Sunday, May 27, 2007

Remembering on Memorial Day

As the nation pauses on this Memorial Day to remember those in the military who made the ultimate sacrifice, the Society is posting a vidcast of the call-up ceremony at the Lt. Victor J. McCool Armory in Elkton on May 25. The Society was pleased to be there to see the men off on this call-up and to see many veterans from the area's service organizations in the group, such as the commander of the Elkton VFW, Charlie McCoy. The County's veterans group have always been supportive of the Society and this is our small way of saying thank you to the men and women who serve and have served this country.

We're leaning this technology so bear with us as we climb the learning curve that will take society services to another level. There are three choices, ranging from a high quality slide show to a straight-forward photobucket exhibit. Depending on your connection speed and system you may select one or the other. This is our first vidcast, but we plan many more of these productions, along with podcasts in the future. (hit loop view button to start the show) (a smaller version of above. Hit loop all to start.

Friday, May 25, 2007

The Old Armory Sees Another Group of Soldiers off for War Duty

As noon approached on a beautiful spring day in Elkton, we were honored to attend an activation ceremony for 131 soldiers of Company D, a part of the 1st Battalion of the 17th Infantry Regiment, which is joining 1,170 other Maryland National Guardsmen heading to Iraq. The Lt Col. J. Victor McCool Armory basked in the mid-day sun on the eve of the Memorial Day Weekend, as American flags waved in the slight breeze and anxious family members stayed near loved-ones. When Captain Jonathan Preteroti, the company commander, called the company to order, he remarked that it was with great sadness that the men were leaving behind their families, but they had a mission to accomplish and the company would serve the nation with honor. The company has been activated three times for overseas deployments during time of war, World War I, World War II, and now the global war on terrorism, he added. Joining in to honor these brave soldiers were Delegates Michael Smigiel and Dick Sossi, along with Senator E. J. Pipkin and Elkton Mayor Joseph Fisona. On behalf of the state delegation, Smigiel presented the company commander with five Maryland Flags to be carried with the troops in Iraq. “As you view these flags each day, let them serve as a reminder that you’re in our prayers and thoughts, each single day,” he said to the troops assembled before them.

Hundreds were on hand to give these men a send off and the Society is pleased to honor their duty by recording this important day and the hard months ahead as we archive material, including many photographs from this memorial day weekend, the published materials from the Cecil Whig, and an audio recording of the ceremonies, which we are turning into our first podcast. Our thoughts are with the soldiers and their families on this call-up as they depart from Elkton on a nine month mission to protecting the nation from terrorism. As our nation's defenders begin their long journey and say good-by to loved ones, please view our slide show honoring these brave men. We're also beta testing a new and improved flash program for our slide shows so you may want to check this one out too. We'll have it out of beta soon, but please fveel free to take a glance at this presentation too.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Gilpin Falls Covered Bridge Preservation Effort Honored

Over 115 members of the Historical Society of Cecil County were on hand Monday evening when the Society presented its first ever preservation award to the Gilpin Falls Covered Bridge Committee. The recognition, given at the organization’s spring meeting at the Wellwood Club in Charlestown, was presented to Earl Simmers, a representative of the committee, who was the evening’s speaker. The purpose of the Ernest A. Howard Award is to recognize an individual or group who has made a significant contribution to the preservation of the county’s historic resources and has faced huge challenges in trying to protect the built environment or save a scarce resource.

As the number of covered bridges in the nation dwindles each year, the 19th-century wooden structures falling victim to flood, fire, and neglect, this local grassroots group has been busy leading an effort to preserve Cecil’s own span, which is threatened by time, inattention, and decay. With only a handful remaining in Maryland, the committee has persistently worked to save this most threatened of county resources for it is an irreplaceable reminder of another century and time.

Despite the many risks faced by this relic, the tireless committee has not given up on the structure owned by Cecil County Government. Built in 1860, it was of vital economic importance until the early 1930s when the structure was closed to vehicular traffic. Today the bridge is a highly visible tourist attraction on one of the area’s main highways for visitors. In trying to help it survive for future generations, the committee does its work through advocacy with local government and the community, by applying for grants to help underwrite preservation cost, and by raising money any way they can, which ranges from selling postcards and T-shirts to soliciting private and corporate donations. The committee asks everyone to help them save the bridge. Donations should be made payable to the Historical Society of Cecil County, Gilpin Falls Covered Bridge, and should be sent to 135 E. Main St. Elkton, MD 21921 or to W. Earl Simmers, 99 Simmers Rd. Rising Sun, MD 21911. For additional information on how you can help, call Simmers at 410-658-6220.

The award is named after Ernest A. Howard a man who was especially instrumental in helping to build the strong Historical Society of nearly 1,000 members, which serves the county today. Born in Childs in 1885, this benefactor of the organization was deeply involved in the successful revival of the nonprofit in the 1950s and served it as historian and editor of the newsletter. He worked tirelessly to preserve local heritage and was active in the restoration of several old churches and others buildings. In 1955 he was a central figure in the establishment of a modern headquarters for the Cecil County library, and he donated a wing to the library in part to provide a home for the Historical Society. Howard passed away in 1973.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

What Happend in the Library

The next time you walk into the Eva M. Muse library at the Historical Society, you are in for a big surprise, especially if you are a regular patron, for the reading room and the stack are undergoing some significant changes. It’s been 22 years since we established the basic footprint in those areas and while our collections have grown enormously since the mid-80s, the arrangements of those facilities have not. One of the charges we had for our collections manager, Eric, was to reorganize the facilities and museums to reflect the changes that have taken place in nearly a quarter of a century. Well this past week he jumped right into the task and with a small crew of volunteers (Sarah & Fernando) he’s been busy reorganizing, cleaning, painting, and building new shelves in order to make more efficient use of the room and provide better organized collection for patrons. He assures me that it'll be finished when we open Monday. Eric has been doing an outstanding job in providing professional care for the collection, and catching up with 75 years of collections management needs, along with the contributions that have accumulated since we were formed. As we’ve watched his plans unfold in other areas, its been great to see an organization with strong collections move ahead. Stop in soon and see how much better the library is with these changes.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Rodeo Earl Smith, the Old Range Rider

Wednesday evening Rob Churnside walked into the Society with his guitar and said I’m going to play a couple of local songs for you that I’ve just written. Well that something we’ve never heard before so everything came to a quick halt and we settled into comfortable chairs for a little performance. Oh how much we enjoyed those creative local piece.

The first one was a ballad about the escapades of Earl Smith an old range rider who lived in Cecil County for decades. A rodeo rider, Hollywood stunt man, boxing and wrestling promoter, television and radio personality, amusement park owner and who knows what else, he began his entertainment career as a young man in the 1890s performing as an expert rider and roper in Wild West Shows. As movies became popular he started performing stunts in the early Hollywood shows with the famous Tex Cooper. For Twenty years he operated the Morton Park Pool, an amusement park outside Philadelphia, and when he retired from that he purchased the Silver King Ranch on U.S. Route 40 at Perryville.

On the eve of his 86th Birthday, our local newspaper, the Cecil Whig, said he was a “hale and hearty octogenarian “ who once earned a “living by physical strength, daring skill, a flair for entertaining, and plenty of good old American guts.” When he died in 1980 at the age of 89, the newspaper said: “One of Cecil County’s most colorful personalities” has passed away. He was buried in Laurel Hill Cemetery in Philadelphia.

There’s a very interesting essay about Rodeo on the web pages for that you might want to read since it provides insight into the colorful nature of this fascinating man. We’re going to see if we can get Rob to give us a little audio outtake that we can get on the blog because we’re sure you’ll enjoy this local-flavor piece about an entertaining man, even in his twilight years.

Rob’s other song was called Caecil By-God. Thanks Rob for entertaining us for a few minutes and for helping to preserve a unique part of Cecil's past that is fading into the myst of time. We enjoyed the pieces a lot and look forward to hearing much more.

In this January 1970 photo Rodeo Earl is receiving an an award from Cecil County Sheriff Thomas Mogule, the Maryland State Police and others. It was taken in January 1970 by Jim Cheeseman at the Cecil Whig.

Monday, May 7, 2007

Lights, Camera, Action . . . . Old Home Movies Tell a Story

Tucked away in closets and drawers gathering dust, are old home movies made in Cecil County. Some of those flickering images recall how area families celebrated holidays, birthdays, graduations and the gathering of relatives. Some focus on sports and school events, town parades, and fairs, but also squeezed on the aging footage are valuable scenes of the landscape and our built environment. These types of relics from the past grow more valuable with each passing decade and they capture a few minutes of time in a unique, valuable format.

For some time now we’ve said that we’d like to add some of those reels to our collection. Well Jane Bellmyer came through for us again. (You may recall that in 2006, she helped us kick off our Cecil Sounds collection.) A few weeks ago she brought us several reels of film showing the Weaver family, Wiley Manufacturing, the Conowingo Dam, the Susquehanna River and the bridges across the waterway. We just had those digitized so we can watch them on the computer and we just finished take our first glance at those decades old movies. We found them fascinating, especially the scenes of the launching of a boat at Wiley Manufacturing and the water rushing through the Dam.

Click here to review an out-take of this video on our web site. We're still working on publishing this piece, so we'll have improvements on the page over the next few days so check back occassinally as we process this valuable addition to our research collection.

Thanks Jane for continuing to help us build unique collections for researchers.

Saturday, May 5, 2007

1945 George Washington Carver High Yearbook Holds Lots of History

We've been on a quest to build our yearbook collection for a couple of years now and we have over 250 from various Cecil County Schools, though we're still working to fill gaps. Yesterday we filled one of those spots when Michael Cain, who is researching the Boddy family line in Port Deposit, mentioned that he has a 1945 yearbook from George Washington Carver High School in Elkton. When we told him how much we'd enjoy seeing one of those, in a flash Michael turned to his laptop and pulled up scans of the Carver Mirror from 1945. Then he offered a copy of the digitized edition to the Society. We were so excited about acquiring this volume that we immediately created a virtual exhibit so you may easily enjoy this valuable resource from your home. Go to and hit the button for George Washington Carver to enjoy this outstanding digital exhibit. We'd like to add more of these so keep us in mind if you have some and want to give them a permanent home.

Thanks Michael for the contribution. There is so much valuable information in yearbooks.