Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Merestone


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.


The next section of the house to be constructed was the slightly smaller frame addition built on to the left, or east end of the log house. It's not known exactly when this section was built either, but the date is usually placed in the 1725-1750 range. If I had to guess (and yes, I do), I would say that the frame section was built by John's son George, soon after he inherited the house upon John's death in 1738. The log section (whose hand-hewn logs are still visible on the rear exterior as well as some of the interior walls) was originally the same depth as the frame section, but was extended when the next section, the western stone addition, was built.
Merestone, rear view

That stone section was built about 1806 by the next family to own the house, the Beesons. In 1776, George Evans sold the property to John Beeson, who lived in the house for about 20 years. His son William (later the proprietor of the near-by Corner Ketch Tavern) obtained the house in 1802, and, four years later built a stone barn and, likely, the stone section of the house. The barn survived until a hurricane leveled it in 1938, but its foundation and some material from it was reused to construct a guest house and garage in the early 1940's. And as mentioned, when the stone section was built the log section had its second floor expanded and the front porch formed.

The property passed through several other hands during the 19th and early 20th century, being occupied by Halliday Hoopes, Thomas Seal (who made a few Victorian updates to the interior), Thompson McCormick, Leslie McCormick, and John S. Reese IV. It was under Reese that the house would finally reach "historically significant" status. Reese, a Ph.D. chemist for Dupont, was the son of the head of Dupont's Chemical Division and brother of Charles Lee Reese, and editor and board member of the News Journal. When he purchased the house in 1941, he enlisted master architect Richardson Brognard Okie to oversee the modernization of the existing house, as well as the construction of the eastern section of the house and several outbuildings. It was primarily for this association with Okie that the house was entered into the National Register of Historic Places in 1995. More pictures of the house are available here.

Finally, I had mentioned that the house was located on the PA-DE state line today. Originally, the house and all but a small portion of the property were located completely in Mill Creek Hundred. However, in 1892 the circular portion of the Delaware border with Pennsylvania was resurveyed and "re-established" by request of the two states. The resulting redrawing of the state line actually moved it slightly south in the area of Merestone, running the line diagonally through the house. But for our purposes, I'm claiming it for Mill Creek Hundred.

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