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Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Hockessin's Disappearing, Reappearing Road

Meeting House Road area today
Over the course of the centuries, it's not unusual for roads to come and go, or for them to change in some way through the years. On the back of the recent post about Benge Road, a question was raised about Meeting House Road, and about Lee Road, which looks like an extension of it north of Auburn Mill Road. When I started looking closer at the old maps of the area, I saw an interesting evolution of the roads in this area, north of Hockessin.

We'll start with the current configuration, seen to the right, and then go back and see the progression through time. As you can see, today Meeting House Road runs up from Old Wilmington Road to Auburn Mill Road, then Lee Road extends as a residential road up to about the state line. Auburn Mill Road comes west from Benge, goes past Meeting House for a short bit, curves north, then sort of peters out.

The two oldest maps we have - Heald's 1820 map and the 1849 Rea & Price - are basically identical to each other in their layouts. (There actually are a few older, Revolutionary War era maps that show roads, but they're not particularly precise and were drawn by people literally passing through the area, so not real helpful to us here.) They both show the Old Public Road (now Old Public Road and Benge Road at the north end) heading to the northeast and Old Wilmington Road continuing to the northwest. Meeting House Road is shown heading north from the Hockessin Friends Meeting House up into Pennsylvania. This makes clear the road's original purpose, which was as a pathway to the Marshall Mill on Red Clay Creek. Although much of this length is long gone, if you look again at the current map above you can see the original end of the road, now part of Marshallvale Lane.

Wednesday, February 3, 2021

The Origins of Benge Road

Location of Benge Road, north of Hockessin
Normally when we think of traces of history around us or historical sites, what comes to mind are things like houses, churches, mills, or battlefields. However, some of the most interesting and instructive artifacts are the things we use every day, but rarely give much thought to – our roads. Most people have at least a vague notion that some roads are new, while others have been in place for a long time. This is certainly true of the roads in and around Hockessin.

Anyone familiar with the roads today would recognize many of the same ones on a map from, say, 1868. Readily visible are most of the main thoroughfares like Limestone Road, Valley Road, Lancaster Pike (although along what’s now Old Lancaster Pike which was actually the Newport and Gap Turnpike), Old Wilmington Road, Meeting House Road, and Yorklyn Road, among others. Some were very old, like Limestone Road, and likely started as Native American paths used by the earliest European settlers in the area. Some were created for a specific purpose, like Yorklyn Road’s path from Old Wilmington Road to the Garrett Snuff Mills, laid out in 1863. Once in a while we’re even lucky enough to have some of the details as to the when, why, and how of a road’s coming to be. Such is the case with Benge Road.

Thursday, January 28, 2021

The Family of William and Mary Eastburn

Without question, one of my favorite things about doing this whole history thing is when people are kind enough to share with us old photographs from their family's collection. We all know that there are lots of these types of pictures sitting in shoe boxes and old photo albums, in attics and basements everywhere. Most people, though, don't think anyone would be interested in their old family pictures, especially when they themselves may not know who some of the people are, or when or where they were taken. But believe me, we're interested!

The amazing picture shown here came from one of my "history friends", Ray Albanese, and it was shared with him by an extended family-member named Lois. Lois' maiden name was Jones, but her mother was from one of the most prolific of MCH families - the Eastburns. This is a picture of her grandfather Herbert S. Eastburn's family.

More accurately, it's the family of William M. and Mary (Baldwin) Eastburn, and their 10 children. They were married in November 1863 (exactly one week after the Gettysburg Address was delivered, FWIW) and had 11 kids over the next 22 years (one died young). This is their family in about 1905. That estimate comes from the fact that one of the sons (William) died in 1907.

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

An Immigrant's Story -- Raffaele Di Guglielmo, a.k.a. Rafael Julian

Pasqualina and Raffaele
di Guglielmo
This should be obvious, but pretty much every local resident ever mentioned on this blog was either an immigrant, or the descendant of immigrants. Almost all of them were products of the so-called First Wave of immigration, arriving anywhere from the 17th Century through the mid-19th Century. In MCH we have 17th Century Swedes, Fins, and English; 18th Century Scotch-Irish and English; and 19th Century Irish, English, Germans and others. These were all from northern and western Europe.

The Second Wave consisted of late 19th and early 20th Century immigrants (think Ellis Island) from more "exotic" locales in eastern and southern Europe -- Poles, Slavs, Eastern European Jews, Greeks, Russians, and, probably most impactful to their new country, Italians. Since most of these Second wave immigrants stayed in cities (often the ones they first arrived in), Mill Creek Hundred did not see very many of these new arrivals. There is, however, one major exception that was noted in the post a few years back about the Abner Hollingsworth case -- the Italian Colony at Wooddale.

The colony was a community of over 100 Italian immigrants, comprised of stoneworkers at the Wooddale Quarry and their families. It seems to have been a fairly self-contained community, and because there were many single men there, a pretty raucous one. Wild Wooddale, as I call it, had an array of illegal saloons, gambling houses, and places catering to other pleasures. I still don't know very much about the community itself, but I have been able to gather information about one of the apparent leaders of the community. He was mentioned briefly in an article from the time about the Hollingsworth case, noting only that he ran a saloon and was accused of having tried to scam one of the local farmboys. Separating fact from fiction about this era can be tough, but I did find at least part of this man's amazing story.

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

The Hand Family of Brandywine Hundred

The Isaac Hand house, shortly before
demolition in 1962. Inset shows a family
 headstone at Newark Union Cemetery
One of the running themes of this blog is the idea that every place and every family has a story, and that they are worthy of being remembered. While I believe that to be true, the reality is that like individual people, some families are more interesting than others. A little while back I was contacted and asked about the Hand family, who owned a couple of farms in Brandywine Hundred, around the Shipley Road/Silverside Road area. Although this is certainly outside of Mill Creek Hundred and might not be as familiar to some, I know that area pretty well. I found the necessary information to determine where the Hand farms were, but it wasn't until I started finding more stories about the people themselves that I realized just how interesting this family was.

The family's story in America seems to have begun with Gilbert Hand, who in 1808 purchased 53 acres on the south side of what would become known as Silverside Road, about a three quarters of a mile east of Concord Pike. Gilbert sold the farm three years later to Alexander Hand (almost certainly his son), who in turn divided the property in 1846 between himself and his oldest son, Isaac. Alexander kept the western 30 acres, while Isaac got the land (at first, 20 acres, then a few years later another 3) on the eastern end. Shipley Road does not seem to have been in existence in 1846, but was built a few years later and positioned along the boundary of the two lots. Alexander's farm was sold out of the family in 1866, a few years after his death. Isaac's property would stay in the family until 1962, when the development of Delwynn was built on it -- but we have a few stories before we get there.

Thursday, November 12, 2020

The Lincoln Highway and the Capitol Trail

Capitol Trail Markers ready, July 22, 1920
This post began life as a simple comment on the Elmer Powers/Midway Garage post about the correct spelling of Old Capitol Trail -- specifically, whether it should be “Capitol” or "Capital". Commenters David G and Raymond made the claim that it should be Capitol, because the route originally ended at the Capitol Building in Washington, DC, and that “capital” is the town or city which is the seat of government while “capitol” is the building in which a legislature meets (and capitalized, Capitol refers specifically to the national Capitol Building in DC). On the one hand, that made perfect sense, but on the other hand the Capital Trail Garage was most definitely spelled with an "a". We needed to break the tie.

To be honest, I had heard the "leads to the Capitol" story before, but it never quite made sense. I grew up off of Old Capitol Trail. I walked along it as a kid. I rode my bike on it, caught my bus on it, even delivered newspapers along it. (I actually still have dreams of where I'm walking or riding on it.) Nothing about this little two-lane road screams "I'm the Trail to the Capitol!". It only runs, if you're being generous, from Prices Corner to Newark (and that's with a gap in the middle). So if this theory is correct, there has to be a reason why this little road got this grandiose moniker.

If I ever thought about it at all, I guess I assumed that the name maybe dated back to the Colonial Era? Perhaps in the early days of the country this was part of the main north-south route? Nice thought Scott, but there are several problems with this. First, there was no Capitol to even go to until the 1790's. Secondly, the main north-south route through the area then basically ran along what's now Rt. 4 out of Wilmington to Newport and Stanton, through Christiana, then out Old Baltimore Pike to Elkton. It definitely did not go through Elsmere and Marshallton to Newark because... third point here...Elsmere, Marshallton, and much of the road didn't exist in the late 18th/early 19th Centuries.

Thursday, November 5, 2020

The Troubled Story of Elmer Powers and the Midway Garage

The Capital Trail Garage, formerly
Elmer Powers' Midway Garage
A few years back I wrote a post about the Capital Trail Garage, operated by Robert E. McFarlin (and
Wilmer E. Sharpe) from 1931 until about 1940. There was precious little information about it at the time, except for a few basic facts, a few educated guesses, and some wonderful photographs provided by Mr. McFarlin's daughter. Among the many points on which I could only speculate was whether McFarlin built the garage himself or whether he moved into an existing business. I've now uncovered new information that not only answers that question, but also tells the tragic tale of a young man who was associated with the business prior to McFarlin's arrival.

It turns out that there was indeed an existing establishment that Robert McFarlin took over in 1931 -- the Midway Garage. Located in the western outskirts of Marshallton on the south side of Old Capitol Trail (then, at various times, referred to as "Capital Trail", the "Capitol Trail", "the Lincoln Highway", or "the road from Marshallton to Newark"), the Midway Garage sat on land purchased in 1909 by Benjamin C. Hollett. The details of the founding of the business are unclear, but I've seen what I believe is a reference to it in late 1922, and definitely in early 1924. Most of the early mentions of the name in the newspaper are in classified ads listing cars for sale. Maybe someone else knows more about this sort of thing going on at the time, but it looks like they probably bought, fixed, and resold cars.

The Wilmington Morning News Annual Directory, published on June 17, 1924, gives us our first look at the name of the operator at the time -- George C. Hinrichs, a 42 year old, recently naturalized German immigrant who had arrived in the U.S. in 1897. [Edit: I did later find a June 1923 story about how Hinrichs had his arm broken while cranking the car of a "girl driver" (their words, not mine), who left his garage without paying.] Hinrichs left Marshallton a few years later and for about 20 years ran a service station at Dupont Highway and Basin Road. In March 1926, Midway Garage was included in a large advertisement listing all the locations that would be selling AMOCO products, although the proprietor is not named. Interestingly, there are four service stations listed in Marshallton alone (Midway, M. Bennett, Highway Garage, and Mullin's Service Station). There are only eight shown for Wilmington, and only fourteen others for what seems to be the rest of New Castle County. 

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

The Fascinating (and Confusing) Lobb Family -- Part II

Locations of past and current (as of 1881) Lobb properties
In the last post, we took a deep and confusing look at the Lobb family, who from 1847 until 1882 lived along Barley Mill Road amid land now owned by the Mt. Cuba Center. There were a number of obstacles to understanding the family from the census records, mostly due to uncertainties over the identity of various people's parents. Our starting point was the 1850 Census, compiled only three years after Mary and George W. Lobb purchased their home, and helpfully enough the first census to list every person individually by name. Unfortunately the 1850 Census did not list each person's relationship to the head-of-household (which would have been really helpful), as that did not begin until 1880.

The first mystery we face for the family in the 1850 Census is the relationship between Mary and George, with whom she bought the house and three acre lot. He's definitely not her husband, as you might first assume. He was born in 1828, about thirty years after Mary, and a few years later married the former Hannah Hoopes. In the 1860 Census, George, Hannah, and their children are listed as a separate household in the same house as Mary and the others. George's occupation is shown as butcher, which would make sense for a man with a small (three acre) farm. In 1870 he's listed completely separate from Mary's household, and shown as owning $15,000 in real estate. Although that's quite a large amount, he's nowhere to be found on the 1868 map. Judging from the names near him, he seems to have been somewhere on Lancaster Pike near Wooddale. I've also not found any record of George's buying any other properties in Delaware. I cannot explain his 1870 listing.

What I can explain is where he and his family went next. Sometime before 1880, George bought a farm in Pennsbury Township, Chester County -- just west of Chadds Ford. Although I don't have access to Pennsylvania land records, the map seen below, from 1883, shows George Lobb's farm just above the center. For reference, The Gables at Chadds Ford restaurant is now located in that small, triangular intersection directly south. There is still a house on Lobb's property which is dated to c.1740, meaning it was likely his home. The bigger question for us, though, is who was George W. Lobb?