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.

Her first rally took place at a place called Whiteman's Grove, which was located on the northwest side of Papermill Rd, opposite Foxden and Stage Roads. Nation appeared as a guest at Ebenezer Methodist Church's Harvest Home celebration, an annual event co-sponsored by The Good Templars, a worldwide temperance group. She came to the August 4th rally from Newark, her carriage fighting its way through the crowds all the way up. Newspaper reports of the day claim 10,000 people attended, with carriages hitched to trees "as far as the eye could see". For more on Carry Nation's Harvest Home rally, check out this article, written by Andrea Cassel and appearing in a 2004 Friends of White Clay Creek newsletter.

Nation was not done in the area yet, though. A day or two later, she gave another speech in the bandstand at Brandywine Springs Amusement Park. At first blush, this might seem an odd place for a temperance rally, but the park did occasionally host nationally-known speakers, and it was a temperance park. Brandywine Springs served all kinds of food and drink, but no alcohol. [As a side note, I happen to be a member of the Friends of Brandywine Springs, and although it was a "dry park", it still doesn't stop us from regularly uncovering beer and liquor bottles when we hold archaeological digs at the park. I guess people never change.]

The 6 foot, 175 pound Nation apparently gave a rousing speech to an enthralled audience at the open-air theater that night. According to Mark Lawlor in his book Brandywine Springs Amusement Park -- Echos of the Past: 1886-1923, so many people rushed the stage to get autographs and souvenir pins and books, that the platform collapsed! Luckily, no one was hurt. And although there were "only" about 7,000 in the audience that night, Mrs. Nation had a more productive evening than she did on the Thursday night at Whiteman's Grove. As Cassel writes, "Her receipts in Whiteman’s Grove totaled $25 for the sale of hatchets and books. She was paid $60 for her speech. At a Brandywine Springs speech the same weekend, she made $300 and sold out her entire stock." In any case, with 17,000 people seeing an electric, nationally-known speaker, it was certainly one of the most exciting few days to hit Mill Creek Hundred for quite a while.

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