High atop a perch on the old brick firehouse in downtown Elkton a 128-year-old weathervane has pointed out the direction of the blowing wind for centuries. From that central location or the nearby courthouse where it originally claimed a spot, it swung in changing breezes, gusts, and gales, serving as a steady sentinel keeping a watchful eye out for shifting conditions.
That interesting weathervane, in the form of a shad, was originally placed on the roof of the old courthouse that stood at the corner of North and Main streets. This 18th century public structure was being renovated in 1886 when the Cecil Whig wrote about the attractive crown. The expanded building “has been decorated by a handsome and unique weather vane, which is all new. . . . It is an elegant piece of ornamental roof work, and was put up by Mr. Geo S. Fox of Rising Sun.” Harry Hearn designed the instrument, the Baltimore Sun added. There above the courthouse cupola, the decorative piece had a sweeping view of the Big Elk Creek crowded with boats, during an era when fisheries were an important part of the everyday.
Detractors complained about the expansion. But “the critics can’t carp at this new vane, however, vain the architect or builder of this vane may be, simply because there is no carp about it but all shad, a massive gilt shad, its body made of copper, with the scales wrought in shape by hand and covered with real gold leaf. Below it are to gilt balls . . . with the four index letters of the compass in gilt letters about 9 inches in size,” wrote the Cecil Whig. “Outside of the beauty and usefulness of such an ornament we are glad to know that it is one of the few things about the building, which were got up at home.”
By the 1930s the judicial system and county government again needed more space so a new courthouse was built one block east of the original facility. The first seat of justice was turned over to the Town of Elkton and the city council promptly tore it down in Oct. 1940. The shad, however, was saved from the wrecking ball and sometime after that it was mounted at its present location, a municipal property that served as the fire station. This was its perch when the Baltimore Sun wrote about it in 1958.
In this age of instant access to weather data on our smartphones, computers, and cable television, the attractive, twisting and turning instrument, a once useful monitor of the whims of the weather, reminds us of earlier time.