Tag Archives: port deposit

When Ice and Water Overflowed the Susquehanna River, the Media Descended on Port Deposit

There are floods and there are cold snaps in Cecil County.  But in Port Deposit there were “ice gorges” and there were floods.  So frequent before the building of the Conowingo Dam, the ice jams periodically brought destruction to the old river town and other communities on the lower Susquehanna River.  They occurred when a spring thaw began breaking up ice in the middle and upper reaches of the river..

Towns people knew when to start bracing for it.  And just like today, when the Susquehanna River threatens to go on a rampage, reporters and photographers rushed to the paralyzed town, hoping to be able to supply the city editors with headline grabbing copy and pictures.

From the time the first publications appeared in the county, stories occupied the columns of the local papers when the “ice king” threatened Port Deposit.  Shenandoah (the pen name used the Cecil Democrat’s local correspondent) concluded his report this way in 1857: “But I can write no more.  I am at this moment where I used to live, but I am only staying here a few moments just now.  The house is surrounded with ice and water, and I am here, without fire, at 10 o’clock at night and alone, my feet sticking to the ice and frozen, my fingers almost frozen, and my candle almost gone! . . . Though almost frost bitten, I am yours, SHENANDOAH.”. 

A group of enthusiastic city correspondents covered the ice jam of 1876 and the Cecil Whig’s editor had something to say about this bunch: “These Bohemians generally love their todd and are excellent patrons of the drinking salons.  Every fresh drink they take they see the ice move and the water commence to rise in the streets and they go forth with flash news to their papers . . . and about every other morning the town suffers a submerge and the people, especially the women and children, fly to the hill side and narrowly escape a water grave in the city papers.”

When the ice king had a solid grip on the Susquehanna in 1893, residents of Roberts Island were completely surrounded by the gorge.  Perhaps passing too many idle moments in the taprooms, The Baltimore Sun and News American reporters conceived the idea of crossing the ice to the Island.  They got a resident, Lawrence Paxton, to guide them and armed with ice hooks and ropes they started.  With Paxton taking the lead, the two representatives “faint hearted and timidly picked their way, but anxious to immortalize themselves, gained courage as they followed in the wake of Paxton,” the Perryville Record reported.

On nearing the island, the Sun man was determined to be the first to arrive.  And as soon as he reached the land, “he proclaimed that in the name of the Baltimore Sun he took possession of Roberts’ Island.”  There they talked to Roberts whose home and farm occupied the tiny piece of land in the middle of the river, and tried to persuade the family to go back with them.  But the safety of his livestock troubled him so having their story they headed back to the comfort of Port’s saloons.

In time newspaper photographs added to the capabilities of daily newspapers to cover the story and when the city was in ruins photojournalists descended, documenting the scene of suffering, smashed buildings and huge icebergs on Main Street.  By the top of the 20th century picture postcards were available and these images were extremely popular. 

So media has always rushed to the lower Susquehanna whenever the area was threatened.  Of course, our methods for providing the news has changed since the time when ice jams were an all too frequent image.  Nonetheless, the general scene is familiar to residents of Port Deposit in the 21st century.  On a slow news day in the summer when a persistent thunderstorm gives the Susquehanna River drainage area a good soaking, satellite trucks are likely to descend on the narrow Main Street in Port Deposit to wait for the coming flood.  Beaming signals back to the Baltimore television stations, the broadcast journalists search for interesting footage and people to interview. 


When Ice Jammed the Susquehanna River and Threatened Port Deposit Photographers Were Quick to Respond.

Port Deposit, Havre de Grace, and other communities on the lower Susquehanna River have a long record of damaging ice floes and floods. When the towns were paralyzed by the ice jams, photographers rushed to the area to capture the scene. And when picture postcards arrived at the top of the 20th century, these regular disasters became some of the best selling cards.

Here are a few pictures from the late 19th and early 20th century. Some of these are from a private collection, but the historical society’s online archives has a long collection of images, which they have shared online.

Click here to see a collection of pictures of the ice gorges.

The Age of the Automobile Arrives in Cecil: 1st License Issued to Port Deposit Resident

The automobile age has arrived in Rising Sun in this postcard issued around the time of World War I.  source:  personal collection

The automobile age has arrived in Rising Sun in this postcard issued around the time of World War I. source: personal collection

In a time when horses, carriages, and bicycles provided transportation, the sight of an automobile could cause a commotion, but little did anyone know how unsettling that first view could be for “Poor Excuse.”

It was Friday, April 13, 1900, a day for bad luck, when the Adams Express delivery horse trotted up to the corner of Main and North streets.  A quick glance up the street caused the normally mild-mannered animal to take his owner, B. M. Wells, on a mad dash through the center of Elkton.  The spectacle of a strange machine breezing along had proved too much for the animal.

The driver of the contraption, the first “horseless carriage” seen in the county seat, was making his way between New York and Washington, D.C.   Curious people rushed to the curb to catch a glimpse of the member of the “locomobile Club of America” rolling along.

Mr. & Mrs. Harry Decker pulled up to the Howard House in their automobile in August of that year.  After spending Saturday night there, they got an early start the next morning as the New Yorkers continued on, heading to the Texas oil fields.

These new-fangled machines sometimes were temperamental.  A big red “Panhard (Paris) driven by a 20-horse power gasoline engine” passed through in 1902, but ran out of oil on the outskirts of Elkton.  The tank was refilled at the store of John E. Gonce, the Elkton Appeal reported.

Automobiles were here to stay, and it wasn’t too many more years before passing cars no longer caused a stir.  By August 1905, Harvey Rowland and Lewis Abrahams rode from Port Deposit to Atlantic City in their vehicle in five hours and twenty minutes.  Charles R. Ford owned the first one in Elkton, a fine Pope Runabout in November 1905.  As Ford was learning the “tricks of his new stead”, the Cecil County News wrote, “Good luck to you, Charlie, and may you never slip a cog or run out of gasoline.”  Mr. Carter of Singerly had a fine runabout in August 1906.

Local automobilists became common.  D. J. Ayerst, Dr. H. A. Mitchell and Frank B. Evans turned out in their vehicles for the Elkton Halloween parade in 1911.  A striking feature was “Ayersts’ Cadillac Motor Car, elegantly and strikingly decorated,” according to the Cecil Whig.  Edward W. Taylor bought a new Ford touring car to add to his livery fleet in 1913.

With the auto here to stay, the State of Maryland enacted a registration and licensing law, the first one in Cecil going to Lewis Abrahams of Port Deposit.  “My great uncle Lewis Abrahams who lived till his 84th year in 1964 at Port Deposit . . . was very proud of holding the first license issued for an automobile in the county”, the Rev John J. Abrahams noted several years ago.   “He and my grandfather began the first car dealership in Port.”  Lewis owned a 4 horse-power Locomobile and was issued license no. 502.  In Fair Hill, Edward H. Strahorn owned a Thomas B. Jeffery 7 ½ horsepower vehicle, issued license 537.  John E. Good in Perryville had a Peerless Motor Car, holding registration 656

The Metz Automobile sold by E. Balderston & Sons , Colora.  source:  Cecil Whig, May 22, 195.

The Metz Automobile sold by E. Balderston & Sons , Colora. source: Cecil Whig, May 22, 1915.

Duyckinch, Sterret & Co. of Rising Sun established the first dealership in Cecil County in 1909, handling Hupmobiles, Invincible Schachts, and Oakland Machines.  They had a fine section of Regal Automobile and “everyone was invited to call at the garage to inspect these beauties and see their efficiency demonstrated,” the Midland Journal reported the next year.

Warren Boulden Sr., built a 3-car garage in Elkton, opening his business in May 1911.  Carrying a full line of automobile supplies, the Whig added that “Mr. Boulden has given this business a study, and is a competent mechanician.”

“Poor Excuse” wasn’t the only one appalled by these contraptions.  In Elkton, Council’s hackles had been raised by speeding automobilist frightening horses and endangering pedestrians so the commissioners adopted an eight MPH speed limit.  Rising Sun decided that 10 MPH was a safe and posted signs reading “automobiles blow your horn at dangerous crossing and curves,” in 1911.

Within days of the new law going on the books, the vigilant town officer, Bailiff George Potts issued Elkton’s first speeding ticket, arresting a Baltimorean.  In Chesapeake City in 1915, the authorities were determined to break up reckless driving, and Bailiff Samuel Biggs arrested five automobilists for failing to sound horns at cross streets.  One of those arrested was Philip L. Garrett, Wilmington attorney for the Delaware Automobile Club.

About this time, the Cecil Whig observed that the reason Port Deposit had far more vehicles than the Elkton was simple economics.  Everyone knew that you didn’t make much money practicing law, as wealth came from enterprises, such as manufacturing and transportation.

The automobile age was on in Cecil.  Click here for additional photos


The State of Maryland drivers license and vehicle registration for Lewis Abrahams of Port Deposit. source: Maryland State Archives.