Sassafras River History: A Community Discussion Hosted by the Sassafras River Association

The Kitty Knight House in Georgetown on the Sassafras River

The Kitty Knight House in Georgetown on the Sassafras River

The Sassafras River Association invites you to participate in a program that examines the history of the scenic tributary that rises in the marshy areas along the Delaware line and flows some 20 miles to the Chesapeake Bay.  Historian Mike Dixon will share narratives from the colonial era to the 20th century, while facilitating a dialogue with area residents for an engaging community conversation.

The Sassafras watershed’s past is captivating and encompasses the sweep of time.  This expansive narrative begins with Native-Americans and the arrival of Europeans who established fine plantations on its shores, many of which still overlook the rich fields being farmed today as part of Kent and Cecil Counties’ thriving, and important, agricultural economy. The tranquility of the river was interrupted during the War of 1812, British guns firing, but Kitty Knight stood her ground.  The colonial era port of entry grew, becoming important stops for vessels hauling freight and transporting travelers in the 19th century.  In time, sprawling summer resorts brought visitors by steamboat and later by automobile, and in the 20th century the Adams Floating Theatre arrived, bringing lively plays to Fredericktown and Georgetown.  Of course, the days of the steamboat gave way to the 20th century and the automobile age, which brought new dynamics that shaped the region. We will explore these accounts and more.

This type of colloquy creates greater understanding of our ties to the land and water and each other as we consider the intersection of the past with the present and the future, with stakeholders contributing accounts that have been handed down over the generations in families and communities.

It is sure to be an informative session, as participants will be encouraged to recount first and second hand stories about the river and the historical experience in the watershed that serves as the boundary between Kent and Cecil counties, providing unique personal and local context. There are stories you will want to hear as Dixon shares accounts from the European era to modern times, while moderating an evening of shared conversation. Of course, you don’t have to have a story to share.  You may simply want to listen to some of the lesser-known stories and traditions in the watershed.

The Sassafras River Association is an on-going community effort to protect and restore water quality in the river’s tidal basin and tributaries. This event is a celebration of the people who live, work, and play in the watershed, and a chance to deepen our sense of community and learn from each other as we strive to make our lives more compatible with nature’s design yet remain economically viable.

Dixon, a historian, specializes in community studies and social history.  He teaches as an adjunct professor of history at a number of area universities and colleges and has appeared on the Today Show, Maryland Public Television and TV news programs as well as in National Geographic, Southern Living, and Chesapeake Life. His published works have appeared in Chesapeake Life, Delmarva Quarterly, Maryland Life, and a number of other magazines, newspapers, and historical society journals.

History of the Sassafras will be held at The Granary Restaurant starting at 7 pm. Coffee and dessert will be available. Free and open to the public, the event is a fundraiser for the Sassafras River Association and donations are kindly suggested at the door or online at www.sassafrasriver.org/donatenow/.

For guests who would like to dine beforehand, The Granary has generously offered to donate 20% of dinner sales – a coupon is required and reservations are strongly suggested. Contact the Sassafras River Association for GIVE 20 coupons at 410-275-1400 or lwood@sassafrasriver.org.

The Granary Restaurant http://granary.biz is located at 100 George Street, Georgetown, MD, along the beautiful Sassafras River.

Nov. 3, 2016, 7 p.m.

The Granary Restaurant

 

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The Delmarva History Conversation Continues on Facebook

Since we published our first blog post on April 13, 2007, we have kept up with evolving social media platforms, maintaining multiple channels of communications.  As the digital publishing transformation continued, some outlets became more media rich, interactive, and extremely simple to use.   Thus over time we found that we were publishing most of our original content on our Delmarva History’s Facebook page, an open group, which allows anyone to read posts and comments.

There are many reasons for this.  The interactivity of a large networked community interested in the Peninsula’s past, generates an enormous array of material.  This transition allows us to be part of the larger conversation that is taking place daily as publishers share the region’s narratives.  With many contributors on lots of focused pages adding knowledge and insights, we are able to easily curate and share with the larger community, adding our own voice to this crowd.  This enriches the experience as heritage content reaches a larger audience and is often crowdsourced to help with understanding and interpretation.  . 

The Facebook platform allows for more convenient sharing of digital media since photos and videos are an important aspect these days.  And, Facebook has provided an environment for more long form writing on a section it calls notes.  This is an enhanced modern, blog feature, which allows for full-length posts with attractive formatting, tagging, and pictures. 

Thus the Delmarva history conversation continues on Facebook.  Be sure to check it out.  You don’t have to be a Facebook member to access the open page.  The back material already on the weblog will be 2016-08-08_0-03-29

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Adventures in Research Program at Greenwood Library Spotlights the Greenwood Train Disaster of 1903

2015-06-27_13-12-41Press Release, Greenwood Public Library

On Monday, November 16, at 6:30pm, the Greenwood Library will be hosting a program, Adventures in Research, which will consider the Greenwood Train Disaster of 1903.  This Sussex County tragedy occurred over a hundred years ago, in the midst of a blinding snowstorm on December 2, 1903, when two trains collided in the center of Greenwood.  One train, pulling a lethal cargo of dynamite and naphtha, exploded with the blast and fire severely damaging the community.

Social historian Mike Dixon will be presenting this program, which will be equally enjoyable for those interested in learning about the accident or becoming acquainted with the process for exploring the past.  The subject will be approached in various ways, covering methods for going about researching the past in the community, presenting a broad narrative about the wreck, and facilitating an audience-centered discussion to help frame the historic context.  During the audience participation time, those in attendance are invited to share stories and insights about the train disaster passed down through the generations in Greenwood by families in the area.  Mr. Dixon will also give direction on how to do research on subjects that are of interest to many, such as the history of an old house.  In the end, this engaging event will explain how historical puzzles are pieced together as we learn about the process for understanding earlier times and historical mysteries.

Mr. Dixon is an adjunct history professor at Wilmington University and has been involved in investigating a number of major disasters from an historical perspective, as well as developing commemorative programs for those tragedies.

The program is sponsored by the Delaware Humanities Forum and is free and open to all.  Children under twelve should be accompanied by an adult.  Registration is helpful but not required.  To register, please come by the library, call 349-5309, or visit the library website at www.greenwood.lib.de.us.

The Greenwood Library is located at 100 Mill St., just east of the railroad tracks in Greenwood.

Greenwood Library program on Greenwood Disaster sponsored by the Delaware Humanities Forum

Greenwood Library program on Greenwood Disaster sponsored by the Delaware Humanities Forum

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Family Genealogists Help Document Story of Brakeman Edwin Roach Killed in Railroad Explosion

Edwin and Martha Roach. source: Jane Roach Butler and Harry Roach, III, family historians

Edwin and Martha Roach. source: Jane Roach Butler and Harry Roach, III, family historians

I have been investigating a deadly Delaware tragedy, an explosion that occurred over one hundred years ago in Greenwood. In the midst of a blinding snowstorm two trains collided in the center of the town of 367 people, and one pulling a lethal cargo of dynamite and naphtha exploded.

While opening up the doors to the past, I’ve spent several days in the Sussex County community searching for clues at an array of places. Fieldwork took me to the town hall, public library, cemeteries, the local nursing home, and elsewhere. There has also been manuscript research at the Delaware Public Archives, which was coupled with digital data.

One added perspective to aid in piecing this puzzle together involved finding the tradition-bearers, the community and family members who carry the stories down through time. These priceless links to the past (whether firsthand accounts or family stories), help present events in a different context.

This information arrived via an unexpected email from Jane Roach Butler and Harry Edwin Roach III, family genealogists.  These recorders of family history have been doing their own inquiry, digging up those traces of earlier times. Their extensive work included death certificates, newspapers, probate records, family lore, and other typical sources for genealogy, including personal photos.

The railroad man killed in the accident, Edwin Roach, was their great-grandfather, the son of Daniel & Eliza “Sally” Jones Roach. This was a great personal tragedy “which resounded through the lives of his parents, widow, children and grandchildren. He was a purposeful man of promise, owning various properties in Sussex Co. His death at such a young age would, as it were, dampen the future of his children, forever changing the course of their lives,” Jane wrote earlier this week.

Edwin (1874 – 1903) was born and raised in Georgetown. He resided in Wilmington with his wife Martha “Mattie” Jones Roach (1872 – 1964), and their children at the time of his death. Mattie was not related to either of the two Delaware Jones family lines, as she was born in Ambler, PA. She never remarried and Edwin is buried at Union Cemetery in Georgetown.

Edwin’s name is given as Edward in newspaper accounts and that was picked up by wire services, spreading that information far and wide.  The State of Delaware’s Certificate of Death notes that Edwin Roach, 30 of Wilmington, Delaware, a railroad brakeman, died from an explosion on a train on Dec. 4, 1903. The certificate was issued by Pepper & Mc Glorhean, Undertaker of Georgetown, DE. The headstone at the cemetery marks his death as taking place on the 2nd. “We believe his death was instantaneous and the confusing surrounding the accident may have led to this death certificate error” she observes.

“It would be lovely to set the record straight on his name these so many years later,” Jane concluded. First, thanks Jane and Harry for generously sharing your research, including photos.

Hopefully this blog post helps with that, too.   The Greenwood tragedy clearly illustrates the need for multiple perspectives as newspapers and the death certificate sometimes misstated information.

greenwood death certificate edwin roach

Delaware Death Certificate for Edwin Roach. Source: Jane Roach Butler and Harry Edwin Roach III

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The Women and their Kitten, Scouty, Advance on Washington, D.C.

New York Suffragists, and their mascot, Saxon, in Portland after an auto trip for NY.     source:  Philadelphia Ledger, July 9, 1916

New York Suffragists, and their mascot, Saxon, in Portland after an auto trip for NY.
source: Philadelphia Ledger, July 9, 1916

By the second decade of the 20th century woman had been fighting for the right to the ballot for over 60-years. Along the way, they had become experts at figuring out how to grab attention, and one of their well-honed techniques was to take long automobile tours in specially decorated vehicles. They were frequently accompanied by a mascot, often a kitten.

Delaware was treated to one of these unique events in February 1913 as a determined band tramped across the State, advancing on their objective, the occupation of Washington, D.C.

The suffrage army stepped sprightly into Delaware on February 18, 1913, to the tune of “Marching through Georgia.” The first person to officially greet them was the Claymont postmaster, Eben H. Baldwin. A little ways down the road at the Robinson Mansion, Jeff Davis, a gentle bulldog adorned with “votes for women” strode confidentially up to the General Rosalie Jones, heading the march.

Slightly ahead of the main group of marching campaigners was the chief scout, Olive Schultz, driving an automobile. At the Philadelphia Pike Toll House William J. Whiteford, met the advance officer, motoring toward Wilmington in the muddy machine with a bright yellow suffrage banner on the side.

There the scout car driver received an animal mascot, a kitten, donated by Mrs. Whiteford. Olive named it “Scouty” and said he would occupy a seat of honor when the brightly decorated vehicle rolled down Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C. on March 3rd. Also at the toll house was Mrs. A. L. Steinlein, president of the Arden Suffrage Club and her supporters. For ten years women had voted on village affairs.

And Scouty occupied a prime seat when the advanced guard rolled into the District of Columbia.

suffrage delaware 2500 signaturesw suporters headquaters dover phil ledger march 22 1920

In 1920, the nation’s attention centered on Dover, as the Legislature voted on the constitutional amendment. Here supports in Dover show the 26,000 signatures favoring voting rights for women. source: Philadelphia Ledger, March 22, 1920.

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Researching the Greenwood Delaware Disaster of 1903

Recently I have been doing research on a deadly Delaware tragedy that spurred a vice-president of the Pennsylvania Railroad to push for national safety transportation regulations.  Following a number of accidents involving powerful explosives, including a catastrophic one in Greenwood, DE, the Bureau of Explosives was created under the American Railway Association.

The Sussex County disaster occurred over a hundred years ago, December 2, 1903.  In the midst of a blinding snow storm two trains collided in the center of the town of 367 people.  One pulling a lethal cargo of dynamite and naphtha exploded, the blast and fire severely damaging the Sussex County community.

Since I have been searching for photographs, maps, and other sources, here is some additional material that has been located:

Click here to read a narrative about the disaster.

This is a post about the research process and going about finding material on the incident.

2015-06-27_13-12-41

Scenes from the destruction in the vicinity of the railroad junction in Greenwood. Source: Philadelphia Inquirer, Dec. 4, 1903

2015-06-27_13-12-58

Dr. Johnson’s home and barn. His horse was trapped in the barn and died during the blaze. source: Philadelphia Inquirer, Dec. 4, 1904

One of the Locomotives.  Source:  Philadelphia Inquirer, Dec. 4, 1903

One of the Locomotives. Source: Philadelphia Inquirer, Dec. 4, 1903

This is a Sanborn Map of 1924, some 20 years after the incident.  It is the only detailed map of Greenwood I have located thus far and was the only series Sanborn published for the town.  source:  Sanborn Fire Insurance Map, 1924.

This is a Sanborn Map of 1924, some 20 years after the incident. It is the only detailed map of Greenwood I have located thus far and was the only series Sanborn published for the town. source: Sanborn Fire Insurance Map, 1924.

One of the pages of the Sanborn Fire Insurance Map, 1929. Source:  Sanborn Fire Insurance Map, 1924

One of the pages of the Sanborn Fire Insurance Map, 1929.
Source: Sanborn Fire Insurance Map, 1924

The Delaware State Gazeteer for 1874 describes the village a number of decades before the accident.  Source:  Delaware state Gazetteer 1874 via Google Books

The Delaware State Gazeteer for 1874 describes the village a number of decades before the accident. Source: Delaware state Gazetteer 1874 via Google Books

The Delaware State Gazetteer, 1874.  source:  Google Books

The Delaware State Gazetteer, 1874. source: Google Books

Philadelphia Inquirer report on the extent of the disaster.  source:  Philadelphia Inquirer, Dec. 5, 1903

Philadelphia Inquirer report on the extent of the disaster. source: Philadelphia Inquirer, Dec. 5, 1903

A report on the extent of the damage.  Source:  Philadelphia Inquirer.  Dec. 5, 1903

A report on the extent of the damage. Source: Philadelphia Inquirer. Dec. 5, 1903

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A Day of Horror in Greenwood as Train With Deadly Cargo Explodes

greenwood delware p;ostcard archives delaware

A postcard of Greenwood, DE a few years after the explosion, Circa 1910. Source: Delaware Public Archives. https://www.flickr.com/photos/delawarepublicarchives/8680928364/in/photostream/

In the little town of Greenwood a day and night of horror arrived abruptly while a blinding snowstorm pummeled Delaware on Dec. 2, 1903.  In those treacherous conditions, the brakes of a shifting engine failed, causing it to slide out on the main line as a southbound train approached town.  The extra, Engine 5160, nearing the junction of the Delaware and Queen Anne’s Railroads at 12:15 p.m., was creeping cautiously down the tracks at about 20 miles-per-hour while pulling some 30 to 40 freight cars.

Piloting 5160 and its deadly cargo down the road, Engineer William Shepherd reported that blinding snow prevented him from seeing more than a few feet ahead, the Baltimore Sun reported.  In those near whiteout conditions, the shifter suddenly loomed into view.  His whistle cried out with an urgent shriek and he applied the brakes while shouting to Conductor Hall and Brakeman Edwin Roach to jump.  But they did not have time.

In Greenwood, the people heard the shrill warning and the noise of heavy metal bending and twisting.  Moments later, there was a deafening roar when a boxcar of dynamite exploded, instantly filling the air with flying debris, fire and smoke.  That first powerful blast was followed quickly by another eruption as naphtha tank cars took fire, shooting burning liquid out over the landscape.  The combination of the explosion and the highly flammable liquid scattered a rain of liquid fire that shock the countryside, newspapers reported.

Instantly nine houses, and three wrecked tanks cars were wrapped in flames.  Dazed, terror stricken residents rushed from their homes into the howling storm, trying to ascertain what rocked the Sussex County village.  The flames were shooting up in the air so the uninjured headed toward the accident to render whatever aid they could.   They faced three urgent tasks, trying to save lives from the wreck, save their own homes, and the need to care for the injured.

To make matters worse, the storm continued intensifying and communications with outside communities was impossible as the blast brought down all telephone and telegraph wires.  As soon as possible a locomotive was sent to Seaford and it returned with a special train carrying five physicians.  The doctors began looking after the injured while citizens directed their efforts to save burning buildings and people.

In time people from neighboring areas started arriving in sleighs, offering to provide shelter to those whose homes were uninhabitable.   As darkness came to Greenwood on a day of unimaginable horror, the driving snowstorm in all its fury, was raging more intensely.

Throughout the dark, unsettled Wednesday night it was difficult to assess the full extent of the damage.  But upon the arrival of the gray dawn of Thursday, the people of the snow covered town  were better able to see the wreckage and desolation.  The explosion came with such a force that it plowed a hole in the ground large enough to bury the engine.

There was hardly a sound house in town, some having been torn to pieces, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.  A number were half overturned, many had great holes in their walls, doors were torn from their hinges, and practically every window in town was smashed.  And there was the great pile of freight, one on top of another, the newspaper noted.

Killed in the explosion were Brakeman Edwin Roach of Georgetown and an infant child.  There were also reports that three hoboes hitching a ride in a car had perished.   About eight families were homeless, at least twenty people suffered injuries, and practically every structure had suffered damage to some extent.

The shock from the blast was felt in communities across three counties.  Everyone in Caroline felt the terrific explosion, the Denton Journal reported.

Ten days later the Washington Times reported that “a secret explosive wrecked Greenwood.”  A glance over the stricken town furnished proof positive that something more deadly than 100 pounds of dynamite exploded in the wreck of the two freight trains on the Pennsylvania Railroad, the paper remarked.  This, if a dynamite explosion, was a thousand-pound job.”   The car which blew up was loaded in New York and was consigned to the government, its destination being Newport News.  “It contained a quantity of new explosive, a terrible instrument of death,” the reporter added.

The railroad junction and tower in Greenwood.  A postcard, circa 1908.  Source Delaware Public Archives:  https://www.flickr.com/photos/delawarepublicarchives/8679818901/in/photostream/

The railroad junction and tower in Greenwood. A postcard, circa 1908. Source Delaware Public Archives: https://www.flickr.com/photos/delawarepublicarchives/8679818901/in/photostream/

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