At the 81st annual meeting of the Historical Society of Cecil County a packed house was on hand as Cecil’s heritage-keepers presented the Ernest A. Howard award to George Reynolds. This prestigious honor is given to individuals who have made a significant contribution to the preservation of the county’s historic resources and has faced huge challenges in trying to protect the built environment, preserve folkways, or save scare relics.
Soon after George returned home from Navy duty in the pacific during World War II, he acquired an interest in regional Indian culture and archeology. That curiosity soon turned into a lifetime pursuit involving 60-years of extensive fact-finding, searching for artifacts that showed how people lived in the past. In the coming decade, the young combat veteran helped organize the Archaeological Society of Maryland and start the first local chapter.
When the state began talking about building an expressway across northeastern Maryland in the early 1960s, the proposal alarmed George. It wasn’t that he was against moving ahead as he has always been a forward-looking person. He 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 long before the European contact period.
So the Northeastern Chapter of the Archaeological Society of Maryland led by George set out to ensure the corridor was documented before progress obliterated all traces of earlier inhabitants. 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 $500 from private sources and with the help of a matching $500 from the governor the group hired a Temple University professor to help them investigate the route.
This experience pointed out to the need for the state to have an archaeologist. “We started a fight for a Maryland position,” George remarked. “It took two years of working with our delegates and senators, but we succeeded.” Tyler Bastain became Maryland’s first state archaeologist in 1964, as George served in leadership positions with the Archaeological Society of Maryland
There were plenty of other advocacy projects as his work was just beginning. In 1976 he helped organize the Elk Creek Preservation Society and was its president for the first 10-years. The preservationist was involved in similar ways when the Cecil Historical Trust was formed and worked on the most current book on county history, “The Head of the Bay.”
The World War II sailor had some remarks about his strong passion for the past. “I went into Hiroshima, where they dropped the Atomic Bomb. We were riding on a Japanese truck as the ground was too radioactive to walk. The things I saw on that first observation round by the U.S. Navy were so unsettling. . . . I was uncertain about what the future held for the world so I immersed myself in studying the past.”
George’s interest 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 also worked on the frontline, out there digging and studying the secrets of the soil.
The award is named after Ernest A. Howard a man who was especially instrumental in helping to build the strong Historical Society of nearly 1,000 members, which serves the county today. Born in Childs in 1885, this benefactor of the organization was deeply involved in the successful revival of the nonprofit in the 1950s. He worked tirelessly to preserve local heritage and was active in the restoration of several old churches and buildings. In 1955 he was a central figure in the establishment of a modern headquarters for the Cecil County library, and donated a wing to the library in part to provide a home for the Historical Society. Howard passed away in 1973.
The energetic 90-year-old becomes the fourth recipient of this honor.