Lost Cecil County Village: Bethel or Pivot Bridge

1857 Cecil County Map shows the thriving village of Pivot Bridge on the Mason Dixon Line

Before the first shovel of earth was moved to dig the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal about 1824, there was a tiny village about three miles east of Chesapeake City.  Called Bethel or later Pivot Bridge.  It was clustered around an old Methodist Church built in 1790 and an ancient burial ground.  When the waterway opened across the Peninsula, the ditch bisected the village separating  residents from each other and the church, school, and the store.  The 18th century church was replaced by a newer edifice in 1849.  Built by John Pearce at a cost of $3,000, it was dedicated in December of that year.  Thirty people lived in Pivot Bridge and James R. Kirk had a store there by 1902 the Polk Directory notes.  For a few brief years (1892-1893 & 1905-1907), villagers had a post office operated by James R. Kirk, Sr.

The community had about a dozen dwellings, one dry goods and grocery store, one wheelwright, and blacksmith shop, and a public schoolhouse.  Business was flourishing there, the Cecil Whig reported as there were no rum shops.  The school was under the charger of the teacher, Mr. W. C. Lake.

Arrangements in the intersected village worked satisfactorily for about 100 years, but eventually early in the 20th century the federal government acquired  the canal and started widening the route.  Considering that Chesapeake City wasn’t too far away, the Army Corps of Engineers decided to abandon the Pivot Bridge crossing.  Residents of the hamlet strongly objected, pointing out that for centuries the road the government wanted to scrap had been the main highway for the Peninsula.

From its origin as Indian trail, it had served the people first using carts and wagons and then automobiles.  Moreover, farmers on the south side would have to use the railroad depot at Mount Pleasant, DE  for shipping products while their neighbors 200 feet away could send their product to Elkton.  The freight rate from Delaware was almost double that of Elkton.  The church had an average attendance of 75, more than 50 coming from the other side of the canal, a trip of 12 miles they noted.

The pleas failed to move Uncle Sam, the government noting that two places with spans, Chesapeake City and Summit, weren’t far.  By March 1925 the pivot bridge had been ripped out, although as a concession the government put in a “rowboat ferry.”  Still those wanting to visit the quaint Bethel Cemetery on the banks of the C & D Canal were “forced to drive along a rough slag road.”  When the protests continued the Corps of Engineers decided the sensible thing to do was to convert this slag road into a concrete highway.  In Sept. 1928 P. D. Philips & Brother of Salisbury, MD. moved heavy equipment to the vicitninity and started grading for a concrete road from the Pivot Bridge to Chesapeake City at a cost of nearly $119,000.

By the 1960s the canal needed to expand again and most of the remaining structures, including the church, were demolished.   Today Bethel Cemetery Road stops abruptly at the canal’s edge, and little remains to inform the 21st century travelers that a thriving hamlet once existed in this area.  Where the old burial ground remains at the edge of the canal, a tall simple cross memorializes  the church and the relocated graves.

The Bethel Methodist Church early in the 20th century.


10 responses to “Lost Cecil County Village: Bethel or Pivot Bridge

  1. Great history article! Would you be willing to have this reposted on Mid Shore Life? (w/ your name & blog link!)


  2. Certainly. Please feel free to. Thanks

  3. Great article, Mike. There were so many thriving villages and communities that would otherwise be forgotten.

  4. Interesting, Mike. Any idea if the postman from Earleville through the 1960’s-70’s also named James Kirk was a relative? Very good article.

  5. Pingback: The forgotten village of Pivot Bridge or Bethel | The Cecil Observer

  6. Thanks Elaine. Don’t have specific info on the ’60s-’70s era postman from Earleville, but I’ll bet there’s a really good chance that they were relatives.

  7. I always knew there was something there at one time. I used to drive down that road many times when I worked at the Whig and had a feeling there was something more at that location. I didn’t know what though until reading your story.

  8. Bill on that last removal in the 1960s, the Corps of Engineers had to remove a large number of graves. They let a contract for about 100 but the number that were dug up and moved were many times that number. You can find the stones over in the southeast corner by the Mason Dixon Line. Some are marked with memorials noting the name, but many are simply listed as unknown.

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