Friday, August 14, 2009

The Mermaid Tavern


The first historic site we'll take a look at is the Mermaid Tavern on Limestone Road in Pike Creek. Located on the same side of Rt. 7 and just north of the Pike Creek Shopping Center, the Mermaid Tavern is probably the closest thing the hundred has ever had to a local meeting hall. Due to its location on a major road and very near the geographical center of the the hundred, the tavern has often been used for public purposes during its long history. Among other things, it has served as a tavern, an inn, a post office, a polling place, and a private residence.

There seems to be some question as to the construction dates for the tavern, but on its National Register of Historic Places nomination form the date of 1725 is given for either the construction of the original log house or its first stone addition. Either way, there was certainly a structure here that predated the log house, as a deed dated 1718 mentions a farm and a hotel license.

To those unfamiliar with the history of MCH, the Pike Creek location for a colonial inn might seem odd, but the secret is the road. The thoroughfare now known as Route 7, or Limestone Road, is one of the oldest in the area. It was used heavily as a conduit for Pennsylvania farmers to bring their crops to market. They would bring their products (mostly grains) down in large wagons, often referred to as "arks" (some of the planks of which were re-purposed as floorboards in the tavern), to Stanton, where they would be loaded on barges and taken down the Christina River to Wilmington and beyond.

Around 1800, the original two-bay (window) stone section was enlarged with a three-bay wood frame addition on the north side. The original liquor license for the establishment was issued in 1746 to James Walker, but is seems the bar was at some point moved to the wood-frame section. As of 1973 (and I don't know if they are still there), the back of the bar, a shelf, three money drawers, and a glass showcase with sliding doors (where the "fancy liquors" were displayed) were still intact.

In addition to being a tavern and inn, the Mermaid also served as the polling place for Mill Creek Hundred from the early 1800's until 1891. This was due mostly to its central location. For the same reason, it did duty as a post office from the mid-1840's until about 1882. The Farmers Mutual Fire Insurance Company was formed here in 1839.




While the wagoners could see to their food, drink, and lodging needs at the tavern, across the road was a full-service blacksmith and wheelwright's shop to tend to their horses and wagons. Additionally, a shed with stalls for 24 horses kept their teams safe and dry. There is an entire DELDOT archaeology report on just the facilities across from the tavern. In the picture below from 1964, the barn can still be seen to the south of the tavern.

After nearly a century and a half of service, the Mermaid Tavern ceased functioning as a tavern in the late 1860's. It continued a bit longer as an unlicensed hotel, but since about 1880 it has been only a private residence. Its demise as a tavern and inn is due mostly to the appearance of the railroads, which by the late nineteenth century made Limestone Road obsolete as a heavy shipping route. It has been fortunate to stay in the hands of diligent owners, and the Mermaid Tavern, the oldest residence remaining on Limestone Road, stands as a tangible link to to Mill Creek Hundred's colonial past.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

And Off We Go.....

This is the debut post here at The Mill Creek History Blog. Although some of this information is covered in the "About This Blog" and the "About Me" sections, I just want to go over and elaborate on a few points. First off, I am by no means a professional historian or archaeologist, no do I claim to be. I am just a born and bred MCH resident with an interest in local history. I have done some light research into some MCH sites and would like to share what I have with anyone who might be interested. I will also provide links when possible, so anyone can view the information for themselves.

Since I am, as I said, an amateur, I know that I don't have all the information and that sometimes I might have incorrect information. I will always welcome input and corrections. I also welcome any suggestions for new sites to explore.

In addition, if any local history-related news events should pop up, I may post on them as well. If , through this blog, I am able to connect with anyone else who shares an interest in the history of Mill Creek Hundred, I may look (down the road) into forming some sort of Mill Creek Hundred Historical Society. That, however, is likely a ways off. For now, I hope we can have fun with this blog. Thanks.