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.

In 1864 the Civil War was raging, and the Dean Woolen Company in Newark had lucrative government contracts to supply material for uniforms and blankets. They were looking to expand, and the cotton mill at Kiamensi was what they needed. They purchased the mill, and immediately converted it to a woolen mill. They also purchased two mills in Stanton as companions to Kiamensi, and incorporated them all as the Kiamensi Woolen Company. Weaving and finishing were done at the Kiamensi mill, while carding and spinning were done in Stanton. The mill thrived during the remainder of the war, and, due to its considerable size, was able to weather the post-war downturn much better than many of the other smaller mills in the area.

Kiamensi Mill, in the left background

Kiamensi Mill employees, 1895

By 1870, the mill employed 40 men and 20 women, and by 1880 had a workforce of 150, although I think that number likely includes the Stanton mills as well. While I can find no direct reference to the size of the Kiamensi mill, the Stanton mill was 100 ft. by 60 ft., and I think the Kiamensi mill was probably of similar size. One report mentions Kiamensi as being five stories tall. In addition to the size of the operation, the other factor that led to the longevity of the mill (it finally closed in 1923) was its proximity to railroad lines. The Wilmington and Western Railroad was built through neighboring Marshallton in 1872, and about ten years later the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad ran its new line directly next to the mill, with a station at the intersection with Stanton Road. These factors allowed the Kiamensi mill to continue as the only woolen mill in Delaware, after the Dean mill burned in 1886.

Ruins of the mill, 1957

By the 1940's, nothing remained of the once bustling mill except a few crumbling foundations and a chimney. The mill community that had sprung up and stretched from the Red Clay Creek to Stanton Road, and had once been home to almost 200 people, was abandoned. Today, very few people realize that this quiet, shady spot along the Red Clay Creek was once a central hub of the textile industry in Delaware.


  1. Scott, Thanks for the history lesson! The only thing I can add is the road to the Stanton mill was "Mill road" at the intersection of Routes 4 & 7 in Stanton. The mill would be on the right near the end of the road. I think the mill ruins no longer exist due to the building of the apartments although the mill race is still visibly behind Arbor Point apartments on the Red Clay creek side.
    Doug H

  2. Thanks, Doug. You're right, there was a mill at the end of Old Mill Rd., but it wasn't the woolen mill. Actually, it predated it by about 200 years, and was the nucleus around which Stanton grew. And unbelievably, yes, you can still find traces of the millrace that runs from Kiamensi, down behind Powell Ford Park, and back behind Stanton. There was a house down there until the 50's, I think, but the mill burned in the 1880's. It'll probably be another post sometime.

    I do have to admit I was incorrect about the placement of the Independence Mill, though. This was the Stanton mill owned by the Kiamensi Company. Although there was an earlier, other woolen mill that seems to have been across from the end of Telegraph Road, the Stanton site for Kiamensi was farther down. It actually sat down Stanton-Christiana Rd. (old Rt 7) just before the Hale-Byrnes House. I think it was on the creek side of the road, about where parking lot for the office is (next to B&E, I think?). Bottom line -- there were a whole mess of mills around Stanton over a several hundred year period, and frankly, they're a bit hard to keep straight.

  3. It is a shame not many photos exist for such a large and important site.

  4. Bridge survey from 1921. A photos couple from Kiamensi.


  5. Does anyone know if the old train station on Stanton Road sat where the current State Highway Department is, and if so is any part of that building the remains of the old train station?

  6. DaveC. -- Judging from the picture in the post above, it does appear that the station was on the same side as the DelDot yard (SE corner). There is a concrete pad close to the tracks right about where the station should have been, and I think that might be all that's left of the building. I don't know when it closed and was razed, but I imagine it was probably not long after the mill closed in '23. I don't know when the B&O disontinued passenger service on the line.

  7. This is a year and half late but i hope that is ok. I was surfing Kiamemsi when I came upon a couple things which now in 2011 I find hard to envision.

    1. John Barlow(whoever he was) was married at Kiamensi in 1871.

    2. Kiamensi , a village 6 miles west Of Wilmington and adjacent to Marshallton has woolen mills and a Public Hall.

    3. In Scharf's History of Delaware he say's at that time(1888?)in addition to the mills the company owns 26 dwellings.

    I guess my point is Kiamensi at one time must have been like a gold mining town where it was built up and when the resouces dried up so did the village. The dwellings could have been between Stanton and Kiamensi but sounds like there must have entities to support a village in Kiamensi. There has to be other photos out there somewhere.

  8. Of course it's not too late. One of the reasons I like the blog format is that all of these are always open. There's always new things to find and say.

    The idea of the "Village of Kiamensi" interests me, too. I don't think there's any doubt that it was its own community. A definite "mill town". In the background of the Kiamensi Station picture above, I think you can see a little of it. Among other things, I see what looks like either a chapel or school, and some other buildings that could be mill structures or village ones.

    I would LOVE to see a better shot of the area. The only other resource I know of would be the Sanborn Fire Insurance maps from the 1920's, part of which I think you had on your old site (might have been from a report?). It was clipped to show only the mill itself, but it looked like it may have covered the whole area.

    I think the "village" was along Kiamensi Rd, maybe all the way down to Stanton Rd. All that's left now is the Mansion House, the old house (to be razed sometime) across from the park entrance, and the two houses on the east side of the creek. All else must have been abandoned after the mill closed in the 20's.

  9. In response to Denis' note about John Barlow's 1871 wedding at Kiamensi, I would not be surprised if an itinerant preacher stopped at Kiamensi since there was a community of mill workers there. And the Marshallton and Stanton Methodist churches were not established until 1886 and 1877 respectively. As for John, there were a couple generations of John Barlows who lived in Stanton in the first part of the 20th century. One died in 1951 at age 73. In fact, Alma Boulden who was a Stanton postmistress was the daughter and sister of John Barlows. According to her obituary, Eliza Barlow, wife of John N., died near Stanton on 3/02/1908 at age 56. She was interred at St. James Cemetery in Newport. The service was at her house at 1:00 PM. Carriages were arranged to meet the Stanton trolley at 11:15, 11:45 and 12:15. It's quite possibly the same family tree. KC.

  10. Looking for unrelated info but thought I'd try here. Has anyone heard about an Indian massacre on the Red Clay Creek near Powell Ford park area back in the late 1700s?

  11. Amy,I have never heard of Indian massacre, but if anyone has any information on that, it would be of great interest. I grew up right next to current site of Powell Ford Park, and spent many days playing in the field that was on that site prior to the park being built. The only history I am aware of in late 1700's was George Washington having almost the entire Continental army camped along the banks of the Red Clay around 1777. Unless they had skirmish with local Indians, I am unaware of any massacre.