Sunday, April 29, 2007

All Aboard

Mayor Joseph Fisona is working with Delegate Dave Rudolph and others to try to bring passenger train service back to the Elkton Depot and they called to ask us to develop some historical data for a presentation they’re doing this week. The last time a regularly scheduled passenger train stopped at the station on Bow Street was April 25, 1981. The Chesapeake, train 420, scheduled to stop at the station at 6:29 p.m. on its run north from Washington, D.C., completed its final run that spring evening a quarter-of-a-century ago. Passenger service had returned in 1978, when the Chesapeake, a new Amtrak train, started running between Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. When it made its first run across the top of the Chesapeake, 150 people greeted it at Elkton.

Since that time the quiet at the old depot has not been broken by the conductor shouting “All Aboard,” though many Acelas and other fast trains thunder past the old station that once served as an important commuter station in Cecil County. We hope Mayor Fisona, Delegate Rudolph and others are successful and we think them for the working on trying to bring commuter service back to eastern Cecil County. The Mayor has a petition at various places around town so you may want to sign it if you too want to see service return to the brick station.
Meanwhile, over the weekend we pulled together some data for them and we thought you might be interested in seeing the time-line and a sample image they are using in their presentation. The photo shows Elkton's Pennsylvania Station soon after it opened about 1930. the cars of commuters and travelers jamming the parking lot during those days of the Great Depression.

---- Elkton, a railroad town -- Chronology

January 9 -- A train operated by the Wilmington & Susquehanna Railroad makes an experimental run to Elkton, as work continues on building the line to the Susquehanna River. Many townspeople were on hand to greet the first arrival of
a train of cars.

July 31 -- the road opens for regular service. For more than a century, the
railroad plays an ever growing role in Elkton's development.

The Philadelphia Wilmington & Baltimore railroad guide says: "The railroad has proved of great advantage for Elkton . . . The population of this place prior to construction of the road was about 900 although 160 years had elapsed since its settlement, while since that time the number of inhabitants has increased fully 50-percent.

Eighteen passenger trains a day stop at the Elkton station.

Only 3 trains a day stop at the depot and all service would soon stop.

After a period of interruption, passenger service returned to Elkton in 1978 when a the Chesapeake, a new Amtrak train, started running between Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. When it made its first run across the top of the Chesapeake, 150 people greeted it at Elkton.

April 25 -- Train 420, scheduled to stop in Elkton at 6:29 p.m. on its trip north from Washington, D.C. makes its call at the old depot. Since that time the quiet at the old depot has not been broken by a conductor shouting "All Aboard," through Acela and other fast trains thunder past the old station that once served as an important commuter station in Cecil County.

Hitting the Streets in Elkton

We are busy transforming the Society from a well-resourced research library and small museum into an institution that offers a broader array of history related programming and makes our institution an important cultural part of Cecil County and downtown Elkton. We opened the door on this new era for our institution about a year-and-a-half ago, when our board put in motion a revised strategic plan. Part of this plan calls for hitting the streets with walking tours, which explore the rich history and heritage of the community. Well we were busy focusing on that aspect of our enhnacement process Saturday for we first hit the streets with members of Girl Scout Troop 174. After that group of wonderful young ladies finished seeing the Reverend Duke’s Log House and much more, we had others. One group was off to the Elkton Cemetery for a walking through the old burial ground, and another cluster of visitors walked down Main Street, to hear about the fascinating past right here. If you’re interested in a walking tour of Elkton, e-mail us and we’ll set something up for you. Check back often for updates on how we're continuing to progress, including news about our next series of fascinating living history programs.


Sunday, April 22, 2007

Lost Video Joins Cecil's Lost Sounds

The Society launched a new collections initiative aimed at capturing largely forgotten recordings from the County’s past at the end of 2004. We got the idea from the National Public Radio after hearing a broadcast called Lost and Found Sound. When our request first went out for help in capturing these materials, the Cecil Whig’s Jane Bellmyer answered the call, finding four old audio tapes from WSER, an Elkton AM radio station, which was a full service broadcaster in that era when local DJs hosted most of the shows and produced the news, sports, and advertising. Jane was the news director at the station from 1980 to 1988. Since the time when she helped us kick off this collection, we’ve added other items and you may want to read the press release on the subject..

Jane occasionally comes in with some additions, but a month or two ago she brought in some 8mm home video of the launching of a boat at Wiley Manufacturing, a Port Deposit company that closed several decades ago, and some family home footage. We are in the process of getting those digitized so these lost moving images will be available to researchers. We’ll also add some samples to the web site so you will know that we have them available.

Additionally, we acquired two new items for our oral history collection this past week. Kara Green, our project coordinator, interviewed 94-year-old retired school teacher, Lilian Watkins and 84- year-old Karl Feucht, a retired farmer. We’ll get some samples of those up online shortly. Both are very insightful pieces.

Please keep us in mind if you have some audio or video from a long ago parade, sports-event or some other local public activity, for we would like to add those to the collection. In this new information era, sounds and video are going to be important additions to research collections as print media becomes less important.

This is just one of many new initiatives being undertaken by the Historical Society of Cecil County to collect and chronicle unique aspects of our past. It joins other innovative program such as the Cecil County Veteran's Oral History Project.


Saturday, April 21, 2007

Sad News

12 Apr 2007 4:53 pm

While I eagerly worked to create our first blog, my cell phone brought some sad news that dampened my enthusiasm for the task on this cool spring day. The Cecil Whig's Katy Ciamaricone was on the line, saying she needed to talk with me about Jim Cheeseman who had passed away earlier in the day. Shortly after that conversation our regular office line rang and it was Don Herring, a retired editor from the Whig.

If you don't know the "Cheese" served Cecil Countians as a photojournalist for over 20 years, capturing attention-grabbing images for our weekly and then daily newspaper as his camera documented the unfolding of history here at the top of the Chesapeake. He was there when the big disasters took place and he was there as the county celebrated holidays and everyday happenings.

He retired in 1983 and back in the mid-1990s I still recall another time the phone rang. This time the voice crackling over the line was Jim's, joking and jovial as always. Would we be interested in adding his photographs spanning three decades to our library, he inquired. Oh how exciting that call was for I couldn't wait to get over to his apartment to see the scope of the pictures and negatives. In a few weeks, joined by his former editor, Don Herring, we sat for many days pulling box after box of unorganized material together and adding his recollections to as many as possible.

Today we have over 10,000 of his images, which are such a valuable collection for studying our past. Jim left us with a permanent, unmatched visual record, with a unique depth and quality, focusing on everyday life in Cecil from 1963 to 1983.When his health was still good, he would often stop in to chat and joke with our volunteers and tell stories about his experiences. He always seemed to be in the middle of the action, whether it was chasing police cars and fire trucks, attending fire company banquets or church events, taking pictures of presidents, or visiting around Elkton after he retired.

That time and those memories seem a lot more distant as I write this late on a Friday afternoon as strong guests from an approaching nor'easter rattle our historic old bank building in downtown Elkton. But even now I vividly remember sitting there with Jim and Don over 10 years ago, pouring over those old images as "the Cheese" easily recalled time-tested stories about many of the pictures and related many tales about his escapades from the 1930s on. He always enjoyed an audience and he was entertaining for I still recall many of those stories.

I too remember his visits to the Society and seeing him around the community as he worked every job to its maximum, before and after retirement, often announcing "never fear the Cheese" is here or something like that. He had a great sense of humor, was always joking, and got along easily with people. That approach helped him for he was able to work his way into about any unfolding news event.

So long Jim. Though we'll never hear that familiar phrase again, we will carefully look after the "Cheeseman Collection" ( for we are pleased you selected us to be the custodians of such priceless materials. As the time you traveled every corner of Cecil, from Bald Friar to Warwick and everyplace in between, grows more distant, your record of the county grows immensely more valuable and your work will serve as a tangible reminder of the contribution you made.

Click here to see a slide show containing some of Jim's work


Blogging at the Society

13 Apr 2007 4:41 pm

One spring day in 1996, back when the Internet was new and less a critical part of everyday life, the Historical Society created a presence on the net. Beginning with that first generation site eleven years ago, virtual visitors were able to read articles from our newsletter, find information about the Society, and send e-mail queries on genealogy and local history. Over time, our virtual home, which is open around-the-clock, has grown and I've been excited as we've added oral histories, created digital collections, captured Cecil's lost sounds, and added lots of our photographs to the web site.

Now, eleven years later, as another spring gets underway at the top of the Chesapeake Bay, I'm excited to add something else to our online home, a blog. A blog is essentially an online diary, a public place to quickly share things that are of interest to members and patrons. Watch the blog for quick pieces about whatever exciting thing has our attention and we'll give you brief notes on additions to the collections and news that has our attention, or comments on local history matters. (Of course, don't forget to check out the news and events section for formal press releases and more details.) In the months and years ahead our goal is to deliver even more information on the web and we have some great plans for digitization. I'll comment more on those in the weeks and months ahead.

Generally look for weekly, conversational updates here.