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.

In 1726, John bought 600 acres in northern White Clay Creek and southern Mill Creek Hundreds, purportedly to find iron ore for his mills. He resided part time in the area, even building a small house and a mill. John died in 1734, and left the property to his brother Joseph. It was Joseph who built the older, larger section of the brick house we see today. The home was completed in 1747, as testified by a carving on the north (left side) chimney. Unfortunately, Joseph did not get to enjoy his new home for very long, as he died the following year. Residence was now taken up by his son, Joseph. Joseph England, Jr. lived in the house and operated the mill until his own death in 1791.

The estate was then inherited by the third Joseph England to live in it, Joseph England III. (This Joseph's sister, incidentally, was married to Revolutionary War hero Robert Kirkwood.) Joseph III lived here the rest of his life, as well as serving in the State Legislature from 1800 until his passing in 1828. The house stayed in the England family a few more years, until it was sold to David Eastburn in 1839. Although the mill was sold off later in the 19th century, the house has remained in the Eastburn family to this day, going far in explaining its pristine condition. The England House's (or Red Mill Farm's) National Register of Historic Places form (which was approved in 1972) has much more information about the house itself, as well as pictures.

As for the England Mill (or Red Mill) itself, the oldest part of the current structure was built by Joseph, Jr. in 1789, as attested by an inscription in the fieldstone foundation. This makes it one of only three remaining 18th century frame-construction mills in New Castle County, along with the Greenbank Mill and the Noxontown Mill. After passing from the England family, the Eastburns continued to operate the flour and feed mill, likely with the assistance of a miller. (The smaller section of the house was built slightly later than the larger one, and was occupied by the mill operator.) The Eastburns finally sold the mill in the early 1870's, thereby cutting the ties between the mill and the house.

By the mid 1870's the mill came into the hands of the Wilson family, who, since the mill was no longer owned by the Eastburns who owned the big brick house, needed a place to live. In 1876, they built the smaller gray house across Old Red Mill Road. The mill passed through several more hands over the years, and was augmented with a new, taller addition in 1887. At the same time, some of the internal machinery of the mill was updated. As with the house, the NRHP form has much more information about the construction, architecture, and machinery of the mill. Additionally, the site has a fantastic series of old and new pictures of the mill and houses of the site.

Additional Facts and Related Thoughts:


  1. I added a link to a DelDOT brochure about the mill complex.

  2. While researching the deeds of John England recently, I came across some additional information about his properties.

    It turns out that the estate of James England (his brother) and Red Mill was not on the 600-acre tract noted in the legacy histories such as Scharf in 1888. It was on an adjacent tract of about 100 acres purchased from Sir William Keith in the same year (1726). The story of William Keith and John England is told in Scharf's Vol. 2, p. 922-923, available on-line. Scharf acknowledges that England was "at one time the owner of Keith lands" and accurately describes the prior ownership of both properties.

    This doesn't change the history of Red Mill, and doesn't offer any clearer answer on when the mill was built. In this sense, it's a trivial point. But I have to account for both properties going forward, so I thought it best to share this information for the record.

    The deeds in question are NCC H1:64 for 600 acres and H1:165 for 100 acres, and they can be mapped accurately. We know that the 100-acre tract remained in the England family for many years. When I learn more about the disposition of the 600-acre tract, I will share it here.