Elkton is located on the colonial highway of America. Our forefathers navigated its waterways and traveled its roads when heading north to Philadelphia, or south to Virginia. Once known as Head of Elk, named by Captain John Smith, it sits at the northern headwaters of Chesapeake Bay. Elkton played a significant role in both the Revolutionary War and War of 1812. Today, many of the town's beautiful colonial structures remain, yet they're surrounded by buildings that reflect an active business community. Office buildings, courthouses, a hospital, and retail establishments share space with history in Elkton, which has been the County Seat since 1787.
Some History of Elkton
By 1776 Cecil realized a need to arm local militia of the County. War with Britain was inevitable, and the Bohemia, Susquehanna, and Elk Battalions were formed. They didn't know at that time how outnumbered they'd be when the Kings troops arrived. Because of Cecil County's location, it became a very important place to the English Navy. On a hot stormy day, August 27th in the year 1777, three hundred ships with over 15,000 British soldiers, commanded by General Howe, landed on the shores of the Elk River. They marched to Elkton and made camp. There were more soldiers than citizens in the entire county. In anticipation of the enemy's arrival, people hid their horses, cattle, and valuables in the woods, so that the soldiers couldn't take them.
On August 25th, prior to the landing of the British, General George Washington traveled through pouring rain to reach Delaware and then Cecil County. He came to observe their situation, knowing that the British were sailing up the Chesapeake Bay. Washington stayed at Head of Elk in a hotel owned by Jacob Hollingsworth. On August 27th, General Howe slept in the same room and was waited on by the same servant who waited on Washington just two days prior. The British stayed in the County for a few days, planning strategy, stocking up on supplies, and waiting for the storm to pass. When they marched onward, it was to Brandywine and Philadelphia in Pennsylvania.
No battles took place on Cecil ground that August of 1777, but it was a time that Cecil Countians will never forget.
Less than one year after President James Madison persuaded Congress to declare War on Great Britain, British Admiral Sir George Cockburn blockaded the Chesapeake Bay and sailed up the Elk River with a large squadron of sailors. It was April 1813. American militia greeted them at Welch Point on the Elk River with musket fire, but had no cannon. They could only harass the enemy. The English sailed to Frenchtown, a traveler's port, and an important shipping point for supplies. Cockburn's men destroyed it.
They sailed on to Elkton, the County Seat, but met with resistance from Fort Defiance. They also met with quick thinking citizens who put a barrier across the water at Head of Elk. Despite repeated effort, ships could not get past it and close to the town. So they sailed back up the Elk River and charted a course for Havre de Grace where they burned 50 of the 60 homes, and plundered citizen's belongings.
The original inventor of the steamboat was a resident of southern Cecil County. James Rumsey lived on the Bohemia River until the time of his death in 1792. He died in London while lecturing an audience about his steam boat. However, prior to his death, he had the opportunity to demonstrate his prototype for George Washington. Rumsey died before manufacturing his product, so others created and were credited with the ships that soon carried passengers.
One of the first steamboats frequenting the waters of the Chesapeake Bay was The Eagle. It was built in Philadelphia in 1813 and began serving Head of Elk (Elkton) in 1815. Travelers could board the ship in Baltimore any Tuesday, Thursday or Sunday at 4pm, bound for Cecil County. Passengers then took a stage coach from Elkton to Wilmington, Delaware, where they could board another ship that carried them on to Philadelphia.
Transportation: The Railroad
In 1831 the New Castle and Frenchtown Railroad, linking Cecil County to Delaware was one of the first in the Country. It connected industry to canals and ports. It was initially created to protect trade routes from increased competition. At first, the engines were pulled by horses, but by 1833 steam locomotives began to chug their way along tracks, and soon Elkton got rail service. Within 30 years the entire County was covered with rail tracks heading in various directions, to carry passengers and goods to depots in far away places.
Transportation: The Automobile and other Vehicles
It was April in Elkton in the year 1900 and spring was in the air. Horses and riders enjoyed a warm spring breeze. Wagons laden with newly purchased goods lined the streets. Birds chirped. But then the air was filled with an unnerving sound. And WHAT was that SMELL?! The first to see it was a horse who took off in fright, taking his rider with him! The frightening object was the first horse-less carriage in Cecil County…an automobile, that would forever change the face of the community. Though the new invention took some getting used to, the automobile brought positive change to Cecil County. By 1901 the first vehicle was used by the Rising Sun Post Office to deliver mail to rural areas. Before that time, mail waited at the post office, often for long periods, to be picked up by the recipient. Motorized fire engines significantly cut down the response time for arriving at a fire scene. Delivery vehicles could traverse a route much more quickly, allowing more customers to be served. In 1929 Elkton purchased its first patrol car, setting the stage for a new era in law enforcement in the County. The changes brought about by the smelly, noisy contraption were exciting and endless.