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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!

Monday, September 30, 2019

Stanton's Forgotten Mill

Approximate bounds of the 17 acre lot sold by
Isaac Hersey in 1733
Today we think of Stanton as little more than a loosely defined area, anchored by the ever-growing intersection of Newport Pike (Rt 4) and Limestone Road. But in the 19th Century, Stanton was a thriving village with industries of its own, and always seemed to be on the verge of growing into a full-fledged town and industrial center. The recently posted newspaper article/love letter from 1887 perfectly encapsulates this feeling, that Stanton was about to turn into a boom town. As I think we all know, that never happened. It did, however, remain as an economically healthy village.

In the post-Civil War era, in addition to the usual village businesses (taverns, shops, blacksmith, cobbler, etc.), Stanton had in or near it a merchant grist mill, a bone mill (it ground animal bones for fertilizer), and three textile mills. One of the textile mills was the Kiamensi Woolen Mill located below Marshallton, and it was associated with the Independence Mill that stood near the Hale-Byrnes House just southwest of the village. There was, however, a third woolen mill, located even closer to the heart of Stanton. At one time it was the largest, closest industry to the village, yet because it vanished years before the others did, it's been largely forgotten.

It stood, for about 150 years, just behind where the Walgreens is now, across from the end of Telegraph Road. The very early history of the tracts in this area is quite murky, but we do know that in 1723, French emigree Isaac Hersey purchased at a sheriff's sale much of the land below Stanton. In 1733 he sold an approximately 17 acre piece of it to Simon Thetford, who in turn sold it about a year later to Thomas Gray. In 1738, Gray sold the tract to James Guthery. In none of these sales is a mill mentioned, so we can infer that it was Guthery, sometime after 1738, who erected the first mill at this site. It was presumably also he who dug the almost mile and a half long race that began on Mill Creek above Old St James Church. Guthery owned the mill property until 1771, when he sold it to Caleb Harlan and Joseph Pennock.

Monday, September 23, 2019

Stanton: A Town Long Asleep [Not] Beginning to Wake Up

While researching some of the mills in the Stanton area, I came across a story in the Wilmington newspaper The Daily Republican, which ran on January 27, 1887. Ok, it's really not so much of a "story" as it is part love letter to and part Chamber of Commerce propaganda about the village of Stanton. Stories like this were not totally uncommon, and I suppose they gave the paper's mostly urban readers a taste of what the outlying towns and villages were like. Maybe they sometimes go overboard, and feel like they should end with "Schedule your next trip there today!!!"

Instead of showing the original article (which can be hard to read here), here following is a transcription of the entire piece. Some of the people and places may be familiar to you, or they may not. Afterwards I'll have a few things to say about the article (because, of course I will). Here it is in all its glory:

Monday, September 16, 2019

Myrtle Emma -- A Walk to the Store and The Tradesmen

Dempsey's Store, c.1880's
In another installment in our ongoing look at Myrtle Emma, the memoirs of Myrtle Emma White, we'll look at two chapters, with commerce being the unifying theme. The first piece is entitled "A Walk to the Store", and it's about...um...a walk to the store. The second is called "The Tradesmen", and in this piece Myrtle talks about some of the vendors, salesmen, and other colorful characters that would occasionally pass through their little corner of Mill Creek Hundred.

The store that the Morris girls walked to one nice Saturday (and countless other days, to be sure) was Dempsey's Store, at the corner of Corner Ketch and Doe Run Roads. It's almost exactly one mile from their house on Pigeon Hollow Road. In 1885, John T. Dempsey, Jr. purchased about 38 acres from Victor du Pont (which du Pont had just purchased at a sheriff's sale) and opened a store, in addition to farming. In 1921, he sold the property to his son George W. Dempsey, so the Mrs. Dempsey referred to is probably George's wife Louise. The school and the lodge building mentioned by Myrtle will be addressed in future posts. The Dempsey property, while no longer a store, is still owned by the Dempsey family.

A Walk to the Store

It was a Saturday, a nice day weather-wise. Mother needed some things from the store. She asked my older sister Maud and me to go. Our little brother Will would have liked to tag along, but he was cutting kindling for the black cook stove, so we went without him.

The store was a long walk. My sister carried the folding money and grocery list. We passed lanes with farm houses in the distance and mail boxes standing at attention with their red flags down. We passed the sheep farm with the collie dog running along inside the fence, barking because we were strangers. We passed the barn and saw a flock of sheep in the meadow. They stood in their tracks watching us pass. Next came the school house lane and more farm houses with trees that overhung the road. We slowed down and enjoyed the shade. Over the hill we saw the big lodge building where our parents went on Monday nights.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Myrtle Emma -- Home

Myrtle, Bill, Frank, Mother Elizabeth,
and Duke, in front of their Pigeon
Hollow Road house
This is the first installment of Myrtle Emma, the memoirs of Myrtle Emma Morris White. It's the longest of the pieces she wrote, but one of the most interesting and informative in terms of understanding "pre-modern" Mill Creek Hundred. I find it fascinating and important not because the life she's describing is unusual, but precisely because it's not. Although the Morris family were not farmers, their lifestyle would have been very similar to most residents of MCH from the early days until World War II or later. These writings are special because they give an amazing insight into how most people lived "out in the country", before electricity, plumbing, sewage, and for the most part, paved roads.

The house described in this piece is located on Pigeon Hollow Road, on the right side of Corner Ketch Road just above Paper Mill Road -- behind where Whiteman's Garage stood for many years. We'll talk more about the area in an upcoming segment, but I can reassure all that the Morris' stone house is still standing, and in fantastic shape. The current owners have done an amazing job with it, keeping the original structure and adding a large but tasteful addition in the rear. The stucco evident in the old photos has been removed, revealing the beautiful stone beneath. The front door has been removed and seamlessly filled in. The house is certainly historic, dating to at least the early 1800's. I hope to have more information on it in the near future. In the meantime, enjoy "Home", by Myrtle Emma White:

Home was a two-story stone house with an attic, a garage, and a porch. I lived there with my mother, father, three brothers and four sisters. It was shared space and belongings. There was no electricity or indoor plumbing.

By the front door, in a good spot for the light, was a washstand with a marble top. On it sat a water bucket and dipper, and a mirror hung over it. In the drawer were combs, toothbrushes, and shaving razors. A razor strop hung by the mirror and a rolling towel rack hung beside it. Behind the doors at the bottom were a wash basin, towels, wash cloths, and soap.

Thursday, September 5, 2019

An Introduction to Myrtle Emma

Myrtle Emma Morris White
While I don't have anything as formal as a Mission Statement for the Mill Creek Hundred History
Blog, ever since I started writing it about ten years ago I've had a few different purposes for it in mind. First, and most obviously, it's a place for me to write about the topics I'm learning about myself and to put the information out there for anyone else who might be interested in it. I was hoping that there was an intellectual market for it, and I've been thrilled, humbled, and grateful for the following I've had over the years. However, it's always had another purpose, and it's one of the reasons I like the blog (and Facebook) format.

Since the beginning, I've tried to make and allow the blog to be a forum, a gathering place, a place where everyone else can also contribute their own personal knowledge and ask their own questions about our local history. I've always been very excited whenever someone contacts me with an old picture of theirs, whether they know the whole story behind it or not. I've been honored to share the many guests posts that others have written for us. And frankly, over the last couple of years, I'd say that most of the post topics have come directly or indirectly from questions, comments, or suggestions from readers. This has been a very rambling way of saying that I have another such item to share with everyone -- one that will flow out through several posts spread out over the next few months. It's also one that I hope might inspire others like it.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

The Trolleys of Brandywine Springs -- The Kennett Trolley

A Kennett trolley passing by Lake Washington
at Brandywine Springs Amusement Park
In the last post, we looked at the Peoples Railway Company, formed by Brandywine Springs Amusement Park manager Richard W. Crook with the main objective of providing the residents of Wilmington and beyond with easy, cheap, quick access to the park. It did a fine job of that, and allowed the park to flourish during its decade and a half heyday from about 1901-1915. That being said, it actually barely made its way into Mill Creek Hundred, with the exception of the Marshallton spur, and even that was barely in the hundred. There was, however, another trolley line built to service the park, and this one had well over five miles of track in MCH.

In May 1899, the West Chester, Kennett, and Wilmington Electric Railway Company (WCK&W) was chartered with ambitions not quite as grand as its name, and a future that would be even less so. It never ended up getting anywhere near West Chester, and only made it to Wilmington for a very short time and with the help of the Peoples Railway. The original plan was to connect to the Peoples Trolley at Brandywine Springs, build a line northward through Kennett Square to Unionville, and connect with a proposed extension of the West Chester Street Railway. Only part of that plan actually happened.

The WCK&W first had to wait for the Peoples Railway to be built, and as we saw in the last post that did take a few years. Once they knew it was "on", the first proposal was to build a line from Kennett Square through Avondale and West Grove, terminating in Oxford. Long story short, by 1906 the line had extended to West Grove, but never made it any further west, and never got anywhere near Oxford. The line that interests us was completed in 1903, with service first being available from Kennett Square to Yorklyn in May 1903. By August, trolleys were running from Brandywine Springs all the way to Toughkenamon. In contrast to the Peoples Trolley's 5 cent fare, the ride from Kennett to the park would cost you 20 cents.

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

The Trolleys of Brandywine Springs -- The Peoples Trolley

Doing its job advertising the park
Of the three trolley lines that once made their way into Mill Creek Hundred, two of them were created primarily to shuttle passengers and park-goers to and from the Brandywine Springs Amusement Park. It would be hard to talk about the two lines independently, and pointless to discuss them with out also including the park. We've discussed the park before -- how it started as a resort hotel in the late 1820's, then operated mid-century as a smaller hotel. In 1886, Richard W. Crook took over the hotel and slowly changed the property from a hotel to an amusement park. In the waning years of the 19th Century, he realized what his park needed to thrive into the 20th -- a trolley line that would make it easier for the city-dwelling folk to visit his park out in the country. This would turn Brandywine Springs into what amounted to a trolley park in reverse.

Trolley parks were ubiquitous in the late 1800's and early 1900's, with well over a thousand dotting the national landscape in the early part of the last century. They were built by the local trolley companies, out at the end of their lines usually on some sort of water (a lake, river, or creek), to serve a couple of purposes. First, in an age when the trolley was many people's primary transportation to and from work and school, the parks helped to boost ridership on the weekends. The second purpose had to do with that great advancement of the age, electricity.

While many started out horse-drawn, by the 1880's trolleys were electrically-powered. The trolley companies either paid a flat rate for their electricity, or more commonly, generated it themselves. The power cost them money either way, so they might as well have the trolleys running as much as possible. Plus, in the days when electrification was still an ongoing concern, the trolley parks would be lit-up as much as possible, dazzling their guests with the modern miracle of electricity. For example, the Brandywine Springs' entrance archway was covered in lights, and lit at night was probably the most lights that most guests had ever seen in one place before. So whereas in a traditional trolley park the line existed first and then the park was built, at Brandywine Springs the opposite was true.