Cecil County DecoysCecil County Decoys

MARYLAND'S CHARLES TOWN, 1742 AND BEYOND, A PICTURAL TOUR OF ITS HISTORY by GERARD "ROD" WITTSTADT, JR, ESQUIRE

Part 1: Historic Charles Town

Gerard William Wittstadt, Jr., Esquire (c)2018

Chapter 4: Miscellaneous Properties and Unique Places

The Railroad and Charlestown.

For nearly a century, the railroad was the lifeline of Charlestown to the outside world. The 1856 publication of the Philadelphia, Wilmington and Baltimore Railroad Guide reported that "in the early days of the railroad from Wilmington, Charlestown was determined upon as a terminus, and it was then the intention to convey passengers thence to Baltimore by steamboat." The guide further indicated that Charlestown was forty-three miles from Baltimore and fifty-five from Philadelphia. Throughout this time, ducking and fishing were the town's main industries. The fishing industry utilized the shipping channels and the hunters used the rails. The authors of the 1856 PW&B Guide, aware of the business it generated throughout the sporting industry, dedicated ten pages to describe to passengers the intricacies of duck hunting on the Susquehanna Flats. Market hunters could quickly send the day's kill to the markets in Baltimore and Philadelphia, where such ducks as Canvasbacks brought three dollars a pair at the turn of the century. Additionally, "sports" from Washington, Baltimore, and Philadelphia were less than an hour away via rail.

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(The photograph above, circa 1927, is the old railroad station. It burned in about 1935, and was replaced with the station pictured right. It was demolished in 1952.)

The Charlestown School

Just like any other town, Charlestown had its one-room public school. The first schoolhouse was erected shortly before 1850. It was made of brick and was located south of the fairgrounds.

On March 12, 1881, The Cecil Whig reported on the testing that had recently occurred at the town's school:

The Charlestown Public School. The time has not yet arrived in the annals of all school districts where the interest of the school is of a primary importance. This was the more forcibly brought to view by the utter failure on the part of the parents of the Charlestown school to put in an appearance during the week of examination, beginning February 28th and ending March 5th,-"Honor to whom honor is due." The following parents were present: Mrs. W. Atkinson, Mrs. A. Calvert, Mrs. James McKeown, Mrs. Alex. Craig. Mr. J. N. Black, Mr. Charles H. Graham, the last named gentleman being one of our trustees. The remaining thirty-five were at home waiting until something of a Herculean nature compels them to look upon a place set apart for education as a stepping stone to the future greatness of the generation that will rule in the place of those who in a few years will be numbered with the pale nations of the earth. Honorary visitors Miss H. Chapman, Miss Susie Graham, Miss Cora Graham, Miss Mary Cooling, Miss Fannie Craig, Mr. Arthur Logan and Mr. Linwood Simpson. Above Sixth Grade-Susie Cooper, Jennie Johnson, Tilla Tucker. Not examined. Geography-F. Class.-Susie Cooper 100, Theresa Smith 83, Benj. Cooling 94, Tilla Tucker 93, Carrie Graham 67, Annie Cooling 84, Emma Black 70, George Burroughs 88, Seward Cooper 97, John Frederick 64, Jennie Johnson 92, Victoria Algard 99, Elmer Craig 98. Geography-E. Class.-Wm. S. Burroughs 100, Howard Watson 86, Hiram Cooper 89, Penn Cooper 72, Geo. Murphy 78, John McKeown 89, John Norman 89, Annie Graham 89, Ellie Rutter 89, Lizzie Atkinson 94, Lizzie Steele 83, Mattie Craig 99, Mamie Whitelock 85, Beckie Graham 97, Clara Watson 91. Geography-D. Class.-Clara M. Alexander 100, Jennie Bennett 100, J. Algard 65, Mary Rutter 94, Hattie Logan 65, Cecil Cooper 94, Wallace Harris 77, E. Calvert 65. Geography-Oral Class.-C. Richardson 87, Mary McKeown 83, B. Burroughs 86, John T. Cooper 78, W. L. Atkinson 87, Joseph Weber 87, Harry Murphy 67. Grammar-F. Class.-Susie Cooper 100, Jennie Johnson 98, Tilla Tucker 98. E Class.-Theresa Smith 91, Elmer Craig 91, Ben Cooling 95, Carrie Graham 100, Annie Cooling 100, Emma Black 100, G. Burroughs 91, Seward Cooper 100, V. Algard 82, Wm. S. Burroughs 83, Jessie Murphy 64, Ellie Rutter 78. Lizzie Atkinson 91, Annie Graham 82. History-F. Class.-Susie Cooper 90, Tilla Tucker 93, John Frederick 76, Jennie Johnson 83, Ben Cooling 94, Elmer Craig 100, Seward Cooper 82. Second part F. Class: Theresa Smith 91, Carrie Graham 100, Annie Cooling 100, Emma Black 91, G. Burroughs 100, V. Algard 91. History-E. Class.-Wm. S. Burroughs 100, Howard Watson 71, H. Cooper 100, Penn Cooper 71, Jessie Murphy 73, Geo. Murphy 71, John McKeown 100, John Norman 100, Annie Graham 100, Ella Rutter 64, Lizzie Atkinson 100, Lizzie Steel 100, J. M. Black 73, Mattie Craig 91, M. Whitelock 86, Clara Watson 71. Spelling Class F.-Susie Cooper 100, Theresa Smith 65, Ben Cooling 98, Victoria Algard 97, Elmer Craig 97, Tilla Tucker 93, Carrie Graham 92, Annie Cooling 92, Emma Black 95, George Burroughs 90, Seward Cooper 91, Jno. Frederick 93, Jennie Johnson 100. Spelling Class E.-*Hiram Cooper 94, *Jessie Murphy 77, *Annie Graham 85, *Ella Rutter 62, *Lizzie Atkinson 82, *Lizzie Steel 77, *Mattie Craig 70, *Beckie Graham 80. This class contains eighteen members, ten being failures. Spelling Class D.-*Clara M. Alexander 89, *Jennie Bennett 99, *John Algard 98, *Mary Rutter 98, Hattie Logan 81, *Wallace Harris 84, *John Weber 90, *Evlyn Calvert 91, *Pinkney Black 81, *Elwood Steel 84. Those marked with a star (*) were promoted. Arithmetic classes F. E. D. acquitted themselves creditably. Quite a number of the scholars were detained at home by the very sore arms, which would add a little more credit to your attendance and average. The examinations of classes C. B. A. was too tedious to give an account of at present. Martha Biddle, Sena White.

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(Above, the Charlestown Public School, circa 1888).

By about 188, a new schoolhouse had been built in town under the authority of the Cecil County School Board. The new school taught students above sixth grade to about the ninth grade. Thereafter, those who wished to continue their education most likely went to either the Tome School in Port Deposit or West Nottingham Academy in Colora, Maryland. On March 23, 1888, the Charlestown Public School hosted an evening of entertainment with a program put on by the students.

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(Above, Charlestown Public School, circa 1905. Below, the class of 1910.)

Front row (left to right): Otis Murphy, Earnest Heverin, James Lewis, Henry Murphy, Malin Ward, Richard Haines, Charles Calvert, Theodore Murphy, Joe DeMonde, Emory Norman, the two Veasey boys, Guy and War. Middle row (left to right): Harry Heverin, Beulah Cooper, Anna Cooper, Lilly Norman, Arlene Haines, Della Steele, Elizabeth Howell, Rachel Barnes, Rachel Cooper, Thomas Lewis, and Fanny Patchell. Third row (left to right): Gladys Cooper, Helen Patchell, Leroy Steele, Reba Graham, Getta DeMonde, Mary Murphy, Elsea Norman, Bayard Jackson, Everett Ward, Howard Cooper, Robert Calvert, and Miss Dorothy Diggs, teacher. Miss Francis Cleaves is standing behind Gladys Cooper.

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The Class of 1928: From top (left to right): Nellie Cass, Marion Graham, Ella Clayton, Virginia Graham, Dorothy, Delbert Clayton, Bulla Murphy, Charles Musselman, Virginia Gibson, Crayton Heisler, Leon Beal, Allen W. Purner, Cran Henry, Rock Clayton, Heis McCall, Junior Lynch, Skees Gillespi, Mildred Reinhardt, Howard Ward, Tunney Patchell, Doris Clayton, Rebecca Cooper, Ella Gibson, Mary Calvert, June Guiberson, Sonny James, Ruth Purner, Dorothy Kelly, Charlotte Murphy, Ellen Purner, Nancy Black, Buddy Murphy, Bertha Beal, Florence Graham, Dolly Algard, Charlotte Ann Cooper, Robby McKinney, Miss McKinney, Mildred Murphy, Eugene Owens, Gus Clayton, Miss Clayton, Edgar McMullen, Ed Clayton, Edmond Cass, Leslie Cooper, and Bill Musselman.

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Heisler House viewed from Water Street, circa 1908. Pictured: 1. Catherine Mehl Heisler; 2. Helen Heisler (Hoy); 3. Harriet Heisler (McCall); 4. Jeanette Heisler (McCall); and Etta Heisler (Turk). Below, Joseph Heisler of Charlestown poling Otto Eisenlohr of Philadelphia in 1909. Joseph Heisler was a commercial fisherman and market gunner, who died in 1911. Mr. Heisler did not usually hire out to "sports" as he considered the amateur hunters a nuisance. Mr. Eisenlohr was an exception. The boat "Summer Duck," built in about 1900, is attributed to John B. Graham, but it was more likely built by his son, John C. Graham, who was a professional boatbuilder in Charlestown in 1900.

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In about 1920, Horace D. Graham and Wilmer Murphy stared a boatyard on the riverfront a short distance from Charlestown Manor Beach. They sold the property in 1924 to Columbus William Thorn Jr. of Ridley Park, Pennsylvania, who constructed a boatyard and yacht basin, pictured above in 1935.

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(C. W. Thorn, Jr. on board his yacht "The Lazy Jack",  circa 1924.)

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(The Miss Charlestown" owned and captained by the Graham family, circa 1922.)

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(The "Louise" owned by Harry H. Barnes, circa 1919.)

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(This photograph taken about 1915 shows the numerous small vessels used on the North East River, including bushwack boat, rail skiff, canoe and rowboat. Notice the cow standing in front of the boathouse.

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Each year, from the early 1900s through the 1930s. the James Adams Showboat would cruise the East Coast, making a stop in Charlestown to put on a show for the town to enjoy. This boat was the basis for Edna Ferber's musical Showboat. It burned in 1941.

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Many of the town's prominent families owned boats and relaxed by the water in the hot summers. Here, Harry H. Barnes' boat, the "Blue Wing," pictured August 18, 1938, at Charlestown.

George Cooper also enjoyed yachting on the river. His boat, the "Uno," was a converted bugeye, from sail to power. This photograph was taken in about 1928 in Charlestown.

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Boating in Charlestown was not just for enjoyment; it was also a business. At right, Carrie Blackwell, captain of the "Carrie L. Shane" of North East, Maryland, ran weekly trips to Baltimore to purchase groceries for Andrew "Buddy" Reynolds of the North East Wharf and Grocery Store in 1920 to 1924. She would stop in Charlestown to sell the groceries. The ship was built in 1884 by W. Skinner & Sons. It was 44 feet long, 10 feet 6 inches wide, and drew 3 feet of water.

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During the fall of each year, this ship, the "Vitator," owned by a Mr. Alexander from Maine, would appear at Charlestown and its owner would go gunning with Russell Clayton and Harry H. Barnes.

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(Snap Holloway's yacht, the "Mable.")

Holloway Beach, Charlestown, Maryland. A popular spot on Maryland's eastern shore, Holloway Beach attracted thousands of bathers each summer to relax, play, and swim in the waters of the North East River, just south of town. As with the ocean's beaches now, families would day-trip to Charlestown's beaches to enjoy the sun and surf, whether by beach or by water.

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Everything needed, including refreshments were served at the beach stand by Geneva Barnes (above) and in the evening, the teens would dance the night away in the beach pavilion.

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Another popular spot, just upriver from Holloway Beach towards town, was Murphy's Beach. Owned by the Murphy family of Charlestown, Murphy's Beach was a popular boating destination also. For a time, Charlestown's beaches rivaled those at Betterton.

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(At left, Ruth Patchell, Lucille Bailey, Lizzeta Logan and Doris Logan, shown canoeing at Murphy's Beach in the Summer of 1929. Photograph courtesy of Ruth Patchell Wright, Charlestown.)

Ralph Murphy (1898-1969), by Jack Manning.

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(At left, Earl Murphy holding Pink Murphy; Jesse Murphy, Ralph Murphy and Otas Murphy, at the Family house, circa 1918, courtesy of Ruth Patchell Wright, Charlestown.)

Ralph Murphy was born in Charlestown in 1898. He lived his entire life in the area known as Murphy's Beach at the end of what is now Tasker's Lane. It is believed that Ralph's father worked the water before him, and Ralph worked with his father and eventually carried on the family business. Murphy's Beach was established sometime before 1923 and was a popular bathing spot up into the 1950s. Ralph's brother, Earl, ran a summer stand and bathhouse, and rented rowboats and canoes. Although Ralph lived in the family home at the beach, he spent most of his time making a living hunting and fishing.

In the early days, Ralph gunned the Susquehanna Flats and the "knoll" off Carpenter's Point in a sinkbox. It is said that he carried two automatic shotguns and would shoot one as the ducks came in, then kick around and shoot the other as they were going out. He was a good shot, but went through a lot of shells. During this time, Earl probably gunned most of the time with Ralph. Market gunning was also being practiced during this time, and Ralph was the owner of a "big gun." His gun was reported as being one of five guns brought from England in the 1850s to be used on the Susquehanna Flats. Another of these big guns belonged to George Washington Barnes and his brother, Perry K. Barnes; Dick Barnes sold the Barnes rig to Richard "Kip" duPont in the 1960s. Before Ralph's death, duPont had him pose for a series of pictures shooting the Barnes big gun.

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Ralph Murphy's big gun measured 9 feet 4 inches long, had a bore, and weighed approximately 80 to 90 pounds. The most ducks Ralph recalled shooting with one shot was 81 Canvasbacks. They were sitting in a hole in the ice, so he pulled the boat across the ice to make the shot.

In 1918, a federal law was passed to limit the bore size used to hunt migratory waterfowl, and effectively ended the legality of hunting with the "big guns." Ralph gave the big gun to neighbor George Cooper in the 1920s. Ralph had gunned with George Cooper and Charlestown decoy maker Will Heverin during Prohibition. George Cooper died in the late 1940s while burning brush at his home, and George's widow let Ralph and Heis McCall look for the big gun, but they were unable to find it. A few years later, Mrs. Cooper had a house sale, and Weller Wilson found the gun hidden under a door in the attic and purchased it for $35. The Murphy gun was sold at auction in September 1970 to Norris Pratt of Kimbelsville, Pennsylvania, for $2,500.

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After federal law outlawed the use of sinkboxes in 1935, Ralph Murphy guided "sports" from New York and Connecticut with his "bushwhack" rig. His sculler, Edgar McMullen, said that Ralph's sculling oars were short from the leather to the rowing end, and were quite hard to scull. Ralph did most of his bushwhack hunting in the North East River, near Red Point or Carpenter's Point, rather than hunt the Flats. He would pick up "sports" at North East or Perryville in his big cabin boat and go directly to the gunning grounds. Ralph Murphy's bushwhack boat is currently on display in the collection of the Upper Bay Museum in North East, Maryland.

Ralph Murphy also commercially fished during the months he was not fishing. He had rigs for both gill netting and hauling seining, and for a time fished traps nets with Dick Barnes in the 1940s. Striped bass was the normal quarry for Murphy, and he sold many locally and to be shipped throughout the northern states. For several years, he provided the Jewish community in Philadelphia with live carp he haulseined from the Susquehanna Flats. During the 1960s, Ralph Murphy received a Maryland state contract to catch 10,000 striped bass for a state study. During the first year, the state could not remove the fish quickly enough; after four years (and the disappearance of most of the river grass) it took weeks of hard fishing to catch 3,000 bass. Ralph enjoyed the years before his death in 1969 hunting with Kip duPont and Steele Howard. He was a true Upper Bay waterman who lived during the high points as well as the decline of the golden era of hunting and fishing on the Upper Bay. Although the period has been highly romanticized, it took much hard work and talent to survive on the Bay, talents Ralph always displayed.

Ralph Murphy also made decoys for his personal gunning rig. It is not known how many decoys he made, but the number is most likely less than 300. He made mostly Canvasbacks and some Blackheads. He also made miniature Canvasbacks as gifts for friends. In later years, Mr. Murphy made decorative birds that he sold to collectors.

(Blackhead Drake in original paint by Ralph Murphy, Charlestown, Maryland, circa 1935.)
(Canvasback Drake and Hen in original paint by Ralph Murphy, Charlestown, Maryland, circa 1925, from the collection of Vernon Bryant, Greenbank Farm, Charlestown, Maryland.)

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(Canvasback Hen and Drake in original paint, Ralph Murphy, Charlestown, Maryland, circa 1940.)

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(Canvasback Drake and Hen in original paint by Ralph Murphy, Charlestown, Maryland, circa 1925, from the collection of Vernon Bryant, Greenbank Farm, Charlestown, Maryland.)

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(Canvasback Hen and Drake in original paint, Ralph Murphy, Charlestown, Maryland, circa 1940.)