Friday, June 26, 2015

The Early History and Impact of the Wilmington & Western Railroad

Invitation for the inaugural WWRR train, Oct. 19, 1872
The topic of transportation advances has come up in several recent posts, but mostly in the context of the rise of the automobile and the changes it required of roads and bridges. That was the 20th Century. In the 19th Century there was another major advancement in transportation technology, one which forever changed the social and economic factors involved in the movement of people and goods. We're talking, of course, of the railroad.

There were three railroad lines built through MCH in the 1800's, two along its southern portion and one up its eastern side. The two southerly ones -- the PW&B (later the PB&W, now the Amtrak line) and the Baltimore and Ohio (now the CSX line) -- were just portions of much longer lines. There were stations here, but mostly they just passed through, sort of like I-95 through Delaware today. The third line, though, weaving its way along Red Clay Creek and then away to the northwest, was much more of a local business and passenger line. More Kirkwood Highway than I-95. This was the Wilmington & Western Railroad, and it was a good example of how a business can be important without being, itself, particularly successful.

Monday, June 15, 2015

The Changing Face of Milltown

A bridge on Milltown Road, 1921
In the last post we looked briefly at some of the changes that were taking place in and around Mill Creek Hundred in the decades surrounding World War II. [Editor's note: That started out as just the intro paragraph to this post, but rambled on long enough to be spun off on its own.] [Writer's note: I'm also the Editor.] One of the most noticeable things going on was improvements to the area's roads and bridges. Now we'll look more closely at the changes made over the years to one particular place -- the intersection of Limestone and Milltown Roads.

To be honest, this is one of those topics I had neatly avoided for years, primarily because it always seemed like more trouble than it was worth. I kind of understood what had happened, but it never completely made sense to me. Recently, however, with the help of Bob Wilhelm (who grew up very near the intersection), it all now seems much more clear. Hopefully it will to you, too, when you're done reading the post. It draws heavily upon Bob's recollections of his youth, and I thank him greatly for his help.

Monday, June 8, 2015

The Changing Face of Mill Creek Hundred

Section of Lincoln Highway (Kirkwood Highway) in 1918
The history of Mill Creek Hundred, as with much of New Castle County, can be neatly divided into two parts: the Pre-War Rural Era and the Post-War Suburban Era. In this blog we deal primarily with the earlier time period, but since the "modern era" began 70 years ago it's just as much a part of MCH's history as "The Olden Days". And while there are many still around who can remember it well (even if the details sometimes get mixed around), the events in the next post took place over a half century ago.

Once Europeans began settling MCH in the early 1700's, the face and general feel of the area didn't really change all that drastically for the next 200 years or so. Sure, the large tracts of the first settlers were broken up, farms got a little bit closer, and some new industries popped up here and there through the 19th Century, but all in all, I don't think someone from 1720 would have felt all that out of place walking around in 1880. Heck, he would have even recognized a lot of the names! The 20th Century, however, was a whole new ballgame. (Literally. Baseball historians use 1900 as the start of the Modern Era.) Take someone from 1880 and drop them on Kirkwood Highway in 1965, and I'd bet they'd be a bit taken aback.

Friday, May 29, 2015

William H. and Anna Walker Photos

William Hicks Walker
A while back I put out an open-ended request for any old photographs that anyone might have that pertained to people or places connected to Mill Creek Hundred. Since that time (although in a few cases not necessarily because of the plea) I've been fortunate enough to have had several people forward some old pictures to me. In some cases they relate to prior posts, and in some cases they don't. Where there are pre-existing posts that the photos are connected to, I'll add the new pictures to the old posts. If the subject is a new one, I'll put up at least a short new post about the pictures.

However, since I think all of these photographs are fascinating in their own rights, I want to at least give a very short post to even the photos going onto old posts, just to make sure everyone is aware of the new additions. I'll be putting some of these up over the next week or two, starting now. The first new pictures we'll take a look at are of folks mentioned (or at least, he was) in a post from three years ago, about a family that was the source of an unusual place name in MCH.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Ward-Dudkewitz House

The Ward-Dudkewitz House
couple posts back we were introduced to the fascinating little 1857 newspaper article relating the story of how General George Washington held a "council of war" in a house in Milltown, just prior to the Battle of Brandywine in September 1777. In that post I mentioned that the article raised two separate issues, and that I was at the time dealing only with the question of whether such an event actually took place as claimed. (We decided that there's no real proof either way, but for various reasons the story is very plausible.) Now it's time to tackle the other issue -- just a throw-away line in the article -- which turned out to be every bit as interesting as the Washington angle.

Instead of reprinting the entire article again, I'll refer you back to the original post if you're interested in the whole thing. Right now, we're essentially only concerned with part of one sentence. After mentioning that the house where Washington met was "the old Harlan property, now belonging to Mr. Allen Ward", it tantalizingly notes that "...the present owner has erected a substantial brick dwelling adjoining...". So I started thinking -- Harlan property in Milltown, brick house built in the 1850' must be the recently fire-ravished Abram Chandler House! It's usually given a build date closer to 1870, but there's a fair bit of ambiguity about the property in that time period. My second thought was, "Who the crap is Allen Ward?" We'll get to that second, elegantly phrased question in a moment.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Diamond State Kaolin Company

We all know that Mill Creek Hundred never had any sort of densely populated area like a city or even a large town. There were numerous small mill towns and crossroad hamlets, places like Milltown, Loveville, Corner Ketch, Milford Crossroads, and Wooddale. There were, however, only three locales that I would elevate even to Village status, each having its heyday at a different point in MCH's history.

First there was the milling and shipping center of Stanton (or Cuckoldstown for you oldtimers), prominent in the late 18th and early 19th Centuries. Then, as it started into decline, the manufacturing village of Marshallton (along with nearby Kiamensi) rose for a time in the mid to late 1800's. Finally, although it had been around in some form since the early 1700's, the northern MCH village of Hockessin became the "place to be" in the later 19th Century. Two of the biggest reasons for this Hockessin Golden Age had to do with the land, namely what was under it and what was built across it -- kaolin clay and the railroad. Recently I ran across a photo of an artifact that sits squarely in the intersection of the two. (Thanks go to Bob Wilhelm for identifying the background of the company involved.)

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

General Washington in Milltown

One of the things I really love about doing the kind of hodgepodge "research" that I do is the times when interesting and significant stories just pop up seemingly out of nowhere. Well, OK, they usually come from somewhere, whether it's something I happen to run across or something that someone sends to me. In this case, it was the latter. Recently, Donna Peters, who is a whiz at mining old newspapers for MCH-related stuff, sent me the article below. It's not all that long, but it managed to raise two separate and fascinating issues, neither of which I had known about before. The following appeared in the August 19, 1857 edition of the Delaware County American:

ONE OF THE RELICS. - It is said that General Washington and Staff held a council of war on the evening previous to the battle of Brandywine, in the house on the old Harlan property, now belonging to Mr. Allen Ward, in the Milltown, Mill Creek Hundred. The room pointed out for this important conference is little more than ten by twelve feet, and is still in good repair. Although the present owner has erected a substantial brick dwelling adjoining, we presume he intends to preserve this momento of the days of the revolution. The American army was posted in great force at this point, as the British were expected to take the route to Philadelphia, but they changes there course, keeping farther to the north, and the Battle of Brandywine, at Chaddsford, was the result. The house alluded to above, is built of logs, dovetailed together, which are in a remarkably good state of preservation; there are four rooms and a passage on the first floor, and five on the second, with a garret above; the floors are oak, and although they are said to be 112 years old, look as though they might last for a century to come. Attached to the ceiling, in the entry, is a three cornered box, which is of the shape of the military hat worn in the revolution, and it is generally supposed that it may have held the chapeaux of Washington. The descendants of the Harlans may know something of his history, and we have no doubt that they might furnish an interesting chapter in regard to it.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

The Mill Creek Hundred Blanket, or Banner, or Something

In a recent post I lamented the fact that as far as the Mill Creek Hundred area goes, there often seems to be a limited amount of information out there to be found. Many a time an investigation has stalled because that key piece of information just can't be tracked down. With the size and historic population density of MCH, it stands to reason that the same limitations hold true for items and artifacts, too.

In a perfect world, I'd have time to scour through yard sales, resale shops, and antique shops looking for MCH-related items (and have the money to buy them, but one fantasy at a time). With the mental catalogue I've put together the last few years, I'd have a decent chance at recognizing relevant items. I'd mostly have to be looking for recognizable structures (in photos) and names of businesses and families to link them to MCH. You wouldn't normally expect an item to just have "Mill Creek Hundred" written across it in big letters, right? Except, of course, for when it does. Like now.