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.
It was at this time that a man named Solomon Hersey settled in the area, and built a merchant grist mill along the Red Clay Creek. The millseat was so well positioned, in fact, that the site would see continuous industry from about 1765 until 2003, when a devastating flood closed the now Ametek-owned site for good.

When Solomon Hersey died in 1801, he left his property to his two sons, Benjamin and Isaac. According to county tax records, in 1798 Solomon had only a frame house on his property. In 1804, Isaac was shown as owning a frame house (presumably his father's), while Benjamin had a stone house -- the home we see today. This puts the build date for the house somewhere between 1798 and 1804, although I would narrow it to after Solomon's death in 1801. The brothers continued to operate the mill and farm (with the help of three slaves) until 1819, when they lost all of their property due to unpaid debts their father had accumulated. The holdings, which included "a stone dwelling house, tenant house, grist mill, and other improvements thereon erected containing two hundred and sixty acres", were sold to Jesse Trump, Jr. The property at this time included all of what is now Dunlinden Acres, extended over to the Red Clay Creek, and included a section of the Newport-Gap Turnpike and part of what is now Marshallton.

Trump was apparently not a miller, as he immediately sold the portion of the property that included the millseat to James Buckingham. In 1836, John Marshall would purchase the mill, expand it, and convert it to an iron rolling mill. He would also lend his name to the surrounding community, previously called Hersey's Bridge, that would now be known as Marshallton.

Trump would again subdivide the old Hersey lands by selling 100 acres, including the stone house, to Joseph W. Paxson. Paxson would occupy the house until 1839, when he sold it to Benjamin W. Duncan for $4537.12. The Duncan family has retained ownership of the property ever since (until possibly a few years ago). Benjamin W. and his wife operated the farm, growing a mix of different vegetables and fruits, and even cultivating bees for honey. When he died in 1870, his son Benjamin F. inherited the farm and continued its operation.

In 1907, presumably due to his advanced years, Benjamin F. (and his daughters) sold the farm to his son Herman. Herman operated a dairy farm on the property. Among other customers in the area, Herman sold milk for ice cream at the nearby Brandywine Springs Amusement Park. The encroaching suburbs finally reached the Duncan lands in the early 1950's, when Herman Duncan sold about 84 acres of his land for what would become Dunlinden Acres. In the following years, more acreage was sold for lots. Herman's only child, a daughter named Mary, inherited the property in 1964.

Through all the years (over 200 of them now) and all the drastic changes in the surrounding landscape, the Hersey-Duncan House has remained in remarkable shape. For much more detailed information, check out its National Register of Historic Places Registration Form. It was added to the Register in 1990. Additionally, here is a collection of photographs of the house and property.

Edit 7/12/16: In response to one of the comments below, here is a blow-up of the corner of an aerial photo of the Duncan Road - Kirkwood Highway intersection showing the property mentioned. You can see the five houses that are still there today, then the lost house above and behind them. This is where that driveway was going. Kirkwood Highway (and the bridge, out of frame to the right) are present, so it was taken in 1940 or later. Probably not much later.

Duncan Road and Kirkwood Highway, c.1940


  1. Thanks for the info! Solomon was my 5th great grandpa and Benjamin Hersey was my 4th great grandpa. Maybe I will visit some time!

  2. Thanks for writing, John! I love hearing from descendants of people in posts. You'll be happy to know, I went by the house the other day, and it still looks beautiful. If you happen to be descended from Benjamin through his son Solomon (I don't know offhand how many children he had), you'll want to check out the Old Stone Hotel post as well, if you haven't already. Solomon and his wife owned that property in nearby Stanton for many years.

  3. That is very interesting!!

  4. I would like to add a little something about the house and the property it once had.
    I have an old deed, dated 1849, that transfers 100 acres fron Benjamin and Martha Duncan to John Pennock. You can see Pennock Estate on map in corner. It sits along Red Caly Creek below Phillips Mill. It mentions the boundaries as being the Phillips Mill and property owned by John and Caleb Marshall. It mentions Duncan buying property from Paxson.

  5. Yeah Scott, as far as I know Solomon, son of Benjamin could have been an only child. He had a few sons that served in the civil war and one of them was my 2nd great grandpa. They moved to the Stewartstown, PA area and continued farming sometime.

  6. John -- Thanks for sharing. I don't think I mentioned it in the hotel post, but I do remember that Solomon and Hannah had moved to PA. That's why even though they retained the Stanton property, they had others run the hotel for them.

    Denis (AKA, Anonymous. no, I'm not outing him, he said it was an error) -- Thanks for filling in another piece of the puzzle. I don't have the time to look into it at the moment, but I know there were Pennocks around in a few places. They were mentioned in the "little, Medill, Mote" post, and one of them bought the Chandler mill in Milltown soon after 1900. Someday I'll look into the family.

  7. John: These are also my direct ancestors, through Samuel Hersey to Francis Asbury Hersey to Solomon, Benjamin, Solomon, and Isaac, a Huguenot exile. Do you have any idea WHY Solomon, father of Francis, moved to York county, PA. I assume after Benjamin's Sherriff's sale, there was little to keep him in Delaware, but really don't know. Any info would help, Thanks!

  8. I believe the house was built in 1804. I am the great granddaughter of Herman. I actually lived and owned the house from 1997 - 2005ish. I forget when we moved exactly. Mary Duncan had 2 children. The oldest daughter had 3 children (I am the oldest) and the younger daughter had 4 children. At the moment Mary would have 14 great grand children, I'm sure there are more to follow. Mary pasted away in Dec. of 1995. Her husband Holland lived there until we bought it the house in the spring of 1997.Hope this helps.

  9. Thanks for filling us in on the more recent history of the house and your family. And a big "Thank you" to you and your family for taking such good care, for so long, of one of the most beautiful old houses in the area. It's personally one of my favorites. I just love the look of it.

  10. Today when going to Panera Bread on the corner of the Kirkwood Highway and Duncan Road intersection, I happened to notice right behind where they are now putting a Chipotle(formerly 7/11) there is a dirt driveway with stones around it that leads to nothing. Not to be confused with the actual driveway to the funeral home, but inbetween that and the Chipotle/711. Looking at the 1937 map I am assuming this went to part of their property? But it has hard to tell. Neat to see these old driveways still existing.

    1. There you go. I've added a part of an aerial photo that shows the house that the driveway led to. I love finding little lost/orphaned remnants like that, too. Sometimes it might be a driveway, sometimes it's a small retaining wall along the road, with nothing now behind it. But you know there had to be a house there at some point. Thanks for pointing this one out!!