In a time when horses, carriages, and bicycles provided transportation, the sight of an automobile could cause a commotion, but little did anyone know how unsettling that first view could be for “Poor Excuse.”
It was Friday, April 13, 1900, a day for bad luck, when the Adams Express delivery horse trotted up to the corner of Main and North streets. A quick glance up the street caused the normally mild-mannered animal to take his owner, B. M. Wells, on a mad dash through the center of Elkton. The spectacle of a strange machine breezing along had proved too much for the animal.
The driver of the contraption, the first “horseless carriage” seen in the county seat, was making his way between New York and Washington, D.C. Curious people rushed to the curb to catch a glimpse of the member of the “locomobile Club of America” rolling along.
Mr. & Mrs. Harry Decker pulled up to the Howard House in their automobile in August of that year. After spending Saturday night there, they got an early start the next morning as the New Yorkers continued on, heading to the Texas oil fields.
These new-fangled machines sometimes were temperamental. A big red “Panhard (Paris) driven by a 20-horse power gasoline engine” passed through in 1902, but ran out of oil on the outskirts of Elkton. The tank was refilled at the store of John E. Gonce, the Elkton Appeal reported.
Automobiles were here to stay, and it wasn’t too many more years before passing cars no longer caused a stir. By August 1905, Harvey Rowland and Lewis Abrahams rode from Port Deposit to Atlantic City in their vehicle in five hours and twenty minutes. Charles R. Ford owned the first one in Elkton, a fine Pope Runabout in November 1905. As Ford was learning the “tricks of his new stead”, the Cecil County News wrote, “Good luck to you, Charlie, and may you never slip a cog or run out of gasoline.” Mr. Carter of Singerly had a fine runabout in August 1906.
Local automobilists became common. D. J. Ayerst, Dr. H. A. Mitchell and Frank B. Evans turned out in their vehicles for the Elkton Halloween parade in 1911. A striking feature was “Ayersts’ Cadillac Motor Car, elegantly and strikingly decorated,” according to the Cecil Whig. Edward W. Taylor bought a new Ford touring car to add to his livery fleet in 1913.
With the auto here to stay, the State of Maryland enacted a registration and licensing law, the first one in Cecil going to Lewis Abrahams of Port Deposit. “My great uncle Lewis Abrahams who lived till his 84th year in 1964 at Port Deposit . . . was very proud of holding the first license issued for an automobile in the county”, the Rev John J. Abrahams noted several years ago. “He and my grandfather began the first car dealership in Port.” Lewis owned a 4 horse-power Locomobile and was issued license no. 502. In Fair Hill, Edward H. Strahorn owned a Thomas B. Jeffery 7 ½ horsepower vehicle, issued license 537. John E. Good in Perryville had a Peerless Motor Car, holding registration 656
Duyckinch, Sterret & Co. of Rising Sun established the first dealership in Cecil County in 1909, handling Hupmobiles, Invincible Schachts, and Oakland Machines. They had a fine section of Regal Automobile and “everyone was invited to call at the garage to inspect these beauties and see their efficiency demonstrated,” the Midland Journal reported the next year.
Warren Boulden Sr., built a 3-car garage in Elkton, opening his business in May 1911. Carrying a full line of automobile supplies, the Whig added that “Mr. Boulden has given this business a study, and is a competent mechanician.”
“Poor Excuse” wasn’t the only one appalled by these contraptions. In Elkton, Council’s hackles had been raised by speeding automobilist frightening horses and endangering pedestrians so the commissioners adopted an eight MPH speed limit. Rising Sun decided that 10 MPH was a safe and posted signs reading “automobiles blow your horn at dangerous crossing and curves,” in 1911.
Within days of the new law going on the books, the vigilant town officer, Bailiff George Potts issued Elkton’s first speeding ticket, arresting a Baltimorean. In Chesapeake City in 1915, the authorities were determined to break up reckless driving, and Bailiff Samuel Biggs arrested five automobilists for failing to sound horns at cross streets. One of those arrested was Philip L. Garrett, Wilmington attorney for the Delaware Automobile Club.
About this time, the Cecil Whig observed that the reason Port Deposit had far more vehicles than the Elkton was simple economics. Everyone knew that you didn’t make much money practicing law, as wealth came from enterprises, such as manufacturing and transportation.
The automobile age was on in Cecil. Click here for additional photos