Category Archives: Uncategorized

New Web Address for Cecil County History

Since we published our first Cecil County History blog on April 13, 2007, we have kept up with evolving social media platforms, maintaining multiple channels of communications.

We are now moving the Cecil County weblog over to a new URL on the web,

The transfer to the new URL is necessary for us to keep up with changes that the WordPress platform is incorporating into its system.

On that page we will continue sharing our Cecil County history posts.  Be sure to check it out and follow the blog as we share interesting pieces about yesteryear in the most northeastern County of Maryland.

Rodgers Tavern, Perryville





Civil War Days on the Chesapeake & Delaware Canal

For 365 days in 1864 a small diary penned by John Price, the Superintendent of the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal, provides a unique and enthralling view of Chesapeake City as that troubled year gradually passed by.   With the Civil War dragging on, as Union and Confederate armies confronted each other in a deadly, epic struggle, Price hovered over his tiny journal to chronicle the dark, troubling times as the country and an inland waterway village at the top of the Delmarva Peninsula faced fears and tribulations.  His accounts of personal moments, the challenges of operating the waterway, and shattering national events provide a one-of-a-kind narrative portrait, a window to the past.

A Civil War era diary kept by the manager of the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal.

A Civil War era diary kept by the manager of the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal.

Often the manager of the C & D concerned himself with the routines of daily life and the weather, but regularly disturbing war and political news demanded the diarist’s attention.   Since the founding of the nation blue laws prohibited working on Sundays, a day for attending church, resting and reflecting, but with fighting raging the United States Government couldn’t be hindered by such morals.  Aghast townspeople watched, government tugs, light boats, and barges pass through the canal one Sabbath in April to “accompany Burnside’s expedition.”   “Piping times these, Uncle Sam violating the sanctity of the Sabbath and teaching men so.  Sad to contemplate such necessity.”

Delaware Civil War Recruiting Poster

A Delaware Civil War recruiting poster . Source: Delaware Public Archives.

On Independence Day, generally a time of raucous celebration and enjoyment in a watermen’s town, the diarist found sadness.  “Congress having repealed the commutation clause in the conscription law, every able-bodied man between the ages of 18 & 45 is liable to be drafted.  The case is a despicable one, and will make great confusion and much skedaddling.”  AS a result of the law’s change, men could no longer provide substitutes or pay fees to avoid service.  A clerk, son, and son-in-law went off to escape the draft, he wrote.  “Grants men are being killed off making ample room in the army for a hundred thousand greenhorns who prefer staying at home to going to the front as fodder for Lee’s sharpshooters.”

While conscription resulted in “dark days,” the worries for the man superintending work on an important military inland waterway were just getting started.  Shortly after returning from church on Sunday, July 10, an urgent telegram arrived.  Mr. Gray, the corporation’s lawyer, wanted to know if a tug could be equipped with a cannon.  General Jubal Early’s Confederate Troops were marching on Maryland.  Price came up with a suitable vessel as fear spread.  As Wednesday passed into Thursday, word arrived that the “rebels were advancing” on Chesapeake City, a town of about 1,000 people.  On that sleepless night, a second message arrived, confirming that enemy troops were on their way.  That caused great alarm and some house furnishings, clothing and such were removed to the safety of the countryside.

But at sunrise Chesapeake City was safe.   “Breathing free on learning that reports of last night in relation to the visitation on the part of the rebels were fabrications.  Thank God.  The canal is uninsured.”  Another report before noon caused Price to order the noisy steam-pump at the lock shut-down “ so that everything at the waterworks might be quite to escape the observation of the rebels.  Slowly the old, noisy waterwheel ground to a halt and all was silent on the western end of the waterway.  Eight and a half-hours later the enemy hadn’t arrived, so the wheel started pumping water again and commerce resumed.  Later, he received news that the invaders had retreated back across the Potomac.

As summer turned to fall, Price began expressing worries about a free election. When the Baltimore steamer landed 20 soldiers in Chesapeake City, he supposed they were there to intimidate voters.  When citizens went to the polls to vote on the new Maryland State Constitution, one he called “bogus,” he noted how Republicans were exercising every possibility to disenfranchise Democrats.    Election-day passed off “comparatively quiet, only one or two fights,” as he cast his ballot for George McClellan.

Reading Price’s diary is like taking a trip back in time.  It is possible to see the Civil War era in one small but important Maryland town as Price reflects on a nation, a state and his community in the uncertain depths of wartime.  Throughout the struggle the canal was an important transportation route, carrying urgently needed men and supplies as the conflict ebbed and flowed on distant battlefields.  As he finished this chronicle on New Year’s Eve, the great conflict was nearing its end, but Richmond still stood and Abraham Lincoln was in the White House.

On those brittle, browning pages penned so long ago, he paused each day to record important observations in a small pocket diary bound in brown leather and stained from the passing of centuries.  This day-by-day chronicle of happenings for 1864, tells the modern readers about life on the canal during the war between the north and the south.

Chesapeake & Delaware Cnal Pumphouse in 1867

The C & D Canal Pumphouse a few years after the Civil War (1867).
source: personal collection

Article originally published in Maryland Life, March 2013

Note:  An interesting article about the importance of the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal during the Civil War.  Delivered by Major R. R. Reynolds, Army Corps of Engineers, 1911,  From JSTOR.



Cecil County School Desegregation

“Standing in the Schoolhouse Door:  The Desegregation of Public Schools in Cecil County, Maryland – 1954-1965” is a Washington College thesis (2013) by Kyle Dixon, B.A..  The thesis analyzes social and political factors, which led to the desegreation of public schools in Cecil County, MD.

Click this link to review the thesis dixon kyle desegregation

Here’s a link to an article in the Cecil Whig about the investigation of this subject.

Cedar Hill, African American School House Cecil County

Kyle Dixon at Levi J Coppin School in Cecilton, an African-American School

The author, Kyle Dison at the Levin Coppin School, a former schoolhouse for African Americans in Cecilton.

Cecil County’s First Newspaper

The first printing press to ever rest on Cecil County soil came here 195 years ago. In that era, long before steam locomotives chugged along on rails or telegraphs tapped out lightning-fast messages, a young newspaper editor from Lancaster, Pa., named John McCord arrived in Elkton. He was also a printer since in those days the two jobs often overlapped.
For the entrepreneurial, yet inexperienced scribe, the task of getting his press moved here must have been a challenging undertaking. Although the record is silent as to precisely how he transported the heavy equipment, he probably loaded it carefully aboard a wagon for a bumpy journey over dusty country roads.
However, he went about it, the editor put the first edition of the Elkton Press in the hands of patrons the day after Cecil County celebrated the 47th anniversary of American independence in July 1823. McCord assisted by James Andrews and Samuel Stanbaugh, rolled up their sleeves and got ink on their hands as they toiled throughout the long summer publication day on the hand press.

An issue of the Elkton Press, Cecil County’s first newspaper. From the collection of the Historical Society. The Society has a number of scattered issues of this publication in its collection.


Putting ink on paper is simpler today with laser printers, computers and desktop publishing software, but it was a complicated matter at the top of the 19th century. Each word had to be laboriously set by hand and each letter plucked from the cases of type. As the composition man worked, he placed individual blocks of words in a special frame until the entire page was laid out.

Each frame was mounted on the press, and an absorbent ball dipped in ink was rubbed on the type form. A helper laid a clean sheet of paper on the device, and by tugging on a lever, created an impression by causing a metal plate to press the paper onto the inked form.
Once one side was completed the type for the other side of the paper was set. Eventually the weekly four-page edition was ready to make its way into the hands of readers, who paid an annual subscription price of $2. McCord wrote that advertisements not exceeding a square could be conspicuously insert three times for $1.
After that July day so long ago, handbills, calendars, cards, stationery, legal forms and a variety of other printed matter started rolling off those clanking presses. But newspapers came floating out as well, spreading information to a waiting audience.
Perhaps to serve a wider audience, its name was lengthened to the Elkton Press and Cecil County Advertiser for a few years, starting in 1829. Although ownership changed a few times, the weekly last untiled 1832. That year, shortly after the presidential election race between Andrew Jackson and Henry Clay, the compositor set type for the last time.
An astounding number of publications followed. Newspapers blossomed in Chesapeake City, Elkton, North East, Perryville, Port Deposit and Rising Sun, as others rushed to serve readers. Over the course of centuries, the county has had over 40 different titles, often with many changes in ownership, format and titles.
You could say that McCord, Andrews and Stanbaugh pioneered the evolution of periodicals in Cecil County. Arriving in Elkton with a hand press and a font of type, these men were directly responsible for this county’s information age. Long before folks worried about young men marching away to the Civil War, the efforts of those publishing pioneers from Lancaster introduced home-based media that brought information to homes, farms and businesses.
Over 40 newspaper titles were published in Cecil County. This is the Jackson Picket Guard from Sept. 10, 1856 from the collection of the American Antiquarian Society. The Society has a number of rare, early newspapers titles from Cecil County.

The Jackson Picket Guard, an Elkton Newspaper. From the collection of the American Antiquarian Society. The Society has a number of rare, Cecil County titles in its collection.

Remembering Home Front Defense Workers Who Made the Ultimate Sacrifice in Cecil County

As this Memorial Day — the time to honor those who died in the military while serving our country —  draws to a close, we also want to remember another group who made the ultimate sacrifice defending our nation.  These were Women Ordnance Workers (WOW) and men employed in the defense jobs in Elkton.  On the home front, they carried out dangerous assignments, producing munitions that were needed to win the war.

People frequently talk about the big 1943 explosion at the munitions plants, but there were others, and a census or registry of civilian defense workers has never been compiled.  It was perilous, and while non-fatal explosions occurred with some regularity,  a few were lethal.

Following what was described as Maryland’s worst munitions plant explosion in 1943, the Morning News wrote in an Editorial (May 5, 1943), “There is a little which can be said that will console the families who have lost one or more members as a result of this disaster.  Yet, if they will stop to reflect, they do have the comfort of knowing that their sons and daughters gave their lives just as surely and in a no less patriotic way than if they had died on the field of battle.  They too were soldiers in the great cause to which America had dedicated itself and to the success of which it had pledged all its human and material resources.”

According to our preliminary findings at least twenty-two members of this group died in Elkton.

Feb. 21, 1940 – Before the United States formally entered the war, two men lost their lives, and fourteen other employees were injured in an explosion, which wrecked two buildings and damaged others at the Triumph Fusee and Fireworks Company plant.  The plant employed approximately 500 people.  For some time, the company had been chiefly engaged in the manufacture of airplanes flares and other pyrotechnic equipment on Government contract.  Sheriff David J. Randolph and Deputy Ralph W. Robinson rushed to the plant as soon as they heard the explosion after calling for state police assistance.  Only one ambulance was available in Elkton, and it carried several of the injured to the hospital

  • Edward Knief, 38, Newark DE – died instantly.
  • Charles Willard Gatchell, 32 of North East, died at Union Hospital

July 24, 1942 – Victor Vardaro, 37, of Bear, died at Union Hospital the day after he received burns while closing the door to the power grinding room at Vardaro Fireworks Manufacturing Plant.  Vardaro was the manager of the plant, which was owned by his father, Alexander.

  • Victor Vardaro, 37, Bear, DE

May 5, 1943  —  The state’s worst fireworks-munitions plant explosion killed fifteen workers and injured about 60 more.  A series of blasts were followed by fires that destroyed two plant buildings and spread to three other structures of Triumph Explosives, Inc.

The explosion occurred in a building that was used to manufacture tracer bullets.  Seconds later an adjoining building blew up.  Fire companies from five communities aided plant firemen in battling the flames.  Later, fire broke out in a canteen filled with employees and that too resulted in many injuries.

The plant hospital was quickly filled, along with a 25-bed Civil Defense Emergency Hospital setup on the grounds, but the more seriously injured were rushed to Union Hospital.  Throughout the night medical personnel performed life-saving procedures.  Later, Bodies were taken to the Pippin Funeral Home on East Main Street.  Hundreds stood silently “outside under the old trees, which line the street,” as people entered the undertaking parlor to try to identify the dead.

Benjamin F. Pepper, President of the company, issued an appeal to the corporation’s 13,000-employees to return to work immediately.  “We will do everything in our power to prevent any similar accident and to fight on with you harder than ever before,” was printed on red, white and blue signs posted in surrounding communities.

After a seventeen hour shutdown thousands of workers “hushed and grim-faced slowly filed through the guard gates at Trumpj Explosive. ending the seventeen-hour shutdown that followed the incident, the Evening Sun reported (May 5 1943)

May 5, 1943 –

  •  Willie Craddock, South Boston, VA.
  •  Mauhee Nediffer, Allentown Hills, WV.
  • Susan Nolli, Eynon, PA
  • Charles Millman, Camden, DE
  • Della Truman, Cedar Grove, WV
  • Ellis Simmons, Elkton
  • Iva Young Ward, W.V
  • Wilson Warner, Elkton
  • Mrs. Hurley Galmore, Coatesville, PA
  • Christine Erby, Raleigh NC
  • Jake Peatross, Danville, VA
  • Gilbert Poore, Warwick, MD.
  • Harry Rias, Dover, DE
  • Chester Whaley, Wilmington, DE
  • Ivy Young, Ward, WV.

June 21, 1943 – Three men died in a flash fire at Triumph.  They were dumping defective waste material in what is known as a fire pit, when an incident occurred.

  •  William Nelson Kellum, Carpenters Point
  • Samuel Perkins, Still Pond
  • William Smith, 37, North East

Sept. 6, 1943 – An explosion of undetermined origin wrecked a small building at Triumph Explosive plant about noon an 18-year-old.

  • Lester Billings, 18, Wilkesboro, NC

The registry probably represents an undercount as the primary sources for this preliminary registry are city and local newspapers, and the papers may not have covered isolated incidents.  We plan to continue adding information to this summary and will share it as we develop it.

The Day the Railroad Cars Crashed into the Susquehanna River

After four CSX freight cars plummeted off the Susquehanna River Bridge Friday night during the late winter nor’easter, we had a few questions about whether anything similar had ever happened there before.

There was at least one similar accident.  On September 23, 1908, “with a splitting roar, like a park of artillery in action [part of] a loaded coal train sank through the great Baltimore and Ohio bridge between Perryville and Havre de Grace, plunging into the Susquehanna River below,” the Baltimore Sun reported.

A locomotive and four cars passed over safely, while six cars remained on the portion of the bridge that survived the collapse.  But, 12 cars went down 100 feet into the river along with a 377-foot span of the bridge weighing thousands of tons.

“Due almost to a miracle” no lives were lost, and only one man – Watchman William Wilson —  was injured.  Wilson was standing on the bridge and when the crash came, he went down with the debris, landing on the eastern bank of the river.  When rescuers reached him they were overjoyed to find that the timber was scarcely touching him.  He was taken out of the mass of twisted timbers without any difficulty and carried  home to Havre de Grace.

“It was almost a miracle too, that one of the fast express trains did not go down instead of the freight.  The New York and St. Louise Express had rushed safely across the bridge shortly before the coal train chugged onto the span.   About 6:30 a.m. the heavily laden New York and St. Louis express, running on limited time from New York blew for the bridge.  A few moments before the coal train on the other side had been given orders to hold up for the limited.

Once the fast express rushed pass, Freight Engineer Patrick Lynne of Baltimore pushed onto the bridge.  Just as the engine and lead cars safely rolled off onto Harford County soil, the engineer heard a series of terrifying roars and felt a mighty jerk on the engine.  “He looked back to see through the fog the whole bridge over the eastern channel giving way.”

Conductor McCullough was standing on the top of the caboose when he heard a noise like the explosion of dynamite cartridges, and through the fog he saw most of the train disappear into the river and a great yawning gap in the bridge.  He leaped onto the bridge and hurting his ankle.

The crash was easily heard in Perryville and Havre de Grace, and people men rushed to the scene from every direction.  “Like wildfire, the news spread – the bridge is down.  The Baltimore and Ohio bridge is at the bottom of the Susquehanna with a train on top of it.  The excitement in Havre de Grace and Perryville was intense, for in the fog it was difficult to tell just what had happened.”

In 1907, the American Bridge Company and Eyre-Shoamerk Company started renovating the structure, and timber falsework was used to shore up sections of the bridge under construction, allowing construction to proceed with minimal disruption of traffic.

“A coal car derailed on the bridge and struck a mobile crane” according to Wikipedia.  “The crane collapsed, bringing down the eastern channel truss, which sank in deep water.”

See this Facebook page for a collection of photos of the bridge

An Early Pottery at Saint Mary Anne’s in North East

March Lecture Sponsored by the Archeological Society the Northern  Chesapeake
Date: Wednesday, March 14, 2018
Time: Light refreshments at 6:30 pm, program at 7:00 pm, followed by a short
Chapter meeting.
Location: Historical Society of Cecil County, 135 E. Main St., Elkton, MD.

Program: “An Early Pottery at Saint Mary Anne’s – A Cemetery Discovery of No Grave Concern”. Jim Kotersky and Dan Coates.

Abstract/Preview: Clay-rich Cecil County, MD, attracted a number of potters and fire brick makers during the 19th century. One site in North East located between the church structure at St. Mary Anne’s and the North East River was home to kilns burning both pots and bricks. The predominate potter, J. B. Magee, hailed from Canada, but left his finger prints in clay along a trail from Vermont to Virginia. With a focus on his decade-long tenure in North East, discussion will include clay sources, pottery types and “pott-house” operations. Not only will some examples of his decorated stoneware be on display, but artifacts from a recent site unearthing will provide a better understanding of his wares and kiln stacking techniques.

For additional information on Dr. Koterski’s books click here. 

Dr. Jim Koterski holds a piece of early pottery. Photo Credit: