Mapping the Elk River and Other Waterways

William P. Craighill. served the Chesapeake Station for the Army Corps of Engineers for 25 years. Source: Wikipedia

Cecil County Citizens Kayak & Canoe Club recently established an open Facebook group, a place for those interested in the area’s five rivers.  Once the social media page launched, views of the Upper Elk River (the Kayaker’s perspective) caught my attention, causing me to start digging through old research files in a search of some detailed 19th century charts of the river.

I had been involved in research that sought to document how water access to communities at the head of navigable rivers changed over the centuries.  That decade old question took me to the Philadelphia Branch of the National Archives to examine long untouched, original records of Major William Price Craighill, the head of the engineering office of the Army Corps of Engineers in this region from 1870 to 1895.  (He retired as a general, serving in the highest post in his branch.)

With over 25 years at this station, he superintended the dredging of many of the Chesapeake’s rivers.   His products, including the original notebooks, sketches, hand-drawn maps, letters and official reports, are safely stored away at the Philadelphia branch.  As he supervised engineering on the Elk River, his men mapped the waterway, carried on dredging, removed shoals and built dikes, making the waterway navigable for sailing and steam vessels.

These manuscripts helped answer many of our questions at that time, and the recent posts by the Facebook group drew my interest to those highly detailed maps drawn so long ago.  His work contained detailed information — both reports and maps — on many of the rivers in this area and would be helpful for anyone doing a study of the waterways.

The rivers in our corner of Maryland have a fascinating narrative waiting to shared, going back to the pre-historic period.    Thank you Cecil County Citizens Kayak & Canoe Club for working to promote this heritage and natural beauty.

Kayaking at the top of the Elk River.  Elk Landing is in the background.  Source:  Cecil County Citizens Kayak & Canoe Club

Kayaking at the top of the Elk River. Elk Landing is in the background. Source: Cecil County Citizens Kayak & Canoe Club

elk cree coastal survey950aA

This map, showing where the Big and LIttle Elk creeks meet the river was drawn by the Army Corps of Engineers in 1926-1927. It was created after Craighill retired. Source: Army Corps of Engineers

elk cree coastal survey951aA

This map shows the Big Elk Creek in the vicinity of Bridge St. It was drawn by the Army Corps of Engineers in 1926-1927, long after Craighill retired. Source: Army Corps of Engineers

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