ELKTON — Recently, the Cecil Whig reported that the LTC James Victor McCool Armory, also known as the Elkton Armory, was declared “surplus property” by the Maryland Military Department. This imposing castle-like building has stood in downtown Elkton for over 100 years.
Built of brick and faced with Port Deposit granite, the armory was built by the state of Maryland for Company E of the 115th Infantry, 29th Division the Maryland National Guard. Scores of soldiers have trained there since World War I. The building was presented to the state of Maryland on Dec. 29, 1914.
Currently the armory is the headquarters of Company D of the Maryland National Guard’s 1st Battalion, 175th Infantry, but in the past 104 years, the armory has also served as a sort of community center. It has been a location for dances, auto shows, athletic games, and much more.
From the beginning, the armory served as a venue for celebrations. The dedication ceremony, held on Dec. 29, 1914, attracted state and local officials. Then-Gov. Phillips Lee Goldsborough was met at the train station by Company E and the 1st Regiment Band. Military drills were performed inside the spacious armory and a reception was held. According to the Cecil Whig, the evening concluded with a “Hop” given by Company E. Dancing continued on into the night, with music provided by the band.
Many more dances were held at the armory throughout the years. In 1916, 1920 and 1924, Leap Year dances were held at the armory. According to the Feb. 19, 1920, edition of the Whig, “the young ladies of Elkton” held a Leap Year dance on March 3. A Leap Year dance is one in which the female does the asking, both to attend the dance and to dance with her. Ladies were encouraged to invite “handsome young men.”
Company E held its share of dances as well. After World War I, the unit held a Poppy Dance. Proceeds from the dance would be used for the aid and comfort of disabled World War I veterans. Company E also held New Year’s Eve dances and dancing was held after events such as Rally Day and after their basketball games.
The Nov. 11, 1916, edition of the Whig reported that the boys of Company E arrived home to a large crowd. After leaving their train, they paraded around Elkton with the Elkton Cornet Band and the Singerly Fire Company. They proceeded to the armory, where the ladies of Elkton served them “coffee, sandwiches and cakes galore.” Friends and family joined them at the luncheon. Another luncheon was held two days later, and a dance followed the lunch. The Whig reported that “dancing and sociability followed to the wee sma’ hours”.
Company E had their own basketball team in the armory’s early days. According to the Whig’s Jan. 22, 1916, edition both Company E and Cecil County High School, also known as Elkton High School, played their games at the armory. The newspaper reported that both teams would play games on the following Saturday evening, and dancing would follow.
Elkton area schools also used the armory for its events. The Cecil County High School Class of 1916 used the facility for its farewell dance in May of that year. The Alumni Association of the school held their annual banquet there until the 1930s.
The Women’s Club of Elkton also used the armory for events. The club held a “Café Chantant” on Feb. 22 and 23, 1916. A supper would be served between the hours of 6 and 8 p.m., for 50 cents. A musical program was given by Jacob’s Orchestra. According to the Whig, at 8 p.m. there was dancing. Refreshments would be served and the bowling alley would be available for further entertainment.
In June 1916, Chautauqua Week was held on the grounds of the armory. Season tickets were available for just $2, and a June 6 advertisement advised that “no investment you can make will bring such rich returns”.
In the 1920s, auto shows were held in the armory that benefitted the American Legion Cecil Post 15. The organization held their meetings in the armory and would use the building to raise money. Cecil Post 15 used the money to purchase an ambulance for Singerly Fire Company. The shows were held into the 1960s.
The Pan American Airline Flight 214 plane crash of Dec. 8, 1963, brought a brand-new use for the armory. The large number of fatalities from the crash required a very large space to serve as a morgue. The armory was large enough, so it was pressed into service for this purpose. It became a temporary Red Cross station and morgue for the 81 victims.
Whatever the fate of the armory, it is hoped that the grand history of this building is not forgotten. It has been a landmark in Elkton, and is filled with memories.
All are invited to the armory this Sunday, Nov. 11, for a special Veterans Day remembrance. In honor of the 100th anniversary of the signing of the World War I Armistice, historical society volunteer and bagpiper Brian McCandless will perform a 6 a.m. reveille of “When the Battle is O’er.”