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Friday, October 29, 2010

Judge Morris Estate -- Part 1

There are, as you can see on this site, many beautiful, old homes in Mill Creek Hundred, but there are very few that are open to the public. One of the few houses that is open for public view (at least sometimes) is the Judge Morris Estate, also known as the Andrew Gray House. Thanks to the loving restoration carried out earlier last century by a man whose name is very familiar to University of Delaware alums, the house is in excellent condition, especially considering that it's at least 220 years old. In addition to its architectural beauty, few other houses can boast a roster of owners whose record of public service rivals this one.

Like almost every house of its advanced age, the Morris House is comprised of several sections built by various owners over the years. There is no clear consensus on when then oldest section of the house was built, or by whom. According to Francis Cooch in Little Known History of Newark, DE and Its Environs, there are several dates inscribed on stones on different parts of the house: 1684, 1742 or 1752, and 1777. Date stones where often used to record the date of a building's erection, but where also used sometimes to commemorate important dates long after the fact. The original land grant for much of the Polly Drummond Hill (AKA Meetinghouse Hill) area was made from William Penn to William Welsh in December 1683, so if I had to guess, I'd say the 1684 date refers either to this or possibly the date of the first house (probably log) in the area. It's unlikely any part of this house was built then.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Delaware Iron Works at Wooddale

Alan Wood's House, built 1826
 Although there were a fair number of mills and industries along Pike Creek, Mill Creek, White Clay Creek and various smaller tributaries throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, the greatest number and widest variety of mills in the aptly-named Mill Creek Hundred were powered by the swiftly-falling waters of the Red Clay Creek. At various times, the Red Clay Valley was home to grist mills, saw mills, textile mills, paper mills, spice mills, and snuff mills, just to name a few. Along side all those were two iron rolling mills -- one at Marshallton, and the other, the focus of this post, at Wooddale.

There are a number of potential post topics revolving around Wooddale -- Alan Wood, the forgotten community of Wooddale, the mill owner's and workers houses. All of these will no doubt be covered in due time, but right now I'd like to focus on the mill and company at the heart of it all. The first use of the millseat here at the oxbow on Red Clay Creek was the Delaware Rolling Mills, built about 1813 by Edward Gilpin and John Smith. These mills, the first iron rolling and slitting mills in Delaware, were situated just off of the very newly constructed Wilmington Turnpike (now Lancaster Pike), and produced such things as barrel hoops, iron wheels, and wire rods for making nails. After about a dozen years of operation, Gilpin and Smith leased the mills to a Mr. Jones, who brought in Alan Wood to manage them. Wood's father, James, was the owner of several large and successful iron mills in the Philadelphia area. Within a few months, the Woods had taken over the lease and were running the mills on Red Clay themselves.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Forgotten Communities -- Loveville

Beers 1868 Map, with the Loveville area circled
 Whenever you're trying to tell the history or story of an area, whether it be a city, county, state, or a hundred, one of the most important aspects will always be the communities in that area. As you know, Delaware, unlike many states, is not carved up into countless towns, villages, and townships. In fact, Mill Creek Hundred does not currently contain any officially incorporated areas. Probably the closest we have to any towns now would be Hockessin and Marshallton, but in most areas residents would identify more with their neighborhood than with any nearby community. This, of course, was not always the case. Through the years, Mill Creek Hundred has been home to numerous small communities. Over time, most of these communities have faded from memory, their names kept alive in some cases only by road names or vague, general area designations. Some of these have been gone so long that it's hard to remember that they were at one time real places, populated by real people.

These communities usually sprung up around crossroads or large employers (mills or factories), and were often named for prominent local residents or businesses. Unfortunately, for many of these old communities there is precious little information available -- too little for a full post. So what I'd like to do is occasionally stop and take time to look at a couple of these communities, and pass along whatever information I can find about them. As always, if you or someone you know has any more information on the topic, I'd love to hear about it.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Springer-Cranston House

The Springer-Cranston House today
 Tucked away just south of Marshallton on the east side of Stanton Road, close to the street but almost hidden from it, quietly sits one of the oldest houses in southern Mill Creek Hundred. The Springer-Cranston House is a perfect example of how even a smaller home can change fairly radically over time, seemingly with each new owner who takes control. Presently, the house is a four-bay, two-story fieldstone structure, facing south, with a two-story ell on the south-east end and dormers on the north-facing roof. However, this is nothing like the original core of the house dating back well over two centuries.

The first owner of what would become the Springer-Cranston House was a miller named John Reece, who also happens to have been the first owner of the millseat that would eventually be occupied by the Kiamensi Woolen Company. I have to admit another instance of "not-understanding-the-report" here, as the National Register form both states that Reece's house was a one-story, 24x18 foot structure, and talks about a second floor and stairway placement. Either I'm missing something, or perhaps it was some sort of a one and a half story with only a partial second floor. In any case, it's possible that this first incarnation was built as early as the mid 1760's, as Reece purchased the land in 1762. It was certainly up before Reece's death in 1795, though, and it originally faced Stanton Road.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Newport and Gap Turnpike

Gap and Newport Turnpike near Avondale, PA, 1896
Houses, schools, churches and factories are not the only man-made constructs vital to the growth of a community. There is one other piece of engineering that is crucial to every aspect of our economy, but which is often overlooked until it is in disrepair -- our roads. And while we often think of road-building and upgrading as a 20th century phenomenon, they were just as vital in the 19th century. In fact, the first two decades of the 1800's saw a flurry of road-building in the area, and for the most part, the roads put down then are still our major thoroughfares today, two hundred years later. One of the first of these new roads to be laid out was the Newport and Gap Turnpike (or, the Gap and Newport Turnpike). This road, now known as Newport-Gap Pike (Rt. 41), is still one of the major routes though Mill Creek Hundred today.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

John McDaniel House

John McDaniel House
   A few posts back, when we took a look at the McDaniel-Peach House, I mentioned that it was one of two related, historic houses in the area. Now, we'll focus on the other house -- the John McDaniel House. Unfortunately, like its older companion, there is frustratingly little information available about this house and the family that built and occupied it. The house is included in the large, thematic National Register entry that deals with agricultural buildings in MCH, but the main focus of that report is the barns in the area, not the houses. Where a house does exist, it is included and given an architectural assessment, but usually only a very cursory historical background. For the McDaniel House, the entry runs four pages, but only one paragraph deals with the house (even then, it doesn't even give the first name of the builder, only calling it the J. McDaniel House). The rest describes the large, tri-level barn that used to sit next to the house, about where the next house over is, to the northwest. The barn was torn down about 20 years ago.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Brandywine Springs Park Advertisement

I recently had the opportunity to see something that I thought was not only very interesting, but that also does a great job of illustrating a larger point. In the course of rummaging through the impressive collection of park-related items that the Friends of Brandywine Springs (FOBS) has gathered over the years, the group's president, Mike Ciosek, came across the newspaper advertisement that you see here (you can click on the picture for a larger view). The full-page ad originally appeared in the "Resort Section" of the Philadelphia Inquirer (although at the top, it actually says "Inqurier". Nice.), on June 25, 1911. This was a time when Brandywine Springs Amusement Park was at its height, and four years before it was sold by its founder -- a sale that would begin the downward spiral that would eventually lead to its closing after the 1923 season.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

McDaniel-Peach House

McDaniel-Peach House

Originally, this post was going to focus on the McDaniel saw and grist mills located on the northeast corner of Paper Mill and North Star Roads. However, once I started delving into the immediate area, I discovered that there are two historic houses nearby, each related in some way to the mills, and each with their own interesting stories. Eventually I'll get to all three sites, but here I'd like to start with the oldest structure of the group -- what I've dubbed the McDaniel-Peach House.

This house is a bit unusual, in that even though it is quite old and even has an interesting story attached to it, I've not been able to find any detailed description (such as a National Register form or DelDOT report) written about it. What we do know is that the McDaniel-Peach House sits a few hundred yards north of Paper Mill Road, just above Willow Creek Lane, and about half way between North Star Road and Limestone Road. The McDaniels are one of the oldest families in the area, having descended from Bryan MacDonald, who bought a tract of land near Brandywine Springs from William Penn in 1689. (The family name seems to have changed in the 1700's.) Although most of the family had left the area in the early 18th century, by at least the 1770's some of the remaining family had moved to the area west of Limestone Road.