ELKTON — In the 1800s, Cecil County was dotted with one-room schoolhouses from Warwick to Conowingo, and these schools were mostly for first through eighth grades. No public high schools existed.
In the 1890s, Cecil County began planning the creation of a central high school for the entire county. According to the Feb. 10, 1894, Cecil Whig, the Elkton Academy trustees and the school commissioners of the county at first discussed the idea of transferring ownership of the academy property to the school commissioners. This was discussed at a meeting and the idea was rejected.
Not all Cecil County residents supported the idea of a county high school. The Susquehanna Council of the Junior Order of United American Mechanics (O.U.A.M.), a fraternal order, published a resolution in the Jan. 10, 1895, issue of the Whig. The resolution said, “Whereas, there is no demand from the people for the establishment of a county high school; the scheme having emanated with one or two men whom a little political elevation seems to have intoxicated ...” and “That we as an Order and as citizens and taxpayers request the School Commissioners to refuse to establish such a school, believing as we do that it would prove only a burden to the taxpayers and would result in no practical good to the people of the county.”
The school commissioners moved on with their plans however. In April, the commissioners recommended that a school should be built west of Bridge Street with a capacity of at least 200 scholars.
In May 1896, the Whig reported that a 1¼ -acre lot on the south side of Mackall Street had been selected. The building would be of brick two stories high and would be built from plans furnished by a Philadelphia architect. The building contract was awarded to C.W. Wilson of Rising Sun. In June, the paper reported that the structure would be about 66-feet long by 64-feet deep, two stories high, with recreation rooms in the basement. It would contain six rooms, capable of seating from 50 to 60 pupils each, and a principal’s room. The building would be heated by steam with thorough ventilation. According to the Aug. 29, 1896, Cecil Democrat newspaper, the tin work contract for the high school was awarded to J.F. Alexander and Son and the plastering work was awarded to William Rambo.
Pupils planning to attend the new school had to meet certain standards. The Septe. 5, 1896, Democrat informed its readers, “pupils from any public school in the county are eligible to enter the High School provided they have a certificate from the teacher of the school they have been attending, certifying that the pupil has completed the work of the sixth grade — that is they must have finished the Fifth Reader; have a full knowledge of fractions in Part III New American Arithmetic; completed the Introductory Grammar and Intermediate Geography. Pupils from private schools will be examined and must show a proficiency equal to the above requirement.”
On Sept. 1, 1896, school began in Cecil County for all students except those who would attend the new high school. There was an unforeseen delay in the construction of the building, and the start date was pushed back to Oct. 1.
More delays occurred, and the Oct. 3, 1896, Democrat reported that the high school students would begin their school year on Monday, Oct. 5, in the Audience Room of Odd Fellows Hall, on North Street in Elkton. Their principal, George Steele and his assistant Florence McFarland would be in attendance to greet the pupils. The next week, the newspaper described the first day as having excellent attendance. Sixty pupils from Earleville, Elkton, Cecilton, Cherry Hill, Leeds, Appleton, Barksdale, Cowantown, Elk Neck, Iron Hill, North East, Aiken, Perryville, Oakwood, and Calvert were taking advantage of the opportunity “for a free high school education”.
The first commencement ceremony of Cecil County High took place on June 26, 1897. There were four graduates: Effie Husfelt, of Earleville; Henry L. Scott, of Elkton; Guy Johnson, of Elkton; and George W. Ward, of Cherry Hill. Husfelt was the valedictorian.
The Dec. 18, 1897, Whig gives a summary of the first year the school operated. In the summary, it was reported that the “boys and girls occupy separate apartments (classrooms), and their study is directed by principal and preceptress, but they meet in recitation halls, where, as indicated by the monthly reports published in the county press, they stand as equals in the race of brains.” A list of enrolled pupils of the 1897-1898 school year and their hometowns is included in the article.
F. Rodney Fraser’s book “Parts of Elkton in 1918 As I Remember It” contains a description of the school as he remembered it: “At the foot of Osage Street and across from Ben’s Gut stands the ‘Cecil County High School,’ the first in the county. We all walked to school, willingly or not. There were three classrooms on the first floor and three on the second. A small room was made on the second floor above the downstairs hall and stairway by closing two sliding doors. There were two rooms in the basement for manual arts training. There were two outside toilets without plumbing. The building was heated with steam radiators and cooled in warm weather by opening windows. The bell rang at 9 a.m. and we dismissed at noon for lunch. We were expected back at 1:30 p.m. for afternoon classes until 4 p.m. When the weather was bad, we had one session from 9 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.”
Cecil County High School continued to be the central high school of the county until all towns in the county had a high school. The building officially became Elkton High School in the 1920s. In the 1930s, land was purchased to build a new high school. When the new school was opened, the old building was left vacant. In 1942, a fire destroyed it and nothing is left of the original building. The cornerstone of Cecil County High School was recovered, and the Historical Society of Cecil County has possession of it.
Please join the historical society for First Friday from 5 to 8 p.m. June 7. Be sure to check out The Market at 135, our collaboration with the Cecil County Arts Council and the Cecil Land Trust. Items from Rumbleway Farms, Chesapeake Gold Farms, Luff Family Farms, Stafford Angus, and Milburn Orchards will be on sale and representatives from the farms will be on hand.