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Friday, July 30, 2010

When Carry Nation Came to Mill Creek Hundred

An area's history does not consist solely of its people, places, and buildings. There are also significant events that occur that each add their own little piece to the grand puzzle of history. Often these events, while exciting to those involved at the time, are soon forgotten by later generations. One example, the passage of the British army through the area in 1777, was touched on in the Hockessin Meeting House post (and may be returned to someday). Another such event was the two-stop visit in 1904 of the fiery temperance advocate Carry Nation. Her rallies at both ends of the hundred were attended by thousands, and were no doubt the topic of countless conversations for a long time afterward.

Carry Nation, for those who may not remember history class, was probably the fiercest and most popular temperance (anti-alcohol) advocate of the early 1900's. She first came to prominence in Kansas, where, armed with bricks and her trademark hatchet, she would go to saloons and liquor stores to destroy as much of the establishment and stock as she could. For her actions, she was both deified and vilified, as well as being arrested over 30 times between 1900 and her death in 1911. To raise money for the temperance cause and for her legal bills, she travelled the country giving speeches and selling merchandise. Once such trip brought her through Mill Creek Hundred in August 1904.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Hockessin Friends Meeting House

Hockessin Friends Meeting House
From the time the English took control of Delaware in the 1660's, and especially with the arrival of William Penn in 1681, it is no exaggeration to say that the most important group of people to the development of Wilmington and New Castle County was the Society of Friends, or the Quakers. Persecuted in England for their religious and pacifist beliefs, many Quakers came to settle in Penn's New World colony. With their dedication to hard work, education, and simple living, the Quakers quickly became the dominant force in the area's industry, and remained so for about 200 years.

The first Quaker Meeting House in Delaware is believed to have been the Newark Meeting, which was located near the present-day neighborhood of Carrcroft in Brandywine Hundred. By the late 17th and early 18th Centuries, Quaker meeting houses had popped up in Wilmington, New Castle, and southern Chester County. In the early 1730's, Mill Creek Hundred's growing Quaker population began to tire of travelling east to attend the Centre Meeting, and desired to hold meetings closer to home. And while private meetings were held at the home of William Cox as early as 1730, it wasn't until October, 1737 that the land was purchased for the meeting house and burial ground.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Kiamensi Woolen Mill

Kiamensi Woolen Mill
Most of the mills mentioned in posts so far, like the Harlan Mill and the England Mill, have been
fairly small operations, run by only one or two men. And while most of the mills in the area were like this, there were a few industrial sites that operated on a larger scale. For a good part of the second half of the 19th Century, one of the largest employers in Mill Creek Hundred was the Kiamensi Woolen Company. Situated on Red Clay Creek at Kiamensi Road, just south of Marshallton, the large textile mill and the community it spawned are now nothing more than a vague memory.

The first mill on the site certainly dates from the 1700's, but to be honest, the early history of the millseat is a bit hazy. Scharf gives a fairly detailed account of the ownership of the site, but I think that he might be confusing a few different sites together. (I think the confusion stems from conflating different Red Clay mills, as well as the fact that mills in Stanton (located somewhere behind where Happy Harry's is now) [Edit: See comments below for a correction on the location of this Stanton mill] were later owned by the same company and also referred to as "Kiamensi mills".) He states the mill was owned first by John Reese, who built, likely, a grist mill on the site. In 1811, Reese's son sold the mill to Mordecai McKinney, who according to a DelDot archaeological report, was doing cotton milling at several other nearby sites as well. For the next 20 years, the mill passed through the possession of a number of people with names well known to anyone familiar with Wilmington history -- Lea, Price, Tatnall, and Warner. From then until 1864, the mill was resold no less than seven times. Then, its story really picks up.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Marshallton United Methodist Church

Marshallton UME Church, about 1905
Marshallton Union Chapel, later named Marshallton United Methodist Church, was built in 1886. Through the years additions have been added and a few modifications made, but it is still in operation, located at 1105 Stanton Road in Mill Creek Hundred. Just east of the church is the Springer-Cranston house where Edwin J. Cranston resided. It was from Cranston that the land for the church was bought. Marshallton United Methodist was named for the community it serves, which was in turn named in honor of John Marshall, the founder of Marshall Rolling Mill, which was erected and began operations in 1836.

While the country gothic church was added to the National Register in 1987 based partially on its architectural characteristics, just as important was the central role it has played in bringing the community together.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010


Considering that three of the four sides of Mill Creek Hundred are formed by waterways, combined with the importance of waterpower for milling, it's not surprising that a fair number of the historic structures in MCH are along its borders. However, there is one house of significance that lies on the other boundary -- the Delaware-Pennsylvania state line. And when I say, "lies on the boundary", I don't mean that as a figure of speech. The state line actually runs through the middle of the house! Merestone is also a good example of how a house can stand for many years before something happens to it that makes it "historically significant".

The Merestone House (whose name comes from an Anglo-Saxon word meaning "boundary stone") has an interesting history that dates back almost 300 years, but it didn't make its mark until about 60 years ago. It lies in what I would call the northern edge of western MCH, on Yeatman's Mill Rd. just north of Corner Ketch. It was owned by T.G. Seal on the Beers 1868 map, and is just west of the Mill Creek Friends Meeting House. The oldest part of the house is the two-story, three bay log section in the middle right. It was built by John Evans, Jr. sometime between 1720 and 1734, on land purchased from William Penn, Jr. Since the house is situated on sloping ground, the stone foundation forms an exterior wall on the back, or south side of the house.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Pomeroy and Beers 1868 Atlas of the State of Delaware

In addition to writing posts about the historic places and people of Mill Creek Hundred, once in a while I'd like to turn my attention to some of the resources that I have found to be helpful in tracing the history of the region. By doing this, I hope that maybe I can help someone else along in doing research of their own. These resources could be books, websites, organizations, or, in this case, a map.

In 1868, a company from Philadelphia called Pomeroy & Beers issued their Atlas of the State of Delaware. It is a large, hand-colored book of fairly detailed maps of the entire state. There are individual maps for each of the 30 or so hundreds that existed in the state at the time. Additionally, there are a number of separate maps for specific towns and cities, such as Wilmington, Dover, Newark, Georgetown, New Castle, and a few others. For some smaller towns, there are insets along side their hundred's map. And for some reason, the inset for Stanton is located on the New Castle Hundred map.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Joseph England House and Mill

No doubt many people have, while driving down Red Mill Road, figured that it got that name because there used to be a red mill along it somewhere. Well, they're right. What many of those people may not realize is that the mill, along with an even older house, is still there. They also happen to be among the oldest structures still standing in Mill Creek Hundred.

John England was a Quaker and an iron master, originally from Staffordshire, England. He came to America in 1723 to oversee construction of Cecil County, Maryland's Principio Furnace Iron Works, of which he was part owner. Principio was one of the first major iron works in America, gathering interest from all over the colonies. In fact, John England had frequent dealings with an investor from Virginia named Augustine Washington, whose son George would go on to become rather famous in this country.

Father Patrick Kenny and the Coffee Run Church

I recently had the honor of visiting the Coffee Run site on Lancaster Pike, where the first Catholic Church in Delaware was built. Even though the clouds opened up as my family and I were exiting the car, and we were drenched by the rain as we ran across the field to catch a glimpse of the burned-out remains of the Patrick Kenny house, it did not take away from the inspiring reality that we were standing on a historically rich piece of land in Mill Creek Hundred.

The early 1800’s brought many immigrants to America from Europe; one such immigrant was Reverend Patrick Kenny. Father Kenny emigrated to Wilmington, Delaware from Ireland in the summer of 1804. He was born June 6, 1763 in Dublin, Ireland and educated in Paris (a fact that would become quite helpful to him later). Upon his arrival in America he lived with the Hearn family in West Chester until September 11, 1808. During this time, Father Kenny traveled and conducted Catholic Masses at five stations and one church, which included two different states -- Delaware and Pennsylvania.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Emily P. Bissell

As you drive down Newport Gap Pike and pass Emily P. Bissell Hospital, have you ever wondered, "Why its named that? Who is Emily P. Bissell? Why does she have a hospital named after her?" I hope to answer some of your questions.

Emily Perkins Bissell was born in Wilmington, Delaware on May 31, 1861 to a prominent family. Emily was the first daughter, and the second child, of four born to Champion Aristarcus Bissell, a banker and real estate investor, and Josephine (Wales) Bissell. Emily was educated both in Wilmington and at Miss Charlier's Private School in New York City. When Emily was 15 years old, her Sunday school took a trip to see urban poverty firsthand. I would imagine this was the turning point in Emily Bissell's life. Just seven years later at the age of 22, Emily had raised enough funds to start an organization to provide social services to Wilmington's immigrants. She started a youth club, which was incorporated in 1889 as the West End Reading Room. As the club's secretary-treasurer Emily developed the reading room into what would become the West End Neighborhood House, which is still in operation today.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Hersey-Duncan House

Sometimes when I stop and think about it, I'm amazed that any old houses (say, 150 years or more) are still around for us to enjoy. It takes a special combination of luck and caring ownership for a historic home to remain in excellent, near original condition. One such house that has benefited from just this scenario is the Hersey-Duncan house, on Duncan Road just off of Kirkwood Highway. This handsome Federal style fieldstone home not only has enjoyed caring ownership from a single family for most of its history, but its own history is directly intertwined with the history of the area.

The story actually begins at least 40 years before the construction of the current Hersey-Duncan House, in the 1760's.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Abraham Doras Shadd, Part II

In the last post, we covered Abraham's grandparents, Hans and Elizabeth "Betty Jackson" Schad, and his parents, Jeremiah and Amelia (and Amelia) Shadd. Up until this point, the family was well-known and successful (especially considering that they were black, or at least "mulatto") in the local area, but starting with Abraham, their notoriety would extend to the national, and international, level.

As noted, Abraham Doras Shadd (likely named after a prominent black Wilmington barber, Abraham Doras) was born into a vibrant and successful family. He spent his early life following in his father's footsteps, becoming a shoemaker. Although he and his family were successful and freely intermingled with white society, they made no attempt to remove themselves from black society. Shadd, not surprisingly, was strongly anti-slavery, but remained uninvolved with the fight until a new movement arose in the late 1810's to which he was fiercely opposed.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Abraham Doras Shadd

Once in a while here, I plan on shifting gears a bit and writing a post not about a place or building, but about a person. I'm not usually a betting man, but I'd lay down good money that not many people know that the first black man to hold elected office in Canada was born and raised right here in Mill Creek Hundred. He even had a postage stamp issued in his honor in Canada in 2009. Not only is Abraham Shadd's story fascinating, but I think his entire family's contributions to history are greatly under appreciated. In my own attempt to rectify this, I'll focus in this post on Shadd's parents and grandparents, then in the next one on Abraham and his children. They have all made significant contributions to MCH, Wilmington, US, and Canadian history.