On the Road to Providence

The Providence Paper Mill, 1890.  Source:  Hexamer Maps from the Philadelphia Free Library.

The Providence Paper Mill, 1890. Source: Hexamer Maps from the Philadelphia Free Library.

On the road to Providence, you didn’t go far and you didn’t go fast.  But the twisting, rambling route brought railcars to the doors of manufacturers along the Little Elk Creek.  The companies, grinding flour, making paper, processing wool, and producing other goods, had clustered along the valley stream, over time.

Before the railroad arrived teamsters hauled bulk materials and supplies to and from the mills, but this was time consuming and costly on the rough roads.  However, when the last spike was driven on the new Baltimore & Ohio across Cecil County in 1886, the hauling distance was shortened, as freight was carried to depots at Childs and Singerly.

That continued until 1893 when the Lancaster, Cecil, Southern, a 4 ½ mile spur from Childs to Providence, opened for traffic.   Investors started considering the idea for a line in this region In 1890 when a group of Lancaster, PA businessmen reorganized a distressed carrier, creating the Lancaster, Oxford and Southern, which was to build a branch south into Maryland.

Two years later, a charter was granted for the Lancaster, Cecil & Southern, a company authorized to build a road from Elkton to the Pennsylvania State Line to meet the other carrier. They selected a right-of-way that followed the tortuous course of the creek.  It involved extensive excavating, grading and bridging, and by July there was an “air of hustle” along the stream for 300 men worked grading, ballasting and laying rails.  Finally by February 1893, trains rolled to the end of the line in Providence.

The spur from the Childs Station brought railroad transportation directly to a cluster of manufacturers on the creek.  This line was never designed to be adapted to rapid travel because of the grades and curves, but such demands would never be placed on it wrote the Cecil Whig.  Starting at Childs, it touched Marley Paper Mill where there was a twelve car siding.  From there it passed by Harlan’s Book Board Mill and then it ran up the west side of the creek to Carter’s Cecil Paper Mills, where it crossed the Little Elk Creek twice and followed the west bank of the stream to Levis & Brothers Flour Mill.  It finally reached Providence Paper Mill.

A Baltimore and Ohio locomotive made a daily run from Wilmington to handle the freight work on the short spur, which involved hauling twenty carloads of freight a day over the line in February 1893.  With traffic moving, the promoters noted that it wouldn’t be too long before they opened up the north part of the county from Providence to Oxford, PA., a distance of about 8 miles.  But this is as far as the L. C & S got.

As the 20th century advanced, freight traffic slowly dwindled.   The old mill at Providence, which had been in continuous operation for more than 60 years closed on September 25, 1948, leaving some 200 employees without work.  The closure was a blow to residents as there were few industries of any importance to which the workers could turn, the Cecil Democrat reported.  Obviously the shuttering of the large industry on the spur caused freight to sharply decline.  In 1954, the mill which has been inactive for years was being renovated in preparation for resuming operation, when a fire raced through the manufacturing structure.

With the destruction of the plant the potential for any large shipment of freight stopped on the upper end of the branch.  Sometime afterwards the railroad abandoned the portion of the spur from Providence to the paper mill at the edge of Childs.   In May 1972, the company gave notice that it was abandoning the Childs branch completely, from Childs Station to a distance of approximately 1.14 miles in Cecil County.

Although a small spur of 4 ½ miles to Providence, the old road had been an important one, moving goods, raw and finished, through the scenic Little Elk Creek Valley, while providing important shipping access for mills along the industrial waterway.  But by 1973, all was quiet along the Lancaster, Cecil and Southern.

For additional photos click here

For a detail research report, click here.

Providence Paper Mill in a postcard from about 1912 shows the end of the Childs Spur.  source:  personal collection

Providence Paper Mill in a postcard from about 1912 shows the end of the Childs Spur. source: personal collection

Christmas Eve Stories from the Cecil County Police Blotter

As families gathered to celebrate Christmas in the 1970s, Cecil County police officers continued their never-ending job, patrolling the roads and answering calls while others shared gifts, good company, and delicious meals.  Although the demands placed on law enforcement can be high on holidays with the officers juggling calls, a glance at the police blotters will reveal that sometimes there is a lighter side of things.

Here are two of those accounts:

Back in the early 1970s, one patrol sergeant, Steve Landbeck, orchestrated his own little holiday tradition for a number of years.  As people settled in with their families on Christmas Eve, things generally quieted down for first responders. But an urgent flash would break the silence of the night on the police radio. A Maryland State Trooper out of the North East Barrack was in a high-speed chase.

As the drama unfolded, the pursuit continuing up Route 40, a description was put out for other units rushing into position to back up the North East car.  It went something like this. It was a shiny red vehicle moving fast. Moments later came the description of the driver, a heavy set man with a white beard in a red suit. Soon would follow something about hearing sleigh bells and ho-ho,ho. The radio broadcast would play out over several minutes as additional details eked out.

In time Sgt. Landbeck advised to 10-22 (disregard).  The fleeing vehicle was only the jolly old fella and his sleigh coming into Cecil for his annual visit on a busy night with lots to do. The reindeer were there and the sleigh was loaded up with gifts for boys and girls around the county the state trooper reassuringly reported.

That became a Christmas Eve tradition for a number of years, as Steve orchestrated his little radio play and once the broadcast kicked off parents would have their children listen to the scanner.  After the 10-22 was given out, children across the county knew that Santa was on his way.  He was in the county and they had better hurry off to bed so they could wake up early on Christmas morning for gifts from Santa.

Marshall L. Purner examines a 1968 photo of the Elkton Police Department

In the county seat, another case unfolded, on a Christmas Eve watch decades ago.  Elkton Police Officer Marshall Purner was pulling the holiday shift when early on that quiet evening he received a call from dispatch that someone had broken into a vehicle at Cecil Lanes.  The bowling alley was having a party for children and while all the merriment distracted everyone a perpetrator forced entry into a vehicle, taking some gifts.

Arriving on the scene, he started the investigation.  A witnesses observed a suspicious person, a man in a Santa Claus outfit dashing through the dark parking lot.  In some sort of real hurry, he was carrying stuff when he jumped into a vehicle and sped from the scene.   Those details were dutifully recorded and with that information pointing to a primary suspect, Marshall was on the trail as he put out a “be on the lookout” broadcast for the getaway car and this red-suited suspect.

With all Cecil County prowl cars on the road Christmas Eve now keeping an eye out for the fleeing vehicle occupied by old St. Nick, they soon found it and the driver.  It was a fellow officer, patrolmen Joseph Zurolo, playing Santa for a group of kids at the Bowling Alley.  Having finished bringing joy to a group of Cecil County youngsters, the merriment and gift giving taken care of, Santa dashed off to make his holiday rounds.  So he made a hasty departure from the party, rushing through the parking lot.

Of course, he had nothing to do with the incident but it made for a unique discussion back at the police station and a number of laughs on a Christmas Eve a long time ago in the early 1970s.

Elkton Police Officer (in uniform) greets old Saint Nick.  Officer Jim Long is dressed as Santa.

Elkton Police Officer Joe Zurolo (in uniform) greets old Saint Nick. Officer Jim Long is dressed as Santa.  photo source:  Cecil Whig photo from the Jim Cheeseman collection at the Historical Society of Cecil County

Meet Rosie the Riveter as History Comes Alive at Chesapeake City Library, Jan. 12

Event Type: History Program at the Chesapeake City Branch, Cecil County Public Library
Date: 1/12/2015
Start Time: 6:00 PM
End Time: 7:30 PM

 Join award-winning actress and Smithsonian scholar, Mary Ann Jung as she brings to life the fascinating story of Rosie the Riveter through the eyes of Rose Leigh Monroe who worked at the largest factory in the world – Willow Run in Michigan

Library: Chesapeake City Branch
Location: Meeting Room
Contact: Chesapeake City Branch Library
Contact Number: 410-996-1134
Status: Openings


Chang Woo Opens Chinese Laundry in Rising Sun

Earlier this year, a post on the Delmar Dustpan about “the Chinese on Lower Delmarva in 1900” caught my attention.  As I read the informative article, I remembered an old Elkton businessman from the 1960s, Rodney Frazier, talking about meeting the first Chinese resident of Elkton as a youngster, when the laundry opened here.  The recollection of that long ago conversation and the recent piece about the newly arrived immigrants in Delmar, caused me to do a little digging into the subject in Cecil County. 

While working on investigations since that time, I have kept an eye out for additional mentions of Chinese laundrymen on the Upper Chesapeake.  As this subject didn’t command headlines, it is hard to find the mentions in the small local columns, but from time to time I do come up with those elusive traces from the past.

I have found mentions of the businesses in Havre de Grace and Rising Sun.  Here is what I have on Rising Sun.

“Chang Woo, a Chianman, had rented the storeroom in the Cecil Farmers’ Telephone building on South Queen Street in Rising Sun and was in the process of fitting it up for a laundry in October 1918, the Midland Journal Reported.  “This will be good news for our community, as every housewife knows what a knotty proposition getting someone to do the weekly wash has become.”

When cartographers from the Sanborn Company visited the town in Oct. 1921 to prepare a detailed fire insurance map of the town, they showed a Chinese Laundry near the intersection of Walnut and Queen Streets. It was a modest one story frame dwelling in back of Jos. S. Pogue Sons & Comany Hardware and Farm Machinery Store.  They came back in 1933 to update the product, and indicated that a Chinese laundry was still at that that location.

Sanborn Fire Insurance Map from 1921 show Rising Sun's Chinese Laundry.

Sanborn Fire Insurance Map from 1921 show Rising Sun’s Chinese Laundry.

The Birds Eye View of Rising Sun from 1907, the decade before the laundry opened.

The Birds Eye View of Rising Sun from 1907, the decade before the laundry opened.

Charlestown Volunteer Fire Company Deployed Two Boats in 1958

Original license tag of Charlestown Fire Company's first fire truck, circa 1947.  photo credit:  Charlestown Volunteer Fire Company.

Original license tag of Charlestown Fire Company’s first fire truck, circa 1947. photo credit: Charlestown Volunteer Fire Company.

In the post-World War II era, Cecil’s fire departments ramped up services, reacting to the rapid growth in the county and the changing nature of emergencies.

The Charlestown Volunteer Fire Company was one of those units, working to strengthen public safety.  As the river community saw increased use of beaches and the inevitable water emergencies, the department got busy, working to establish a marine unit.

In the spring of 1958 the company deployed two boats.  One, used primarily for rescue work, was equipped with a resuscitator, grappling hooks, first aid supplies and life preservers.  It had a “large flat deck to allow for artificial respirator while the water accident victim” was taken ashore, the Cecil Whig reported.  The other, for firefighting, carried a 15 pound CO-2 extinguisher, a fire pump, and various small firefighting tools.

Both were interchangeable, and they were equipped with two ray radios.  They had been built through the generosity of William Thorn, Jr., the owner of the C.W. Thorn boatyard.

As the boats floated on the North East River that spring day in 1958 tourists and residents were a little safer while swimming, boating, and splashing around.   No longer would the men have to stand on shore, waiting for someone to give them a ride so they could reach a stricken vessel.

Now the Charlestown firefighters could speed to medical emergencies, water rescues or blazes  without waiting precious minutes. It could be that this was the first dedicated water unit in the county and if not it was certainly one of the first.

Earlier that year, 26 firefighters from three companies met weekly at the Charlestown station to take a course in Advanced Red Cross First Aid.  It was taught by Chief D. B. Smith of the Aberdeen Fire Department.  Chief Nelson McCall of Charlestown, Chief Pierre Le Brun of Water Witch (Port Deposit), and Chief T. K. Blake, Jr. had men there learning the latest lifesaving methods, including pulmonary resuscitation.

As the summer season got underway in Charlestown in 1958, tourists and residents knew that the boats were standing by waiting for a call to go into action on the North East River. Additional photos

The Charlestown Volunteer Fire Company deployed two boats to respond to water emergencies in 1958.  photo credit:  Charlestown Volunteer Fire Company

The Charlestown Volunteer Fire Company deployed two boats to respond to water emergencies in 1958. photo credit: Charlestown Volunteer Fire Company

It was a “once in a life-time” scene in Port Deposit – four Navy aircraft coming down the street.

On a Thursday just before Christmas 1956, residents of Port Deposit witnessed a “once in a life-time” scene, the “Harford Democrat and Aberdeen Observer” reported.  Easing slowly down the narrow main street in the town nestled between granite cliffs and the Susquehanna River were four World War II aircraft.

The planes, three fighters and a torpedo bomber, were being towed to the Bainbridge Naval Training Center, which had requisitioned them from the Naval Air Station in Norfolk, VA.  A commercial tug had towed them up the Chesapeake and docked at Wiley Manufacturing a short time earlier, the trip having stated 31 hours earlier.

The crowd watched in “awe” as the convoy of aTigercat,Bearcat, Corsair, and aTBM torpedo Bomber, approached the end of the trip, the Bainbridge Recruit Training Center Command Field.  The Port Deposit Police Department, the Maryland State Police – Conowingo, and and the State Highway Dept. had cleared the narrow streets to let the convoy pass.

It was a tight Squeeze in Port Deposit as Navy planes came down the street.  Source:  Harford Democrat & Aberdeen Enterprise, Jan 3, 1957 at the Aberdeen Room.

It was a tight Squeeze in Port Deposit as Navy planes came down the street. Source: Harford Democrat & Aberdeen Enterprise, Jan 3, 1957 at the Aberdeen Room.

Chief Thomas McIntire Guided Elkton Police into the Modern Era

Chief Thomas N. McIntire, Jr. working the towns new radar system.

Chief Thomas N. McIntire, Jr. working the town’s new radar system.

One dark night in the mid-1970s, Chief Thomas N. McIntire, Jr., cruised downtown Elkton.  As the midnight hour neared,  the police radio was silent, but suddenly it crackled to life with the most urgent dispatch, an officer was in trouble. A man was struggling with the lawman over by the railroad station. The other cop prowling the town that night signaled that he was rolling from out on Route 40 and would be there in three or four minutes.

Hitting the siren, the 50-something chief glanced at his partner, making sure he was ready for action as they would arrive ahead of the other unit. Screeching up to the depot, McIntire sprang into action helping cuff the man, while his partner maintained a calm, watchful eye over the ruckus.

Back at the station McIntire’s sidekick was full of energy, happy and eager to be on the job, while the patrolmen booked the perpetrator. Duke was just the type of partner the top cop in the county seat wanted at his side.  Although officially not a member of the nine-member force, the Black Labrador and the chief were inseparable.

Chief Mcintire soon after he assumed leadership of the department.

Chief Mcintire soon after he assumed leadership of the department.

It was all part of the job as lights went down in Elkton and the graveyard shift got underway.  About the time everyone else was falling asleep, two of the chief’s men started their workday.  The retiring watch briefed them, the paper work was shuffled, and plenty of coffee was available for the long, silent hours ahead.  The two beat officers,  prowled the alleys and back streets, keeping a watchful eye on the night and waiting for the dawn in the sleeping town.

But McIntire’s routine was different.  After finishing a full day’s work, he went home for the evening. But sometime after dinner, he jumped back into the cruiser to make evening rounds, checking on the town and his men. Whenever Duke saw the chief climb into the car, he sprang into action, jumping into the vehicle.  The Chief and his 50-pound lab were a pair around Elkton in the 1970s. Duke, that friendly Labrador, accompanied the chief while he was checking dark, lonely alleys and backing up his men.   Eventually, often in the wee hours of the next day, things quieted down once barrooms closed and people settled in for the night so the chief returned home.  He got up and started all over again the next day, for administrative matters had to be taken care of during the workday.

When McIntire started on the crime beat in August 1951, he was paid $1.25 an hour. There were no radios to receive dispatches or to summon backup.  Typically a shift involved lots of foot patrols downtown and periodic rounds of the outlying areas. The only prowl car was parked nearby at North and Main streets.

Besides the fact that most activity took place in the business district, there was another reason the officers remained downtown.  A red light located on top of a telephone pole at the main intersection signaled that a citizen was calling for assistance. When the telephone operator received a complaint, she turned the light on and the policeman rushed over, to answer the police phone.

All too often, McIntire once remarked, you would be siting in the squad car at the corner of North and Main, keeping an eye on traffic and that phone.  In the middle of a downpour or thunderstorm the light would flash so you got out in the rain to answer it.  After saying “Elkton Police” someone respond by asking about how to get married in Elkton.

“In a few years, they put in a radio system so we could crisscross the town while our dispatcher, the water plant operator, took calls. With that communications system, we thought we were very modern,” McIntire recalled. “I was sworn in as chief of police in 1962 when the town was putting on a push to modernize the force. My salary jumped to $80 a week.

“I had four full-time and two part-time men and my goal was to have 24-hour patrols since the dark hours before dawn were often uncovered. For a holding cell, we handcuffed the prisoner to a pole in the police station while we investigated the matter or processed them before hauling the person to the county jail.”  It was supporting the second floor.  The work in those days was largely routine. “Traffic problems, simple assaults, drunkenness, loitering, minor thefts, and disorderly conduct made up the bulk of the few calls we’d get. We also had a little trouble with kids.”

Despite the easy going pace of county seat town with 5,000 people, there were some alarming incidents that jolted the routine. One Sunday night in 1963, as flashes of lighting fleetingly illuminated a cold, rainy December night, one of McIntire’s officers prowled the empty streets, when, without warning, a dreadful explosion shook the entire town as a fireball, plunging into a rain-swept cornfield, chased away the darkness. Night turned to day and residents worried that a Soviet missile attack might be underway while the fire siren wailed out its urgent call.

“I rushed to the firehouse since I was also an assistant chief in the fire company. We weren’t sure what had happened, but on a cornfield just outside town we located large craters, burning fuel, parts of the Boeing 707 fuselage, and a widely scattered debris field. We soon learned that a Pan-American plane had crashed and eventually found out that 81-people perished in that explosion. Once we determined there wasn’t much to do since rescue and ambulances weren’t needed, I went back into town to assist my officers. Traffic control was a major problem, the FBI was coming in, a morgue had to be set-up, and a perimeter set-up, things like that.”

Another time in October 1965, a fireball loomed high up into the sky at the edge of the town, almost looking like a mushroom cloud.  “A freight train containing chemical and petroleum tankers jumped the tracks and there were enormous explosion. We had to evacuate a portion of the town because of the fear of explosions and the size of that fire,” McIntire said.

After 28 years in law enforcement, 18 as chief, McIntire decided it was time for a regular office job. So at 55 years of age, he became the supervising commissioner for the district court.

Reflecting on his 28 years in law enforcement, he said, “As a young boy growing up in Elkton, I still remember the old man who was our first chief of police, George Potts [1908-1935]. All he had to do was glance at one of us boys thinking of doing something wrong and we’d move right along. In addition to the little bit of crime that he handled, the town required the chief to oversee maintenance of the streets. By the time I retired we had a force of 14, computers connecting us to FBI and motor vehicle databases, and a criminal investigator.”

Chief McIntire had successfully guided the agency into the era of modern police work.  The times, the 1960s, were challenging for law enforcement across the nation as administrators struggled with social upheaval, growing violence, new laws and attitudes, emerging technologies, and the changing times, but in Elkton his steady hand moved the department forward through this maze.  He created a professional force with state-of-the-art methods that would have been most unfamiliar to earlier commanders.

For additional photos click here.

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In January 2013, some of the chief’s men and current officers stopped by the Historical Society of Cecil County on his birthday. Shift supervisor Sgt. Johnson, EPD (now retired) along with some of the officers on the day watch stopped by to greet the chief.

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Chief McIntire (center) and some of his officers.

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Sgt. Jeff McKenzie of the Cecil County Sheriff’s office, once worked for the Chief.