Sharing the Story — Remembering World War II, a Program at the Cecilton Library

Mr. Hurshel W. Shan, Sr., World War II Veteran 86th Division enjoys a parade in Gettysburg, PA in 2013

Mr. Hurshel W. Shank, Sr., World War II Veteran, 86th Division enjoys a parade in Gettysburg, PA in 2013

Seventy years have passed by since World War II ended.  Over those rapidly passing decades, many of the stories of the warriors on the frontline and the families and communities on the home front have been told while some remained untold.  But far too many are now being lost to the passage of time as we start to depend on the tradition-bearers of the community and family to carry the narratives on down the line for a new generation.

It is time for sharing the personal tales of the course of events that changed the world, as one age gives way to another.  And that is what the Cecilton Library is going to down in a “Remembering World War II,” program, give you a chance to be part of the conservation.

The free event takes places at the Cecilton Library February 10 at 6:30 p.m.  You are invited to participate or just listen to gain greater understanding as we hear about the experiences of the men and women who lived through this historic period.

This is a lively, engaging community approach, designed to help more people know about the time and you are welcome to share accounts of the men and women who fought for our freedom, as they were passed down.  Too, you are also welcome to just listen to the community dialogue, while we collectively reflect and explore the subject.

There are stories you will want to hear, and public historian Mike Dixon will moderate the dialogue,  But you and the other patrons are invited to take the lead, sharing the tales of the greatest generation, while we pay tribute to a vanishing generation of veterans and disappearing memories.  Mike will facilitate the session, providing context for the shared community evening and keep things moving.

Remember, everyone has a story, a special gift from earlier times that should be retold, so it doesn’t fade in time.

For additional information or to register for the program click here

Carpooling on the home front saved resources for troops during World War II.  source:  Oregon State Archives.

Carpooling on the home front saved resources for troops during World War II. source: Oregon State Archives.



Halley’s Comet & Northern Lights Stimulate Interest in Astronomy for a Young Lady From Iron Hill

AAVSO Director Margaret Mayall (left) talks with Administrative Assistant, Helen Stephanski (left) in 1953.  Photo Credit:   The blog Simostronomy

AAVSO Director Margaret Mayall (left) talks with Administrative Assistant, Helen Stephanski (left) in 1953. Photo Credit: The blog Simostronomy

The previous post on the little hamlet of Iron Hill caused me to think about another research project I worked on a few years ago, gathering data about a young lady born in Iron Hill.  She became an acclaimed astronomer, with an international following, this taking place in an era when women weren’t expected to become professional researchers.  But the girl who grew up in the community rose through the ranks of the discipline, leading the American Association of Variable Star Observers and doing significant, published research at Harvard, which brought international acclaim for her work.

Margaret Walton was born in Iron Hill on January 27, 1902.  Of the place where her father operated the general store she said once in an oral history:  It “is not even a town, just a country place half way between North (???) and (???). . . . I was from just south of the Mason Dixon Line, almost on it in fact.”

When the interviewer asked when she became interested in the stars she recalled:  “Well, a slight interest of course from Halley’s Comet, that was around 1910.  My father got me up in the early morning and we went out and watched it.  He was always interested in nature.  I don’t think, in fact I’m sure he didn’t know too much about astronomy although he recognized constellations and knew something of the stars and the weather and was always very much interested.  But I didn’t have any definite interest until I got to college, and I was taking math as a junior  math and chemistry at the University of Delaware.  First I did go to high school in (???) Maryland, in a very large class of 13 graduating, when I graduated.”

After attending the University of Delaware, she moved to Swarthmore College as her interest in astronomy grew.  She started working at Harvard Observatory with Annie J. Cannon of Delaware and other women doing research in the discipline.  The scientist married Newton Mayall, becoming Margaret Walton Mayall.  The internationally acclaimed astronomer died in 1995, at the age of 93, according to the American Astronomical Society.

Here’s an interesting article from the Smithsonian Magazine, “The Women Who Mapped the Universe and Still Couldn’t Get Any Respect.”

Iron Hill was once a thriving village.

iron hill railroad station

The Iron Hill station in a postcard around 1912

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 Holten & 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.

For additional photos of Iron Hill click here.

iron hill 038ar

Dan Dilks giving me a tour of the old station. He and a helper are currently working on old railroad station.



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.