Ce­cil col­lec­tor digs up county’s past

Cecil Whig - - FRONT PAGE - By ED OKONOWICZ

Spe­cial to the Whig

— Af­ter serv­ing six years in the U. S. Navy dur­ing World War II, Ge­orge Reynolds re­turned home to the county. In 1950, he be­gan build­ing a home in the Barks­dale area, not far from Elk Mills.

He said it was while he was cul­ti­vat­ing pota­toes that he no­ticed an un­usual, small pointed piece of white quartz, about 3 inches long.

When he picked it up, Reynolds re­called, a lot of thoughts went through his mind: About how the an­cient peoples who lived in this re­gion sur­vived with­out elec­tric­ity, re­frig­er­a­tion, uten­sils and tools. Soon af­ter­ward he vis­ited the county li­brary and read all he could about the his­tory, geog­ra­phy and ar­chae­ol­ogy of the county, and its long- gone res­i­dents.

To­day, Reynolds, 93, said he con­sid­ers that ac­ci­den­tal dis­cov­ery a life- chang­ing mo­ment – lead­ing to his en­dur­ing in­ter­est in ar­chae­ol­ogy and con­tin­u­ing search for more remnants of our historic past.

Scat­tered about his home are an im­pres­sive ar­ray of stone and bone Na­tive Amer­i­can ar­ti­facts. “I’ve got bas­kets of axe heads and boxes of ar­row­heads – which re­ally should be called pro­jec­tile points, since they were also used as spears,” he ex­plained.

For sev­eral years, Reynolds said, he col­lected ob­jects through­out the county, with­out any for­mal train­ing. While tak­ing a course at the Uni­ver­sity of Delaware, he wrote a pa­per about his new­found hobby. The pro­fes­sor was so im­pressed he asked Reynolds read it to the class.

That re­sulted in an in­vi­ta­tion to pre­sent his ar­ti­cle to a meet­ing of the Ar­chae­o­log­i­cal So­ci­ety of

ELK­TON

Delaware.

“I didn’t re­ally want to go,” Reynolds ad­mit­ted, “but I wanted to pass the course. So I went.”

He ar­rived at the meet­ing in Wilm­ing­ton, Del., car­ry­ing a cigar box filled with his finds. “I had about 50 ob­jects,” he said. “The peo­ple there were very in­ter­ested. So much so that when they kicked us out of the meet­ing room at 9 o’clock, a bunch of the mem­bers gath­ered un­der a street­light, look­ing over my stuff. There I was, a rank am­a­teur, and they’re talk­ing about flint and jasper and quartz. I didn’t know what they were. I thought they were In­dian tribes that lived in the area.”

Even­tu­ally, Reynolds learned much more than just the names of area tribes. He de­vel­oped an un­der­stand­ing of re­gional mi­gra­tion routes, set­tle­ment sites, hunt­ing and farm­ing prac­tices, and lo­ca­tions in the county of­fer­ing the high­est po­ten­tial to yield in­ter­est­ing ar­ti­facts left un­touched for thou­sands of years.

Along with other con­ser­va­tion­ists, Reynolds soon be­came aware of the threat posed to the past by in­creased res­i­den­tial and com­mer­cial devel­op­ment, as well as new high­way con­struc­tion and road im­prove­ments.

He be­came in­volved in the state of Mary­land’s ef­forts to es­tab­lish a state ar­chae­ol­o­gist, tes­ti­fy­ing in the 1960s be­fore of­fi­cials in An­napo­lis on the sub­ject.

“I told them, ‘You peo­ple think you’re so ad­vanced and so­phis­ti­cated. In West Vir­ginia, where you think they’re noth­ing but back­woods hill­bil­lies, they’ve got two state ar­chae­ol­o­gists and a state mu­seum. Here in Mary­land, we don’t have an ar­chae­ol­o­gist or mu­seum.’ ”

Laugh­ing at the mem­ory, he added, “That got their at­ten­tion.”

In 1962, at the start of con­struc­tion of In­ter­state 95, Reynolds mo­bi­lized a cit­i­zens group to sur­vey the af­fected ar­eas in the county, look­ing for remnants of In­dian vil­lages. Af­ter rais­ing $500 lo­cally, he con­tacted Gov­er­nor Mil­lard Tawes and se­cured a match­ing grant to fund the Ce­cil County ef­fort.

“They were go­ing to cut a path,” Reynolds said, “across the county – from the Delaware line to the Susque­hanna River – 300 feet wide and 17 miles long, cross­ing five ma­jor rivers and creeks, and no ar­chae­ol­ogy was go­ing to be done.”

Reynolds and his vol­un­teers walked the high­way route. While not find­ing any ev­i­dence of vil­lages, he said, they found sev­eral ar­ti­facts and two quarry sites where In­di­ans had come to se­cure jasper and quartz.

Com­ment­ing upon Ce­cil County’s unique lo­ca­tion, he said, “The head of the Bay is a melt­ing pot of cul­tures, go­ing back 11,000 years. The whole county is still loaded with ar­ti­facts, de­spite the in­flux of new peo­ple and in­creased devel­op­ment.”

An in­ter­est­ing lo­cal find oc­curred in 1981, Reynolds said, near Land­ing Lane at the Hol­ligsworth Farm Site – the cur­rent lo­ca­tion of the Ce­cil County De­ten­tion Cen­ter.

On that small penin­sula – where the Big and Lit­tle Elk Creeks meet – Reynolds and his associates dis­cov­ered remnants of an In­dian vil­lage, and re­moved five skele­tons, from what was be­lieved to be a Na­tive Amer­i­can burial ground.

He said the re­mains were sent to the Smith­so­nian Mu­seum, which ver­i­fied their au­then­tic­ity, dat­ing back to 1400 A.D.

Dis­cov­er­ing a unique item, Reynolds said, is ex­tremely sat­is­fy­ing. “It’s a big thrill,” he said, “walk­ing through a field, with the sun com­ing up, the birds singing, and bend­ing over and picking up an ar­row­head that’s 5,000 years old. It makes you pause and think, who left it here? Who made it? Who held it for the first time?”

Reynolds, also a founder of the North­east Chap­ter of the Ar­chae­o­log­i­cal So­ci­ety of Mary­land, sec­tion of the Mary­land Academy of Sci­ence, said he has a ma­jor goal. But it doesn’t in­volve dig­ging in the soil and un­earthing for­got­ten clues to the past.

“I want to write a book about the county’s ar­chae­ol­ogy,” he said. “I’ve been col­lect­ing in­for­ma­tion for years. I’ve got notes and scraps of pa­per, and ar­ti­facts, and maps, and a lot of pho­to­graphs. It’s a big job.”

When I sug­gested he might seek out an as­sis­tant, per­haps a col­lege stu­dent or in­tern, Reynolds shook his head.

“Ev­ery time I get an as­sis­tant,” he com­plained, “they don’t lis­ten. They won’t do it the way I want to do it. So I’m on my own. I’ve got my room set up. Got the com­puter. The printer. Got Dragon Speaks soft­ware. Be­cause I’m not a fast typer, but I’m a fast talker. I fig­ure if I put my mind to it, I’ll have if done in about a year.”

Paus­ing, Reynolds smiled and added, “When I told my doc­tor about my project, he said, ‘ You bet­ter hurry, Ge­orge, ’ cause you ain’t gonna make it.’ “And I said, ‘I’m only 93!’” To sug­gest a Ce­cil col­lec­tor to pro­file, email let­ters@ ce­cil­whig.com.

CE­CIL WHIG PHOTO BY ED OKONOWICZ

Ar­chae­ol­o­gist Ge­orge Reynolds shows off a se­lec­tion of his ar­row­heads.

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