Friday, June 24, 2016

The Zachariah Derickson House -- The Early History of the Land and Family

The Zachariah Derickson House
One of the challenges in researching the historic properties in Mill Creek Hundred is that many of them have long-ago passed out of the hands of the families who built and originally lived in them. This means that the people who would be most invested in a site's history, and the ones who would presumably have the most information about it, are out of the equation. In a few lucky cases, however, -- like the Cox-Mitchell House, the Ward-Dudkowitz House, and Woodside Creamery (the Mitchell Farm) -- the property (or a nearby one) is owned by a member of the family who long occupied it. Fortunately this is the case with an old home that, while not exactly hidden, is probably unknown to most who drive by it -- the Zachariah Derickson House.

Located on the west side (left if you're going uphill) of McKennans Church Road between Milltown Road and Delcastle Golf Course, this Derickson house has been keeping watch down the hill for about two centuries now. And while the first decades of its existence still contain a few questions, most of the history of this house is well-documented. Aiding in this documentation is the fact that someone with the Derickson name has been living in or near it since at least 1842. If you jump to Zachariah's wife's family, the current Dericksons can trace their presence on the same land back to 1766.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

The Roseville Covered Bridge

We'll take a quick detour now between the last post and next post (both regarding the Milltown area) to introduce a site that I'm pretty sure I was unaware of before this week -- the Roseville Covered Bridge. I've written several times in the past about the Roseville area, which is located along Kirkwood Highway just west of Possum Park Road. The posts have mostly focused on the mill seat located there or the neighboring farm (I hate to keep teasing upcoming posts, but one soon will again mention a planned later iteration of the Roseville Mill). I was aware that there was a bridge there, crossing White Clay Creek, but I didn't know it was a covered bridge.

This shouldn't have been too surprising, really. All the surrounding crossings (Paper Mill, Red Mill, and Harmony) had, at one time, covered bridges. There's no real reason why Roseville shouldn't have also. The reason why I had never heard of it before can be explained by the August 19, 1901 newspaper mention of the bridge seen above (courtesy, as usual in these cases, of Donna Peters). And although, to paraphrase a contemporary author, reports of its death were greatly exaggerated, the Roseville Covered Bridge did not last quite as long as did some of the others spanning the borders of Mill Creek Hundred.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Filling in the Gaps at the Robinson-Harlan-Chandler Mill

It all started with Wedgebury
As I've said a few times lately, one of the things I'd like to do with the new resources available to me is to go back and fill in the holes in the histories of certain sites. As it turns out, I've been able to do a decent job of just that with one of the very first sites I covered here on the blog. I actually started out piecing together the history of a neighboring site (which will be the topic of an upcoming post), but since the two were originally part of the same tract it became very easy for me to jump tracks.

The site in question here is the Harlan-Chandler Mill Complex, located on the southwest corner of Limestone Road and Milltown Road. The original post dealt mostly with the 19th Century history of the site, covering the ownerships of the Harlan brothers and the Chandler family. Only brief mention was made of its earlier history, noting that it was originally the Robinson Mill and at some point Caleb Harlan took over. (Most of the recent attention has been on the burnt and being-rebuilt Chandler House, which is about a century newer than the time-frame we'll look at now.)

Friday, May 27, 2016

The Benefits of Primary Sources

Polly Drummond's 1838 purchase of her tavern property
As I mentioned recently both here and on the Facebook page, I've had access the past few weeks to a great many new (to me) primary sources. So far, the most helpful of these have been the Delaware land records and will/probate records. Like everything in life, there are pros and cons to this new world open to me. On the up side, I can mine data and facts from the original sources with out relying on things like Scharf and Runk, which, while well-intentioned, are riddle with errors. On the down side, it provides even more of a chance for me to get distracted and taken off course.

Some of the distraction part is sort of baked into the cake -- deeds can be thought of as individual links in a longer chain. Each one gives you not only information about the next one (this one's buyer is the next one's seller) but, as I've found, very often loads of information about the previous ones. In order to prove that the seller (or, grantor. buyer is the grantee) has legal claim to the land in question, the deed often gives background information on the property. Usually it's along the lines of "being the same tract or parcel granted by so and so by indenture dated such and such a date." Once in a while the chain of ownership is complicated enough that it may go back several steps or include other information. Needless to say, this can be enormously helpful.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Montgomery Follow-Up with New Resources

First Page of Moses Montgomery's 1848 will
I want to start by saying that this is not a paid endorsement, I'm just passing along information to those who might be interested. A few months ago I was tipped off (thanks, Walt) to the fact that Ancestry.com now includes a whole slew of Delaware land records, as well as will and probate information. Even though it's not cheap (at least to someone like me), my wife and I decided to treat ourselves to a subscription to see if it would be of use (she's doing a lot of genealogical research right now). I'm still figuring out exactly how to use it, but I've already come up with some information that I never would have had before, considering that I really don't have the time to schlep down to Dover to look for this stuff in person.

The land records are not complete, and I'm still learning to decode one and two hundred year old legalese, but a few new things have come to light already. I actually started out looking up something else, which happened to be connected to another branch of the Montgomery family. Somehow, I quickly ended up back on the same Montgomery land I just left. One of the more interesting things I've found is the Last Will and Testament of Moses Montgomery, first written in 1848 (and amended a few years later).

Friday, April 29, 2016

The Montgomery Family Cemetery

The Montgomery Family Cemetery
Whenever you're doing genealogical or historical research, one of the best sources of information has to be cemetery records. Whether you're looking for a birth date, death date, denominational affiliation, or just the correct spelling of a name (at least at the time), there's no better way to get the information than literally written in stone. I use this all the time (with the help of sites like Find-A-Grave) in my Mill Creek Hundred research.  The churchyards at Red Clay Creek Presbyterian, White Clay Creek Presbyterian, Ebeneezer Methodist, St. James Episcopal, the three Friends Meeting Houses (Hockessin, Mill Creek, and Stanton), and others have loads of great information on the past residents of MCH.

The problem, though, is that not everyone can be found at these official, church cemeteries. While most people chose to be interred in hallowed ground, some chose to remain closer to their beloved homes. Especially earlier in the history of the area, some families created and used private family cemeteries on a portion of their property. I don't think anyone knows how many of these family cemeteries there were, and I don't think we will.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

In Memory -- Gertrude Mitchell Bell and Anna Mae Hedrick

I don’t usually do obituaries here, but there are two recent notable passings that I thought I should mention. Both were wonderful people, had been mentioned in posts in the past, and had long-time links to the area. In fact, between the two of them they had over 200 years’ worth of connections to Mill Creek Hundred.

Our first loss occurred back in February, when Gertrude Mitchell Bell passed away at the age of 103. She was the daughter of John C. Mitchell and the granddaughter of John Mitchell. It was John Mitchell who, in 1868, purchased the Cox-Mitchell House (aka Ocasson) on Old Wilmington Road east of Hockessin. Trudy grew up in Hockessin, long before it was the Hockessin we know today. When I had the pleasure of meeting her a few years ago (I think she was “only” 99 at the time), I swear she remembered more about the Hockessin of the 20’s and 30’s than I remember of last year. She was a sweet, kind woman, a trait passed down to the rest of her family. And speaking of which, I can report that the now 290 year old house will remain with the family. They have a great deal of love and respect for the home, which bodes well for the future of the house I call The Birthplace of Hockessin.

The second notable passing, occurring earlier this week, was Anna Mae Hedrick of Marshallton. Ann had just turned 100 in January, and with the exception of the last few years in a nursing home had lived her entire life in her beloved Marshallton. She grew up, fell in love, and raised her family all there in the village which she saw greatly change over the course of her life. As she tells it, Marshallton was “out in the country” when she was young. I first met Anna Mae through the Friends of Brandywine Springs, where she was the last remaining member of the group who had actually attended the amusement park. She enjoyed showing off the scar on her arm that she got from the slide in the funhouse. She was also a longtime member of the Mill Creek Fire Company, even driving the truck during World War II.


Both of these women had a special connection to their particular corners of MCH, and their presence will be sorely missed. My condolences go out to each of their families, but both can take comfort in knowing the effects that each of the special women had on countless others during their enviably long lives.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Abel Jeanes Wants a Road

Whenever I'm researching history (or even just watching a show or reading about it for fun), one of the truisms I try to keep in mind is the reality and humanity of the people who populated that past. They weren't just one-dimensional characters, they were real people, the same kind of people we have now. There were good people and bad people, generous people and greedy people, quiet people and outspoken people. And just like today, everything that they did they did for a reason. Sometimes those reasons were kind and magnanimous, sometimes they were petty and self-serving.

All this came to mind recently when I was looking back over an old newspaper article forwarded to me a while ago by Donna Peters. It originally appeared in the March 1, 1825 edition of the Wilmington paper the American Watchman, and was really more of a letter to the editor than an article. The piece, written by "A Citizen of White Clay Creek Hundred", dealt with the county's Levy Court's reconsideration and approval of an earlier denied request for a road located in western Mill Creek/northwestern White Clay Creek Hundred. The writer seems less than thrilled with the idea of the county footing the bill for the road in question.

Under normal circumstances, the Levy Court's consideration of whether or not to fund a public road would not be all that exciting or noteworthy -- it was one of its regular functions. However, in this case the story is more pertinent to us due to the identity of the petitioner for the road -- Abel Jeanes. As we've seen in several previous posts, Jeanes, co-founder with brother-in-law Joseph Eastburn of the Eastburn-Jeanes Lime Kilns, was quite a forceful personality. He was undoubtedly a good businessman, but he didn't seem to be all that concerned with being a well-liked businessman.