Friday, January 18, 2019

More B&O Pictures Around Delaware Park

Old lights along the platform
Last Fall I posted some beautiful pictures taken by Ray Albanese of the former B&O railroad tracks
and related items located near Delaware Park. These seemingly simple photographs ended up being pretty exciting, as they resurrected the knowledge of the existence of track pans (a pretty rare item) along the line near the park. Ray also provided us with shots related to the former passenger platforms that serviced the park from the 1930's until the early 1970's. He also promised us that once the foliage retreated for the season he'd get back out there and take some more pictures. Well, he has delivered.

Ray recently sent me another batch of railroad-themed pictures from the Delaware Park area, and I think they are just as interesting as the first. In true fashion around here, they also raised another mystery. And if that weren't enough, in an email he managed to bring up a whole 'nother set of questions. But first, to the photos...

These shots can be neatly divided into two groups, the first of which shows remnants from the passenger platform used by riders of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad for almost 40 years. It was (and remains of it are) on the north side of the racetrack, between the track and the Kirkwood Lot. The picture above and the two below show the lights that once lit the platform, as well as some of the rolling gates. Ray says there are about six of these light poles still standing. I know it's private property, but I'm a little surprised that they are still there.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

The Benevolent Order of the Sons and Daughters of Harrison Smith

From the Wilmington paper, February 21, 1889
This story is a little different than most here, because it doesn't really involve Mill Creek Hundred or any specific site elsewhere. It's the story of an investigation I joined in at the request of someone a half a country away, but which may have helped uncover a forgotten piece of African-American Delaware history. Like many great adventures, it all began with a book.

One day out of the blue I received an email from a former attorney and current antiquarian bookseller in Texas named Adam Schachter. The owner of Langdon Manor Books in Houston, Adam contacted me hoping for some assistance with a 19th Century ledger he had acquired. It had belonged to a group called the Benevolent Order of the Sons and Daughters of Harrison Smith (hereafter called, "the group"), and mostly covered the years from 1871-1874. Never heard of them? Neither had I. The only reason Adam found me was that one of the few clues available was that the group had connections to an Ebenezer Church. He found my post about the Ebenezer Methodist Church on Polly Drummond Hill Road, but we both quickly realized it was not the same one. I initially searched, but could not find another Ebenezer Church that fit the criteria.

Although I didn't have access to the whole book, I was told that it specifically mentioned New Castle County, and possibly St. Georges. The only other thing Adam had found at that point was a reference to the group being incorporated by the state in 1889. This is what the article above is detailing. Mr. Maull (Charles H. Maull of Lewes) introduced the bill, and the group was named for Harrison Smith, "a well-known colored man". It was an African-American group organized for the purpose of caring for the sick of their community and burying their dead. Many groups like this from all communities popped up in the later half of the 19th Century, in the days before both health and life insurance were common.

Friday, January 4, 2019

The Peoples Farm

Peoples House and Barn (courtesy Dick Joyce)
Considering the number of years I've been at this and the relatively small size of Mill Creek Hundred, you'd be forgiven for thinking that I would have had time to get to just about every corner of the hundred by now. It turns out that there are still areas with deep histories that I've yet to delve into. One such area was brought to my attention a while back by an email from a gentleman named Dick Joyce, who lived there for much of his younger years. (It'd be impolite for me to reveal his age, but let's just say that at the time much of the country Liked Ike.) The area in question lies along Graves Road just west of Newport Gap Pike. In the 19th Century, there were three distinct properties lying along the road, all within a half mile or so of the turnpike. All three farms are long gone, of course, but two houses still remain, both of which date back well into the 18th Century.

We'll take a look at all three properties eventually, but we'll start with the one that sat closest to Newport Gap Pike -- the Peoples farm. No, this wasn't some sort of Hippie commune (not that there's anything wrong with that). It was owned for over 150 years by the Peoples family, from 1854 until 1995. The main part of the former farm is now occupied by the neighborhood of Wyndom. Although of course the history of the land goes back further than 1854, we'll start with the Peoples family, since I know there are folks around who still remember them.

Their introduction into the story of Mill Creek Hundred took place on April 10, 1854, when William Peoples (1811-1868) purchased a little more than 64 acres of land from William Strode (we'll get back to Strode in a bit). William Peoples was born in Ireland, the son of Hugh and Mary Peoples. Although his father later resided (and died) in Tyler County, (West) Virginia, since several other of his siblings lived in Delaware I would assume the family came here first. At some point prior to 1838, William met and married Mary Ann Morrison. The couple lived in Wilmington, eventually increasing their family to include six children. The 1850 Census listed William as a carter, which meant that he drove a cart (two-wheeled as opposed to a four-wheeled wagon).

Monday, December 3, 2018

Who's at the Banks Family Picnic?

The Banks Family
Since Mill Creek Hundred is a relatively small area, there are of course only so many families
involved in its first few hundred years of history. That being said, I always find it interesting when a particular family keeps popping up over and over again. And with a fantastic "new" picture shared with me recently, the family in question this time are the Bankses. Members of the Banks family have shown up in several past posts, including ones regarding the Jabez Banks Invitations, additional Banks Family items, and Automotive Pioneer Richard R. Banks. Another Banks brother, John W. Banks, also made appearances in a post about a barn fire and the one about the bunco steerers.

Of course, there were upwards of about a dozen Banks siblings milling about New Castle County in the late 19th Century, so it would kind of be surprising if we hadn't heard from them before. To the best of my knowledge, though, the only family members we had photographs of were Jabez Banks, Jr., his wife Sarah, and their three daughters Jessie, Bessie, and Annie. The good news is that now we a great photo that certainly contains more of the Banks family. The bad news is that we don't yet know exactly who is who in the shot. I'm fairly certain that Jabez is the guy behind the yellow dot. I also think his wife Sarah Chambers Banks is in the black dress in the back left. (You can click on the picture to see a larger version.)

Now maybe it's just me, but I happen to think that poring over old photos like this one is pretty fun. I've done very similar things recently with pictures of my own family, from roughly the same time period. I'd say this photo was taken somewhere around 1900, give or take a few years. I'd also say that the Banks men had a very distinctive look. I think I can smell the mustache oil. (Full disclosure: I have no idea what mustache oil smells like.) Down below is a picture of Jabez and one of him and family, for reference. In the group shot, I count at least seven or so guys that all look very similar. I'd be very surprised if some of those men aren't his brothers Richard, John, Edwin, Henry, Charles, and William.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Some Railroad-Related Pictures at Delaware Park

B&O culvert over Mill Creek
I admit to not knowing the full story behind the birth of Delaware Park and the selection of its site. But whether it was intentional or not, its proximity to not one, but two major railroad lines had to be at the very least a piece of good fortune. The property was literally bordered by the Pennsylvania Railroad (now the Amtrak line) on the south and the Baltimore & Ohio (now the CSX line) on the north. While passenger service was discontinued years ago by the B&O and the PRR (although it was revived by SEPTA in 2000), remnants and memories do still remain of previous era -- if you know where to look. And lucky for us, former Stanton resident, history lover, and friend of the blog Ray Albanese does know just where to look.

Over the summer, Ray returned to some of his old stomping grounds and took some amazing pictures, which I can't thank him enough for sharing with us. I posted these pictures recently over on the blog's Facebook page, and a number of interesting discussions arose from them. But for those who can't or don't access Facebook, I wanted to post the pictures here as well. Instead of trying to weave them all into some sort of semi-coherent post, I'll just show the pictures and include some sort of description with them.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

The David Graves House

The David Graves House
Longtime readers of this blog may know that something I find fascinating is the phenomenon of historic houses hidden back in the midst of newer, suburban subdivisions. As the farms of the 18th and 19th Centuries were sold off to make way for the housing developments of the 20th, the fates of the old farmhouses were really up in the air. Many were torn down to make way for the new, but some, if they were in good enough shape (and/or still owned by the farming family), were spared the wrecking ball. I'm grateful to the owners and developers who kept these old homes around, because many have rich histories and connections to the founding families of Mill Creek Hundred.

One such house can be found on Carillon Drive in Brandywine Springs Manor, off of Faulkland Road across from Brandywine Springs Park. This is the David Graves House, and it and its surrounding property have stories that trace back to the earliest days of Mill Creek Hundred, with some interesting personalities along the way. The field stone house that stands today certainly dates back to at least the mid-1800's, and there's reason to believe that part of it may be much older than that. Thanks in large part to the tireless work of Walt Chiquoine, the history of the ownership of the property is pretty well-understood. It certainly sits in an interesting corner of MCH.

The first European settler on what would become the Graves farm was a Scots-Irish immigrant named Bryan McDonald. In 1689, he was given a warrant for 239 acres by William Penn, followed in 1703 by two more for 154 and 200 acres. All three properties were surveyed in 1705 and a patent issued in 1706 for a total of 593 acres. As the figure below shows, the tracts were centered around what's now the Faulkland Road/Newport Gap Pike intersection. As you can also see, the site of the Graves House is located in McDonald's original 1689 parcel. Considering that the house sits along a ridge of high ground overlooking the surrounding area, there's good reason to think that McDonald's original homestead site may have been very close to the current house.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

The Denney-Morrison Farm -- Part II

In the last post we were introduced to the Denney-Morrison Farm, which was located along Old Capital Trail across from the entrance to Delaware Park. We first entered the story in the 1890's, when it was owned by Irvin L. and Clara Emma Ball. We traced its history backwards, going through the ownerships of the Morrisons, the Denneys, the Conners, and ultimately, back to the Balls. And while the property dates back to the early 1700's, I surmised that the house itself may have been built sometime in the the 1820's. The stately home survived until well into the 1900's, but its function (as well as its surroundings) had to adapt to the American Century.

It's fitting that our starting point for this farm was the Irvin L. Ball tenure, because it was at the close of his ownership that the property ended one chapter in its life and began another. On March 20, 1907, for the price of $5600, the Balls sold their 101 acre farm to Joseph Calvin Eastburn. Joseph was, of course, from the same Eastburn family that has been prominent in the area for over 200 years. He was a grandson of the family's patriarch David's eldest son, also named Joseph. Joseph C. grew up on his father's farm in White Clay Creek Hundred. As best as I can tell, it was situated along Salem Church Road, about where Christiana High School is now. I also think they later moved to Red Mill.

There is every indication that Joseph C. (or Calvin, as he also went by) bought the property as a farm, and used it as such for close to 20 years. By the early 1920's though, it looks like he was looking to move away from the farming life. In April 1924, Eastburn sold much of his farming equipment. This was fine, because that same year he began dividing up and selling off his land. The new development was called Eastburn Heights, and Joseph was busy in 1924 selling lots to those looking for a suburban setting. (Not, though, to everyone looking for such a place. In what I'd like to think is more a reflection of the times than the man, all Eastburn Heights deeds had the following restriction -- "No part of the said property shall be subject to the occupation or ownership of any person or persons of African birth or descent." And to be fair, there were also restrictions regarding building porches, houses, and having a business on the lot.) Eastburn held on to the farmhouse for a few more years, carving out about five acres for it on Lot #103 of Eastburn Heights.

Friday, May 4, 2018

The Denney-Morrison Farm -- Part I

The Denney-Morrison House in 1897
We are definitely fortunate to have in Mill Creek Hundred a good number of historic homes still standing and in productive use. That being said, it's also true that the vast majority of structures raised in the 18th and 19th Centuries have since been razed. If we're lucky, some of those few that have been demolished in "recent" times (say, the past 30 years or so) might have had the chance to be documented before their fall. However, countless old homes in MCH and beyond have been torn down with little or no permanent record of their existence, aside from their possible inclusion on one or more of the old maps.

Once in a while, though, we get lucky enough to come across a photograph of one of these long-gone houses. As you can imagine, the difficulty can come in verifying that the house in the photo is indeed the one you think it is, when you have no current structure to compare it with (Don Prather's Armstrong Tract posts are a great example of this). What can really help is another rare event -- finding someone who actually lived in it (or whose family did). In this particular case we do have both -- an old photo of a historic, lost home and confirmation of it from someone with a direct connection to it.

The investigation into the Denney-Morrison House (my name for it -- don't bother trying to look it up) began with an unidentified picture included in a cache originating from Gary Gilbert (and passed along to me by Denis Hehman). Gary is a descendant of the Gilbert/Ball/Cranston family featured in the post about the Edward Cranston House. I had actually had this photo for several years, but I had no idea where it was taken. Being included where it was, I sort of assumed it was in the Marshallton area. But, the more I looked at it the less it looked like any house in Marshallton I knew of. The faces are a bit blurry, but what I could see sure looked like Irvin and Clara Emma Ball. Plus, they did have daughters, and the kids in the photo definitely look like girls.