Wednesday, June 19, 2019

The Levi McCormick House

The Levi McCormick House
Back in 2012, I wrote a post about the Randolph Peters Nurseries, located on the western end of Mill Creek Hundred. I now want to revisit not Peters, but the house shown here and on that post, which at the time I very hesitantly said might have been his. Thanks to inquiries from the current owner of this beautiful home and much better information available this time, I can now unequivocally state that this was not Randolph Peters' home, although it was in his family for a short time.

This is what I've chosen to call the Levi McCormick House, although the history of the land (and almost certainly of the house) goes back much further than McCormick's arrival in 1879. The farm was originally part of a larger tract that extended all the way up to Possum Park Road, but was down to about 105 acres by the time Nivin Caldwell acquired it sometime before 1777. Caldwell died in 1787, and in 1795 his widow Agnes sold a tract of about 72 acres to another widow, Mary Black. The farm was approximately the shaded area seen below, located east of Newark and on the north bank of White Clay Creek.

Thursday, June 6, 2019

Spring Grove Mills and Estate -- Part II

The Spring Grove Mills Estate today
In the last post, we followed the story of the Spring Grove Factory from its beginnings as Henry Brackin's grist mill, through its history as a cotton and woolen mill under various owners. When we left it, the factory had been converted back to woolen production under owner Aquila Derickson. And after Aquila's passing in the early 1880's, the property was sold to one of his sons, Joseph W. Derickson. Although many of the facts are clear, there is a glut of confusing information about what exactly was going on during the 30 or so years the Dericksons owned Spring Grove, especially during the 1880's.

We get some frustratingly incomplete and at times contradictory details from several sources. Of Calvin Derickson, J.M. Runk in 1899 says that he was involved in the manufacture of spokes (which we knew) and in the wool and cotton business with James Ford. I do not know who James Ford was, nor does his name show up anywhere else. Of Joseph, Runk has this to say: "For a period of ten years he operated the Spring Grove mills, manufacturing silk and woolen yarns. The mills were destroyed by fire in 'the fifties', and he sustained a loss of more than five thousand dollars." The last part is just wrong, as we know exactly when the mill was destroyed, and it wasn't in "the fifties". If there was a fire then, it was before the Dericksons were involved and it was rebuilt. But, it does give us our first mention of silk being made here. Now read what Scharf has to say about the site:

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Spring Grove Factory and Estate -- Part I

Spring Grove, taken by Charles Philips, 1895
Many of the recent posts here have been about families and their farms, but as we all know, this ain't Farm Creek Hundred, it's Mill Creek Hundred. It's been a while since we've taken a look at one of the many mills that one graced our region, and one of the main reasons for that is that I've already written about most of the major mills that operated here. There were, however, numerous smaller mills around that operated for varying lengths of time, and about which we know very little. This is the story of one such mill -- Spring Grove. This is a fascinating story, with only a few small holes remaining in the narrative.

I've known of the existence of the mill for quite a while, but I had been unsuccessful in finding very much information about it, until recently. Through my own research and through the amazing and detailed research of the site's current owner, David Deputy, we've come up with an almost complete history of the site, the mill, and the house built next to it. And what a story it is!

We begin in the days prior to the American Revolution, when Henry Brackin, Sr owned a large tract of land along what would become Stony Batter Road, as well as an old sawmill built along Mill Creek. His land actually stretched slightly across Mill Creek, and it was on or very near the southeastern portion of Henry's farm, very near that sawmill, that on September 8, 1777, British and American sharpshooters traded shots as the invading Red Coats camped along Limestone Road. This event would be known as Gen. Weedon's Foray, and was uncovered by Walt Chiquoine during his research for his paper Finding the Nichols House. When Henry died in 1779, his property went to his son Henry Brackin, Jr.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Billion Gallon Border: Part II - The Old Mill Stream

In the last post, guest writer Robert Wilhelm began telling us the story of Hoopes Reservoir by first relating the tale of the Red Clay Creek reservoir that never was. In this post, he tells us of the background and construction of the reservoir that was created, and a bit of what once stood where the water now is.

-- Researched and written by Robert E. Wilhelm, Jr

Hoopes Reservoir, 1933
An alternate reservoir location involved Old Mill Stream, a tributary of the Red Clay Creek in Christiana Hundred and the location of the present day Hoopes Reservoir and Dam. A dam constructed across the Old Mill Stream valley could contain water at a higher level (~ 225’ water surface elevation above sea level) than a dam associated with the Red Clay Creek Valley (~180’ water surface elevation above sea level if a reservoir was to remain inside Delaware; 150-160 feet if not impacting Yorklyn). Holding 2-billion gallons of water, an Old Mill Stream reservoir offered greater water depth at the dam with equivalent storage capacity and less surface area as compared to a Red Clay water pool.

There was little infrastructure present in the Old Mill Stream valley which was not the case for the Red Clay Creek Valley. Within most of the 480-acre footprint of the proposed ‘Old Mill Stream Reservoir’ was the former mill property and farmland belonging to T. Coleman du Pont including Dupont’s summer home. Once an operating water-powered stone mill constructed in 1732, du Pont personally converted the idle mill into a mansion. A smaller stone mill constructed in the 1850s on the property was in ruins and would remain to succumb to the reservoir’s rising waters, while du Pont’s home would be demolished leaving only the stone walls behind.

Thomas Coleman du Pont and his wife Alice Elsie du Pont (his cousin) bought the property in 1906. By 1910 they had converted the original mill building to a rural weekend home to complement their home at 808 Broom Street in Wilmington. Called ‘Old Mill’ the original mill’s stone, quarried on the property, contained quartz, mica, and garnet speckles that the du Ponts left exposed on inside walls. The first floor, below grade and adjacent to the mill pond and millrace, contained the mill home’s water wheel powered electrical generating system. There was central heat with fireplaces in each of the major rooms. The second floor was assigned to the caretaker and family. The du Pont’s occupied the upper two floors with the third floor being open architecture for use as a living space or ballroom. Bedrooms and baths were on the fourth floor.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Billion Gallon Border: Part I - The Red Clay Creek Proposal

I'm excited and proud to present here another Guest Post from Robert Wilhelm. Bob has done some great research into the origins and construction of Hoopes Reservoir, and in this post and the next relates to us the story of how it came about. But first, this post tells the story of the reservoir that wasn't -- the proposed Red Clay Creek reservoir. I think you'll agree they ended up making the right call.

-- Researched and written by Robert E. Wilhelm, Jr

Hoopes Reservoir today
The centerline of the Red Clay Creek serves as the border between Mill Creek Hundred and
Christiana Hundred. During most days, the creek is only a few tens of feet wide. In the late 1920s, a proposal was seriously considered that would have changed the Red Clay Creek’s width to hundreds of feet for nearly a third of the creek’s length within Delaware. The City of Wilmington, needing another potable water reservoir to support a growing population and industry, studied flooding much of the Red Clay Creek Valley north of Wooddale for a reservoir that spanned both Mill Creek and Christiana Hundreds.

By the early 1900s, it was apparent to Wilmington Council members that any number of events might place the city’s reliance on the Brandywine Creek for potable water in jeopardy. While the city had reservoirs, they were proving inadequate. A study, commissioned in 1919, recommended an additional reservoir of at least a billion gallons be added to the city’s water systems for use during drought, Brandywine Creek contamination, or for emergency use.

In 1924, Wilmington commissioned a study as the first step for a project to eventually construct a large reservoir outside of city limits to store water for augmenting the Brandywine’s supply. Wilmington Water Department engineers considered multiple natural landscape locations associated with the Brandywine, White Clay, Christina, Pike, Red Clay, and Mill Creeks where land might be purchased for a new reservoir. Northern New Castle County’s Piedmont stream valleys are rich in spring-fed tributaries feeding creeks. This combination results in ideal natural opportunities for the creation of water storage lakes and reservoirs.

Thursday, May 9, 2019

The History of the David Eastburn Farm

David Eastburn
When I first started writing this blog nearly a decade ago, I basically just went around and wrote about whatever seemed interesting to me in the moment. I had to think about and decide what my next topic would be. Nowadays, though, it's much more common to have the topics come to me, often stemming from contacts with readers. This particular subject, like the previous one (The Huston-Springer Houses), started with an email from the current owners of the home. In this case, it's the beautiful Italianate-style David Eastburn House on Corner Ketch Road between Paper Mill Road and Doe Run Road. I did a post about it back in 2011 wherein a gave a rough outline of the history of the property and David Eastburn himself, as best as I could determine at the time.

Well, as I stated in the Huston-Springer post, I have a lot more data at my disposal now. Prompted by the contact from the owner, I went back and was able to come up with a much more detailed history of the property, both before, during, and after David Eastburn's tenure there. So much detail, in fact, that I hardly know where to start. So let's start with David, almost certainly the builder of the house but not the first resident of the land. When I asked the current owner what he had heard of the house's history (always a crapshoot because you never know what kind of information has been kept and passed down with a property), he said he'd been told that it was originally owned by several siblings. I'm glad to say that in this case at least, the information seems to be correct.

In the original post, I make no mention of the property and only passingly state that the house was built in the 1850's, possibly around the time of David's wedding in 1857. The reality is so much more complicated than that, but I'll try to keep it as concise as I can. The first thing to understand is that the farm David Eastburn owned at his death in 1899 was acquired in four separate tracts, going from west to east. The four parcels (which I'll call Tracts 1-4) can be seen in the diagram below. My lines may not be accurate down to the foot, but they're pretty close. The house is denoted with a star and is located in Tract 1, the largest of the tracts and the first one acquired by the Eastburn family. And to circle back, it was acquired by the family.

Monday, April 29, 2019

The Real Story of the Huston-Springer Houses

The James Springer House
Author's Note: I apologize for this post running a bit longer than most. However, I felt that these two houses needed to be dealt with together, as their histories are inextricably linked. This is one of those cases where you really can't understand one property without understanding the other, and I didn't see any good place to divide it up into two posts.

There are many reasons why I enjoy researching and writing these posts (the pay not being one of them). Obviously I enjoy the history -- uncovering and giving voice to stories that have either never been told or which have been largely forgotten. I like trying to better understand the past and the people who inhabited it. But there is also the mystery and informational "treasure hunt" aspect to it. I really like starting with just a bare bones amount of information, and seeing how much of the story I can end up filling in. But as with any investigation, my ability to reconstruct the story is limited by the resources I have and the amount of data I can collect. Luckily, sometimes those limits expand over time. With more resources comes more information, and sometimes with more information comes different conclusions.

Yes, this is all going somewhere. A little more than six years ago, I did two posts about the Springers of Northern Mill Creek Hundred. It wasn't until halfway through the second post that I finally got to the two houses I had originally set out to explore. These were what I had called the Stephen Springer, Sr. and Stephen Springer, Jr. Houses, both located in Mendenhall Village, on the south side of Mendenhall Mill Road. At the time, all I had to go on was a misleading passage from Runk, some not-so-helpful censuses, and the usual maps.

From all that, I surmised that Stephen Springer moved sometime in the 1820's from his family's home in Hockessin to the westernmost of the two Mendenhall-area houses, the one off of Village Drive. I stated that this house later went to his son James, while Stephen, Jr. built the eastern house (near Pump House Circle) in 1843, after being given a portion of the family farm. I had no information on what became of either property after the ownerships of Stephen, Jr. and James.

Recently, though, I received an email from the current owners of the western home, which I had labeled the Stephen Springer, Sr. House. After looking back to see how little information I had about it the last time, I decided to take another look, this time armed with, among other things, access to historic deeds and land transfers. And wow, I'm glad I did. It turns out, some of what I wrote was correct, some of it was sort of correct, and some of it was just flat out wrong. I'm here now to correct the record, as best as I can. It's still not crystal clear, but I'll lay out the situation as I now understand it.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

The Bellew-Cain Lot and the Yarnall Survey Map

The 1850 Yarnall Survey Map
This story all started when Marshallton-area historian Denis Hehman posted an image of an old survey map that he has in his collection. To be honest, he'd shown it to me before, but I never really looked at it very closely or did any research on it before. That was a regrettable error, because when I saw it this time, this little hand-drawn map kicked off a very fun and surprisingly in-depth investigation. And to top it all off, thanks to the wonders of social media it even connected to several descendants of players in the story, something that would never have happened with just an email between friends.

Everything starts with the map. It's very simple, but tricky to understand without any context, of which it gives very little. As its title says, it's a "Draught of Jacob Yarnall's Lots, Surveyed Oct 19, 1850 by I. Lobb." Once I took a good look at it, I knew about where Yarnall's lot was, but I was curious to see if I could determine exactly where it was/is. The biggest clues as to its whereabouts are the roads and watercourses shown. Red Clay Creek is at the bottom, with Ham Run coming down the middle of the map and the west edge of the lot. The road heading off to the right labeled as New Port Road is what we know as Duncan Road today, while the Stanton Road at the bottom is our Greenbank Road. Since Ham Rum does not extend very far, this places our lot somewhere on the left hand side of Duncan Road, if you're driving up the hill from Marshallton to Kirkwood Highway.

The next thing I did was to consult the New Castle County Parcel Search website to see if I could find any properties that might still look like this today. The fascinating thing I've found over the years doing this is that you can often find traces of property lines hundreds of years old still evident on the map today. And when I looked at the current parcels, I couldn't help but notice the highlighted one below, about halfway up Duncan Road between Greenbank and Kirkwood Highway. When I measured the area of the now three lots, they totaled just over 2½ acres -- the same as Jacob Yarnall's lot from 1850. A quick glance at the old maps showed the same name there in 1868, 1881, and 1893, but not Jacob Yarnall's. These were enough clues, however, to get me started in telling the complete history of this lot.