Friday, October 17, 2014

How'd We End Up with a Funny Name Like Hockessin?

Of all the place names in Mill Creek Hundred, the one that invariably gives the most trouble to outsiders is the once-quiet, now upscale village of Hockessin. Any time I see a story relating to there popping up on a Philadelphia newscast, I sit waiting for the out-of-stater to pronounce it something that sounds like "hock a sin". As incorrect as that may be, the ironic thing is that almost all of us are probably actually saying it wrong. The reason hearkens back to the most probable origin of the name, a story that reaches back almost 300 years.

The problem is that this most likely origin of the name Hockessin is not the story most commonly told over the last century and a half. The other problem is that these alternative theories can be made to sound very plausible, giving them deep traction. Since the word "Hockessin" doesn't really sound like a name we're familiar with, or sound like any other English word for that matter, the natural reaction is to look to another language. In this region, that often means Native American languages.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Cuba Rock

Con Hollahan's mark
-- Researched and Written by Walt Chiquoine

This research began with some questions that Scott tossed out concerning Ramsey Ridge.  What did we know about Con Hollahan, Mount Cuba, and a reference to an “Irish Wall”?  Is Mount Cuba synonymous with Cuba Rock, the name Con gave to his land?  Where did the name Cuba come from?  And could an “Irish Wall” be a part of his original homestead?  We found sufficient evidence to re-tell the story of Con Hollahan and Cuba Rock in a new light.    

Con Hollahan is well-known in the historical writings of the Diocese of Wilmington, since he is credited with hosting the first Roman Catholic services in northern Delaware.  Con was described in a history of the local Catholic Church, written in 1884-86, by his descendant  Charles Esling.  From Esling’s history [which can be found here, beginning on page 117], we are told that Con Hollahan arrived from Ireland before 1747 and settled on a tract he called Cuba Rock.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

The Barkers of Barker's Bridge -- Part II

Samuel Barker's property and neighbors
(courtesy W. Chiquoine)
In the last post, we traced the history of the Barker family from the 1680's up until the late 1700's. We covered several generations and at least two distinct properties in the area that came to be called Barker's Bridge, along what became Lancaster Pike near what would later be known as Wooddale. We arrived at Samuel Barker (1721-1803), grandson (through Joseph) of the Samuel Barker who originally settled in the area. After mentioning seven of his nine children, we're left with the only two sons who didn't move out of the area -- William and Abraham. As noted, Samuel seems to have inherited his father Joseph's property along the Red Clay. This is corroborated by the fact that in 1762 Samuel filed a warrant for the 340 acre tract, and four years later had it resurveyed. It sounds like he was probably reaffirming his ownership of the tract, on which he would reside until his death in 1803. After his passing, the property was acquired by William and Abraham.

For some reason, when the rest of the Barker sons moved west to Pittsburgh, these two stayed behind. The histories specifically state that William never married, and there is no mention of a wife or children for Abraham, either. It is stated that William, like several of his brothers, served in the Revolutionary War, and fought at the Battle of Brandywine, among other places. It's not known (at least as far as I know) where any of the early Barker homes were located, or if any survived much longer than their residents. However, one house did outlast the family who built it, only to be lost not many years ago.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Mill Creek Hundred History on the Radio (sort of)

We take a short break from our regularly scheduled Part II post about the Barkers (which will be up in a day or two), for this special announcement. Have you ever sat and thought to yourself, "Self, I really like reading about Mill Creek Hundred history on this here blog, but you know what would be way more awesomer? If I could hear someone's mellifluous voice talking about Mill Creek Hundred history on my computer machine or other assorted electronic devices!" If so, you're in luck! (And you may want to try to get out more.)

I recently had the pleasure to be a guest on Delaware's Timeline, hosted by WDEL's Carl Suppa. The program has much the same mission statement as I do here, namely to get the word out about our fascinating and often overlooked local history. Carl was on the air at WDEL up until a few months ago, and hopes to have the program back on the air soon. In the meantime, he's continuing the show in the form of podcasts, which you can listen to over the internet.

My guest turn on the program is thanks largely to John Medkeff, who runs the awesomely fascinating site Delaware Beer History. He had been a guest back in the spring, and passed my name along to Carl. Long story short, Carl contacted me, and after coordinating our schedules I went into the studio a few weeks back to record the show.

We had an outline of what we wanted to cover, and I figured maybe we could stretch it out to an hour or so. Silly me. I think I was in there for almost three hours, much of that time spent talking history. I don't know how Carl ever got it all edited down, but he did. The podcast, all twelve parts, can be found here on WDEL's podcast page, just a little bit down on the left. You can also get there from the homepage by looking under "Features" along the top, then clicking on "Podcasts".

I had a great time recording the show, as anyone who's met me or read this blog knows, I love talking history. If you feel like listening in, check it out!

Thursday, September 25, 2014

The Barkers of Barker's Bridge -- Part I

The Barker House, c.1988
Over the nearly 350 years of Mill Creek Hundred history, many families have called the area home. Most clans currently within the MCH confines have arrived only within the last 60 years or so, mine included. But of course, some arrived much earlier. Of those older families, some had a major impact and then disappeared relatively quickly (like the Hadleys); some have been around for a long time, although maybe not prominent in MCH (like the Justis'); and some are just as visible as they were a couple hundred years ago (like the Eastburns). There's one family, though, that resided in and near MCH for over 150 years, then, with one notable exception, pretty much vanished from the area -- the Barkers.

The Barkers' history in Mill Creek Hundred may begin as early as the 1670's, in the early days of the English migration into the area. The patriarch of this branch of the family (there were several other closely related branches that sprang up in other areas) was Samuel Barker (1648-1720). Samuel hailed from Shropshire, England, in the west midlands near Wales. Exactly when he sailed for the New World seems to be in doubt, but one account has him making a petition for a parcel land before the court in New Castle in 1677. Scharf notes that he bought in 1680 and sold in 1682 land near Stanton. What seems to be more certain is that in March 1685, Samuel Barker was granted 200 acres of land in Christiana Hundred by the newly-arrived William Penn. This was before Mill Creek Hundred was created out of Christiana Hundred, so the parcel along Red Clay Creek was actually mostly in what would later be MCH.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Dr. Lewis Heisler Ball

Sen. L. Heisler Ball, 1919
As has been noted several times in the past, Mill Creek Hundred doesn't really boast much in the way of nationally famous sons or daughters. No Presidents, Nobel Prize winners, or world-famous artists hailed from here, as far as I know. That doesn't mean, however, that there weren't certain people who had their time upon the statewide or national stage. One such person who did rise above his humble beginnings was the son of a well-entrenched local family -- the physician turned politician Lewis Heisler Ball.

L. Heisler Ball (as he was more often known) was born in Milltown on September 21, 1861, the son of John and Sarah (Baldwin) Ball. Sarah Ball (1834-1905) was the daughter of William Baldwin, and probably grew up on Polly Drummond Hill Road, just south of Ebenezer Methodist Church. John Ball (1828-1900), Heisler's father, was the son of John Ball, Sr., and both Johns have popped up several times before in other posts. Both John Balls grew up near Milltown, in what I've dubbed the Joseph Ball House, still standing in what is now the parking lot of the Arundel Apartments.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

More About Water Troughs!

Water Trough at Canby Park
No, when I started writing this blog I had no clue that one day I'd end up writing multiple posts about stone water troughs, but here we are. What started out as a side note discovered while investigating the early history of the Delcastle Farm has turned into an interesting little mystery. Now, new information has widened the scope of the story even further.

To briefly recap the story, go read the post. To slightly less briefly recap, there are five stone water troughs sitting in two locations at the Delcastle Golf Course -- formerly a prison farm associated with the New Castle County Workhouse at Greenbank -- on McKennans Church Road. The troughs have dates carved into them, ranging from 1902 to 1912. One has an M carved on the reverse side.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Ashland Mill -- Part 2

In the previous post, we began looking at the history of the Ashland Mill, located on the east (north?) or Christiana Hundred side of Red Clay Creek along Barley Mill Road. We saw how the original mill was constructed about 1715 by John Gregg, and remained in the family until 1797. During that time, two houses were built that still stand -- the circa 1720 stone house behind the mill site and the 1737 brick house across Creek Road on a slight rise.

The mill and both houses passed into the Philips family for the next half century or so, before being sold sometime in the early 1850's. It's probably at this point that the 1737 brick William Gregg House was separated from the mill property and the stone house. On the 1868 map, the two are shown under different ownership. We'll leave William's beautiful house now, and focus our attention on the mill property and a "newer" tract just to the west, in Mill Creek Hundred. This is because in 1862, the old Gregg Mill at Ashland was purchased by another longtime local resident, Jehu D. Sharpless.