It wasn’t that they were against moving ahead as these progressive-minded citizens knew the region urgently needed I-95, the proposed fast route without one traffic light between Baltimore and Philadelphia. This group worried that once construction on the massive highway got underway, the big earth moving machines cutting a 300-foot wide path across Harford and Cecil counties would destroy all evidence of prehistoric civilizations buried in the soil before the European contact period. Also, the evidence of the early historical period could be lost as the expressway crossed over sources of energy for manufacturing (the valleys and streams) in the pre-electrification age.
So the Northeastern Chapter of the Archaeological Society of Maryland led by George Reynolds set out to ensure the corridor was documented before progress obliterated all traces of early culture. This involved building support with transportation planners, state officials, politicians and residents, as well as raising money to support the project. George was successful for he raised $1,000 largely from private sources.
Archaeologists and construction crews worked side by side in the summer of 1962, as both rushed to complete their tasks before the planned opening date in November 1963. Skilled volunteers, aided by one professional, Daniel G. Crozer of Temple University, looked for artifacts along the right-of-way, while the heavy equipment operators scooped up the earth, building the highway across the top of the Chesapeake.
Large parts of I-95 traversed heavily wooded, uncultivated areas where little or no archaeological research had been carried out. Investigators never know what they’ll find until the fieldwork is done, but the strong possibility existed that relics from Native-American Culture or a village might be buried below the top soil along the route. These discoveries would answer questions about cultural patterns of Maryland’s prehistoric people.
Because of the limited time for fieldwork, this undertaking was classified as salvage archaeology. This is survey and excavation work that is carried out in areas threatened by construction. Unlike traditional studies, these projects must be done quickly to rescue cultural resources before they are lost. The investigation involved site surveys, surface-hunting , test pitting and aerial observations.
For four weeks in the summer of 1962, before the big highway changed the landscape, the knowledgable volunteers and one professional made use of every available hour. The salvage effort uncovered a jasper quarry that had been heavily worked by prehistoric people. Until that point, it was thought that the jasper projectile points used by Maryland Indians were made in Pennsylvania. “Frantsi Rock Shelter” is located on the east bank of the Big Elk Creek and yielded hundreds of artifacts, some dating as far back as 3000. B.C. The enthusiasts also found Indian pottery, worked stone, knife blades, projectile points, bone material, scrapers, and mussel shells. George created an exhibit of these stone-age relics and it was housed in the basement of the public library for decades. The full report for this study is archived at the state’s archaeological library at the Maryland Historical Trust.
George’s interest in archaeology and local history never diminished. Over the decades he’s been involved in all of the major digs in the county, including the one at the Elk Landing when the county detention center was being built. A Native-American burial site was discovered there. He has helped reveal much of what had been lost to centuries of time by being an advocate for archaeology and history in Cecil County. He has also been on the frontline, out there digging and studying the secrets of the soil.