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