Cecil collector digs up county’s past
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
“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.
Archaeologist George Reynolds shows off a selection of his arrowheads.