Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Dr. Swithin Chandler

Dr. Swithin Chandler, M.D.
While it's true that Mill Creek Hundred doesn't boast many residents who attained a national level of fame or influence, it doesn't mean that there haven't been plenty of our sons and daughters who have been important on the state or local level. Then, as now, there have always been those special people who seem to show up everywhere and have a hand in almost every aspect of community life. One such person in the mid-to-late 19th century was Dr. Swithin Chandler, M.D.

Swithin Chandler was born in 1830, the second child of Thomas Jefferson and Sarah Yarnall Chandler. The Chandlers and Yarnalls were both prominent families in the area, and among the future doctor's many relatives were his uncle Abram, who operated the old Harlin mill at Milltown, and (I think) his mother's cousin Holton Yarnall, who operated the Yarnall Tavern at Brandywine Springs. At about age seven, Swithin went to live with his grandparents, who I assume lived nearby in Brackinville. [The 1868 Beers map shows a T.I Chandler, who I think should be T.J., and several other Chandlers, but at this point I don't know where the grandfather, also named Swithin, lived. Another investigation, another day.] His grandfather died a year or two later in 1839, but Swithin continued to live with his grandmother until he was 16. He spent the next few years after that attending school in the winter and working during the summers.

Friday, August 27, 2010

More on the Kiamensi Woolen Mill

Since publishing the post on the Kiamensi Woolen Mill a few weeks ago, I've come across a few more goodies, as well as a story about the site that I think deserves telling. Finally, I want to try to clear up a related aspect of the mill history that I think I'm a bit more clear on now.

First, the goodies! In response to the first Kiamensi post, I was contacted by Marshallton resident Denis Hehman, who was gracious enough to provide me with some documents, as well as the story I'll pass along in a moment. Denis has his own website, Historic Lower Red Clay Valley, that is well worth checking out. Among many other things, he has on there some present-day pictures of the mill site and the surrounding area. He also has a map, prepared by the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO), showing the remnants of structures that were present when they surveyed the site a few years back. The highlight, though (at least for me), was a four page History of the Mill Seat at Kiamensi that comes complete with maps, including an amazing 1927 Sanborn Fire Insurance map. Although the map dates to a couple years after the mill closed, it is an invaluable resource that shows just how extensive the operation was at the site. The report was one of several done in the 1990's when the county was looking at replacing sewer lines throughout the Red Clay Valley. I thank Denis very much for sharing these with us.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

New Pages on the MCH History Blog

In an ongoing effort to make the site easier to use, and to become more involved in the community, we have introduced several new pages recently here on the Mill Creek Hundred History Blog. First, there is the Index of Topics page which is an alphabetical listing of post topics covered so far. As the site grows and scrolling through old post becomes more difficult, hopefully this will make it easier to find a specific topic that one might be searching for.

Secondly, there is now a Calendar of Events page listing some history-related events and special happenings in the area. I have listed as much as I can think of that might be of interest, but if anyone knows anything else that should be included, please let us know. Some hints on how to use the calendar are included on the page.

The most recent addition is the Map of Historic Sites. It took me a little while but I was able to embed an interactive map showing the locations of sites that have been featured in posts. You can drag the map around, as well as zoom in and out. I'm hoping this might be useful to anyone who might know where a site is, but might not know what it is. A reader could also choose to read posts dealing with sites in one particular region, as well. Also, if the location of a site is ever not described very well in its post, you can always go to the map to find just where it is. Just another site navigational aid.

Finally, the About the MCH History Blog page was created to allow a longer explanation of what this is all about, and what we'd like it to be. Since one of the things we'd like it to be is a forum for discussion about our local history, there are comment boxes on every post, as well as on the "About" page. Please feel free to comment at any time and about any post, or use the "About" page comments section for general comments that might not be limited to one particular post. We welcome all comments, criticisms, and suggestions about the site. Thanks for visiting us, and we hope you continue to enjoy our site.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Scharf's "History of Delaware: 1609 -1888"

J. Thomas Scharf
In our continuing series of "Resources for the MCH Researcher" (also known as "Things I Use a Lot to Look Stuff Up"), we look now at probably the most commonly cited piece of Delaware history out there, J. Thomas Scharf's "History of Delaware: 1609-1888". And yes, now that this is the second one (the 1868 Beers Map being the first), I can officially refer to it as a "continuing series". To be honest, when I first decided to write this post, I was just going to say a few words about what the book is, what it's good for, what it's not, link to it, and that was about it. However, after some quick research, I've found that the author himself is worthy of some digital ink, as well as his, for the time, unique methods of conducting his research.

I had always assumed that Scharf was some stodgy old professor or historian who had assistants do his work, while he just sat back, edited a little, and stuck his name on the books. As it turns out, he was nothing of the sort. John Thomas Scharf was born in 1843 in Baltimore, MD, had a Catholic education, and went to work as a bookkeeper at his father's lumber yard at age 16. When the Civil War broke out two years later, he left Baltimore and joined the Confederate Army with an artillery battalion. He saw action in numerous battles over the next two years before being wounded in 1863. After recuperating, he decided to leave the army and join the Confederate Navy. Scharf served in the navy until early 1865, when he rejoined the army and was sent on a covert mission to Canada. The young Marylander's luck finally gave out on him, as he was captured in February 1865 and spent the rest of the war in prison. After the war, he returned to Maryland and joined the state militia, rising all the way to become the aide-de-camp to the Governor.

Friday, August 20, 2010

St. James Church

The earliest settlers in Mill Creek Hundred were a mix of Swedes who had moved inland from the settlements at Fort Christina (Wilmington) and, briefly, Fort Trinity (New Castle), and English who arrived after they took control of the area in 1664. Whether Swedish or English, the one thing all these early inhabitants had in common was their religious zeal. It seems hard to comprehend in today's rapid-transit world, but if these early Swedish Lutheran or Anglican residents wanted to worship, they had to travel either to Old Swedes Church in Wilmington, or Immanuel Church in New Castle. Not surprisingly, they started exploring options a bit closer to home.

The church that stands today at the corner of Old Capitol Trail and St. James Church Road was built in 1822, but the history of the site goes back over a century further. In a will dated 1701, Arient Jansen Vanderburg, the first European owner of the land, gave a portion of his estate to Holy Trinity (Old Swedes) Church. Sometime in the next few years, a small log chapel was built that was used both by missionaries from Old Swedes as well as Immanuel Church. In 1714, the land was conveyed to James Robinson, who set aside 10 acres (presumably where the log church was) for church use. The log chapel, now considered inadequate, was replaced in 1716 by a 32 x 22 foot wood frame church. This church, which would serve for over a century, was considered (at least by the English) to be a "chapel-of-ease" for Immanuel Church -- sort of like a "branch office" for those unable to make the trek to New Castle.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Harmony Schoolhouse

In previous posts, we have covered things like houses, mills, factories, places of worship, farms, and even a hospital. Probably the most important community building not yet covered here is the schoolhouse. In the early days of Mill Creek Hundred, schools were few and far between. There may have been a few church schools and a number of short-lived private schools (really not much more than a teacher instructing a few kids), but most education was done in the home, or not at all. In the late 18th and early 19th centuries there were a few attempts in Delaware at passing school laws, with little success. (Although one early law did lead to the incorporation in 1808 of a school near St. James Church.) Real public schools in the state didn't get started until after the passage of the "Free School Act" in 1829. [It's a rather long PDF, but here is a very good account of the history of school districts in Delaware.] This law set up school districts in the state, each with one school and at least 35 pupils. There were provisions for districts to be split or combined, and each was controlled by, and funded by, the residents of the district. By 1868, there was all or most of 12 districts in Mill Creek Hundred, with parts of four more.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Marshallton in the 1920's, Through the Eyes of a Girl -- Part II

Marshallton Colored School, 1920
We now continue our journey [from Part I] through Marshallton of the '20s, on Duncan Road, travelling up towards Kirkwood Highway. On the right hand side where apartments are now, were a bunch of houses. This was the African American section of Marshallton. On Jackson Avenue (not far to the left) was the Marshallton Colored School, which was built in the 1920’s with funding from Pierre Samuel DuPont. Between Duncan Road and Jackson Avenue, Ham Run meanders down to empty into Red Clay Creek. One of the things the kids of Marshallton looked forward to was to pack their lunches, go to Ham Run, sit on the stones and picnic.


We have now turned around and are going up Jackson Avenue. As we get to the end of Jackson Avenue and we pass the house where Anna Mae and her husband lived, she begins into a story about Herb Thornet and his floral shop. From Jackson Avenue we make a left onto Chalet Drive. Anna Mae is telling of 6-8 large glass greenhouses filled with flowers that Mr. Thornet was growing for his floral shop. Mr. Thornet’s house is still standing at the end of Chalet Drive. As children, they would walk up to the greenhouses and go through and smell all the wonderful flowers.

Marshallton in the 1920's, Through the Eyes of a Girl -- Part I

Marshallton, about 1905
Anna Mae Hedrick is a lifelong resident of Marshallton, Delaware. She was born in January 1916, in her Grandmother’s house (which is still standing) on the corner of Old Capitol Trail and Newport Road. Anna Mae has a passion for Marshallton and many fond memories and stories to pass along. So many memories and stories in fact, that there are reports of a book being written about Anna Mae and her life in Marshallton. Because of this, I will focus more on what Marshallton was like in the 1920’s and 1930’s, through the eyes of Anna Mae. I greatly look forward to reading the book when it comes out.

We will begin our journey through Marshallton at the corner of New Street and Old Capitol Trail. There is a small brown building with a larger house next door. The small brown building was Hubert’s Grocery Store. What Anna Mae remembers most was the candy counter. The children loved going to the store and buying their penny candy. The mothers would give their lists to Mr. Hubert, who would gather the items. They would then load the groceries into their wagons and wheel them home. There were a handful of butchers in the area as well, but most of the time people would travel into Wilmington and buy their meat from Haldas. There were several grocery stores, the most noteworthy of which was the American Store. It was an early grocery store chain, and a forerunner of Acme. They began popping up in the late teens and early twenties. The original Marshallton location of the American store was on Greenbank Road in the red brick building that now houses Events Unlimited. I was told that Irwin Eastburn was the first to own and operate this location. The store was later moved to Old Capitol Trail where Big D’s Pizza place is currently.

Monday, August 9, 2010

An Extension off Old Capital Trail

In addition to doing posts about the people, places, and events of Mill Creek Hundred's history, once in a while I'd like to share some of the random little things I run across while doing "freestyle" research. Today, I found this little passage seen below:


Thursday, August 5, 2010

The John C. Vansant House

While several of the houses already written about here sit on or near major roads, many of the area's historic homes are situated off the main roads -- on smaller roads, their own little paths, or sometimes the remnants of older roads passed by in the age of the automobile. One example of the latter is the John C. Vansant House, which sits at the paved end of Possum Hollow Road just east of Milford Crossroads (the intersection of Possum Park Road and Paper Mill Road). And while this little stone and frame house didn't by itself play a particularly large role in the area's history, nor was it owned by anyone particularly important, not surprisingly for a 200 year old house it does have its own story to tell. It also has an architectural feature unique to the area.