Wednesday, November 2, 2016

MCH History Blog On the Road: The Chambers House

Recently I was talking to my late-elementary school aged daughter about researching and writing. I told her that it's not unusual for you to have one idea about where you think an investigation will go before you start, and then have it end up going in a different direction once you start uncovering the actual facts. That is just what happened when I decided to look into the history of the Chambers House, located in Brandywine Hundred near Bellefonte, at the corner of Lore Avenue and Brandywine Boulevard. It's a beautiful Queen Anne style home on a corner lot, stylistically different from the comfortable early-century homes around it, yet somehow fitting in to the neighborhood.

I had known of the house before, but only that it was named for a former, high-level DuPont employee who had owned it for several decades. A few weeks ago I came across the name of the person who was credited for building the home in about 1894, so I was naturally curious as to who this person was who built such a stately home for the area. I had only her name to go on at first, but I ultimately did trace the ownership of the property from the early 1800's through the mid 1900's. I can honestly say that every step of the way had a "So that's who that was" moment, but in the end I can't quite answer the fundamental question at hand here -- Who built the Chambers House, and when?

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Lamborn, Guest, and the Bunco Steerers

The location of Chandler Lamborn's farm
In the last post we saw two articles telling tales of attempted swindling aimed at MCH resident David E. Eastburn. These occurred in July and November of 1888, with the earlier article referencing another successful ploy targeting a different MCH farmer. Since the bunco steerers (gosh I love that term) failed with Eastburn, it was unclear as to what exactly their plan was. But now, thanks to the research ability of Donna Peters (contributor of the first articles), we not only have a detailed account of the heretofore briefly mentioned incident, we have another story that appears to involve the same con artists. And although the new incident didn't take place in Mill Creek Hundred, it does end up having connections both to Mill Creek Hundred and (sort of) myself.

We'll get to the new story in a moment, but first let's catch up and find out exactly what happened to Chandler Lamborn. All we knew from the Eastburn article was that three days after failing with him, the swindlers succeeded in taking $500 from Lamborn. They left the area soon thereafter. The article below gives a detailed account of just what went down that day. It appeared the same day as the Eastburn article, July 14,1888, but in a different paper, the Wilmington Every Evening. It was all a complex scheme to get the 71 year old Lamborn to gather a substantial amount of money together so that they could steal it, literally, right out of his hands.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

The Attempted Scamming of David Eastburn

David E. Eastburn
It's an unfortunate fact of life that as adults in the world today, we're (hopefully) all very aware of the existence of con artists. Nowadays they can approach you in many ways, whether it's via phone calls (usually during dinner), emails from important-sounding foreigners, or their frightening-sounding presidential campaign commercials. In the 19th Century, however, they mostly had to do it the hard way -- in person. I'm sure there were things like fraudulent newspaper ads then, too, but in 1888 if someone wanted to separate you from your money or possessions, they usually had to do it face to face.

One consequence of this is that the con artists and criminals of the time had to pick their prospective targets more carefully. Unlike today's scammers who can blast out to thousands or millions their claims of fast riches, unlikely enhancements, or impractical walls, the cons of yesteryear had to spend time on their marks. Therefore, they'd want to find someone worth targeting. And in 1888, apparently someone (or someones) thought that Mill Creek Hundred's David Eastburn was a worthwhile target. Two separate newspaper articles from that year (graciously supplied by Donna Peters) detail shady interactions with him.

Friday, August 26, 2016

The 4th Delaware, Company E Reunion

Cpt. David E. Buckingham
Without question, the defining event for the United States in the 19th Century (if not ever) was the Civil War. For the soldiers involved, as well as their families, it was the most exciting and terrifying period of their lives. I'm sure anyone around now who has endured more recent military service can attest to this. One of the big differences, though, between the Civil War and more recent conflicts is the scale. About 10% of the population served in the war and about 2% died. This would be equivalent to over 32 million people in the service and almost 6.5 million dead today. The only thing that remotely compares was World War II, where the service percentage was comparable but the death toll was much lower.

War is, as I've heard, hell, but even through the carnage that was the Civil War the soldiers found at least one positive experience to take away from it -- camaraderie. These predominantly rural men, many of whom who lived on isolated farms, suddenly found themselves surrounded 24/7 by their fellow soldiers. They did everything together, relying on each other for companionship and, often, their very survival. When they eventually returned home to their farms, many had no one to talk to about their experiences and missed the brotherhood in which they had been immersed in the army. It's no wonder that in the decades following the war many attempts were made to rebuild the kind of camaraderie the men had felt in the service.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

The Charles S. Philips Photographic Collection

Greenbank Mill and the Philips House
There are many resources available to historical researchers in their attempts to reconstruct and make sense of the past. Public documents like censuses, birth, death, and marriage certificates, and government reports can give you an idea of what was going on where. Personal documents like letters and diaries can give insights into the why's of past lives. But for my money (such as it is) there's nothing quite like old photographs. Somehow, actually looking at an image (no matter how blurry) of a person or a place can make them seem real in a way that words on paper never can.

From what I've seen, at least, most of the historic photographs we have from the late 19th/early 20th Century era tend to come to us from professional photographers. Some are portraits taken in a formal studio, while many others were likely taken "in the field" by itinerant photographers. These were men (mostly) who traveled around with their camera and equipment and took pictures of those in rural areas who didn't have easy access to a studio in the nearest city. Some of these same itinerants took many of the photos for the postcards of the day, too.

All that being said, once in a while we're lucky enough to have some photos from a different kind of source -- an amateur photographer. Cameras were certainly not as common then as they are now, but they were not impossible to get or use, either. (In my own family, I have a great-great grandfather who had a camera in that era, and took some really cool shots. One was a triple exposure with three of him sitting around a table playing cards.) However, the process of taking and developing photographs at that time was still fairly involved. The people who did it really liked photography, and were probably very methodical people. They took pictures of things that interested them. We're fortunate enough that one such person like this hailed from Mill Creek Hundred, and came back to the area to take some wonderful photographs. Many of these photographs will be on public display later this month (August 2016).

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

St. Barnabas' Episcopal Church

St. Barnabas' Church, pre-1911
As with many rural areas in the 18th and 19th Centuries, some of the main pillars and binding points of the community in Mill Creek Hundred were its houses of worship. Early arrivers like the Quakers, Presbyterians, and Episcopalians set up their churches and meeting houses as soon as there were enough members to fill them. Many of these were firmly in place by the mid-1700's. Later groups like the Methodists and Catholics were not far behind. Initially in MCH, with the slight exception of Stanton (Cuckoldstown), there were no real towns or villages to speak of. Congregations usually built their churches wherever someone would sell or donate land.

By the later 19th Century, though, a few small areas did manage to grow to at least village status. One of these locales was the mill town of Marshallton. The iron works there had been running and growing since the early 1800's, and the village with it. Additionally, just a short walk away sat the little factory village of Kiamensi. All the workers living there (or at least, most of them) attended one church or another each Sunday. The Presbyterians would walk up Duncan Road to Red Clay Creek Church, which wasn't too far away. The Methodists went to Stanton originally, until they built their own church in 1886.

The Episcopalians of Marshallton and Kiamensi had even further to go. They were forced to walk to either Old St. James Church on the other side of Stanton, or to the other St. James Church in Newport. By the late 1880's, Marshallton and Kiamensi residents began to take matters into their own hands. [I should note at this point that much of the following information comes from the wonderful history posted on the church's website, written by Judy Reinicker and others.] What would eventually become St. Barnabas Episcopal Church began as a church school sometime prior to 1890, working as an extension of St. James Church in Newport. There was no church building yet, and members simply met in each others houses.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

A Few More Added Odds and Ends

The Dennison House
This is not so much a coherent post (if you'll give me the benefit of the doubt that most of them are) as it is a showcase for a few unrelated items that I've recently added to older posts. None of them quite justify their own separate posts, but all of them are interesting enough to be saved from falling through the cracks. So far only one item has even been mentioned in a comment, while another has been posted over on the blog's Facebook page. Let's start with that one, because it's the coolest photograph of the group.

The picture, seen to the right, is of the Samuel Dennison House on Limestone Road. It comes to us courtesy of Jim Derickson, whose father Jim, Sr. was the last owner of the Derickson Farm along McKennans Church Road. Jim's mother was the former Mildred Dennison, daughter of Frank and Mary Dennison. She grew up in the home that now houses office space for the Summit Retirement Community. Mildred's brothers, Frank, Jr. and Howard, were the last of the Dennisons to work the farm. I don't know the exact date of the photo, but my guess is that it could be from the late 1800's. The aerial photo below is much later, having been taken in the 1950's. It shows the Dennison Farm, sitting on both sides of Limestone Road running up to the north.

Monday, July 11, 2016

The Lost (?) Pilling Houses of Kiamensi

Was this one of the Pilling Houses?
This was just going to be a reply to a new comment in an old post, but the more I thought about it the more I realized that it needs more. This is mostly questions without answers at this point, but there's enough new information that there's a hope that it might lead to more someday. The comment in question came from Dave C. and was posted on a story I wrote about Powell Ford. Dave shared with us an interesting newspaper article he found, which originally appeared in the September 2, 1910 edition of the Wilmington Every Evening. I'll repost the article in its entirety in a moment, but first a refresher on the people involved.

Englishman Thomas Pilling (1836-1905) was, along with his brother John, one of the founders of the Kiamensi Woolen Company in 1864. The Kiamensi Woolen Mill sat on the northwest corner of Kiamensi Road and Red Clay Creek, just south of Marshallton. The company eventually owned more or less all the land between the B&O (now CSX) tracks and Kiamensi Road, from Stanton Road to just east of the creek. They also owned a good amount of land south of Kiamensi Road, too. Just how much, we'll get to shortly.