In several areas of Cecil County there are places that were once thriving little hamlets, but are now barely wide spots in the road. They might have a house or two, while in their heyday they hummed with activity. However, once their reason for prosperity vanished, the passage of time slowly eroded away the community’s traces. The story of a vibrant past was lost to the ages, as memories faded and a new generation came on.
One of those spots, Iron Hill, is midway between Elkton and Newark, just west of the Mason Dixon Line. It once had nearly 50 residents, along with a railroad station, post office and general store, according to the Maryland State Gazetteer of 1902. Decades earlier in 1887, there were two general merchants (J. M. Cook and John Denver), two telegrapher operators (William Holton & Thomas Smith), and dealers in phosphate and coal (Frank Stroud and Charles Walton). Miss Hattie Evans served as the village teacher and John Denner (possibly Denver) was the postmaster.
There was such heavy trade in this neighborhood that the P. W. & B. Railroad announced in October 1880 that it was contemplating “the establishment of a new station on the road about midway between Newark and Elkton, which would be close to the State Line,” the Every Evening reported. Officials didn’t mull it over too long as work soon started on a passenger depot and freight house.
The iron ore mines or pits of the Whitaker Company just over the line in Delaware furnished a great amount of freight as the ore was taken to Principio for reduction. That, coupled with the amount of farming enterprise in this section of the county, called for increased transportation facilities.
The carrier was ready to meet the demand. The land for the depot and warehouse was “given by Mr. C. Walton, who lived nearby,” the Cecil Whig reported. Once the attractive station house opened in April 1881, an agent was assigned to the depot, the official and his family living on the second floor. The first floor contained two waiting rooms and other operational spaces.
In the 20th century, freight and passenger traffic declined. By 1912, the railroad was arguing a case before the Maryland Public Service Commission as they wanted to reduce service to the attractive country station built-in the glory days of railroading.
Modernization also came along. During the first half of the 20th century track realignments were required as the company electrified the line and eliminated curves. The station was moved a short distance back from the right-of-way, sometime during this era. Also the company eliminated service at the rural station.
Today, except for the Amtrak passenger trains rushing past at high speeds, things are quiet at Iron Hill. The old depot and another structure or two survive, serving as reminders of Cecil’s past and the thriving little hamlet.
But on this mild day in the middle of January as the sun came out in the afternoon, I was offered a ticket to the past. Dan Dilks invited me out to look at the distinctive structure as he and a helper care for the old landmark, fixing it up and updating things. In another century, it was the centerpiece of this tiny village on the Mason Dixon Line.
Thanks Dan for being the conductor on this visit and for an enjoyable walk through the past. Dan’s tour caused me to do a little digging through some sources, and this is what I have come up with thus far.