Hal Roth- May 2010


Old News from Delmarva:
May 1910
Hal Roth


We tend to forget that many Delmarva residents once felt more closely connected to Philadelphia than to Baltimore.
“Last week an Eastern Shore merchant stated that he was buying most of his goods in Philadelphia, as he could go there, spend several hours, buy his goods and return the same day. If he went to Baltimore, train and boat connections were such that he would have no time for buying and would have to stay until the next day in order to attempt the transaction of business.”
Two weeks after the above note was posted, an article bearing the headline “To Make Delmarvia” appeared in the same paper.
“There has been talk from time to time of joining the nine Eastern Shore counties of Maryland and the two counties of Virginia with Delaware to make a single state, and the hybrid name of Delmarvia has been suggested for such a commonwealth. A state thus formed would be about the size of Connecticut and would have a population of half a million. The idea never greatly interested the people of the Eastern Shore for the double reason that they would, were it carried out, not only cease to be Marylanders but distinctively Eastern Shoremen.
“Maybe the history of the Eastern Shore has helped it to a strong sense of individuality. The Calverts made their capitol on the Western Shore at old St. Mary’s, and it was early removed thence to Annapolis. As a matter of fact, the Calverts found earlier settlers in possession when they extended their rule over the Eastern Shore, and the story of Claiborne’s fight for Kent Island is one of the most picturesque in colonial annals. Later the Calverts and the Penns were at law for the better part of a century over possession of the Eastern Shore, and a compromise decision cut the peninsula in two.”
The peninsula is, of course, divided into three parts: Del-Mar-Va.
In religion, the Eastern Shore also has a history of its own.
“The Eastern Shore was never strongly Roman Catholic, though it had one of the earliest Roman Catholic colleges in the country, where Bishop Carroll was educated and where the Jesuits long maintained a small monastery. Sect after sect swept over the Eastern Shore until one of the latest comers, the Methodists, made it largely their own. Episcopacy was for a time the established church, and Worcester County calls itself the cradle of Presbyterianism. The Friends came early into the Eastern Shore, and when George Fox preached there in 1672, the wife of a local judge said she’d rather hear him once than the priests a thousand times. William Penn, Charles Calvert, Lord Baltimore and his wife crossed the bay together in 1700 to attend a yearly meeting of the Friends of Tred Avon. The Lady Baltimore said she came not to hear Penn speak but some plain mechanic or other working man.”
And now a mystery: Where is Cat Swamp?
“Cat Swamp is on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, but exactly where it is, nobody knows. That is because no one on the Eastern Shore of Maryland wishes to admit he lives in Cat Swamp. Even if the more euphonious name of Pussy’s Meadow is applied to the swamp, no one can be found who will admit the soft impeachment that he lives in the tract. Tip had heard so much about Cat Swamp in his visits to the Eastern Shore that he decided to see it for himself and to endeavor to fix its boundaries. The best information he could obtain at the outset was that it was in Cecil County, between Newark, Delaware and Elkton, Maryland. That looked easy. He went there. ‘No, this farm is not in Cat Swamp,’ the first farmer he interrogated said, ‘but I think the next farm is in it all right.’ Tip went to the next farm and to the next until he was good and tired of looking for Cat Swamp. It always was a farm beyond. He has no doubt that if he had continued his quest it would have led him through Cecil, Kent, Queen Anne’s, Caroline, Talbot, Dorchester, Wicomico, Somerset and Worcester Counties as well, and that the last farmer in Worcester would have pointed across the border into Accomac and said, ‘It is that low piece of land over there in Virginia.’”
Cat Swamp appears to be like Puckum. As many of you know, “you can’t never get to Puckum,” either.
Newspapers frequently reported suicides in detail a century ago.
“A correspondent writes from Grove: ‘Not for a long time has there happened anything in our usually quiet neighborhood so sad and startling as the death of Mrs. Frank Wilson last Sunday morning about ten o’clock. She had been a great sufferer for a number of years, and her afflictions were so severe recently that it is generally agreed that her mind had become affected. On Sunday morning she insisted that her husband go over to see his brother, who lived near and was sick. The little daughter, the only child at home, was urged by her mother to go along. After a little while the child returned but was again sent away by the mother to see one of the neighbors. After having spent some time with his brother, Mr. Wilson returned to his home to find that Mrs. Wilson had taken her life in his absence by shooting herself through the heart with a shotgun. She was dead when her husband lifted her from the floor. The motive for the deed is not far to seek. She had been suffering so long that she had despaired of recovery and chose death to the life of misery that seemed her only portion. She leaves her husband and three children – two of whom are married – and the little daughter of ten years to mourn her loss. Internment was made in Federalsburg Cemetery. Mrs. Wilson evidently sat near a bed, placed the barrel of the gun at her breast and pushed the trigger with a window stick. The charge tore a hole into her breast, causing instant death.’”
Many people were still making their own soap in 1910, and the Denton Journal offered “an easy way” in their May 7 edition:
“For five pounds of fat drippings (cleaned and clarified by boiling it up with water, and when cold taking it off in a solid cake) use a can of lye, five cents worth of borax (a half pound) and two cents worth of ammonia. Dilute the lye with six cupfuls of water. When thoroughly dissolved add the borax and ammonia and stir the fat in slowly, melted but not hot. Stir for eight minutes, when it should look like honey. Have ready a large box, wooden or pasteboard. Pour the soap into it, and when set firmly, cut into cakes and put away to harden.”
People were concerned about immigration a century ago, but it was a different migration than the one that fills our headlines today.
“Shall our own people and kin build an empire to the north of us – owing allegiance to a foreign nation – and, at the expense of the United States, bring to the new country all the rich experience of elemental training, sturdy character, thrift and appreciation of the benefits of Democratic government? Is it not alarming to realize that over a half million residents of this country, taking with them $400,000,000 in money and personal property, have immigrated to the rich agricultural lands of Canada – sturdy farmer stock, thrifty, hard-working, self-respecting American citizens, the most desirable subjects for any country? And while it is undeniably good for Canada, the steady flow of emigration from the United States contains a menace to this nation.”
Dashes From Here And There
“‘Cold wet May, barn full of hay’ is an old saying.”
“Already travel to the seashore has begun.”
“Mother’s Day was observed in the homes, Sunday schools and churches by special services and by the wearing of white carnations, symbolizing purity, beauty and fragrance, attributes of every true mother.”
Some Delmarva communities celebrated Mother’s Day on May 1 in 1910. Scattered observances had been held in the 1870s and 1880s by women’s peace groups, in honor of the mothers of Civil War veterans from both sides. After efforts by numerous groups and individuals during the early years of the twentieth century, Congress established Mother’s Day as a national holiday to be observed on the second Sunday of May on May 8, 1914.
Few young people today know about the “Sunday Laws,” which, for most of our history, prohibited business and work-related activity on the Sabbath.
“State road contractors in Talbot have had gangs at work on Sundays, and the authorities have notified them not to do so anymore.”
“The gasoline launch has revolutionized the sailboat business. A large schooner with a launch pushing behind goes up or down the river regardless of wind or tide, when a few years ago they made a slow progress with light winds or floated with the tide.”
“It is reported on good authority that a new and independent railroad will shortly be built on the Eastern Shore. The proposed route is from a point on the Atlantic seaboard near the intersection of the Maryland and Virginia boundary, thence in a generally northwesterly direction to Queenstown, where connection will be made with the line of fast steamers owned by the same company and furnish direct and frequent services between Love Point and Baltimore.”
The railroad was never constructed.
“The Secretary of War has designated a commission from the Corps of Army Engineers to consider and report upon the subject of establishing regulations to govern the placing and operation of pounds, nets and other fish-taking appliances in the Chesapeake Bay and tributaries. The work will in all probability be commenced in the locality of Love Point, and the Commission will endeavor to examine even the smaller branches of the Bay, including the rivers. The rapid decrease in yields of the Maryland waters is responsible for the steps that will be taken to improve the catches in future years.”
“During the first few days of May the government spent $2,602,063.81 more than it took in. This would indicate that the new tariff law is a failure, inasmuch as it is not producing sufficient revenue to meet the expenses of the government.”
“A forest fire near Cordova did considerable damage last week.”
“Among pieces of new state highway soon to be built is one from Easton to Wye Mills.”
“The state road from Hurlock to the Caroline County line is nearly complete.”
“The grand jury of Talbot will have the constables make report of fast or careless automobile driving.”
“After July 1st it will be a serious offense to operate a car without the registration number tags to be furnished by the new commissioner.
“Operator’s licenses will not be granted to persons under 16 years of age except after a special examination. The fee for the operator’s license is $2, and it need not be renewed annually.
“The only speed regulation is that no person shall operate a motor vehicle at a rate of speed greater than is reasonable and proper, having regard to the width, traffic and use of the highway, or so as to endanger the property or life or limb of any person. This may mean one mile an hour or 25, depending on conditions. The law provides that if the speed exceeds 12 miles in towns or villages, 18 miles in outlying or not thickly settled sections, or 25 miles in open country, it shall be deemed excessive.”
“The local markets have been unusually well supplied with trout, many wagons coming from Delaware Bay into Maryland.”
Some readers will be puzzled by a notice that appeared under news from the community of Hobbs on May 7, 1910: “This week’s cottage meeting was held Thursday evening at the home of Mr. William Long.”
Early Christians frequently taught the gospel in private homes, usually a simple gathering of neighbors, relatives and friends. The most famous such “cottage meeting” was the one arranged by Cornelius, at which Peter the Apostle was invited to speak (Acts 10:22-24).
The practice of cottage meetings continued well into the twentieth century and had many advantages. Private homes were less formidable than churches for introducing converts and were good venues to supplement church teachings and provide training and experience for new teachers. Fellowship and brotherhood are greatly enhanced in a home setting and individual needs can more easily be met.
A single teacher commonly manned schools in rural communities a century ago. Should that individual become ill, classes were cancelled until the illness passed.
“Owing to sickness of the teacher, Miss Maud Anthony, there will be no school at Andersontown till Wednesday.”
“Mr. W. O. Bradley, of Dorchester, asked the County Commissioners on Tuesday last to pay for his loss of a carriage, which was recently broken by falling into a hole in a public road in the Fifth District. The falling of the carriage, Mr. Bradley explained, caused the horse to run, and the vehicle was wrecked. The Commissioners will make disposition of the matter next Tuesday.”
Was Mr. Bradley reimbursed for his loss? I have been unable to discover the commissioners’ verdict.
Suppliers of electricity were slowly expanding service across Delmarva in 1910:
“The Armour Company’s factory in Ridgely has had electric lights installed. The electric company now has sixty patrons.”
The town of Burrsville proudly announced: “Two of our progressive citizens, Messrs. T. W. and H. A. Porter, have erected street lamps, the former at his home and the latter at his store. We hope others will catch the spirit.”
And Denton made the following claim, which it failed to support with details: “Denton’s electric light service is superior to that of Easton.”
Telephone service was also expanding: “There has been a great increase of telephone business from the Eastern Shore to Baltimore and elsewhere across the Bay, and the Bell Telephone Company is laying a fine new cable from Love Point, Kent Island, to Sandy Point, Anne Arundel shore.”
“A telephone line has been completed from Harrington to Vernon.”
“With the addition of a $2,000 gasoline fire engine, Federalsburg is now as well equipped as any town on the Eastern Shore to fight fire. The engine is of the latest model and capable of throwing three streams of water over the highest buildings in town.”
“The first estimate of the census office at Washington gives the population of the United States as 91,424,423, an increase of 15,121,036.”
Light frost the first week of May had little effect on the Peninsula’s fruit and berry crops. The following brief statements appeared on May 14:
“T. O. Jefferson shipped a crate of strawberries Tuesday morning. Strawberries are selling at ten cents a quart at this writing.”
“In a few days heavy shipments of strawberries to the Northern markets will begin. The outlook is good for a heavy crop. This means much to grower and picker, and many hundreds of people, including the merchants, will be benefited.”
That news was followed by two additional announcements on May 28:
“Many farmers thought the strawberries had been killed by the cold weather, but the patches are yielding fine. As high as $3.84 per 32-quart crate has been realized. Several refrigerated carloads a day are being shipped.”
“Owing to strawberry growers patronizing the exchanges at Ridgely and Bridgeville, the former ‘buzzarding’ here is materially affected.”
The term “buzzarding” does not appear in my unabridged dictionary, but I’ve been offered several definitions: an annual examination of mortality; a superficial examination of another individual’s shortcomings; a man or woman observing the other gender for possible friendship; roaming about to collect free samples; and picking, as in looking for things to purchase and sell at a profit. Of these, I would think that only the latter two might apply. If anyone has information about the practice of “buzzarding” as related to the selling of produce on Delmarva, let me know and I’ll share it in a future issue.
Brief reports of Halley’s Comet continued to be published each week during May 1910.
“Halley’s Comet may now be seen with the naked eye about three o’clock in the morning when the eastern heavens are clear.”
“The comet and the eclipse of the moon attracted the attention of astronomers and others on Monday night [May 23].”
I’m not exactly sure what this clipping means; a little deception, it would seem: “In order to gratify comet gazers, a lantern on a pole attached to the top of a freight car was substituted in Hobbs last Wednesday evening.”
“Old earth swept through the comet’s tail on Wednesday night, and millions of watchers were on the alert, keenly interested in the event. There was no cyanogen gas [a colorless, poisonous and flammable gas], no magnetic display and no harm done. Some who were in genuine alarm felt relieved.”
Personal notices, headlined “A CARD,” were frequently published in newspapers a century ago. The majority were notes of thanks in response to kindness or help offered by members of a community in time of need or loss, but occasionally they were purchased with the intent to stifle rumor.
“A CARD: We wish to thank all our neighbors and friends who so kindly offered sympathy and assistance during our very sad and unexpected bereavement. – Mr. and Mrs. Howard Wright.”
“A CARD: The report that is now out that I have accused Mr. Turner of being the cause of Fred Wright’s death is a false report. – B. L. Wright.”
As always, I end our journey back in time with a sample of century-old humor.
“A teacher was endeavoring to explain to her small charges the meaning of the word ‘congenial.’
‘“Now, children,’ she said, ‘two people are congenial who like to do the same kind of things, who do not disagree, and it is a very strong indication of congeniality when two people think the same thing simultaneously. Can any of you give me an example of two people who are congenial?”
“‘I can, Miss Mary,’ a little fellow shouted, waving his hand wildly.
“‘All right, Tommy,’ Miss Mary smiled, delighted that so prompt an understanding should have been manifested, as there were several visitors present. ‘Tell us who they are and what proved it.’
“‘It’s Paw and Ma,’ Tommy replied eagerly. ‘And I know it ’cause they thinks the same thing at the same time. Last night Ma said she wondered how anybody with any sense could ever be fool enough to get married, and Paw said, ‘I was havin’ the identical thought, my dear.’”

If you live in Cat Swamp, contact Hal Roth at nanbk@dmv.com.