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Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Myrtle Emma -- School and Bumps & Bruises

Union School, 1926
I realized that it had been a while since we'd seen another installment from Myrtle Emma, the memoirs of Mill Creek Hundred-raised Myrtle Emma Morris White. In light of the trying times in which we all find ourselves these days, I've selected two chapters that seem appropriate in their own ways. With children all over the country currently receiving their education at home and not in their schools, the first segment sees Myrtle recounting her memories of attending the small, mid-19th Century schoolhouse that stood just up the road from her home. In the second chapter, we have her writing about things that I'm sure many antsy kids are getting at home -- Bumps and Bruises. As a special "bonus", she even mentions the "Q word."

The school Myrtle attended was the Union School, District 31. A few years back it shared with another school a post which gave the general outlines of the school's history, as far as it's known. The problem is...the history's not known all that well. The school stood a couple hundred feet west of Corner Ketch Road, just south of today's Estates of Corner Ketch neighborhood. The datestone on the two-story schoolhouse was inscribed 1850, but it's said that this date was for the addition of the second story. Supposedly the original structure was a log schoolhouse built in 1780, replaced by the first story of the stone school in 1811. I don't have any particular reason to doubt this story, but I can't confirm it either.

Monday, March 23, 2020

The Stephen Mitchell House, aka North Star Farm

The Stephen Mitchell House
There are several different ways in which an old home can be considered "Historically Significant". It can be particularly old. It can be unique to its area, or very typical. It can have an association with important people or events. Sometimes, though, you find a house that ticks multiple boxes. Such is the case with a beautiful stuccoed stone house on North Star Road, just south of the Woodside Creamery. The Stephen Mitchell House, or North Star Farm, is definitely one of the older homes in the area, dating to at least the early 1800s, and probably quite a bit earlier than that. The house and property are in the unique position of having been associated with one of the biggest family names in the area from each of the 18th, 19th, 20th, and 21st Centuries. On top of that, in the mid-20th Century the property was involved in what I believe was a unique experiment in home ownership.

The origins of the property along North Star Road go back to the early 1700's. When and with whom, exactly, I'm not quite sure. There are several tracts in this area and few good landmarks to use in identifying their precise location. The "large white oaks" and "dead black oaks" used as markers are not exactly helpful nearly three hundred years later. However, I do know that a Scotch-Irish immigrant named Archibald McDonald did buy land in what would become the North Star area. The McDonalds were the first of the major families associated with the house, and I've come to understand them a bit more now. I had been familiar with Bryan McDonald, who had purchased land in the Brandywine Springs area as early as 1689. I also knew that the McDaniel family eventually owned land in the Paper Mill Road/North Star area. I had a pretty good idea -- since McDonald was alternately spelled as McDonnell, McDannell, and McDaniel in various documents -- that those McDaniels were connected with the earlier McDonalds. I assumed, as it turns out incorrectly, they were descendants of Bryan McDonald.

What I didn't know at the time is that there was another McDonald in the area early on -- Archibald McDonald. I have no direct evidence, but it appears that Bryan McDonald, Sr. and Archibald, Sr. were brothers. It was Bryan, Sr. who originally bought the land at Brandywine Springs, then left it to his son, Bryan. The younger Bryan and his siblings seem to have eventually left the area. Archibald, Sr. appears to have lived in MCH, but I'm unsure where. The first land purchase I can find is for Archibald, Jr. in 1737, when he purchased 150 acres from William Thomas. When Archibald died in 1749, the property passed to his son Thomas.

Monday, March 2, 2020

Limestone -- The du Pont Carousel Estate

A. Felix and Marka du Pont in Virginia, 1949
Most of the stories we see here take place primarily in the 18th and 19th Centuries. However, there are some more recent interesting tales, some recent enough that I know there are those who remember them and their aftermath firsthand. One of those is the story of Limestone, the estate of Mr. and Mrs. A Felix du Pont, Jr., which stood in the middle of what's now Carousel Park. I had heard stories from people in the past (and very recently) about the old stone house that stood there, which by the 1970's was a burned-out wreck. I never knew the story of the house before, but I do now, and it's ready to be told.

The story begins in 1939, when du Pont made two purchases from the Klair family -- a bit over 16 acres from Irvin and almost 53 from Willard (another 40 acres in 1964 from a different source would round out his his local holdings). Felix planned on building a home that, unlike some of the other MCH du Pont country estates, would actually be his primary residence. But who was this member of Delaware's First Family who wished to move his family to the rolling hills above Milltown?

Alexis Felix du Pont, Jr. was born in Wilmington in 1905, the son of A. Felix, Sr. and Mary Chichester du Pont. The elder Felix was a vice president and director of the Dupont Company. In 1929, he founded the St. Andrews School in Middletown (on the board of which his children and grandchildren would later serve). Senior's father, Francis Gurney du Pont, is credited as being the creator of smokeless gunpowder, and was the one who wished to sell the company out of the family in 1902, when cousins Alfred I., Pierre S. and T. Coleman gained control.

Monday, January 13, 2020

A New Old Photo of Marshallton

Our "newest" photo of historic Marshallton
Frequent readers of the blog will know that something I really enjoy is coming across "new" or "lost" old photographs of the area. In the decade or so I've been doing this I feel that I've seen most of the historic pictures out there, but once in a while I'll find (or more likely, as in this case, someone will send me) something I've never seen before. (Of course, like the "New World", these are only new because I was unfamiliar with them.) A recent example of this is an old postcard bearing a photograph of Marshallton, which is both very similar to others we've seen and at the same time, different. As a bonus, I've been able to piece together the very sad story of the recipient of the card.

First, though, we'll start with the picture itself. Like several others we've seen, it was taken on the NW side of Red Clay Creek, near the intersection of Greenbank and Duncan/Newport Roads. The photographer was looking up Duncan Road toward where Kirkwood Highway is now. Greenbank Road runs right/left, the wall you see is the small bridge over Ham Run, and the bridge over Red Clay would be behind you. Below is a current view from approximately the same place. The house on the left in the modern view was around for the old picture, but is obscured by the now-lost house that stood on the corner. The Bellew-Cain House further up Duncan Road can be seen in the old shot (bright white in the middle), but is obscured by trees in the new. Everything else visible in each shot is not now or was not then standing.

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

The Eden School

Eden School marker stone
We've covered quite a few, if not most, of the old, 19th Century schools of Mill Creek Hundred. These schools sat one to a district, and the districts (as they were in 1868) can be seen in the colorful map in the upper right-hand side of the page. The first of these districts were created as a result of the Free School Act of 1829, which was the first real attempt to make education available for Delaware children. The districts were each designed to hold about 35 students, with a small schoolhouse in which they would receive their rudimentary education. The funding to build the school and pay the teacher (from what I can tell there usually was only one per school) was derived from a school tax paid by the residents of said district.

However, as you can imagine, education in Delaware and in Mill Creek Hundred specifically did not begin in 1829. Although fewer in number than in later years, there were schools prior to the Free School Act. An earlier attempt at school funding created a fund for schools for poor children, with the money coming from marriage and tavern taxes. (Maybe because marriage and drinking are the two most common causes of children??) However, this was A) underfunded, and B) parents were reluctant to send their children there, in the process admitting they were indigent. If there was such a school in MCH, I am unaware of it.

Another, more common type of school was the subscription school. It was sort of like a local private school, with families paying a monthly tuition to the teacher. In reality, I don't think it was much of a transition into the public school system, with the school tax being just a mandatory "tuition", and the school board commissioners acting as middlemen. (And it should be noted that all these were, of course, only for white children.) The only such subscription school I had been aware of was the one founded in 1808 near Old St. James Church, west of Stanton. However, the story of another old school was recently brought to my attention.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Myrtle Emma -- Christmas Stories

Six of the Morris kids, c.1930
Just in time for the Holidays, I have a few Christmas-themed excerpts from our memoirist, Myrtle Emma White. Christmas was certainly a big deal then (1920's/1930's), but definitely not the all-out commercial extravaganza that it is now. And for a rural family with eight kids and limited resources, Christmas was less about getting lots of stuff and more about family, making things as special as you could, and enjoying what you did have. As a parent myself, I feel confident in saying that Frank and Elizabeth Morris did everything they could to make it as special as possible for their children, while secretly wishing they could do more. I also feel confident in saying that their children were raised well enough to appreciate what they had and not to be upset that they didn't have more. It probably helped that likely none of their friends or schoolmates had much more than they did. Again, the experiences of the Morris family are noteworthy not because they are unique, but because they aren't. Their story is the story of countless other rural families of the time.

The first of Myrtle's stories is about Christmas breakfast. It's a short segment, but in it you can really feel how much the family looked forward to this time together. The second passage is actually an excerpt from a larger chapter entitled The Seasons. We'll see the rest of it another time, but here I've included Myrtle's remembrances of the Fall/Winter holidays -- Halloween, Thanksgiving, and of course, Christmas. I find interesting Myrtle's takes on the first two, and how different they are from ours now. For her, Halloween was far from being the fun/candy/dress-up time that my own four year old looked forward to for months this year. Instead, she was so scared that she hid away, not participating at all. And Thanksgiving was "just a day home from school". They had a nice meal, but it was not the big, get-together-with-family holiday we know. I feel like that may not have fully formed until after WWII, when car travel was more universal and more easy. (Granted it was a few decades earlier, but in a previous post we saw that John W. Banks threw a party on Thanksgiving night in 1884, never even mentioning that it was Thanksgiving.)

Myrtle's recollections of childhood Christmases tell of joyous, though not extravagant, affairs. I don't know how many of today's kids would find it sufficient, but it sounds pretty good to me.

Friday, December 6, 2019

White Clay Creek School -- District No. 36

Postcard showing the White Clay Creek School
In the past we've taken a look -- sometimes in-depth, sometimes in a more cursory manor -- at most of the 19th Century schools that educated the children of the farmers, laborers, and artisans of Mill Creek Hundred. There has been one that I've skipped over so far, partially because I didn't much information about it, but mostly because I had never seen a photograph of it. One of the real joys about continuing to write the blog (when I thought I would run out of topics years ago) is that you never know when something wonderful will come out of the blue.

A few weeks back, Mary Torbey showed me a postcard she had recently purchased, which was labeled as "White Clay Creek School Building". I had never seen this particular one before, but I was pretty sure I knew what it had to be. The White Clay Creek School, District No. 36, stood for many years along the Capital Trail, the Road from Stanton to Newark, the Road to White Clay Church, or any of the many other things this stretch of road has been known as over the years. Although I knew where it had been, I did not know when it was built, when it closed, or when it was torn down. I figured I might be able to find out some more about it, but the first order of business was to verify that the schoolhouse on the postcard truly was the District No. 36 school.

As stated, the school stood on the north side of the main road to Newark, just east of Polly Drummond Hill Road and White Clay Creek Presbyterian Church. It is clearly seen on the 1849 map below. The trick to the current location, though, is that this stretch of the old road dipped south of the current path of Kirkwood Highway (as highlighted in yellow below). Therefore, the school sat south of Kirkwood Highway, as it so happens, on the property of a current school -- Shue-Medill Middle School. Its location is circled in red in the bottom photo below.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Myrtle Emma -- Father's Car and The Corn Roast

Brother Will at the wheel
In the latest installment in our look into Myrtle Emma, the memoirs of Myrtle Emma White, we find two stories both timely in their own ways. First up is Father's Car, wherein Myrtle tells us about...well...her father's car. It was a Velie Touring car, probably from the early 1920's. The Velie Motors Corporation made lower price, high quality cars from 1908 until 1928. It was founded by Willard Velie, a grandson of John Deere (yes, that John Deere).

The drive Myrtle mentions -- to her "father's parents' and his sister who lived with them" -- was only about five miles. James and Martha Morris lived on a farm near Ogletown, I believe right about where the intersection (interchange, really) of Rts. 273 and 4 are now. James died in 1917 (before his granddaughter Myrtle was born), but Frank's sister Laura lived with their mother, and that's who Myrtle would have been bundled up in the back of the car to see.

In this story, Myrtle also mentions that her father worked for the Newark China Clay Company. Much more information about that business can be found in a recent post. And to tie everything together, the top picture here shows Myrtle's younger brother Will at the wheel of his father's Velie. As an older boy, William Morris would work with his father at the clay company, working as a "bucket boy". Also, after the story you'll find another photo of Frank Morris and his car, in front of their Pigeon Hollow Road home. Myrtle is standing off to the side, and behind them is the (by then) former Eastburn Store. There will probably be an updated post at some point about both homes. In the meantime, enjoy the short but sweet Father's Car.