Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Mid-Week Historical Newsbreak -- McKennan-Klair House Sales Ad

So the other day I was looking through one of the collections of newspaper articles that Donna Peters had sent me a while back, trying to come up with something good to post this week. One in particular caught my eye, and after taking a closer look and checking a few things out I got very excited by what I found.

The ad, seen on the right, came from the July 26, 1764 edition of Philadelphia's Pennsylvania Gazette. At first glance it looks like a pretty typical ad from the time for a property sale, this one being in Mill Creek Hundred. The wording of the ad makes it clear that it's an estate sale, and goes on to give a good description of the property, the structures present on it, and some of the other personal property to be sold at the same vendue, or public auction.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Kidnapped to Mill Creek Hundred -- The Amazing Tale of James Annesley

James Annesley, one-time MCH resident
This is a story that's been bouncing around for a while, one of those I just never had a chance to get to before. It's been brought to my attention several times -- by Walt Chiquoine a while back, more recently by commenter Sue V., and probably at least once before that. I think one of the reasons I've put it off is that I've been waiting to find that one piece of solid evidence that ties it to the familiar for us, but I've yet to come across it. At this point accepted that our best bet is to put it out there and let more people take a look.

Many of you may be familiar with the 1886 Robert Louis Stevenson novel Kidnapped, which has been adapted for movies and television at least a dozen times over the past century. It's the story of a young Irish boy, recently orphaned, who discovers he's heir to an estate. Before he can take possession of the estate his evil uncle has him kidnapped to be sent off into servitude in the Americas. The boy escapes after his ship wrecks off the coast of Scotland, has a series of adventures across the Highlands, and eventually gets his inheritance back from his uncle. Stevenson's "boy's novel" has, over the years, become much beloved by readers everywhere.

As thrilling as the story is, what's really amazing is that it may well be inspired by a true story. In real life the boy, also an Irish orphan set to inherit an estate, did actually get sent to the Americas as an indentured servant by his uncle. The most intriguing part of it for us, though, is that the boy in question, James Annesley, spent many of his servile years right here in Mill Creek Hundred.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

The Justis-Jones House

The Justis-Jones House
In the recent post about the McComb-Winchester House I teased about a link between its most prominent owner, Henry S. McComb, and Mill Creek Hundred. That link comes in the form of the house seen here, the Justis-Jones House. It's situated on the west side of Newport-Gap Pike, just south of and up the hill from Brandywine Springs. It's one of those houses that lots of people probably see and think, "Gee, that's got to be an old house," but know nothing about. Although not the most flashy of homes in the region, to me it has its own air of dignity. It also happens to be somewhat unusual for the area in two major respects.

First, unlike most of the remaining houses from the first half of the 19th Century, it was never the manor house of a large farm or estate, and was only ever briefly occupied by its owner for much of its first 60 or 70 years. The second difference is in what is known about it. Whereas it seems with most sites that we're digging to find a scrap here and there about any owners we can, much research was done into the ownership history of the Justis-Jones House. This is one of the last sites in MCH listed on the National Register of Historic Places that I've gotten to here on the blog. It's NRHP nomination form has an almost mind-numbing amount of information about the various owners of the house. Needless to say, I'll just do a brief overview of its history, hitting the major points. Later on I'll provide a link the the NRHP form if anyone wants the whole story.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Yet Another Spring Hill Brewery Update

Spring Hill Brewery (courtesy John Medkeff, Jr.)
Almost a year and a half ago I wrote the first post about the Spring Hill Brewery, which was located on the north side of Barley Mill Road, just east of Barley Mill's crossing of Red Clay Creek. For a full refresher I suggest going back to review the original post, but the short story is that it was a brewery run by the Biedermann family for about 30 years, from 1881 until the early 1910's. I was able to piece together a good part of the Spring Hill story, but a few holes still remained.

Since I never consider any topic ever "Closed", the discovery of a few more pieces of information prompted the first follow-up post several months later. Most of this post covered the August 1909 explosion at the Wooddale Quarry, which I thought had marked the end of the Spring Hill Brewery. Also included were bits of aerial photos from the 1930's that I speculated might be of the Biedermann property, or what was left of it by then. Still, though, there were three main questions that were not sufficiently answered, at least in my eyes. When did the brewery truly cease operation (and why)? Where exactly was it? And what did it look like? I'm very happy to say, that with a huge assist from a new friend and fantastic resource, I think I have pretty good answers to all these lingering questions.

Friday, March 28, 2014

The St. James Church Road Bridge

SJCR, looping north and west past the church, 1881
Sorry this is a bit longer than normal, but I wanted to write everything up.

As some of you may recall from recent comments, a few weeks ago I went on a very nice walk in the woods with two guys who both had personal connections (unbeknownst to each other until we started walking and talking) to the area in question -- Bill Saadeh and Bill Harris. We met along the short stretch of Old Milltown Road behind the Harlan-Chandler Mill, just west of Limestone Road and south of Milltown. While I believe it's still technically a public road, it's really now a de facto private drive for the several houses along it. While we were standing there getting started one of the homeowners came out to see what these three men were doing standing around. We explained why we were there, and she was very nice and helpful (although I think the Bills' local connections helped ease any concerns she may have had).

We took a look at the old Harlan Mill (now apartments, I think), the old course of Milltown and Limestone Roads, and some of the old water features of the area. As we made our way south along Mill Creek, we found the old stone remains mentioned by Bill S. in one of his comments. There's not much there (in fact, you really have to look hard to see that it's man-made and not just an outcropping of rock), but we agreed that it probably was some sort of springhouse, quite possibly dating back to the Harlan Era (early 19th Century).

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

MCHHB on the Road -- The McComb-Winchester House

The McComb-Winchester Mansion
Since it's been a while since we've done this, I thought we'd take a trip beyond the borders of Mill Creek Hundred to visit one of my favorite of the lost houses of Wilmington. On the north side of Rodney Square today stands the Classical Revival building erected in the 1930's as a federal building, courthouse, and post office. In recent decades its public duties have gone elsewhere, and now it serves as the headquarters for Wilmington Trust, now a subsidiary of M&T bank.  But for about 20 years, this block bounded by 11th, 12th, Market, and King Streets was owned by one of the wealthiest men in the city - Henry S. McComb.

On the southwest corner of the block stood the site of the once majestic Henry S. McComb Mansion. The space that's now the west end of the old Federal Building was formerly home to one of the most impressive examples of early Victorian architecture in Wilmington. Built in the Second Empire style imported from France, the McComb Mansion displayed the style’s typical mansard roof and turrets. In addition to the front of the house facing Eleventh Street, there was an extensive wing along the Market Street side. Built of brick and rising to three stories, the house was as powerful as the man who built it.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Mid-Week Historical Newsbreak -- Merestone Sales Ad

Mixed in amongst the old newspaper clippings of fires, horrid deaths, animal abuses, train wrecks, and
murders (guess what -- there never was a "peaceful good old days") that have been forwarded to or found by me, there are also a fair number of real estate sales ads. Depending on how old they are and how good your knowledge of the area is, for many of them you can determine exactly where the property is that's for sale. If you can, the ad can be an invaluable resource, giving you a heaping portion of information about the property and what it consisted of at the time. The ad seen to the right is is an example of one whose identity was not all that difficult to discern.

The ad comes to us from Philadelphia's Public Ledger, dated December 16, 1844. It tells of the upcoming sale of 216 acres belonging to John M. Beeson of Mill Creek Hundred. The ad lists, among other things, a part stone and part frame mansion house, a 70 x 40 foot three story stone barn, wagon house, spring house, tenant house, corn crib, and other out-buildings. The property also had a "thriving young apple orchard" which also had pear trees, cherry trees, and other fruit. All in all sounds like a nice property, and one I should have written about. Turns out, I did!

Thursday, March 6, 2014

John Quill and the Craig-Quill House

A couple of years ago I wrote a post about the Walter Craig House, or at least what's left of it. I was taken to it by nearby resident Roger Suro, who had come across the ruins on some of his frequent hikes in the area. While today the house and barn are nothing more than a few low, ruined walls, for at least the better part of a century this now wooded locale was a thriving farm. In the post I was able to cobble together the framework of a story for the house, from its ownership by Walter Craig to its sale and ownership by John Quill. From census and map data I came up with a few general facts for each owner, but not really a whole lot, to be quite honest. Now, thanks to one of those beautiful out-of-the-blue emails I get from time to time, we have a bit more concrete information about the second owner of the house, John Quill, and his family.

The information comes to us from Chris Haugh, the great-great-grandson of the Irish immigrant Quill. Chris forwarded to me a very helpful heap of genealogical information about the Quill family, as well as three deed records that deal with John Quill and the land under and around his home. Oh, and some pictures, too. I do love old pictures.