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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.

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Walker Farm Mystery Structure

The old stone...something
Whether you're a kid or a grown-up, there's no denying the excitement of being out in the woods and finding some old ruins. To know that sometime...a long time ago...someone built and lived in or worked in a beautiful, dignified building, of which you now see only the remains. It might have been their home, or their barn, or maybe a mill. If it's smaller it could have been an outbuilding, a springhouse, or a root cellar. Often, if you know what you're looking for, you can make a pretty good guess at what it was before it fell into the state of disrepair in which you find it now.

Sometimes, though, for one reason or another, identifying the former function of the stones, concrete or timbers you see can be tricky. There might not be enough left standing to tell for sure what it was. Or maybe its location just doesn't seem to make sense, or perhaps you've heard stories about it that don't really fit with what you're looking at. What can make this even more frustrating is when the said ruins are actually on or next to your own property. Such is the case with the stone building seen here, tucked between houses just a few yards from the northern edge of Mill Creek Hundred.

This beautiful and mysterious little stone structure sits along what is now a private driveway, but which once was part of a now-abandoned stretch of Doe Run Road. It lies just past where the road first branched west above Little Baltimore Road, as seen in the diagram below. It sits on the east side of the road on what was for many years the farm owned by the Walker family.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

The Newark China Clay Company

It's been fairly well documented that from the mid-1800's through the early 1900's, the mining of kaolin clay was big business in and around the Hockessin area. We touched on it a bit in a post about the Diamond State Kaolin Company. But kaolin mining wasn't just restricted to the immediate Hockessin vicinity, as we saw in a post mentioning the Peach Kaolin Company, which was located on Paper Mill Road. And apparently that vein of clay continued westward, at least through the area just beyond Corner Ketch Road. In that spot (now part of White Clay Creek State Park), for more than 30 years, the Newark China Clay Company extracted and processed kaolinite for multiple uses. One of its employees in the 1920's and 1930's was Frank Morris, father of our memoirist Myrtle Emma White.

However, the story of the Newark China Clay Company begins not with Morris but with Victor Ullman, a Swiss immigrant who came to this country in 1892. Ullman was a man of many pursuits, but his most valuable one was a widow named Louisa Graham. Her value came (in addition to being a wonderful woman, I'm sure), not from her married name of Graham but from her maiden name of Stoeckle. Louisa was the daughter of Joseph Stoeckle, owner of the Diamond State Brewery in Wilmington and one of the wealthiest men in the city. Ullman worked first for the brewery as a cooper and then as the head of its barrel-making shop. But in 1904 he and his brother Henry became involved with the Mineral Products Manufacturing Company (MPMC) of Philadelphia, and convinced them to move their plant to South Wilmington.

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Myrtle Emma -- The Neighborhood

Myrtle's Neighborhood
In the latest installment in our look at the memoirs of Myrtle Emma White, we get her recollections of several of the families who lived near the Morris family and their home on Pigeon Hollow Road. The map to the right shows where each of the families lived. At the end, I'll have a few notes and some quick background on a few of the people Myrtle mentions. Enjoy!