New Program Showcasing Local History in Red Clay Valley a Big Hit

 

A surviving guard tower at the New Castle Workhouse in January 2015.

A surviving guard tower at the New Castle Workhouse in January 2015.

Historic Red Clay Valley, Inc. has tapped into a robust interest in local history in the scenic Red Clay valley with a popular winter speakers program.  Spanning the first three months of 2015, the inaugural series packed the headquarters meeting room of the nonprofit, the operator of the Wilmington & Western Railroad.

To increase community outreach, especially during the winter, the organization mulled over some ideas last year.  Thus when Ray Harrington & Tom Gears, the two volunteers coordinating the initiative, proposed the idea of showcasing the untold, diverse stories of the Red Clay Valley, the team was told to give it a try.

They weren’t sure what to expect, perhaps just a dozen local people might attend.  But on the first Monday of each month during the frigid nights of this snowy winter, the lights have been burning late into the evening at the railroad’s headquarters, the attendees arriving early and staying late.  Once the speakers wrapped up, the engaged crowds were in no hurry to leave as lively conversation continued.

The first talk on the New Castle County Workhouse was a great one.  Three speakers, Ray Harrington, Tom Gears, and Ray Salerno, approached the subject from different perspectives, getting the audience involved in sharing their memories.  The next talk by Elizabeth Fite was on Mt. Cuba (a scheduling conflict caused us to miss that one).

The last event this season took place yesterday evening, March 2.  Scott Palmer, in an engaging way, shared the largely unassembled narrative about the tiny New Castle County hamlet, Wooddale.  His careful research revealed intriguing and nearly forgotten accounts from the past in a place that once hummed with activity.

Thriving industries, grand homes, immigration, and fine literature were part of the overall narrative.  However, intrigue, murder, crimes, destructive explosions, and speakeasies made their way into these delightful accounts about the scenic area with rolling hills and a meandering creek, which also seemed like a settlement out of the wild west.

A goat-eats dynamite story, one that could have been part of the script in Andy Griffith’s “the Loaded Goat,” got lots of reaction.  One day while grazing around Wooddale the hungry animal stumbled upon some unattended sticks of dynamite on a back porch of a house.  So it ate a couple, before being discovered.  When last heard from, everyone was giving it a respectful distance, making sure no one tossed any rocks in its direction.  Such were the stories one would never associate with such a quiet little corner of the First State.

For some five years Scott has blogged about the past, broadly sharing the knowledge he acquires through his investigations on the popular and informative Mill Creek Hundred Blog.  He has spent a lot of time digging up historical traces, which was obvious yesterday evening.

These excellent programs, tapping into the community’s interest, exceeded all expectations.  Thank you Historic Red Clay Valley, Inc.. Scott, Tom, Ray and everyone else involved in sharing the stories about the past.   You will have an eager audience looking forward to the untold stories you will tap into next season.

The Wooddale Covered Bridge.  Photo Credit: The Mill Creek Hundred Blog   http://mchhistory.blogspot.com/2015/02/final-red-clay-valley-history-talk.html

The Wooddale Covered Bridge. Photo Credit: The Mill Creek Hundred Blog http://mchhistory.blogspot.com/2015/02/final-red-clay-valley-history-talk.html

 

At the Wilmington & Western Railroad at Greenbank Mill.

At the Wilmington & Western Railroad at Greenbank Mill.

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Penns Grove Historical Society Opens Exhibit, “What’s on the Menu,” March 1st.

The Wilmington Penns Grove Ferry. A link to a postcard published on the Frank Barusca’s Route 40.net http://www.route40.net/page.asp?n=70

The Historical Society of Penns Grove, Carneys Point and Oldmans will hold an open house on Sunday, March 1 from 1- 3 PM. A new exhibit, “What’s On The Menu?” will be featured in the main gallery. This exhibit focuses on the various food establishments that were located in our communities.

We also have a new display, “One Hundred Years and Counting,” in one of the smaller rooms. Here you will find over numerous items from our archives that date from the year 1815 and back. We hope that you will enjoy seeing these items.

The museum is located at 48 West Main Street in Penns Grove, N.J. and is handicapped accessible. Admission is free and all are welcome to attend. Light refreshments will be served.

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C & D Canal, Perryville Railroad Site, and Hays-Heighe House Added to NPS Underground Railroad Network

Philadelphia, Wilmington, Baltimore Railroad Notice to Colored People, 1858,  Source:  New York Public Library Digital Collections.

Philadelphia, Wilmington, Baltimore Railroad Notice to Colored People, 1858, Source: New York Public Library Digital Collections.

The National Park Service recently announced the inclusion of a number of additional sites on the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom.  The Network is part of a NPS initiative to integrate local historical places into the larger narrative about the Underground Railroad, and the federal agency periodically issues a call for nominations.  For the 28th round of applications, which are peer reviewed to assess validity, three sites in this region were accepted for placement on the registry.

The three sites were:  1) the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal; 2) the Perryville Railroad Site; and 3) The Hays—Heighe House on the campus of Harford Community College.

The Canal and Perryville Railroad sites were researched by Independent Scholar and Historian Milt Diggins.  Milt has written a book that examines the story of a slave catcher and kidnapper working this region in the decades leading up to the Civil War.  The title will be released in 2015.  At Harford Community College, Iris Barnes and the staff of the Hays-heighe House prepared the nomination.

The “canal, build in 1829 by investors, provided a route for freedom seekers on steamboats, schooners, and other water craft,” Diggins wrote in his report. “Boats entered at Elk River in Cecil County, Maryland and exited at Delaware City, New Castle County, Delaware. This eliminated approximately 300 nautical miles between Baltimore and Philadelphia. This Chesapeake Bay to Delaware River route to Philadelphia was also safer for smaller watercraft than a voyage into the Atlantic Ocean and Delaware Bay. William Still and Sydney Gay recorded escapes on steamboats and schooners passing through the canal. Local newspapers reported unsuccessful canal-related escapes, and complained about suspicious Philadelphia oyster boats assisting escapes. When some freedom seekers fled from the lower Eastern Shore, a newspaper commented that the close watch kept on the canal would make it difficult for them to pass that way.” Click here to read the full report.

The Perryville Railroad site was previously announced, but here is what diggins wrote in his summary:  “The Philadelphia, Wilmington, and Baltimore Railroad Steam Ferry Landing site in Perryville, Maryland, at the mouth of the Susquehanna River, is relevant to the resistance to slavery.  The site is associated with famous and lesser known escapes, and one kidnapping and rescue of a free Pennsylvania citizen. At the Susquehanna River, trains stopped in Havre de Grace, passengers and cars crossed on the railroad ferry, and resumed their journey from Perryville. Frederick Douglass escaped on this railroad in 1838, and the Crafts in 1848. Charlotte Giles and Harriet Eglin escaped from Baltimore on this railroad. Henry “Box” Brown was freighted across on the ferry in 1859. Rachel Parker was kidnapped on the last day of 1851 by Thomas McCreary, who Frederick Douglass and other abolitionists referred to as “the notorious kidnapper from Elkton.” Part of the drama of her abduction, her rescue, and her pleas for freedom unfolded at the railroad site in Perryville. In 1853, Aaron Digges, fleeing from a Baltimore butcher, entered the train at the Susquehanna crossing, but he fell into the hands of Constable Thomas McCreary.”  Click here to read the full report.

The Hays-Heighe House nomination was also announced earlier.

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Railroad Tracks Across the Ice on the Susquehanna River at Havre de Grace.

Now that we are in the middle of the big freeze, it caused us to think about another time that an arctic blast held a tight grip on the area.

It was the winter of 1852, the coldest in many years, and the temperatures dipped far below zero each night.  This caused the mighty Susquehanna River to freeze over, disrupting transportation on the northeast corridor.  In those days, a bridge hadn’t been built between Perryville and Havre de Grace, so a steam ferry, the Susquehanna, ferried passengers and freight across the waterway.

But with the river solidly frozen over from bank to bank the movement of the railroad ferry was disrupted.  This presented a problem as traffic backed up.

The Chief Engineer of the Philadelphia, Wilmington and Baltimore Railroad, Isaac R. Trimble came up with a solution.  His expedient, tracks laid on the ice.  This unique route opened on January 15, 1852, and It was in use every day through February 24, 1852, when the rails were removed because a thaw was coming on.  Over 1,378 cars were moved over the ice and regular traffic began again on March 3, 1852.

Based on a drawing by F. F. Schell, a lithograph was produced by Thomas S. Sinclair of Philadelphia.  It featured a view of the railroad tracks across the Susquehanna at Havre de Grace.  This was a popular item at the time and it was reproduced in several forms.  The Adams Express Company arranged to get an imprint of it too, and the company distributed the popular image to customers.

Railroad tracks on ice across the Susquehanna at Havre de Grace.  Source:  Enoch Pratt Free Library  http://collections.digitalmaryland.org/cdm/ref/collection/cator/id/181

Railroad tracks on ice across the Susquehanna at Havre de Grace. Source: Enoch Pratt Free Library http://collections.digitalmaryland.org/cdm/ref/collection/cator/id/181

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Hays-Heighe House Placed on the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom

"HAYS-HEIGHE HOUSE, HARFORD COUNTY, MD" by Jerrye & Roy Klotz, MD   source:  Harford Community College.

“HAYS-HEIGHE HOUSE, HARFORD COUNTY, MD” by Jerrye & Roy Klotz, MD source: Harford Community College.

Press Release – Harford Community College

The Hays-Heighe House at Harford Community College has been accepted as a site on the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom, which is a subsidiary of the National Park Service. It is the first Harford County site accepted as part of the Network. The Network to Freedom website explains that national Underground Railroad program was implemented “to coordinate preservation and education efforts nationwide and integrate local historical places, museums, and interpretive programs associated with the Underground Railroad into a mosaic of community, regional, and national stories.”

While doing research for the exhibition “Faces of Freedom: The Upper Chesapeake, Maryland and Beyond,” which commemorated the 150th anniversary of the adoption of the Maryland Constitution of 1864 that ended slavery in the state, Coordinator of the Hays-Heighe House Iris Leigh Barnes discovered that Sam Archer, an enslaved person living on the property, successfully escaped in 1860. Archer’s story was one of several local stories narrated in the exhibition. Sites with a connection to a documented freedom seeker can apply for inclusion on the Network to Freedom, and it is on this basis that the Hays-Heighe House has been accepted.

Archer’s escape from his “so-called owner, Thomas Hays,” is documented in a major source about freedom seekers, The Underground Railroad by William Still. First published in 1872, Still’s book documents freedom seekers from the Delmarva region and beyond. It includes an account of nine freedom seekers from Maryland who sought help in 1860. One of these men was Sam Archer. Still published Archer’s account as follows: “Sam Archer was to ‘become free at thirty-five years of age.’ He had already served thirty years of this time; five years longer seemed an age to him. The dangers from other sources presented also a frightful aspect. Sam had seen too many who had stood exactly in the same relations to Slavery and freedom, and not a few were held over their time, or cheated out of their freedom altogether. He stated that his own mother was ‘kept over her time,’ simply ‘that her master might get all her children.’ Two boys and two girls were thus gained, and were slaves for life. These facts tended to increase Sam’s desire to get away before his time was out; he, therefore, decided to get off via the Underground Rail Road. He grew very tired of Bell Air [sic], Harford county [sic], Maryland, and his so-called owner, Thomas Hayes [sic]. He said that Hayes [sic] had used him ‘rough,’ and he was ‘tired of rough treatment.’ So when he got his plans arranged, one morning when he was expected to go forth to an unrequited day’s labor, he could not be found. Doubtless, his excited master thought Sam a great thief, to take himself away in the manner that he did, but Sam was not concerned on this point; all that concerned him was as to how he could get to Canada the safest and the quickest. When he reached the Philadelphia station, he felt that the day dawned, his joy was full, despite the Fugitive Slave Law.”

It is not known whether Sam Archer reached Canada, which he told Still was his intended destination. It is not certain if he joined the ranks of the United States Colored Troops (USCT) and fought in the Civil War. According to the National Park Service’s database, All U.S. Civil War Soldiers, 1861-1865, there were two Sam Archers who joined the USCT—one in the 65th Regiment, and the other in the 67th Regiment.

“We were excited to discover that we were documented in Still’s seminal book,” said Barnes. She added, “Together with the invaluable records at the Historical Society of Harford County and our records about the Hays family, we were able to piece together an important story about nineteenth century Harford County life. It is an honor to be included as part of the Network, representing the tenacity in the human spirit to attain the God-given right to freedom.”

The mission statement of the Network to Freedom states, “Recognizing that all human beings embrace the right to self-determination and freedom from oppression, the historical Underground Railroad (UGRR) sought to address the injustices of slavery and make freedom a reality in the United States. The National Park Service, through shared leadership with local, state, and federal entities, as well as interested individuals and organizations, will: promote programs and partnerships to commemorate, preserve sites and other resources with, and educate the public about the historical significance of the UGRR.”

Carol Allen, Director for the Library and the Hays-Heighe House, said that the purpose of the “Faces of Freedom” initiative carried out at Harford Community College during the spring of 2014 was “to use a local exhibition and a series of educational programs to inspire learning and community engagement about freedom, slavery and emancipation by relating stories of individual enslaved persons who freed themselves by running away, individuals who helped freedom seekers, and individuals who worked to abolish slavery.” One of the goals of the initiative was to provide a foundation for continuing dialog (after the completion of the project) about the impact of slavery and emancipation on current culture and individual and group identities within the Upper Chesapeake region. She added, “We believe that the inclusion of the Hays-Heighe House in the Network to Freedom and the story of Sam Archer’s brave escape from bondage will promote this continued discussion. In fact, several local churches have carried out such discussions since last spring.”

Annette Haggray, Vice President for Academic Affairs at Harford Community College, said that “educational programs promoting cultural diversity, such as the “Faces of Freedom” project, are intended to create an environment in which all students feel welcome, supported, and able to achieve their academic and vocational goals. We believe that stories from the past, such as that of Sam Archer, that portray the strength and dignity of the human spirit and the determination to succeed despite overwhelming obstacles can inspire us to meet today’s challenges with equal strength and determination.”

The Hays-Heighe House at Harford Community College is a dynamic educational facility and public history site that showcases elements of Harford County’s diverse social and cultural history through exhibits, inclusive programming, and strategic partnerships. Our mission is to promote lifelong learning, community engagement, critical thinking, and historical and cultural understanding within the context of local, national, and global issues.

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A Talk on African American Cemeteries of Delaware by Dr. David Orr

AFRICAN AMERICAN CEMETERIES IN DELAWARE, to be presented by Dr. David Orr, for the Archaeological Society of New Jersey Gloucester Chapter. Wed. March 4th at 7 p.m.  West Deptford Public Library, 420 Crown Point Rd, Thorofare, NJ. Open to the Public. FREE Event

Here’s a link to the Philadelphia Archaeological Forum

Dr. David Orr presents African-American Cemeteries in Delaware.

Dr. David Orr presents African-American Cemeteries in Delaware.

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Report of Archeological Investigations at Smithson Site to be Examined Feb. 11

Press Release — Archeological Society of the Northern Chesapeake

Date: Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Time: Light refreshments at 6:30 pm, speaker program at 7:15

Location: Historical Society of Harford County. 143 North Main Street, Bel Air

Program. “Report of the Archeological Investigations at the Smithson Site ”, by

ASNC Members Stephen Israel and Wes Herrmann.

Abstract/Preview: This program will begin with a description of a seven-year amateur surface study along a small portion of the upper Deer Creek drainage in Harford County, that resulted in Wes Herrmann’s recording the prehistoric site, as 18HA258, with the Maryland Office of Archeology. After several significant periods of erosion and sediment deposition, Stephen Israel began a detailed archeological survey and investigation of the site. Over the past two years, several very busy weekends of deep-unit excavation have provided an opportunity for a complex study of soil stratigraphy and buried horizons. A number of ASNC members and HCC students have participated in this activity, which was summarized in a presentation at the Eastern States Archaeological Federation’s annual conference last November.

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