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.

I can say 1770's, or more precisely 1777, because of the one story that has been passed down about the house. In his Little Known History of Newark, Delaware and Its Environs, Francis Cooch relates the story of "When the Hessians Came to Mill Creek Hundred", and although he never actually states the names of the owners of the home, it's clear that he is referring to the McDaniel-Peach House. The story is that while on their way from Cooch's Bridge to the Battle of Brandywine in September 1777, the British army (including many Hessian mercenaries) stopped to loot in and around the house. It seems they did a thorough job of ransacking the house, ripping mattresses and smashing dishes, save one plate that they somehow missed. The family kept the plate, which they called "The Hessian Plate". Thankfully, the McDaniels had warning of the Redcoats' arrival and fled to safety in Pennsylvania.

As noted earlier, I have not found any definitive history of the house, but I've been able to piece together a bit of it. The McDaniels who fled the British army were likely to have been James and his wife Mary. By looking at the house, it appears to consist of two distinct sections. My guess is that the smaller, eastern section was built by James McDaniel sometime in the mid-1700's. (However, NCC lists the construction date as 1783. I've found these dates to be highly unreliable, so it could be off by a few years, or possibly the house was rebuilt not long after the march of the marauding Hessians.) It looks like it was a three-bay house with a centered door, and may have four small, low dormers. One of the McDaniel's daughters, Margaret, married an English immigrant named Paul Peach, which would set the stage for the next ownership of the house.

Paul and Margaret (McDaniel) Peach had a son named John in 1803. John spent several years as an apprentice to a blacksmith, but apparently decided that it wasn't for him. Instead, he bought his grandfather's farm and moved into the old house. There is no date attached to this, but if he became an apprentice as a teen and worked for a few years, he probably bought the house sometime in the mid 1820's. (This will take more research, but it may not be a coincidence that this is about the same time that John McDaniel built his house down the hill closer to the family's mill on Pike Creek.) I have nothing to substantiate this, but my guess is that the western, large portion of the house was built by John Peach not long after he purchased the estate. It appears to be a classic Georgian five-bay, centered-door plan common to the time that Peach moved in. It also seems to have a small, two-bay addition on the front, very similar to one on the John McDaniel House. I don't know when they were added, but maybe it was a family style.

After John's death in 1862, his wife Emeline took ownership of the home -- she is the "Mrs. Peach" listed on the 1868 Beers map. In 1893, kaolin clay (a type used for ceramics) was discovered on the property, and John's son William Paul immediately started the Peach Kaolin Company. As with the house itself, I don't have much information about the company, other than it operated well into the 20th century. If I'm able to find anything more, I'll be sure to pass it along. If anyone else knows any more about the McDaniel or Peach families in the area, I'd love to hear about it.

Update: See this follow-up post for more (and more accurate) information about the McDaniel-Peach House.

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