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An Orphanage on a Chesapeake City Hilltop Once Took Care of Dependent Children

The St. Basil's Orphanage in Chesapeake City.

The St. Basil’s Orphanage in Chesapeake City.

On an overcast Friday afternoon in mid-October as rain was spreading into Cecil County, I paused on the top of “Sister’s Hill” in North Chesapeake City, contemplating the history of an orphanage that for much of the 20th century took care of dependent children.  Here is what I have been able to dig up thus far, but I plan to look more deeply into the history of the institution as there isn’t much readily available written material.

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The Sisters of the Order of St. Basil the Great (O.S.B.M), a Ukrainian Greek Catholic order, established a convent in the United States in 1911 after the Rev. Bishop Soter Ortynsky, O.S.B.M., the Bishop of the Diocese, requested the sisters.  The European nuns arrived in Philadelphia to carry on their mission, the work of teaching and caring for dependent children.

Soon after this, the sisters established an orphanage on a hilltop on a farm on the northern edge of Chesapeake City.  Ukrainians of the Delaware Valley,” an Arcadia Book by Alexander Lushnycky, has a photo of the original group of children at Chesapeake City, snapped during the summer of 1914.  In the early days, according to Lushnycky, only preschool children lived there and in the summer boys from the Philadelphia home spent the farming season in Cecil County, working and learning the trade.

The St. Basil Orphanage, alongside the C & D Canal, was caring for children between one and six years old and there were six youngsters on the farm, in 1933 according to the Census Bureau.  The Philadelphia home had seventy children, between the age of four and sixteen, according to the same source.

Today the property is vacant, the last of the aging sisters having closed up the institution.  I remember two elderly nuns still living there in the late 1970s.

More photos on the Facebook page for Delmarva History

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General Jones and the Suffragettes Occupy Cecil County

Suffragist Elizabeth Freeman of the New York Suffrage Association on her way to join the March 3, 1913 suffrage march in Washington. D. C.  Source:  Library of Congress http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/ggb2005012536/

Suffragist Elizabeth Freeman of the New York Suffrage Association on her way to join the March 3, 1913 suffrage march in Washington. D. C. Source: Library of Congress http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/ggb2005012536/

After a more than 60 year struggle to give women the right to vote, things were coming to a head during the second decade of the 20th century.   The suffragists had won battles in a number of states, and were slowly converting indecisive politicians.  But to keep pressure on the holdouts, the more radical activists descended on Washington, D.C. for a massive march, picketing, and clever publicity stunts.

The “Woman Suffrage Procession” called for the rally on March 3, 1913, the day before the inauguration of President Woodrow Wilson.  It was “a protest against the present political organization of society, from which women are excluded” the program stated, and there were up to 8,000 supporters stepping off on Pennsylvania Avenue, while hundreds of thousands watched the spectacle.

As the day neared for the important national push, the suffragists advanced on the city on the Potomac from every direction.  Across the northern Chesapeake, attractively decorated with their fine hats and yellow roses, they came from the cities of the northeast.

General Rosalie G. Jones, an Oyster Bay socialite, and her army pushed past the Mason Dixon Line on February 20, 1913, having started in New York.  In the band of merry hikers was Jerry, “the Democratic donkey,” a little grey burro, driven by Jennie Geist of New York.  He pulled a little two-wheeled cart as  the “Army of the Hudson” advanced on the capital.   Jerry “was in the picture as prominent as the general,” the Baltimore Sun informed readers.

Taylor W. McKenney of Elkton met the advance guard at the border with a big automobile to offer a lift.  The genuine hikers declined, but the “war correspondents” climbed on board, so he carried them to Elkton.  While the army trudged on to the inspiring strains of “the suffragette is at thy door, Maryland, My Maryland,” the next citizen they met was Union veteran and Judge of the Orphans Court, Thomas S. Miller.  He was in his buggy and cheered as they passed.

At the town limits, a number of people, some of whom were sympathetic to “equal suffrage and some of whom were not” met the suffragists.  In the crowd was Mary A. Jamar, president of the Cecil County Equal Suffrage League, Ella C. Levis secretary, Mrs. R. C. Levis, president of the Woman’s Club, and Dr. H. Arthur Mitchell, the mayor, the Sun reported.

But some notables weren’t there.  William. T. Warburton, Republican floor leader of the House of Delegates, who defeated the suffrage bill at the last session of the legislature, was one.  Briefed on this matter General Jones,  “as tired as she was,” paid an “official visit to his home.”   Mr. Warburton was away, and is being “accused of cowardice,” the Sun said.  “The general will try again before leaving in the morning.  All that she wishes is a little argument with Mr. Warburton, but he is a shy man tonight,” the reporter added.   Emerson Crothers, a Democrat, was “also not in evidence.”

Until Newark the marchers had been preceded by a “little yellow wagon,” from which Elizabeth Freeman, the English militant, made speeches for the cause.  Fortunately for Warburton, Freeman, stayed behind with the gospel wagon in Newark, a reporter remarked.  “She was trying to convert the Delaware college cadets.”

Lots of folks lined the street and by the time the hikers reached the Howard House a large, curious crowd was waiting outside.  The General seized the opportunity, speaking from the automobile on behalf of votes for women.

During the evening in the county seat a public meeting was held at the Mechanics Hall, and an amusing incident occurred there.  Having invited questions, one boy took issue with Corporal Klatschken’s strong argument for extending the franchise.  He didn’t think women should vote.  Asked if he thought women ought to be educated, he replied “yes, in a way.”  Asked if he went to school he said yes, while also replying affirmatively to the query about whether girls attended the school.  “Who’s the head of your class, a boy or girl?” inquired the corporal.  A girl came the reluctant answer.  “Are there any other questions?  This young man’s argument has fallen.  A girl’s at the head of the class,” the speaker concluded.

The Red Men’s Lodge was holding its 17th anniversary banquet at the Felton House that evening.  Thus some of the army made an impromptu call, explaining to the group the principles of the equal suffrage cause.

After an overnight stay at the Howard Hotel, they briefly occupied North East.  The town newspaper wondered that if this “little band of women walkers” could create so much excitement, interest, and enthusiasms, what would happen in political circles when that number of women was multiplied by several million, once they got the vote?  That was the question on the minds of politicians, too.

At Hotel Cecil, the party of about 40 tarried an hour for rest and lunch.  Speeches made from the porch by Martha Klatschen and Elizabeth Freeman were frequently interrupted by applause.  Half of North East turned out to see the band and business was at a standstill, the Cecil Star observed.

Continuing on the pilgrimage, the suffrage banner still proudly flying as the target grew ever closer, they trooped through Charlestown.  There “Bayard Black mounted his gramophone on the front porch.  As General Jones appeared Mr. Black started the record,” Maryland My Maryland.”  At Principio Furnace, there was waving of yellow banners and the men left their work, coming out to the roadside to greet the ladies.

At Perryville they were met by the Bayside Brass Band and a large delegation of citizens from Havre de Grace escorted the hikers across the bridge, where they were “greeted by half the town.”  Completely “tired out and foot sore,” they “were ready to give their endorsement to the general verdict that the worst piece of public road in the United States was between Perryville and Elkton,” the Havre de grace paper reported

They were growing closer to their objective, a show of strength and solidarity with the first massive national civil rights parade in the nation’s capital

Continued – In Harford County

Suffragists picketing in front of the White House.  source:  Library of Congress http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/today/aug28.html

Suffragists picketing in front of the White House. source: Library of Congress http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/today/aug28.html

General Jones marching through Newark, NJ.  The general is marching behind the automobile.  source:  Library of Congress.

General Jones marching through Newark, NJ. The general is marching behind the automobile. source: Library of Congress.

In Historic Election in Rising Sun, Women Vote for the First Time in Cecil County

A ballot box from Carroll County, MD. used in 1900.  source:  Maryland State Archives.
A ballot box from Carroll County, MD. used in 1900. source: Maryland State Archives.

 In an era when women across the nation crusaded to gain voting rights, Rising Sun led the way locally in 1916, allowing ladies to cast ballots in a county election for the first time in Cecil’s history, the Midland Journal reported.

The question that faced taxpayers heading to the polls was whether the town board could refinance a $16,000 debt with the issuance of 20-year bonds.  These instruments would replace short-term loans, which paid for the waterworks installed two years earlier, sidewalks already laid, and apparatus for fire protection already purchased.

Short term notes carried this public debt, so the issuance would not increase the tax rate, the town commissioners assured residents.  In fact, lower interest rates would give the municipality a way to minimize cash outlays, giving the budget a bonus savings of $140 a year, if the voters approved.

This was a “good practical business proposition, and one which those who have the interest of our town at heart” should endorse the town newspaper, the Midland Journal,  editorialized.  This savings was “an item of no small consideration.”

The Legislature’s authorized all municipal taxpayers of legal age to vote on the question, which was decided favorably.  Seventy-four voters approved, while two opposed the matter.  The town’s newspaper editor said he didn’t know if the increased franchise affected the results, but the near unanimous count suggests that practically all the citizens favored the action.

This happened as Maryland and national women’s suffrage associations waged campaigns for the franchise.  It was unsuccessful in Maryland, the lawmakers failing to amend the state constitution or to approve the 19th amendment.  But on August 26, 1920, the position of Maryland politicians was irrelevant, after a sufficient number of states ratified the  amendment, giving all women the right to vote.

As ladies across the country struggled with the national campaign, Rising Sun had held a historic vote, allowing women to go to the polls four years before the ratification of the 19th amendment created a more universal franchise.  The presidential election of 1920, where Warren G. Harding, Republican, and James M. Cox, Democrat, were the nominees, was the first time most female voters in Cecil County and the nation exercised the power of the ballot box.  It was old news by that time in the northern Cecil County town.

A financial statement of the Commissioners of Rising Sun, MD., 1908

A financial statement of the Commissioners of Rising Sun, MD., 1908

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The Rising Sun Town Hall

 

Remembering a Rising Sun Sailor Lost on the USS Battleship Maine

Cecil Whig Story and sketch of John A. Kay.  source:  Cecil Whig, February 18, 1898

Cecil Whig Story and sketch of John A. Kay. source: Cecil Whig, February 18, 1898

The Battleship Maine steamed from Key West, Florida to Havana on January 24, 1898, arriving in the Cuban harbor the next day.  Orders took her there as the United States wanted to show the flag and protect interest since a struggle for independence from Spain was rippling across the country, resulting in the spread of urban violence.

One of the crew members, John A. Kay, was from Cecil County.  The 24-year-old Rising Sun man had joined the Navy as an assistant machinist on the Maine in August 1895.  His enlistment was scheduled to expire in August, when it was anticipated that he would return home.  He was the son of Alexander B. Kay.

In Havana, one evening, a sudden explosion ripped through the calm of the tropical darkness on February 15, 1898, sending panicked residents streaming toward the waterfront to see what had happened.  There they saw the big U.S.  warship sinking quickly. the blast rocking the anchored vessel while ripping apart a portion of the thick, steel hull.   About 268 of the 347 crew members perished, ten of them from Maryland.

When the early train chugged into Rising Sun the next morning, Rising Sun residents received the first word about the ill-fated battleship in the headlines of the city papers.  On the same train was a letter from young Kay to his parents, the Cecil Star reported.

Residents anxiously waited for the arrival of subsequent editions, hoping for better news from Cuba.  But it never came for in  about a week Navy Secretary John Davis Long telegraphed the family, reporting that “the body . . .  . . . was recovered and identified.  It was interred at Havana with the other unfortunate victims.”

When the Brookview Cemetery Company met in May, they voted to donate a double lot for the erection of “an imposing monument in memory of the victim of Spanish treachery.”  The Kay Monument Association, headed by Hanson H. Haines, the President of the Rising Sun National Bank, was also formed to raise funds for the dead sailor.

HIs father, A. B. Kay, wrote to express his gratitude.  “If the people of Cecil County erect a monument in the memory of my dear son who lost his life for the country they shall have my heartfelt gratitude.  . . . I admire the situation of your beautiful cemetery and it will grow more beautiful  in my sight should such a monument be erected there.”

The mission was accomplished, and on Independence Day 1900 a crowd of several hundred people gathered on the town square in Rising Sun for the dedication.  Headed by the Nottingham PA Cornet Band, the musicians escorted the townspeople marching out to the hilltop burial ground.  Family members, the Daughters of Liberty, Garfield G.A.R. Post, and the Harmony Lodge marched behind the musicians, on the sweltering Maryland day.

It was an inspiring ceremony with music and speeches, newspapers reported.   Mr. Haines presented the monument to the family in a speech, remembering the young man who lost his life serving the nation.  The Rev. David E. Shaw, of the West Nottingham Presbyterians Church accepted the monument for the family, while one of his sisters unveiled the memorial.

The monument was quarried and finished by the Pennsylvania Marble and Granite Company of West Grove, PA.  “A handsome bound book inscribed with the names of the donors was placed in the chapel,” the Midland Journal reported.

Today the white marble monument standing 16-1/2 feet high continues to remind visitors to the Brookview Cemetery of this loss so long ago.  It is inscribed with:  “In memory of John A. Kay, machinist, who was lost with the United States Battleship Maine in Havana Harbor on February 15, 1898.  Erected by the citizens of Cecil and nearby counties as a tribute to his heroism.”

Click here for additional images from Brookview Cemetery

Crew members on the Battleship Maine in 1896.  Source:  Library of Congress http://www.loc.gov/pictures/resource/det.4a14368/?co=det

Crew members on the Battleship Maine in 1896. Source: Library of Congress
http://www.loc.gov/pictures/resource/det.4a14368/?co=det

 

The John A. Kay Memorial at Brookview Cemetery in Rising Sun

The John A. Kay Memorial at Brookview Cemetery in Rising Sun

The 1960s, a Decade of Protest — the Local Perspective

protest may 25 1961 whig 1961 002s

Marching for peace. source: Cecil Whig, May 25, 1961

Because of Cecil’s advantageous location on the northeast corridor, the county sometimes came in contact with protest movements.  Mostly they were sign-waving college age students passing through, on their way to demonstrate in Washington D.C., New York, or some other place of assembly where their anti-establishment passions would be heard.

During the tumultuous 1960s and a few years on either side of that unforgettable decade Civil Rights protestors, Freedom Riders, anti-war demonstrators, and atomic bomb activist all marched through the county.  The nation was in turmoil in this era as things came to a head in Civil Rights, the Vietnam War, urban riots, and other societal issues.

Local residents couldn’t help but notice, as the evening news filled with footage of chanting in the streets.  Some of those demonstrators came this way, although the passage of decades has made the era of dissent seem very distant.  Nonetheless, we were often observers of the passing scene and sometimes were on the front line.

The most intensive protest, one that directly involved Cecil, was when the Freedom Riders announced a massive campaign against segregated restaurants along Route 40, in 1961.  The Congress of Racial Equality, the sponsoring group, said the riders would come from Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, Baltimore, and New York “to test the willingness of restaurants between Washington and the Delaware Memorial Bridge to serve” African-Americans, the Wilmington News Journal reported.

When some 700 freedom riders rolled up and down the highway in northeastern Maryland in September, seeking to get served at segregated establishments, four were arrested at the Bar-H Chuck House outside North East.  All charged with trespassing, three Philadelphians, Wallace F. Nelson, Juanita Nelson, and Rose Robinson, were taken the jail (the fourth person paid a fine).

After being booked, the three went on a hunger strike.  Maneuvering went back and forth on this issue, Magistrate Leonard Lockhart, Sheriff Edgar Startt, and State’s Attorney Albert Rooney struggling to figure out how to handle this type of non-violent resistance.  It had seemed like a straight-forward charge of trespassing, which wouldn’t take long to settle.

On the twelfth day of the hunger strike, the Sheriff transferred the defendants to Crownsville State Hospital.  “Anybody that will not eat and won’t stand up in court and plead acts like a mental case to me and the State’s Attorney,” Sheriff Startt informed the Baltimore Sun.  The director of the hospital, Dr. Charles Ward, disagred.,  After assessing the trio, he found no underlying mental health problems that justified admission to the state’s psychiatric hospital, so they were returned to Elkton.

Finally the three strikers, who refused food for 17 days, appeared in Circuit Court.  Still the trio wouldn’t plead their own case or have legal counsel.  After hearing the state’s evidence Chief Judge J. DeWeese Carter found the CORE workers guilty of trespassing and fined them $51.50 each.  However, “in view of the fact that the defendants had already served 17 days in the jail” the fines and costs were suspended.  One charge of disorderly conduct was not prosecuted, the News Journal reported.

With pressure on from the White House, the State Department, and CORE, a December protest targeted the remaining segregated establishments.  More visits took place in 1962.  Finally in March 1963, Governor Tawes signed a public accommodation law, making Maryland the first state south of the Mason-Dixon Line to ban discrimination in restaurants and hotels.  The law became effective after the 1964 election.

Click here for a more detailed discussion on the Freedom Riders in Cecil County

Other peaceful protestors, chanting, carrying signs, looking for people to talk to and a place to rest, sometimes came this way.  One of those day was in May 1958,when a bunch of protestors carrying signs calling for a halt to nuclear testing appeared on North Street in Elkton.  They were going 110 miles, from Wilmington to Washington, D.C., and spent the night in the Singerly Fire House before continuing on their journey.

About the time Sam Cooke released his song “A Change is Going to Come” in 1963 and local judicial and law enforcement officials tried to sort things out, protestors on a “walk for peace” appeared on Route 279 at the State Line.  They were on their way to Guantanamo Bay on a walk that had started in Quebec, they informed the local police.

With about 30 dissenters carrying signs, a spokesperson told the Cecil Whig, they were “marching to demonstrate their belief in the need for peaceful relations among all citizens.”  They planned to march to Florida, where they would catch a boat to Cuba and walk to the Navy base.  While they looked like a college initiation, they called for the highest pacifist ideas, the Cecil Democrat reported.  While passing through they added one additional marcher locally, a young man Glen Farms joined on the spur of the moment. They hoped to convince the United States and Russian to withdraw all arms from Cuba.

CORE also passed through periodically, on their way to Washington, D.C.  One Brooklyn group made its way across the county in August 1963.

The youthful protestors marching across the county continued periodically throughout the era, passing quietly along, while seeking out chances locally to talk to reporters and people they encountered.  Generally area residents looked on with indifference at these activists.  Many young men with a deep sense of patriotism went off to war, some making the ultimate sacrifice.

Bomb protests in downtown Elkton,.  Source:  Cecil Whig, May-25-1958

Bomb protests in downtown Elkton,. Source: Cecil Whig, May-25-1958

 

 

Taking a Stand for Equal Treatment on the Mason Dixon Line in 1904

A match book cover for the Madison House in North East notes that the place on Route 40 is just below the Mason Dixon Line.

A match book cover for the Madison House in North East notes that the place on Route 40 is just below the Mason Dixon Line.

Nearly sixty years before Freedom Riders started a campaign to open restaurants, motels, bars, and other public places to all travelers on Route 40, Cecil County found itself in the middle of another Civil Rights divide.   The Maryland Legislature decided the State needed a “Jim Crow” law in 1904 that required steamship lines and railroads to maintain “separate but equal facilities.”

Once the segregation requirement went into effect on July 1, 1904, African-American ticket-holders on the Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington Railroad trains and the Ericsson Line steamers heading south from northern points had to move to the “colored compartment” after the train rumbled across the Mason Dixon Line.

To comply with the Maryland regulation signed by Governor Edwin Warfield, the railroad constructed Jim Crow coaches at the Wilmington shops.  Two worked the Delaware Road, traveling branch lines up and down the Delmarva Peninsula.  These were ordinary coaches, divided off by partitions capable of seating 15 people at one end of the car with a sign saying “colored” on the compartment.  On the main line, the accommodation train running down to Baltimore had a “colored coach” attached.

The segregated cars appeared promptly on July 1, the midnight train reaching Elkton being equipped in accordance with Maryland’s rule.   About noon that day, a Philadelphian, an African-American, objected to the order at Iron Hill.  After a “parley” with the conductor, he was put off the train in North East.  “His actions showed pretty conclusively that he was hunting for trouble in order to bring suit against the railroad company,” the Cecil County News informed readers.

But the practical working of Jim Crow got it first real test as the people observed Independence Day in 1904.  The Elkton African-American community sponsored a grand picnic, celebrating the Fourth of July.   Several hundred people from Pennsylvania and Delaware received invitations so the coaches were crowded on the holiday with festive passengers heading to Elkton.  Most of them were surprised, this being their first experience with the “Separate Car Act.”   While riding quietly along on the coaches with white ticket-holders, the conductor called out as they rumbled across the Mason Dixon Line, “colored coach in the rear.”

As the significance of the conductor’s announcement surprised many, some moved to the segregated seats, but several refused to obey the Jim Crow law.  The conductor thus ordered the train held at Iron Hill Station, and a number of passengers were put off, having to walk to Elkton.  A band from Newark was in this group, as they refused to move.  One African-American passenger, a lawyer made “a ten-minute speech, in which he tried to console his companions, asking each one to try to find out just exactly who was responsible for the obnoxious law,” the Cecil Democrat reported.

A page from the Philadelphia, Wilmington and Baltimore Railroad Guide published in the 1850s describes the Mason Dixon Line.

A page from the Philadelphia, Wilmington and Baltimore Railroad Guide published in the 1850s describes the Mason Dixon Line.

A few days later a train was delayed at Perryville because of refusal to give up the seat and move to the designated coach.  In North East William King, an African-American from Philadelphia was put off the train.  When the train reached Iron Hill the conductor read the Maryland law to him.  He refused and at North East the railroad man forcefully ejected him from the train.

Sheriff Biddle made the first arrest in Cecil County for a violation of the new Jim Crow Law.  When a southbound train reached Elkton, James Griffin refused to go to the designated seats.  Sheriff Biddle was notified and he placed Griffin under arrest, taking him to the jail.   The next day he appeared before Magistrate Henry Gilpin who held him under $200 bail for his appearance in the September term of the Circuit Court.

On the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal, William T. Finley, an African-American physician from Atlantic City was traveling on the Philadelphia and Baltimore Steamship Company (The Ericsson Line) to Baltimore.  He filed a suit to recover $5,000 in damages for having been subjected to the Jim Crow Law of Maryland.

Finely purchased a first class ticket for passage from Philadelphia to Baltimore. About midnight when the steamer reached the Maryland Line, he was aroused from his sleep by an official of the company who ordered him to the upper deck of the boat.  When the doctor objected, saying he had purchased first-class passage, he was told that the “colored apartment was above.

"William Henry Harrison Hart" by William Dana Hart - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:William_Henry_Harrison_Hart.jpg#mediaviewer/File:William_Henry_Harrison_Hart.jpg

“William Henry Harrison Hart” by William Dana Hart – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:William_Henry_Harrison_Hart.jpg#mediaviewer/File:William_Henry_Harrison_Hart.jpg

Another person who had the courage to resist the order to move was an attorney and Howard University Professor of corporate law, William Henry Harrison Hart and his sister Clementine Bartlett of Washington, D.C.  Conductor George C. Alcron sent for the sheriff and when the southbound 12:34 pulled into the Elkton Station Deputy Sheriff J. Wesley McAllister boarded.  “At the sight of the officer the woman gracefully yielded and took her place in the car.  The lawyer was given the choice of the proper car or the jail, and refusing the former was escorted to a cell,” the Cecil Whig reported.

Hart spent two days in the Elkton Jail, the Whig wrote, noting that the professor was “somewhat of a philanthropist.”   He conducted a school for boys, the Hart Farm School and Junior Republic for Dependent Colored Boys, largely at his own expense.  It was situated on 700 acres of land he also purchased.   “He is a lecturer at the Howard (colored) University Law School and is said to enjoy the esteem of the Bar and Courts of the District, having served for twenty years.  He will probably take through trains, to which the law does not apply, hereafter, when passing through Maryland.”

Hart also practiced law for the United States Treasury and the United States Department of Agriculture, and served as the Assistant Librarian of Congress.  He was the first black lawyer appointed a special U.S. District Attorney for the District of Columbia, in 1889.

The attorney challenged Maryland’s law that made it a crime for blacks and whites to ride together in the same car in the courts.  He was traveling in the whites only section, which had been okay until he crossed the Mason Dixon Line.  Having refused to move into the blacks-only car, Hart was charged and convicted of violating the “separate car law” and was fined $50 in the Circuit Court.

The fine was not paid, the defendant immediately filing an appeal with the Court of Appeals.    The lawyer added that if necessary, he would take the case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court as the Jim Crow Law was not only unconstitutional, but was also in conflict with the Interstate Commerce Law, the Baltimore Sun reported.

When the State vs. Hart made it ways to the bench at the Court of Appeals, the judges “sustained the Jim Crow Law, but held that the provisions of that measure cannot apply to interstate passengers,” as the distinguished Howard University Professor argued, the Washington Post reported.  Hart was on a through train from New York to Washington so the decision of the lower court was reversed but the law was sustained.

Hart did not like Rosa Parks become a household word, observes C. Frazer Smith in “Here Lies Jim Crow:  Civil Rights in Maryland.  “Such moments of defiance got little attention and probably not by accident.”

Maryland lawmakers had created this legislation after the Supreme Court legitimized segregation in the case of Homer Plessy v. Ferguson. a decision that upheld the constitutionally of state laws requiring  segregation in public facilities under the doctrine of separate but equal.

Incident continued but after a number of decades enforcement of the frequently modified legislation quietly stopped.  Finally in 1951, after many years of trying to repeal the laws requiring separation of passengers on intra-state railroads and steamboats, it was put to rest in 1951, the language being pulled from the State Codes.

Every challenged injustice building up to the post-World War II Civil Rights movement put a spotlight on the fight for equal rights, while chipping away at Jim Crow.  The brave stand of Hart and others had made it clear that segregation wasn’t permitted for interstate passengers traveling on Maryland railroads and steamships.  Each step inspired other advocates to push for equal treatment, and Cecil County, bordered as it is by the Mason Dixon Line on two sides, sometimes found itself on the front lines  when people had to take risks, standing up for equal treatment.

Cecil County Circuit Court docked showing the case of State of Maryland v. Hart.  Source:  Court Docket, Cecil County Courthouse

Cecil County Circuit Court docked showing the case of State of Maryland v. Hart.

On the Mason Dixon Line between Westminster, MD and Gettysburg, PA.

On the Mason Dixon Line between Westminster, MD and Gettysburg, PA.

A Susquehanna River Village That Vanished — Conowingo

conowingo 241as

In current-day Conowingo, the visitor finds 20th century roadside businesses.

If you are the type who likes to find lost villages, we have a little journey you might enjoy.  To start ask someone for directions to old Conowingo.  But be watchful for that accommodating person might send you to a stretch of highway near U.S. 1 and Route 222.  That commercial area is lined with a collection of roadside shops, gas stations, restaurants, and taverns, businesses that rose up in the 20th century after the demise of the earlier town.  The location you are seeking was nestled nearby in a hillside at river’s edge.  It was once a thriving town that met a watery death in the name of progress.

At least you are in the neighborhood so journey down Mt. Zoar Road to a cove where the Conowingo Creek meets the Susquehanna.  That is as far as you can go to reach your destination for you are shortly looking across a broad lake at the gentle, rolling hills of Harford County.   Not too far from this idyllic setting, near the arched railroad bridge, rests the lost hamlet beneath the impounded water.

The story of the demise of this once bustling place, a spot where generations lived and died, ended one winter day in 1928 as waters of the dam slowly climbed over the buildings, erasing all traces of the community.

Although memories of the church, school, general store, garage, and inn have largely faded, the written record contains the story.  Back in 1993, Ralph Reed, who was born in a house next to the river, recalled that the place “was dear to us and we thought it was going to last forever.”  However, it survived only until Jan 18, 1928 when the dam’s final eight floodgates closed and the Susquehanna slowly backed up into town.

Farmers and villagers uprooted by the construction of the large hydroelectric dam gathered on the hillside to watch as the village met its watery doom.  As the sun went down behind the western Hills of Harford County, old Conowingo slowly vanished beneath the water.

Port Deposit’s Curtis Poist recalled that final day in a 1975 piece in the Baltimore Sun.  “Many of the people who had lived in Conowingo were on hand to watch.  Many of them insisted on lingering around their old homes sites, retreating only as the water backed up and drove them away . . . All day long they watched from a distance as the backwater inched its way over the bluffs and up the gullies until at sundown only the tree tops and the roofs of an occasional house and barn remained above water to identify the place which had once been home.”

The Conowingo Dam opened in 1928.

The Conowingo Dam opened in 1928.

The 4,648-foot dam with 53 gates regulated 105 billion gallons of water impounded behind the structure and generated electricity for the growing industrial nation.  The building of this massive public works project drastically changed the rural area as work crews began arriving.  It required some 4,000 workmen and the creation of a temporary village to house the families.  “Any able bodied boy or man who wanted a job could get one at the dam site at 35 cents an hour for common labor, 60 cents” for skilled laborers Poist noted.

In 1989 David Healey interviewed Curtis Ragan, 84, whose father was the town doctor.  “It was a busy place, always something happening here.  The town had a post office, hotel, restaurant, train station and several businesses.”  The spot where people gathered in town was the hotel, he told Healey.  “I never hung out in the hotel myself.  I was too young for that.”

The Maryland State Gazetteer for 1902-03 provides a little more information.   In the decade before a utility harnessed the power of the river, it had a population of 350 people.  Two doctors, Samuel T. Roman and D. M. Ragan, cared for the sick.  Lodging was available from John T. Adams and E. P. Bostick, while Thos. Coonie baked bread and cakes for townspeople.  Merchants included Chas A. Andrew, Geo. Brewinger, Wm. Gross, E. B. McDowell, and W. W. McGuigan.  There were tradesmen such as John C. Smith, blacksmiths; Jas. Ritchey, shoemaker; and Robt. McCullough, Harnessmaker;  W. R. Love was the postmaster.  Mills were:  Allen & Wilson, flint mill; Jas C. Bell, saw and flour mill; and the Susquehanna Paper Co.  A daily stage provided transportation to Rowlandsville, Berkley, Darlington, Delta and other places.

Regan’s wife, Hazel, taught school in the town’s two-room schoolhouse.  Since she was the only teacher, she taught all seven grades in one room.  She also had to sweep the floors, carry water, and cut firewood for the schoolhouse, he recalled in the Healey interview.

But once the Philadelphia Electric Company became interested in harnessing the power of the flowing water as a source to power turbines, it meant the end of the town.  After the one-mile-wide and fourteen-mile long lake was created by the dam, water covered 9,000 acres of habitable land, obliterating the old landmarks and farms, the Sun reported.  Gone were the “historic Conowingo Pike, the old Columbia and Port Deposit Railroad, the ancient bridge, the old canal, towpaths and the toll house.”  In their place was a new Conowingo Bridge across the crest of the dam with a great lake on one side and a one-hundred foot waterfall on the other.

The project, which had started in 1926, had been a tremendous undertaking.  In addition to building the massive dam and power house, it had been necessary to relocate 16 miles of the Pennsylvania Railroad, to evacuate and demolish an entire village, reroute historic Baltimore Pike over the dam, and build a 58-mile electric transmission line to connect with the Philadelphia Electric system.

Today at this serene spot, it’s hard to believe that such a lively community thrived here near a cove just north of the large dam, for the backwaters of the dam have erased the physical evidence and an uninterrupted tide of time has eroded away most living recollections.   But it hasn’t been forgotten for its stories survive in aging newspaper clippings, history books, and the stories of  subsequent generations.  And it is the source of frequent inquires by curious types.

For a collection of photos from the old Conowingo village click here.

On Dec. 21, 2013, the longest night of the year, winter twilight descends on the Conowingo Dam.

On Dec. 21, 2013, the longest night of the year, winter twilight descends on the Conowingo Dam.