By Stephanie Lipcius Palko
It is geography that has resulted in most U.S. Presidents passing through Cecil County, local historian Mike Dixon said, during a recent talk in the Chesapeake City library.
“It is amazing how many connections the county has with Presidents,” Dixon said, noting that connection has been lost in more modern times for a specific reason – the invention and Presidential use of airplanes and helicopters.
Before the nation’s leaders began taking to the air, anytime a President wanted to travel up and down the East Coast, the route went through Cecil County – whether by land, train or water, Dixon said.
“It really does affect our history,” Dixon said.
Even though there was no super highway early in the nation’s history, local historians like Dixon have referred to the old north-south roadways and the waterways as the I-95 for early Americans.
By land, Route 7 is among the oldest roadways in the nation, Dixon said. Early travelers also went through the Conowingo area and even took a more southern route in the county that took them through Warwick. Many colonial travelers looked for ways that would get them off the muddy and slow trails and onto the water, which was usually a quicker route.
George Washington was a frequent traveler along the Route 7 trail, Dixon said, noting that when you drive on Route 7, “you are traveling a road most Presidents knew.”
That route brought Washington to Rodger’s Tavern in Perryville on many occasions as he either just got off the ferry at the Susquehanna River or awaited a ferry to take him across to head south.
Not only did Washington dine at Rodger’s Tavern, he also stayed there overnight.
But the nation’s first President also took the more southern route in the county that took him to the Warwick area. Dixon estimated that Washington was in that area at least five times and that he overnighted at Worsell Manor.
Washington’s travels also took him through Elkton where he reported stopped at the building on Main Street that is now the American Legion.
Dixon said the last time Washington went through Cecil County was in 1798 when he headed to Philadelphia to speak with John Adams.
President Andrew Jackson was a passenger on a railroad line in the county that took people from New Castle, Delaware to the banks of the Elk River in Frenchtown, which is located off MD 213 south of Elkton, Dixon said.
Bohemia, a colonial house near the Bohemia River, was visited by President Martin Van Buren when it was owned by his friend, Louis McLane, a War of 1812 veteran, former U.S. Senator and member of Andrew Jackson’s Cabinet.
Many Presidents passed through the county on the railroad. Abraham Lincoln was one of those Presidents and Dixon said Lincoln was even delayed on a railroad siding for a time. After Lincoln’s assassination, the funeral train took a long route through the eastern part of the nation, but did not travel through Cecil County.
Ulysses S. Grant came to Cecil County in 1872.
“He is going to spend two days in Elkton,” Dixon said. He was a guest of the Postmaster General, John A. J. Creswell at his home on Delaware Avenue. Unfortunately, the Creswell House burned in 1948, Dixon said.
During his stay, Grant was treated to a reception at the Opera House in downtown Elkton. That unique brick structure still stands on North Street, next to the Elkton Alliance office.
Candidate William Howard Taft, in a tough four-way race, visited Elkton in May, 1912, Dixon said. Taft spoke on the North Street porch of what is now Minihane’s
With U.S. Route 1, a popular north/south roadway, Rising Sun had a visit from Warren Harding who came through town with a four-car entourage in 1921. First Lady Roosevelt had dinner in the old Rising Sun hotel, which was on the site where the current town hall now stands, Dixon said.
In 1929, President Herbert Hoover considered whether he should make his Presidential get-away place Creswell Hall in Elkton or the Kitty Knight House, just south of the Sassafras River in Kent County, Dixon said.
In 1933, Franklin D. Roosevelt was inaugurated and Hoover traveled away from D.C. on a train that ran through Cecil County.
In April, 1945, FDR has died and his body rolls through Cecil County on a midnight train, Dixon said.
Harry Truman floated through Cecil County on the Presidential yacht in 1948, Dixon said. The yacht went through the C&D Canal.
As the Presidents started to fly to their destinations, sometimes they still had to come through Cecil County, Dixon said.
Dwight D. Eisenhower was trying to fly north, but bad weather forced a landing in Aberdeen and Eisenhower was driven through Cecil County on U.S. 40.
John F. Kennedy made two visits to Cecil County, Dixon said. The first time was in May, 1960 when he was campaigning. He stopped in Perryville at what was once called the Whistle Stop and is now a sushi restaurant.
The next visit to Cecil County was when JFK cut the ribbon for I-95. Dixon said JFK landed by helicopter at the state line.
“It was a warm November day,” Dixon said, adding that many local people went to the ceremony and that Singerly Fire Company was there to add support, if needed.
Eight days later, President Kennedy was assassinated in Texas and I-95 was named to honor Kennedy.
In 1968, the funeral train for President Kennedy’s brother, Bobby, who had also been assassinated as he ran for President, came through Cecil County. Dixon said the train was late and people waited for hours to see it come through the county.
In more recent times, Dixon said people waited to see the train carrying President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden head south to Washington.
As Dixon ended his discussion, people at his talk noted there are stories of President Grover Cleveland visiting The Wellwood in Charlestown and other Presidents who visited places in Cecil County including Raindalia Farm, south of the C&D Canal. Dixon said there are surely more connections between Cecil County and U.S. Presidents to be researched.