Much like his predecessor on the property, Thomas Montgomery, Andrew Gray was very active in public life. He was a member of the state senate from 1817 to 1821, and was instrumental in helping to found what would become the University of Delaware. In 1817, he sponsored and helped pass legislation authorizing a lottery to raise money for the then Newark Academy (lotteries were a popular method of funding at the time). For various reasons, the lottery never took place, and several years later, Gray helped pass new legislation.
This new bill had two important aspects to it, both of which would combine to be his political downfall. First, the bill established a state college to be located in Newark, and secondly, it allowed it to be funded by a tax on stagecoaches and steamboats. Gray saw this as a mostly pain-free method of funding, as, much like today, Delaware was used by travellers heading to and from New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington. This tax was designed to be taken primarily from these out-of-state travellers, not affecting Delawareans very much. However, there was a large backlash against the tax, which seemed to originate from residents and merchants in New Castle and Wilmington, both jealous of the Newark location for the school. As a result, Andrew Gray lost his seat in the 1821 election.
Although his political career was done, Gray remained deeply involved in the early years of the Newark Academy, and in the eventual establishment of Delaware College. The lottery fundraiser he sought, after the law was rewritten in the 1820's, did eventually take place and the money raised was used to build a new college building, now known as Old College. Andrew Gray remained a trustee of the college for over thirty years, and ultimately served as the president of the board of trustees. Although Gray's interest in the school may have been at least partially due to a general interest in education, he did have another more personal reason. Well, three, actually -- his sons who were enrolled there. One of those sons who attended the college and grew up in the house on Polly Drummond Hill was Andrew Caldwell Gray, and he would climb even higher than his father.
|Andrew C. Gray|
But returning to the house on the hill, after the elder Gray's death in 1849, the estate was sold by Andrew C. in 1865 to Robert Cook. He farmed the land for nine years, until his death in 1874. From then until the mid 1930's, the house was occupied by a series of tenant farmers, none of whom seemed to put much emphasis on the care and upkeep of the house. Then, just as it seemed that the venerable old home might go the way of many of its contemporaries and crumble away, it was purchased by a man not unlike several of its former inhabitants.
In about 1934, the big, stone house and farm were purchased by Judge Hugh M. Morris and his wife, Emma. The Morris' immediately began restoring the old home, and even added the eastern kitchen wing to it. In many ways, Morris was sort of a combination of all three of the Grays. He had studied and practiced law, like Andrew C. and George Gray, and like George, had been appointed to a Federal judgeship. And like the elder Andrew Gray, he was deeply involved with the University of Delaware. He was a member of the Board of Trustees from 1929-1959, and served as President from 1939-1959. During his tenure, he oversaw a massive expansion of the size and scope of the school. Four years after his retirement from the board, the university's newly-completed library was named in his honor.
|Judge Hugh M. Morris|
The most recent chapter in the old house's story began in 1998, when the state of Delaware purchased the estate and incorporated it into the White Clay Creek State Park. Now, the historic house is available for tours, as well as meeting and event hosting. Thanks to the loving care given it by the Morris', this two-century plus year old home is still around for future generations to enjoy and contemplate the public service delivered by its many residents.