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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Fell Spice Mill

Fell Spice Mill, 1873
So far on this site, we've looked at a number of different types of mills -- grist mills, saw mills, woolen mills, and iron mills, just to name a few. But there is one type that we haven't seen yet, and for a very good reason. Not only was it unique in the Red Clay Valley or Mill Creek Hundred, it was the only one of its kind in the entire state! The Fell Spice Mill at Faulkland (Faulkland Road and Red Clay Creek) was, for a time, a very successful enterprise, but one that was ultimately doomed by a series of misfortunes.

This is one of those posts where it's challenging to even figure out where to start, because there's probably enough history in the Faulkland area for about a half dozen posts or more. The location originally was the site of Oliver Evans' (who deserves a whole book to himself) innovative grist mill, then was owned by William Foulk (who lent his name to the area). Foulk sold the property to the Fells, who operated the world-renowned spice mill for most of the 19th century. Under the Fells, who were quite an interesting family in their own right and were closely entwined with the neighboring Brandywine Springs enterprises, Faulkland grew to be a small community, one that is now listed on the National Register as the Fells Lane Historic District. Even within the district, there are several houses that would be worthy of their own posts. This time, though, we'll focus on the centerpiece of the milling community, the Spice Mill itself.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Stanton Friends Meeting House

Stanton Friends Meeting House, 1936
To anyone at all familiar with the history of New Castle County, it should come as no surprise that there are several Friends (Quaker) Meeting Houses in Mill Creek Hundred. And to anyone familiar with the area today, it should be no surprise that they are not as influential or as (proportionally) attended as they once were. Of the three meeting houses in the hundred, the one that best reflects this change in demographics is the Stanton Meeting House. And not to give away the ending, but it's also the only one of the three that is no longer a functioning meeting house. However, we are fortunate that the building is still here, even if it's obscured enough that I'm sure very few people driving by have any idea when and why it was built.

What would become the Stanton Meeting can trace its lineage back to 1772, when the Wilmington Monthly Meeting granted locals' request, and allowed them to hold an "indulged meeting" (one for worship only -- no business is conducted, and it is under the supervision of a monthly meeting). However, at first this meeting was not conducted in Stanton, but at Hannah Lewden's house in Christiana. Very quickly, though, the meetings began alternating between the Lewden's house and a location in Stanton. I can't find anything that states definitively where these first meetings were held in Stanton, but a very good guess would be the home of Daniel Byrnes, who moved to the area the same year. Byrnes, who resided in what's now known as the Hale-Byrnes House just south of Stanton, was at the time studying to become a Quaker minister, and would become one in 1784.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Thomas Justis House

Thomas Justis House
As I do these posts, the thing that continues to amaze me is how each site, no matter how routine it seems like it will be, ends up having its own interesting and unique story. (I also like it when they perfectly illustrate a point I've already made, but more on that in a moment.) This was the case again once I started digging into (not literally -- don't worry) the Thomas Justis House, located on Milltown Road next to St. John the Beloved Church. I had always known the house was there (it's right on a main road, not hidden away like some), but I had assumed it was just another old house, without much of a story to it. Why I continue to think things like that, I have no idea.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Mendenhall House and Mills

Mendenhall House (center) and Mills, c1895
 With all the swiftly-flowing streams within (and on) its boundaries, it's no wonder that Mill Creek Hundred has seen so many mills built along its waterways over the last 300+ years. Unfortunately, though, as manufacturing technology progressed during the Industrial Revolution, steam, and then electric power slowly marched water power towards inevitable obsolescence. By the end of the 19th Century, there were few if any water-powered mills still in operation. Some, like the Kiamensi Woolen Mills, did convert to the newer power sources for a time, but the increasing scale of manufacturing meant that the days of these cozy, secluded millseats were most certainly numbered.

After operations ceased at these mills, unless they were repurposed like Caleb Harlan's old mill, there was usually no reason to keep them around. They were generally either torn down more or less immediately so the building material could be reused, or they were abandoned and left to fall down on their own. Very often, by the early-to-mid 20th Century all that was left was the nearby miller's house and maybe a few foundations. This was exactly the case for the Mendenhall House and mills along Mill Creek, at the intersection of Mill Creek Road and (go figure) Mendenhall Mill Road. In this case, we're lucky enough that we happen to have some photographs of the area while (or shortly after) it was in operation, and the mill remained long enough to be photo'd and studied long after it's mothballing.

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Early 19th Century Rebuilding of Mill Creek Hundred

Log House common in 18th Century MCH
 It's possible that if you've read a few of the posts on this site, specifically those pertaining to historic houses,  you've noticed a trend or theme regarding the age and construction of many of these homes. In particular, you may have noticed that a number of these houses, (A) were built roughly between 1800 and 1825, and (B) were stone or brick structures that replaced (or expanded) earlier log or frame ones. If you did notice this (and even if you didn't, it's OK, you can say you did. I won't tell), it wasn't your imagination -- this was a real trend at the time in this area.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Robert Kirkwood -- Revolutionary War Hero

Delaware Regiment at the Battle of Long Island
As far as the topics of these posts go, most times I'll plan them out beforehand and then go research them. Once in a while, though, something will pop up in a bit of serendipity and I'll know that it has to be my next subject. Such was the case with this one. After finishing the Judge Morris Estate posts, and completely unrelated to them, I happened to come across something whose timing left me no choice but to write up this post. As a result, around this somber anniversary, we'll take a look at arguably Mill Creek Hundred's greatest and most decorated war hero, Robert Kirkwood [if you know of a challenger for the title, let me know]. He's one native son whose story really should be as well known as his name.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Judge Morris Estate -- Part 2

In the last post, we followed the history of what is now known as the Judge Morris Estate up through the ownership of Thomas Montgomery. I haven't determined exactly when Montgomery sold the house (or if he even owned the current, existing house), but he did pass away in late 1799. According to this DNREC news release, the 2-1/2 story section of the house was built in 1792 by John Barclay, about whom I can find very little information. In 1808, the property was purchased by a member of a prominent Kent County family, Andrew Gray. When the Grays moved into the estate, they named it "Chestnut Hill", and they would own the property for the next 57 years. That same news release also states that it was Gray who, in 1825, built the 1-1/2 story west wing to house a growing compliment of servants. I still think the smaller western section looks older that the larger one, but I'll defer to the state's assessment, since it is their house (more on that in a bit).