Thursday, April 10, 2014

The Justis-Jones House

The Justis-Jones House
In the recent post about the McComb-Winchester House I teased about a link between its most prominent owner, Henry S. McComb, and Mill Creek Hundred. That link comes in the form of the house seen here, the Justis-Jones House. It's situated on the west side of Newport-Gap Pike, just south of and up the hill from Brandywine Springs. It's one of those houses that lots of people probably see and think, "Gee, that's got to be an old house," but know nothing about. Although not the most flashy of homes in the region, to me it has its own air of dignity. It also happens to be somewhat unusual for the area in two major respects.

First, unlike most of the remaining houses from the first half of the 19th Century, it was never the manor house of a large farm or estate, and was only ever briefly occupied by its owner for much of its first 60 or 70 years. The second difference is in what is known about it. Whereas it seems with most sites that we're digging to find a scrap here and there about any owners we can, much research was done into the ownership history of the Justis-Jones House. This is one of the last sites in MCH listed on the National Register of Historic Places that I've gotten to here on the blog. It's NRHP nomination form has an almost mind-numbing amount of information about the various owners of the house. Needless to say, I'll just do a brief overview of its history, hitting the major points. Later on I'll provide a link the the NRHP form if anyone wants the whole story.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Yet Another Spring Hill Brewery Update

Spring Hill Brewery (courtesy John Medkeff, Jr.)
Almost a year and a half ago I wrote the first post about the Spring Hill Brewery, which was located on the north side of Barley Mill Road, just east of Barley Mill's crossing of Red Clay Creek. For a full refresher I suggest going back to review the original post, but the short story is that it was a brewery run by the Biedermann family for about 30 years, from 1881 until the early 1910's. I was able to piece together a good part of the Spring Hill story, but a few holes still remained.

Since I never consider any topic ever "Closed", the discovery of a few more pieces of information prompted the first follow-up post several months later. Most of this post covered the August 1909 explosion at the Wooddale Quarry, which I thought had marked the end of the Spring Hill Brewery. Also included were bits of aerial photos from the 1930's that I speculated might be of the Biedermann property, or what was left of it by then. Still, though, there were three main questions that were not sufficiently answered, at least in my eyes. When did the brewery truly cease operation (and why)? Where exactly was it? And what did it look like? I'm very happy to say, that with a huge assist from a new friend and fantastic resource, I think I have pretty good answers to all these lingering questions.

Friday, March 28, 2014

The St. James Church Road Bridge

SJCR, looping north and west past the church, 1881
Sorry this is a bit longer than normal, but I wanted to write everything up.

As some of you may recall from recent comments, a few weeks ago I went on a very nice walk in the woods with two guys who both had personal connections (unbeknownst to each other until we started walking and talking) to the area in question -- Bill Saadeh and Bill Harris. We met along the short stretch of Old Milltown Road behind the Harlan-Chandler Mill, just west of Limestone Road and south of Milltown. While I believe it's still technically a public road, it's really now a de facto private drive for the several houses along it. While we were standing there getting started one of the homeowners came out to see what these three men were doing standing around. We explained why we were there, and she was very nice and helpful (although I think the Bills' local connections helped ease any concerns she may have had).

We took a look at the old Harlan Mill (now apartments, I think), the old course of Milltown and Limestone Roads, and some of the old water features of the area. As we made our way south along Mill Creek, we found the old stone remains mentioned by Bill S. in one of his comments. There's not much there (in fact, you really have to look hard to see that it's man-made and not just an outcropping of rock), but we agreed that it probably was some sort of springhouse, quite possibly dating back to the Harlan Era (early 19th Century).

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

MCHHB on the Road -- The McComb-Winchester House

The McComb-Winchester Mansion
Since it's been a while since we've done this, I thought we'd take a trip beyond the borders of Mill Creek Hundred to visit one of my favorite of the lost houses of Wilmington. On the north side of Rodney Square today stands the Classical Revival building erected in the 1930's as a federal building, courthouse, and post office. In recent decades its public duties have gone elsewhere, and now it serves as the headquarters for Wilmington Trust, now a subsidiary of M&T bank.  But for about 20 years, this block bounded by 11th, 12th, Market, and King Streets was owned by one of the wealthiest men in the city - Henry S. McComb.

On the southwest corner of the block stood the site of the once majestic Henry S. McComb Mansion. The space that's now the west end of the old Federal Building was formerly home to one of the most impressive examples of early Victorian architecture in Wilmington. Built in the Second Empire style imported from France, the McComb Mansion displayed the style’s typical mansard roof and turrets. In addition to the front of the house facing Eleventh Street, there was an extensive wing along the Market Street side. Built of brick and rising to three stories, the house was as powerful as the man who built it.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Mid-Week Historical Newsbreak -- Merestone Sales Ad

Mixed in amongst the old newspaper clippings of fires, horrid deaths, animal abuses, train wrecks, and
murders (guess what -- there never was a "peaceful good old days") that have been forwarded to or found by me, there are also a fair number of real estate sales ads. Depending on how old they are and how good your knowledge of the area is, for many of them you can determine exactly where the property is that's for sale. If you can, the ad can be an invaluable resource, giving you a heaping portion of information about the property and what it consisted of at the time. The ad seen to the right is is an example of one whose identity was not all that difficult to discern.

The ad comes to us from Philadelphia's Public Ledger, dated December 16, 1844. It tells of the upcoming sale of 216 acres belonging to John M. Beeson of Mill Creek Hundred. The ad lists, among other things, a part stone and part frame mansion house, a 70 x 40 foot three story stone barn, wagon house, spring house, tenant house, corn crib, and other out-buildings. The property also had a "thriving young apple orchard" which also had pear trees, cherry trees, and other fruit. All in all sounds like a nice property, and one I should have written about. Turns out, I did!

Thursday, March 6, 2014

John Quill and the Craig-Quill House

A couple of years ago I wrote a post about the Walter Craig House, or at least what's left of it. I was taken to it by nearby resident Roger Suro, who had come across the ruins on some of his frequent hikes in the area. While today the house and barn are nothing more than a few low, ruined walls, for at least the better part of a century this now wooded locale was a thriving farm. In the post I was able to cobble together the framework of a story for the house, from its ownership by Walter Craig to its sale and ownership by John Quill. From census and map data I came up with a few general facts for each owner, but not really a whole lot, to be quite honest. Now, thanks to one of those beautiful out-of-the-blue emails I get from time to time, we have a bit more concrete information about the second owner of the house, John Quill, and his family.

The information comes to us from Chris Haugh, the great-great-grandson of the Irish immigrant Quill. Chris forwarded to me a very helpful heap of genealogical information about the Quill family, as well as three deed records that deal with John Quill and the land under and around his home. Oh, and some pictures, too. I do love old pictures.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Duncan Road: A Colonial Highway

As promised, here is the fourth and (for now) final post relating to the Conestoga Wagon, aka, the Yarnall Tavern. In the last post questioning the original opening date of the tavern, one argument I made for a post-1810 timeframe was the fact that the road that became the Newport and Gap Turnpike more or less didn't exist before then. Here now is Walt Chiquoine, who has much more to say on the topic.

By (now frequent) Contributor Walt Chiquoine --

The historical importance of roads is their role in commerce – getting products from here to there. The colonial roads through MCH needed to get local farm products to market, but more significantly, they allowed products from Lancaster and Chester Counties to reach the mills and wharves at Stanton, Newport, and Wilmington. This was as true of beaver pelts and tobacco in 1650 as it was of grain, dairy, and produce in 1750 and 1850.

Many historians attribute early roads to the pre-existing American Indian trails. While in many cases this is probably true, it is also a trap. No one has a 1637 map of the old Indian trails, so there is no hard evidence of those trails, only stories. Any road could be claimed to follow an Indian trail, and none of us would be the wiser.

Delaware Brewing History Lecture -- Tonight!

Sorry this is pretty last minute, but if anyone is looking for something to do tonight -- Wednesday, February 19, 2014 -- there will be a lecture that might be of interest. John Medkeff, Jr. will give a talk about a subject that he's done quite a bit of research on -- Brewing in Delaware. Yes, beer and history! Two great tastes that...oh, never mind. The lecture will take place at the New Castle Court House Museum in Old New Castle, and will begin at 7:00 PM. Admission is $5 (free for New Castle Historical Society members). More information about the NCHS can be found here, and for the Court House Museum, here. I'm going to try to make it down there (I don't even think there's any snow in the forecast for the next 12 hours!!!). If you don't have any plans, stop on by. I'm sure it will be a very interesting and informative talk.