An Old House Research Question: When did the Pennsylvania Railroad Move the Dwellings

The original tracks ran alongside the old Cecil County Jail.

The original tracks ran alongside the old Cecil County Jail.

Over time, physical changes occur to a community’s built environment. Most are subtle, as when a backhoe goes to work digging up a new foundation or a bulldozer extends a street so a small parcel of land can be subdivided into building lots.  But as decades pass by more radical transformations occasionally materialize, many of those leaving behind no hint of earlier times.

Between the two World Wars, one of those epic alterations took place in the center of Elkton as the Pennsylvania Railroad electrified the northeast corridor and improved its right-of-way. The significant local enhancements included moving the tracks nearly a quarter of a mile to the north, the elimination of dangerous grade crossings, construction of two overhead bridges, the extension of municipal streets, and the erection of a new passenger station.

Once the engineers developed plans to straighten the tracks, the company purchased a great deal of land. In between wrangling for a deal with individual property owners, the PRR negotiated with the town council and the State Highway Administration to get an agreement to eliminate several busy grade crossings and build elevated bridges at North and Bridge streets.

As the plan moved forward, this design disrupted long-established street patterns in the older section of town and reoriented growth toward Elkton Heights, a new development on the edge of the county seat. In the area of North Street the realignment of the roadway required the Company to acquire a number of residences on either side of the street.  Around August 1931, the PRR sold nine of those recently acquired buildings to local parties, the price ranging from $300 to $500.  The company had paid as much as $10,000 for some of them, the Cecil Democrat reported.

Several of the houses had been lifted from their foundations in August 1931 ,and were “being moved intact to what is known as Elkton Heights, about seven hundred feet further north,” the Cecil Democrat reported.  The balance would soon follow, as the new owners had agreed to promptly remove the dwellings.  Two had been bought by John Lawrence of Newark, and one each by Argus F. Robinson, John W. Alexander. W. Holt McAllister, George P. Whitaker, Cecil P. Sentman, Thomas W. Simpers, Taylor W. McKenney, and Robert V. Creswell.  George Moore of Newark and Woodall & Son of Elkton handled the moving contract, the Cecil County News noted.

The work was hastily accomplished as the contractors on this major Great Depression era public works project anxiously wanted to get the long-delayed project moving. When it was over about 1935, the Pennsylvania Railroad had completed improvements amounting to over $1-million locally, not including electrification. Beyond that, street patterns familiar to a generation of people had been altered.  And  homes that once lined North Street had been moved to the newest development, Elkton Heights.  Today they continue to line some of the attractive streets in this subdivision, appearing as if they have been there from the first.  There are few traces of the pre-electrification era in Elkton.

Pennsylvania Railroad plan for improvements in Elkton, 1930.  Source:  Hagley Museum and Library

Pennsylvania Railroad plan for improvements in Elkton, 1930. Source: Hagley Museum and Library

A 1931 Sanborn map showing the new concrete bridge.  Source:  Historical Society of Cecil County Collection

A 1931 Sanborn map showing the new concrete bridge. Source: Historical Society of Cecil County Collection

 

A postcard showing a portion of North Street where the changes occurred.  C 1920s.  photo source:  personal collection.

A postcard showing a portion of North Street where the changes occurred. C 1920s. photo source: personal collection.

A 1922 Sanborn map showing the North Street area  before the houses were moved. Source:  Historical Society of Cecil County Collection.

A 1922 Sanborn map showing the North Street area before the houses were moved. Source: Historical Society of Cecil County Collection.

 

 

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4 responses to “An Old House Research Question: When did the Pennsylvania Railroad Move the Dwellings

  1. Since not being all that familiar with Elkton, I have to look at my map. I didn’t know the PRR moved the tracks then. The only moving of tracks that I knew of was when the present bridge was built over the Susquehanna River. The tracks were moved to their present location. The old tracks are between the Perryville train station and Perry Point. The original entrance to Perry Point went over them since the current entrance wasn’t built until around WWII when the double decker car bridge made from the old bridge was torn down for the war effort.

    • Those changes confuse people trying to study Elkton, because it is hard to figure out what happened with this as the changes hardly left any traces. Stop in someday and I’ll show you some old maps.

  2. Very interesting, thanks Mike. Bill Mc

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