ELKTON — The trains may roll on through county towns today with some level of concern due to the hazardous material warnings and labels on tanks and cars.
Back in the 1800s, however, many of the products that are carried through the county today were manufactured in the county, often along some of its rivers, creeks and streams, as water was the main power for machinery.
One of the largest was the Scott Fertilizer and Sulphuric Acid Works, which stood where American Home and Hardware now stands sentinel over the corner of Bridge and West Main streets in Elkton. Established just prior to the Civil War in 1859, it began in the old freight warehouse of the Philadelphia, Wilmington & Baltimore Railroad, or PW&B as it was known.
Agriculture and agrarian products were a major factor in the Elkton business climate from before the American Revolution and it was no less so over 100 years later. Grain was hauled to Elkton from as far north as Oxford, Pa., with a massive business conducted in supplying grain, hay and straw to the government for use of troops during the Civil War.
Though these were products processed and sold through Scott, it was fertilizer that was the bread and butter of the company. One may think of today’s chemical fertilizers, especially since the company had a sulphuric acid plant on the property. But in those formative years, the big money was in the import of Peruvian guano — or bat droppings — from islands off the coast of Peru, which sold for $75 or more per ton. The bat guano was shipped in via boat and occasionally by rail as well, and could be shipped back out after being processed, using either form of transport, or wagons for local farmers.
In June 1875, David Scott, the senior member of the firm, purchased what was called Howard’s Wharf where there was a two-story brick building. Here pure ground raw bone was sold for $42 a ton. The bones weren’t from local slaughter houses, but rather connected Cecil County to the “Wild West,” and the great buffalo hunts, with the majority of bones shipped from the rail hub that was Kansas.
When Scott died in 1879, the firm continued under the surviving partners, James and Frank Scott, and in 1882 they made an addition to the factor, from the bone mill to the waterfront, for acid phosphate to be processed and sold at $22 per ton. By 1884, when William H. Mackall bought into the company, the buildings were extended along the creek and goods stored in bulk. Finally incorporated in 1887 as the Scott Fertilizer Company, by 1894, the company purchased the Howard property, commonly called “The Green” on the north side of their property, extending along Bridge Street to Main Street.
The company grew again in 1900 and preferred stock was issued at $50,000, allowing the construction of a $30,000 sulphuric acid plant. The company would produce fertilizers that received high recommendations from organizations including the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture. Some of their products promoted by this organization included: Scott’s Elk Head Super Phosphate, Scott’s Tip Top Soluble Bone, Scott’s Potato Grower, Lancaster Tobacco Grower, Scott’s Pure Ground Raw Bone, and Scott’s Sure Growth Super-Phosphate.
Although highly touted in Pennsylvania and by the State of Maryland for being an economic driver in 1900, and later by The Cecil Whig in 1906, the company came to an end when the buildings were destroyed in a massive fire in 1918. Much of the materials of the company were lost in the blaze, but every blue moon some item surfaces to call to mind this once important industry in Elkton.
The walls of American Home and Hardware in Elkton are replete with photos and images of the old company that occupied the site years prior. And recently a letter on company letterhead for Scott Fertilizer was offered on EBay and reached $18 for the onion skin document.