Gentleman John W. McGrain Jr. of Towson passed away May 2 leaving behind a legacy of historical work that significantly benefited Harford County. In 1998, he authored “Harford County’s Mill Heritage” that appeared in the Harford Historical Bulletin and then followed up with a second effort one year later covering another 13 mills. In 2002, he produced a third bulletin titled “Six Susquehanna Bridge Crossing: Thirteen Bridges.”
His most extensive effort, however, was a 1980s typed compilation titled “Molinography of Harford County Mills” that provided much information on lost and obscure grain grinding facilities. This document was a welcomed source for a 2009 Harford County book titled “Mills: Grist, Saw, Bone, Flint, Fulling & More” that prompted the publishers to ceremoniously include John McGrain as one of the authors.
In 2011, John dug out many of his old photographs and published “Dickensian Baltimore: Survival of a City’s Infrastructure,” followed by “Charles Street: Baltimore’s Artery of Elegance” in 2013, then “Jones Falls: Powering Industry that Propelled Baltimore” in 2015, and finally “Old Maryland Mills: A Portfolio” in 2019. These were published by this writer as well as his last effort “The Founders of Ellicotts’ Mills” for the town of Ellicott City’s forthcoming 250th anniversary.
John was a dedicated researcher who kept historical notes on 3-by-5-inch cards, wore out many cameras in snapping pictures, was a mentor to those who researched history, and graciously shared his knowledge and images. He was a wonderful friend to this writer and publisher and will be dearly missed.
A 2020 interview with John W. McGrain Jr. can be viewed on the Harford Cable Network’s website.
JACK L. SHAGENA JR.
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The writer is a Harford County historian and publisher.