the Democrat observed. The next season, the newspaper noted that J. W. Holloway had one of “the most attractive resorts to be found in the entire country.” If you visited any day during the season, you would realize that “a miniature Coney Island, right here in our own county,” was easily accessible by auto, the reporter said.
Once summer was underway, a ride in a car around Cecil’s shoreline would turn up beaches crowded with day-trippers and people on short jaunts, during a number of decades in the 20th century. As sinister war clouds gathered over Europe, mobs crowded county beaches, guests rented cottages, and children merrily played at water’s edge. Down in Cecilton, traffic heading to the beaches has been a problem since the 1930s, Henry Mitchell recalled in an interview in the News Journal in 1991. “Visitors to the resort area of Crystal Beach” jammed the highway through town every weekend.
Nevertheless, the times were changing. The Chesapeake Bay Bridge between the Eastern and Western shores opened in July 1952. This shortened “the long automobile trip around the head of the Bay” and eliminated the “uncomfortable slow trips” of the ferry to Kent Island, the State Highway Commission reported. The John F. Kennedy Expressway (I-95) opened in 1963, providing even faster cruising to destinations that were more distant. All this time, it was getting easier to jump in the car and head to the Atlantic Ocean or other distant resorts.
Now that the summer season is well underway, chances are you will pile in the car and brace yourself for traffic jams on I-95, Route 50 or Delaware 1 as you head to your vacation spot. While you are taking that jaunt, think of how hard it would have been to reach those places on the narrow, rough roads of the early 20th century. Of course, if you are sitting on a traffic-choked highway, you may have other thoughts.