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.

The house next went to Reece's son, also named John. This John, in addition to selling the millseat to Mordicai McKinney, made the first major renovation to his father's house. He added (expanded?) a second story, and changed the orientation of the house, now having it face south (toward the railroad tracks, which were not there yet). Interestingly, the original doorway, now filled in, is still visible on the west end wall of the house. The house next went, sometime between 1816 and 1822, to John Springer. Springer would make the next major change to the house. He added a 20x24 foot extension to the east end of the home, thereby creating a four-bay configuration with a central stairway inside. He also moved the service and kitchen functions from a separate (or possibly attached) frame wing where they had been since the days of John Reece, Sr., to a basement kitchen built under the new addition. And since the new section was built on a slope, the basement had exterior access on the east side. (As a side note, Reece's original service building or wing also likely housed his seven slaves, a function for which Springer had no need -- although he did have one young black male servant.)

North elevation, or rear of the house
While the first floor remained in a single-pile style (one room deep), the second floor was divided into a cramped double-pile configuration consisting of five rooms (one was over the stairway). Two dormers were also installed in the north (rear) roof at this time. Unfortunately after all this work, Springer only lived in the house a few years before his death in 1827. Fortunately for us, though, the probate records after his death give a great snapshot into the property at the time. The National Register form gives many of the details about John Springer's belongings. It also shows that on the property there was a smokehouse/springhouse, a frame and stone barn, two apple orchards, and a peach orchard (a reasonable guess would be that one of these was the "orchard" in Orchard Road, which is directly across from the house). The records also give a rough outline of the property, of which the current lot east of Stanton Road was only a small part. The bulk of Springer's land extended from Hamm Run to Calf Run, west of Stanton Road, encompassing parts of what is now Marshallton, Klair Estates, and Kiamensi Gardens/Heights. The next owner would be the one to break apart the estate.
In 1833, the property was bought at public auction by the local patriarch of a family that is deserving of their own post (and will get it at some point), the Cranstons. Simon Cranston, who lived in the house off of Rt. 4 and Stanton Road, purchased the property to set up his sons as local landowners. Specifically, this house went to James Cranston, who made the last of the major changes to the house (his brothers Benjamin and Joseph received other portions of Springer's estate). James, it seems, did not like the basement kitchen arrangement, so he had built a two-story, stone service wing on the southeast end of the house (today covered in plaster). James occupied the home until about 1876, when he sold it to his son, Edwin. It was Edwin who donated the land for the adjacent Marshallton Methodist Church. The descendants of Edwin Cranston would live in the house until 1987, when it finally passed out of the family. So, not only are the Cranstons responsible for much of the development of the area over the last 170 years, they also did a fine job of preserving this beautiful, evolving home. (Here are some more pictures of it.)


  1. Thank you for an interesting site. I notice that many sites don't seem to mention the state they their report is relevant to. Just a suggestion, maybe to say in the first paragraph Marshallton, (i.e.) Idaho
    or otherwise identify the state for those who don't know as we look into, for example, Cranston family history. Thank you!

  2. Thanks for the suggestion. I think I do forget sometimes that this site does get visitors from outside of our little corner of the world here. I can see where it might be confusing for someone jumping into the middle of it, if they're not familiar with where MCH is. To try to help that a bit, I did add "Delaware" to the subtitle of the blog header. I may also work at making sure I include the state somewhere within the post, too. Thanks again for the input!

  3. I enjoyed this post. My mother was a Marshall descendent. She lived there for about 50 years. I grew up there. I have a few records that differ slightly from the history that you present. If you are still following comments, please contact me.

    1. I'd love to see what info you have. I think for the most part the info in this post came from the National Register form for the house. From what I've learned researching this stuff, it wouldn't surprise me at all if some of their facts didn't, um, "line up" exactly. I'm sure it was written with the best info they had at the time, but again, I wouldn't be surprised if you had info that differed.

      If you have more than will fit in a comment, feel free to contact me at mchhistory@verizon.net. I'm especially interested to hear from you, because I happen to live very near this house. Maybe we'll even get a follow-up post out of it. I do love a good follow-up post....

    2. I'm well acquainted with Calf Run, but your mention of Hamm Run sent me to the maps, but I came up without an answer. Can you advise where it is, or was, located?kc.

    3. Hamm Run was, and is, the small creek that runs down on the west side of Duncan Road, crosses under Duncan/Greenbank Road, and empties into Red Clay just on the Ametek side of the bridge. It's easy to miss now, but I get the impression it was more noticeable back when the area was less built-up.

    4. Fl Bob.........

      Are you saying your mother lived in this house for nearly 50 years or in Marshallton? If in the house would those descendants be named Samworth?


    5. You are close, Dennis. My mother was a descendant of Simon Cranston. She was given the house by her mother, who was born a Cranston. My father was a Samworth. We moved into the house in about 1941.

    6. Scott, I searched the property records more than 20 years ago when my mother decided to sell the house. I made copies of the deeds back to what I thought was Simon Cranston's acquisition of the property in about 1793. We all make mistakes. When I find Simon's deed I will send you a copy along with a few questions. We can staighten out the facts at that time.