Someone Asked: What is the History of the Building in Back of the Old Jail

The other day someone asked about the history of a plain concrete block building located on county property in back of the old county jail on North Street in Elkton.  As structures in an old town like this go, it is a nondescript building that doesn’t grab any special attention.  But I promised to look into the records to see what the paper trail revealed.

In the middle of World War II,  Elkton needed a building to serve as a center for Boy and Girl Scout activities.  So troop leaders looked around and located some unused county land just off North Street in back of the jail.  Representatives of the Kiwanis Club approached the commissioners in February 1942, asking permission to erect a one story with basement structure on the space and the county agreed.  The Scout headquarters was dedicated on October 10, 1943.

In 1957  as the Cold War heated up the county needed a headquarters for its newly established Civil Defense Agency  so the building was handed over to the  disaster agency. as Director Ward noted that headquarters would be set up “in the former boy scout building near the jail . . . following completion of remodeling and repairs.”  The operation grew as Russia exploded a Hydrogen Bomb and the nuclear arms race took off.

A year or two after that a county-wide CD radio system was installed to allow emergency officials to communicate with fire stations and responding units during a disaster.  Each fire house had a base and 15 mobile units were installed on fire company vehicles. When the county created a planning department, it also shared space with CD

In October 1961, a 24-hour dispatch system went on the air, working out of the basement, to provide central radio control of equipment and CD operations.  The disaster response office was also stacked with crates of supplies to be used to help residents survive  a nuclear war.

In 1967 the dispatchers moved into a sub-basement below the newly opened courthouse addition and the building was used for live-in work-out prisoners to relieve the badly over-crowded jail. Once a modern Detention Center opened at the edge of Elkton later in the 1980s, county government used it for offices for the purchasing department and similar administrative functions.

elkton 033s

This structure was built by the Elkton Kiwanis as a Scout building in 1943.

In August 1961, Jack Cooke, chief operator, tests the county's central dispatching center as officials prepare to launch the network in a couple of months.  Looking on (L to R) are two Bainbridge officials, G. Mitchell Boulden, and John J. Ward.  Source:  Cecil Democrat, August 2, 1961

In August 1961, Jack Cooke, chief operator, tests the county’s central dispatching center as officials prepare to launch the network in a couple of months. It was located in the basement of the Scout building.  Looking on (L to R) are two Bainbridge officials, G. Mitchell Boulden, and John J. Ward. Source: Cecil Democrat, August 2, 1961

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7 responses to “Someone Asked: What is the History of the Building in Back of the Old Jail

  1. Hi Mike – did you know that Baltimore County used the Almshouse in the 50s and 60s for CD supplies? And we still have some of those supplies (dozens of cots, many containers of “biscuits” that really looks more like hardtack, and lots of radio equipment, helmets and other items) and a complete Civil Defense room in the basement? We’re hoping to open it up for tours at some point, once the County stops moving things around in other portions of the building. We tried to figure out who actually “owns” all this stuff, but the County said they didn’t want it and that it belonged to Homeland Security! We gave up on that project.

  2. Thanks Melisa for sharing that. I wasn’t aware of that. I’ll have to visit there sometime soon. I was doing a talk in the City a few years ago and Ned Murrey (not sure about spelling of the last name) an old county and state CD director stopped by and we talked. Is it possible to see those areas?

    • I think Ned is the retired CD person, but I’ll check with Jim Long,who has spoken a number of times with someone who used to work in the CD room. You are welcome to come and see what we’ve got down there. I work at the Society on Tuesdays, but if another day is better, I can always come up, as the Fire Museum is only about 15 min. away. Sundays and Mondays we are closed, and while we are open limited hours to the public for research, etc., there are always volunteers and staff in residence.

  3. BTW, has the history of the Baltimore County Almshouse been researched and published? I’m interested in doing a state wide study of that subject?

    • Actually, we just finished putting up a small photo exhibit on the history of our Almshouse. Another volunteer (Patrick Cutter,who also works down at the G. Krug Ironworks Museum in the City) and I have been doing lots of research on the Almshouse over the years. Rob Schoeberlein from the State Archives did an online exhibit on Almshouses around the State, based on photographs that were taken for a report in 1908-10. Here’s the link: http://msa.maryland.gov/msa/speccol/sc5400/sc5492/html/almshouse.html. It was a good starting place for us, although there was information gathered over the years by early volunteers at the County Historical Society.Some of it is a bit screwy! We’ve got all sorts of things we would be happy to share – the State Lunacy Commission reports, which talk about each individual County’s almshouses, mental hospitals, etc.

      We have objects, as well, but haven’t put them all out yet, as they are packed away in boxes from one of our many moves over the last 2 years. (But that’s another story!)

  4. Thanks Melissa. I’ll look forward to see your research collections and your exhibit.

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