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.

The Fell Era began in the area in 1828, when Jonathan Fell, who had fallen in love with the area after visiting the newly-opened Brandywine Springs resort next door, purchased the Foulk flour mill for use by his Philadelphia-based spice company. It's not clear if Fell used the old Evans/Foulk mill for spices at all, or if he immediately built a new and larger spice mill. My guess, since the spice mill was much larger than an 18th century grist mill, is that Fell probably built the first of the spice mills fairly quickly. Whether it went up before his death in 1829 is unknown. Also, as late as the mid-1890's, long after spice milling had ceased at the site, a grist mill was listed as being at the site. I think it's more likely that this was the old mill, kept operating for custom and merchant work alongside the larger spice mill.

After Jonathan Fell's death, the company was taken over by his sons, Courtland J. and Thomas Jenks Fell, and renamed "C.J. Fell & Brother". Under the brothers, the business thrived. The variety of spices milled at the Faulkland site is quite impressive, as is shown in the c.1860's poster below (the spice mill and Fell Mansion can be seen in the picture at the top). Among other things, the mill ground pepper, mustard, chocolate, ginger, allspice, cloves, cinnamon, cassia, nutmeg, coffee, baking powder, hominy, and grits. Additionally, there was also some canning and labeling done at the site. The rest was shipped to Philadelphia, where it was packaged and sold all over the world. C.J. Fell & Brother products won numerous awards, and had a well-earned reputation for having the highest quality. They would sell lesser products to others for resale, but only the highest quality spices could bear the Fell name.
 
C.J. Fell & Brother advertising poster

 When Thomas Jenks Fell passed away in 1836, Courtland moved to Faulkland to oversee the mill personally (and likely built his mansion on the hill at that time), and their younger brother Franklin was brought into the firm. Upon Courtland's death in 1848, Franklin Fell assumed full ownership of the business. Franklin would grow the company even more, and, like the other members of his family, was involved in a variety of business and philanthropic endeavors. Of local interest, he purchased the failing Brandywine Springs Hotel property in the mid-1860's (with the ultimately unsuccessful idea of donating it to the Episcopal Church), he was a major investor (and Vice-President) of the newly-formed Wilmington & Western Railroad, and he built several tenant houses on his property, which now form much of the Fells Lane Historic District.

Fell Spice Mill, before 1867 fire
First spice mill, after 1867 fire
 









As for the spice mill itself, the first calamity occurred in 1867, the same year Franklin Fell retired from the business. Just a few short months after his son, William Jenks Fell, took over the company, the mill was completely consumed in a fire. As best as I can tell, this mill, which may or may not have been an enlargement of the Evans/Foulk mill, was the one shown in the photos above -- both before and just after the fire. Whatever its origins, by 1865 the stone-walled mill was three stories high, and measured 90 x 35 feet. After the fire, milling operations were temporarily moved to another site (possibly the Harlan Mill, then owned by Abram Chandler [Edit: The temporary mill used was that of Abraham Cannon in Milltown, later the site of the Locust Grove Farm dairy.]), and a new, larger mill was constructed. This new mill, however, would not operate for long. It, too, was destroyed in a fire, this one in 1874 (see picture below). They may not have realized it at the time, but this second fire was pretty much the end of C.J. Fell & Brother.
 
Last spice mill, 1895

Possible end wall of spice mill













As with the first fire, insurance covered some of the cost of rebuilding, but the conflagrations took their toll on the company's finances. After Franklin Fell died in 1875, financial and legal troubles caused William Jenks Fell to suspend the company's operations. The Faulkland mill was rebuilt again (judging from the evidence, I'd say the walls were left intact, and just the interior was rebuilt), but was leased out to another company. Unfortunately for them, like tragic clockwork, the mill burned for a third and final time in 1878. This would be the end of spice milling in Mill Creek Hundred. The grist mill seems to have continued in operation, as it is listed as late as 1894 in a state directory. The last remains of the spice mill were torn down sometime after 1895, leaving only a vague outline of its foundation in front of the Miller's House on Faulkland Road. The only other hint of its existence is what I believe may be part of the east end of the foundation, parallel to the creek, as shown in the picture above. Other than that and the remaining houses in the historic district, very little today would hint at the area's unique industrial past.

14 comments:

  1. Several of my ancestors including Leonard Woodward,3x grandfather, George Woodward, 2x grandfather and James Woodward, great grandfather, worked in Fell's Spice Mill. The 1850, 1860 and 1870 census' list them. I spent time at the Hagley Library in April researching the mill. You have info I haven't seen before. Where did you get it? They are all buried at St. James Church in Stanton.

    Ken Shelin

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  2. Ken - That's fascinating to hear. I love hearing about the people who did the real work. The Fells owned the place, but it was people like your ancestors that were actually making the stuff that was then shipped around the world. I did find them in some of the censuses. They probably lived on Faulkland Rd above the mill, towards the Newport Gap Pike. How much I'd love to be able to go back and talk to them!

    As for the info, some came from various places around, and some from the National Register form. The best source, though, is Carol W. Pursell's book, "Two Mills on Red Clay Creek in the 19th century : the Faulkland Spice Mill and the Greenbank Mill, New Castle County, Delaware". I don't own it, but I borrowed it from a friend to write the post. Looking online, it looks like the Hockessin and Newark libraries have copies of it, too.

    Thanks for chiming in, and if there's anything else you ever want to share, I know we'd all be fascinated to hear. You can comment here or email me directly. If there's any more specific info you want, let me know and I can do what I can.

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  3. hi - i live in the carriage house - of the william jenks fells property - any pictures or any info would be appreciated

    connerbrenda@yahoo.com

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    1. I would be interested in seeing the carriage house.
      Would you allow a tour?

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    2. Is the carriage house the green house on the right side of Faulkland Road at the curve as you drive up to Brandywine Springs Park? I drive past nearly every day and have wondered for years if it had originally been a church building.

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    3. The Green house is the gate house at the base of Fells lane. The carriage house is approximately 3/10 of a mile down Fells lane.

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    4. Thanks, Nancy!

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  4. Scott, because Oliver Evans seems to be a fairly popular (and ghostly) visitor to this blog, I thought you may be interested to hear that he was mentioned in this National Geographic article coming in April 2013.

    http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2013/04/delaware-national-park/goodheart-text

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    1. I just read the paragraph in The National Geographic article about Oliver Evans. It gives him credit where credit is do. I know the subject is the Brandywine, but it is to bad they don't mention his family's mill on the Red Clay Creek.

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    2. There is also a definitive book at the Hagley Museum Store entitled "Oliver Evans Inventive Genius of the American Industrial Revolution" written by Eugene S. Ferguson of the Hagley Museum.

      Ken Shelin

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  5. I'm not sure if this page is still monitored, but I'm a descendant of Leonard Woodward and was curious where this spice mill is or was?

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    1. Yup, no matter how old the post, the comments still show up to me. I'm not sure how precise a location you need, so I'll do it two ways. It's in New Castle County, DE, about 6 or 7 miles west of Wilmington. It was on Faulkland Road where it crosses Red Clay Creek, which is maybe a mile or so north of Prices Corner on Kirkwood Highway. The mill sat on the north side of Faulkland Road, just down the hill from Brandywine Springs Park. It's no longer there, but there's evidence of where it stood.

      I'm not sure how well this will work, but here's a link for Google maps. https://maps.google.com/maps?q=wilmington+de&ll=39.746629,-75.63632&spn=0.009569,0.021136&hnear=Wilmington,+New+Castle,+Delaware&gl=us&t=h&z=16

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    2. This Leonard Woodward descendent may want to contact me since I am also a Leonard Woodward descendent. I can show this person where Leonard and family lived along with a copy of the lease for the house which still exists at 3033 Faulkland Road and has been lovingly taken care of on the hill adjacent to the spice mill site. My email is kshelin@aol.com. Thanks to other Woodward relatives who alerted me to this posting on MCH History Blog.

      Ken Shelin

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    3. Sorry the house address where Leonard Woodward lived from about 1833 until he died in 1862 was 3003 Faulkland Rd.

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