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Thursday, September 30, 2010

John Bishop House

John Bishop House
 This past weekend, I and my family had the pleasure of riding the Wilmington and Western Railroad -- something we try to do at least a couple times each year (our daughter, especially, loves the train). In addition to being a pleasant, quiet ride through the scenic Red Clay Valley, the whole trip oozes with history. You really never go more than a couple minutes without passing some historic house, the ruins of a mill, or the remnants of a mill race. To anyone who has ever taken this trip, the house to the right should look very familiar. This picturesque gem (one railroad volunteer told me this view was his screen saver) is the John Bishop House, and it sits just west of Barley Mill Road, near where the road crosses Red Clay Creek north of Wooddale.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Marshallton's Travelling Bridge

The "New Bridge" in Marshallton, c.1905
Editor's Note of Caution: I now have very good reason to believe that much of this post is incorrect. There was a local bridge that was moved as stated, but it was almost certainly not the Marshallton span. In the near future I'll tell the correct story. The truss bridge in Marshallton was replaced with a concrete structure in 1955.

 Most of the posts here involve coming up with an idea for a topic, doing some light research, and then passing along what we've been able to learn. Once in a while, though, something of the "Wow, I didn't know that!" variety will pop up out of the blue, or in the course of other research. When something like this happens, I want to pass it along. And as I'm sure you've figured, something like this did happen to me the other day. While doing some reading, I found out that the 110 year old bridge that spanned the Red Clay Creek in Marshallton is still around -- but not in Marshallton. In fact, it has moved twice!

The bridge in question, just one in a string that have graced the site since the late 1700's, was built across the Red Clay Creek on what is now Newport Road at the base of Duncan Road right about 1900. It is what is known as a pin-connected Pratt pony truss bridge, and in its original configuration had five panels that spanned 57'6''. The postcard above shows the bridge in its Marshallton location, just a few years after it was built. For its time, it was a modern and impressive bridge, one befitting the importance of the road it carried. Although the road now seems fairly small and out of the way, in 1900 it was part of what was known as the Lincoln Highway -- the main east-west route through Mill Creek Hundred, and from Wilmington to Newark and beyond. Kirkwood Highway would not be built for four decades, and even the Marshallton Cut-Off (the section of Old Capitol Trail between Newport Road and Stanton Road that rerouted traffic around "downtown" Marshallton) was not opened until 1931.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Henry Whiteman House

Henry Whiteman House
 Most of the time when I read a historical report, everything seems to make sense, and I have no reason to doubt its accuracy. Once in a while, though, I'll read something, maybe several times, and I just won't be able to get the facts as shown to jibe just right. Such was the case with this report about the Henry Whiteman House. In this instance, I'm not sure that it's necessarily wrong, so much as it's maybe just a bit unclear and misleading. In either case, I'll lay it all out and you can decide for yourself.

The Henry Whiteman House is a two story, stuccoed fieldstone home that sits off of Smith Mill Road, on the east side of Paper Mill Road. The property is a little over a mile north of Milford Crossroads, and right in the middle of an area dominated by the Whiteman family for most of the 19th century. The first of them to settle in the area was Jacob Whiteman, who in 1799 purchased a large tract of land from Thomas Rice. As for the rest of the history of the Whiteman houses, here is how the report (which is part of a larger report on several endangered properties) tells the story:
By 1804, Jacob constructed a log house and a frame barn on the 196-acre property. The 1816 tax assessment for the property lists the house as being constructed of stone. [...] Prior to his death in 1826, Jacob Whiteman sold 98 acres to his son Henry. According to the 1828 tax assessment, Henry Whiteman built a stone house and a frame barn on the property during his first two years of ownership. [...] When he died in 1855, Henry left the 98-acre farm to his son George. [...] At this time Henry had improved 82 of his 96 acres, increasing the value of the property to $8000.

George Whiteman occupied the farm for at least five years, but by 1864, the farm passed into the hands of George's brother, Henry. It was in this year that he in turn gave the farm to their brother Andrew Jackson Whiteman.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Delcastle Farm

Aerial image of farm buildings at Delcastle
It's probably safe to say that anyone who is at all familiar with Mill Creek Hundred is at least aware of the Delcastle Recreation facility and Delcastle Golf Course on McKennans Church Road. What many enjoying a game of tennis, or softball, or a relaxing day on the course there might not be aware of is that for about half of the 20th century, the land beneath their feet was worked by scores of hardened criminals. OK, maybe not that hardened, but they were incarcerated. For starting in 1915, the land now occupied by Del Rec and the adjoining golf course was owned by the Board of Trustees of the New Castle County Workhouse, also known as the Greenbank Prison.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Arrests Made in Father Kenny House Fire

Kenny House after the Feb. 10 Fire
As was mentioned in the earlier post about Father Patrick Kenny and the Coffee Run Church, Kenny's 1812 home was destroyed in a fire on February 10, 2010. The blaze, determined to have been arson, began right at the outset of one of our major blizzards last year. Due to the conditions, by the time firefighters arrived and extinguished the flames, most of the three stories of the house and the roof were gutted. The structure was deemed to be unsafe, and although there was a stop-work order in place, property owners Harvey Hanna and Associates demolished what remained of the house on March 2. For their actions, the redevelopment firm was fined $1000 and prohibited from receiving county permits for the site for three years.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Friends of Brandywine Springs Weekend

Current FOBS Dig Site, the B&O Pavilion
As a timely follow-up to the last post about Brandywine Springs Amusement Park, I'd like to mention a few more things about the Friends of Brandywine Springs (FOBS). As was mentioned in the Park post, FOBS has a very nice website, complete with pictures and information about the amusement park. The group also staffs the small museum on the grounds of the Wilmington and Western Railroad. The museum contains displays relating to Brandywine Springs, including a model of the park and a collection of artifacts excavated from the park. It's an interesting visit, and I've staffed the museum myself many times. (Yes, full disclosure: I am a member of the Friends of Brandywine Springs.)

But where do those excavated artifacts come from, you ask? Good question. FOBS (with full approval from New Castle County) conducts archaeological digs at the park once a month (weather permitting) from April through December. It just so happens that the next dig will take place this coming Saturday, September 11, from 9:00 - 3:00. These digs are open to the public, and everyone is welcome to come and participate. Kids are welcome, too. All you need are a pair of gloves and your lunch. All other tools (and sodas!) will be provided. We meet in the parking lot of the park (at the corner of Newport-Gap Pike and Faulkland Road) at 9:00, then walk down to the dig site. This is real hands-on archaeological work at a real site, not just watching or a "seeded site". Over the past 15+ years, the group has dug at sites like the Entrance Archway, Ladies Pavilion, Pool Hall, Funhouse, and the Powerhouse. The current dig site is the B&O Pavilion, along the Wilmington and Western tracks near the site of the Entrance Archway.

If you can't make it out to dig, the FOBS business meetings take place on the Sunday night following the dig, at 7:00 at the Cedars Methodist Church. For anyone interested in the history of the park, or interested in joining the group, this is a great opportunity to come out and say, "Hi!". If you're reading this after the weekend of September 11-12, 2010, the FOBS website has a listing of upcoming dig and meeting dates. For the remainder of 2010, the digs will be September 11, October 9, November 13, and December 4. Meetings are held the following evening. Check the FOBS website for contact information about the group, digs or meetings, or email me here.

Brandywine Springs Amusement Park

Entrance Archway at Brandywine Springs
From its earliest days, the residents of Mill Creek Hundred have always been an industrious, hard-working bunch. And for a brief, shining time in the late 1800's and early 1900's, local residents and guests from far afield had a beautiful place to unwind and enjoy a relaxing day out -- Brandywine Springs Amusement Park.

Although the amusement park is usually dated to 1886, the history of the site on the southeast corner of Newport-Gap Pike and Faulkland Road goes back much further. The Yarnall, or Conestoga, Tavern had been in operation since the 1700's, and a large resort hotel was constructed on the site in the late 1820's. This first hotel burned to the ground in 1853, but the site was far from done. Immediately afterwards, a second hotel was created by combining three houses on the site that had been built 20 years earlier by a former hotel manager. This second hotel plugged along with limited success until 1886, when Philadelphian Richard Crook was brought in to manage it.

Friday, September 3, 2010

McKennan-Klair House

The McKennan-Klair House
Partially on a suggestion from a reader, we'll take a look now at an old house that has connections to a famous name in the area (McKennan), as well as a prominent family that I believe is getting its first mention here in this blog (the Klairs). On top of that, this home happens to be one of the oldest still standing in the area. The McKennan-Klair house sits on the north side of Limestone Road, just north of Milltown Road. It was built in two clearly-defined early phases, with a couple of 20th century additions. And although the large bank barn that once sat across the road is gone, there are a few outbuildings still extant on the property.

The land on which the house sits, like most of Mill Creek Hundred, was originally granted by William Penn. In 1706, John Ball, a blacksmith by trade,  purchased the property from the original grantee. Ball had several land holdings, and according to Scharf, operated a bloomary (a furnace for the production of iron from ore) somewhere "near St. James Church", probably on White Clay Creek. It is not known exactly when Ball erected his home, but is thought to date to the 1720's. This oldest part of the house, the left side as you're looking at it, is made of brick covered in stucco, and has two windows on each of its two stories and a centered door. There is a kitchen wing on the rear. After passing through the hands of a John Robinson (and being the subject of a court-settled land dispute), the property was purchased in 1765 by Reverend William McKennan.