Friday, August 27, 2010

More on the Kiamensi Woolen Mill

Since publishing the post on the Kiamensi Woolen Mill a few weeks ago, I've come across a few more goodies, as well as a story about the site that I think deserves telling. Finally, I want to try to clear up a related aspect of the mill history that I think I'm a bit more clear on now.

First, the goodies! In response to the first Kiamensi post, I was contacted by Marshallton resident Denis Hehman, who was gracious enough to provide me with some documents, as well as the story I'll pass along in a moment. Denis has his own website, Historic Lower Red Clay Valley, that is well worth checking out. Among many other things, he has on there some present-day pictures of the mill site and the surrounding area. He also has a map, prepared by the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO), showing the remnants of structures that were present when they surveyed the site a few years back. The highlight, though (at least for me), was a four page History of the Mill Seat at Kiamensi that comes complete with maps, including an amazing 1927 Sanborn Fire Insurance map. Although the map dates to a couple years after the mill closed, it is an invaluable resource that shows just how extensive the operation was at the site. The report was one of several done in the 1990's when the county was looking at replacing sewer lines throughout the Red Clay Valley. I thank Denis very much for sharing these with us.

So that makes sense, but why, you might ask, was SHPO nosing around the site a few years ago? It seems we have Denis to thank for that also. I'll let him tell the story in his own words:
A few years ago after the floods of 2003 there was a house that sat on top of the mill foundation that was purchased by the county with help from FEMA. 2-3 years ago it came time to demolish it. The county had plans to level the site saying there was nothing historical about it. A neighbor and I contacted officials and people in Dover. Well, to make a long story short the State Historic Preservation Office came up and determined it was eligible for the National Register. They came up with a preservation plan and gave us a copy along with a history of the site.
So, on behalf of everyone who cares about preserving our local history, I want to thank Denis and his neighbor for stepping up, and speaking up, for this almost-forgotten and lost piece of history. One last thing he directed me to was a collection of photographs from a 1921 DelDOT bridge survey, which actually contains many pictures of bridges in Mill Creek Hundred. Most are simply pictures of small old bridges, but some have treasures in the background, like the two shown on this post. The picture above is of a small bridge that spanned the millrace, with the best shot of the mill I'll come across behind it. I'm not 100% sure what we're looking at, but I think it's the north end of the mill -- the end facing the B&O tracks. The picture below is of the covered bridge that took Kiamensi Road across the Red Clay (beautiful in its own right), with a bit of the mill poking out in the background. Unless someone's got something hidden in their attic, it looks like this is the best we have.

The last thing I want to do is try to straighten out a little about the locations of the other mills owned by the Kiamensi Woolen Company. In addition to the one at Kiamensi, they also bought several mills closer to Stanton. As noted in the History of the Mill Seat, they purchased the duPont and Taylor textile mill, seems to have sat opposite the end of Telegraph Road, probably back behind where Happy Harry's is now. The larger one, though, was the Independence Mill, which was located down old Route 7 just short of the Hale-Byrnes House. As best as I can tell, it sat about where the parking lot is for the office building next to Shone's Lumber. If I come across any more information about this topic, or any other topic already covered, I'll be sure to pass it along.


  1. Great pictures and great work. I grew up in Kiamensi (Grayling Court) and spent many of my younger days in the stretch of woods that ran from old Pearsons hardware to the train bridge near Marshallton. I am curious about other old building that had 2 walls left standing when i was growing up in 60's and 70's It is located on other side of Kiamensi road opposite the demolished house, about 60 or 70 feet from the road. Their was also an old well by it. Also curious if anyone has information on the big white house that are now apartments, but was empty and abandoned until maybe 1970?

  2. Thanks, Dave. As for the old building, the only thing I can think of is some foundations back in the woods on the park side of Kiamensi Rd. Check out the pictures on the Historic Lower Red Clay Valley site (link is on the right and in the post). Denis has pics of the remains of some walls in the woods, but I didn't know there was a well. I believe it was a boarding house for the woolen mill workers. Click on the History of the Mill Seat link above and look at the map on the last page. It's probably the structure at the bottom.

    As for the other one, I assume you're talking about the Mansion House. I would LOVE to know more about it. I didn't know it was abandoned at one time. The only reference I can find to it anywhere just says that it is related to the mill. My guess is that it was a residence for the mill owner or manager, maybe one of the Pillings. It looks like it might be on the old maps, but it's hard to tell.

    Later on, I've always wondered if it had anything to do with Powell Ford. I tried to look him up once, and all I could find is that he owned property all over the county in the 30's and 40's, I think it was. Never could find anything else. If anyone knows more than that, please feel free to speak up.

  3. Scott and Dave,
    Yes there is an old well(stone and brick) at the site of the old stone foundation. I was wondering if an old trash pit may be around there somewhere. Dave...are you saying you remeber the two remaining walls were stone? it appears it could have been more than one residence as it looks like the cellar hole has some possible divisions running from front to back. In the map Scott has in the upper right corner I think it is the dwelling above "a" in Kiamensi.If you roamed those woods you must have seen the old mill race that runs from Kiamensi Road to RT4.

    Good information guys


  4. Dave C- Are you referring to the Powell Ford House? BTW, Scott, Powell Ford would probably be a good subject for a future article.

  5. Bill -- I'm interested to hear you call it the Powell Ford House. Like I said, I always wondered if it had anything to do with him. It's been a while since I looked into him, but if I remember correctly, all I found was evidence that he owned a lot of property all over the county. Something makes me think there might have been something with a car dealership, too, but don't hold me to it. He must have been well off, because I think I recall that he donated some of his properties to the county, I guess maybe including the one the park is on. If you have any information about him or can point me in the right direction, I'd love to hear it. Thanks.

  6. Scott-

    I was able to do a little research and it is "Powell Ford". I don't know the details but he appeared to have made quite a few property transactions in the Newport area in the 1940's and 1950's. I think his house was located on West Newport Pike. It was a greenish stone structure that was torn down for the strip shopping center just outside of Newport. I'll continue to poke around and see if I can find out anything else about Mr. Ford. Don't know why the house in Powell Ford Park was called the Powell Ford house- I can't tell if he ever lived there or if it was just something called the house on his land.

    Since Powell Ford Park is close to the old Kiamensi Mills location, I wonder if he had any ties to the old mill.

  7. Bill -- Thanks for the information. I don't know when Ford was born, but since the mill shut down in the early 20's, my guess is that he probably bought the property (maybe the house and the land that's now the park?) a number of years after the mill closed. Since he seems like a land speculator, it was probably cheap, since the area was probably abandoned after the mill closed. If he's from the area, though, he may have had family ties to it. Definitely worth more digging.

  8. I know for a fact that Powell Ford owned the white mansion house and converted it into Apartments, probably around 1968-1970 time period. But when he purchased it I do not know. I do not believe he had any connection to the old mill site, other then the purchase of the white mansion. He also owned all of what is now Powell Ford park, which was just a large field that was a great place to play in when growing up. He sold the piece of land to New Castle County around 1974, under the condition that the park be named after him. I also have information from someone who grew up in Marshallton in the 1930's, and he used to rabbit hunt in what is now Powell ford park, and he tells me that even then no one was living in the white mansion. I believe the mansion has a cornerstone from the early 1900's, so whoever built it and lived there could not have occupied it to long. Would really like to find out the facts about that house if anyone finds anything.

  9. Thanks for the info, DaveC. From everything you're saying, it still sounds to me like the house was probably built for someone high up at the mill. It would have been vacated when the mill closed (1923, or thereabouts), Ford probably bought it cheap at some point, held on to it for a while, then decided to turn it into apartments. Also glad to hear confirmation that Ford owned the parkland, which, incidentally, according to my daughter, has one of the funnest playgrounds around.

  10. Dennis -- Your response about the old mill race is another interesting topic in itself. I rode bikes and walked over that race a thousand times growing up, but never took much time to figure out what it's purpose was. I always thought it was associated with the Kiamensi Mill, that water used by the Kiamensi Mill was then released after being used, and flowed out into that old mill race. But looking at those old maps and reading some old articles, it looks like the race started about 200 yards south of the Kiamensi road car bridge, and ran all the way to around Mill Road in Stanton, where it must have powered another mill. That would have to have made that mill race at least 3/4 of a mile in length, quite a feat considering it was dug with picks and shovels over 160 years ago!