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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

James Black, Forgotten Early Leader of Mill Creek Hundred

The "mill" that started it all
 A few weeks ago, near the beginning of the the first of several posts dealing with the Eastburn-Jeanes Lime Kilns, I mentioned that I had found a little bit about the earlier history of the property. I'd like to take this chance now not only to share with you what I found, but also the process by which I found the information. I think it's a good example of what I think is one of the most enjoyable aspects of researching history -- uncovering interesting things that you didn't even know existed before you started digging. In this case, I only went looking for the previous owner of a property, and ended up finding a man who was an early leader in the area, and who even played a part in the establishment of Delaware and the United States.

This particular journey began while I was looking into the history of the Eastburn-Jeanes Lime Kiln Historic District. Everywhere I looked, the history began with Abel Jeanes' purchase of the property sometime around 1815. There were no mentions of any previous owners -- not even who it was that Jeanes bought the land from. The only clues I could find anywhere came in Francis Cooch's book, Little Known History of Newark, Delaware and Its Environs. First, while visiting the area in the early 1930's, he stated that he believed part of the Jeanes House (then resided in by Joseph Eastburn, Jr.) to be older than the ownership of Abel Jeanes. Secondly, he also was sure that Jeanes' warehouse was originally built as a grist mill. In fact, Eastburn told him that the story he had heard was that it was burned by passing British troops during the Revolution. Finally, the last clue Cooch gives us is a passing mention by Eastburn that he thought the owners before Jeanes were named "Black". Not a lot to go on, but I thought I'd give it a shot.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Aquila Derickson House

The Aquila Derickson House
 As one travels along Limestone Road just south of the Pike Creek Shopping Center, it's hard not to notice the large white house sitting above the road, looking down on the passing travellers as it has for more than 160 years. This is the Aquila Derickson House, and I happen to think it is one of the more beautiful houses in the area. It's not the oldest home that has been featured on this site, but it does have some unique features and associations that make it interesting nonetheless. It is also the most prominent house remaining that was associated with the Derickson family -- a well-known family in this part of Delaware for much of its first few hundred years.

The property on which the house sits was owned, like much of the surrounding land, by John Ball early in the 18th Century. (Ball's home was the original section of the McKennan-Klair House, just down the road.) About mid-century this part of Ball's tract was sold to Charles Williams (1711-1799), then in 1795 to Joseph Burns (1746-1817). Burns (or, Burn) was a lawyer, and at one time, a Justice of the Peace. Although I have not seen them, early 19th Century maps reportedly show Burns' house as being in approximately the same location as Aquila Derickson's later home. Burns' house was originally a log one that may have later been replaced with a frame structure. The property eventually ended up in the hands of Benjamin Springer (1760-1842), probably not long after Burns' death in 1817. Two years after Springer's passing, this tract and an adjacent one were purchased by Aquila Derickson, the grandson of one of the early Swedish settlers of New Castle County.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Hickman Blacksmith Shop and House

Hickman Blacksmith Shop and House
 The last several posts I wrote (on the Eastburn-Jeanes Lime Kilns) were about one of the more unique businesses in Mill Creek Hundred. This one on the other hand, deals with one of the most common occupations of the 19th century -- blacksmith. For much of the century, grist mills and blacksmith shops were the two most common industrial sites in MCH, with as many as one in four such sites being a blacksmith shop. But while there are a fair number of mills still standing in one form or another, the Hickman Blacksmith Shop on Greenbank Road in Marshallton is probably the only extant example of a 19th century (albeit barely) blacksmith shop in the hundred. When paired with the adjacent house that predates the shop by about 40 years, it's easy to see why this site was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1994.

The early history of the property on which the house and shop sit is intertwined with that of the Springer-Cranston House on Stanton Road. This property (and much of what is now Marshallton) passed through several hands before being purchased in 1833 by Simon Cranston (1768-1856). In the intervening years before Simon's death, it's not clear whether he still owned the land or whether title went immediately to his son James (1807-1887). In either case, documentary and stylistic clues point to the 2-story, single-pile, side-passage frame house being built around 1860. Likely, this means it was built by James Cranston soon after his father's death. The house was built as a tenement, one of many that the Cranston family owned and rented out. The records I've seen don't indicate who lived in the house for its first 40 years, but my own personal conjecture would be workers employed at the Marshall Rolling Mill on Red Clay Creek. The original house was not particularly large, only about 24' x 19', with one room on the first floor and two bedrooms on the second. For the time, though, it was probably a very comfortable home for a working-class family.

Monday, January 10, 2011

A Brief Explanation of the Eastburn-Jeanes Lime Kilns

Eastburn-Jeanes Lime Kilns along Upper Pike Creek Rd
 The last two posts have focused on the Eastburn-Jeanes Lime Kiln Historic District, first on its history and then on its structures. Now, in the third installment of what's turning into a series here, I'd like to look closer at the structures at the center of it all -- the lime kilns themselves. In all honesty, this post might get more specific and technical than some prefer, so if you're not interested in exactly how the kilns worked and what they did, feel free to skip this one (you won't hurt my feelings, honest). I'm really only doing this because prior to investigating the subject, I had no idea myself just what a lime kiln was. Some of the resources I found had some fairly in-depth explanations about the industry and processes, so I thought I'd pass along what I found, just on the off chance that someone else might find it interesting.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Eastburn-Jeanes Lime Kiln District Structures

Structures of the Lime Kiln District
 In the last post, I tried to give a brief history of the area known as the Eastburn-Jeanes Lime Kiln District. In this post, I'd like to take a closer look at some of the extant structures in the area, which include a mix of domestic and commercial buildings. If you'll recall from the history, the lime-burning business was begun around 1816 by brothers-in-law Abel Jeanes and David Eastburn. Later, the venture was carried on by David's son and then his grandson, both named Joseph. All of the structures in the area (with the exception of two) were built by one of these three men. Luckily for us, they're all still (mostly) standing today.

The logical place to start with this topic would be the two family houses -- the Jeanes House on Upper Pike Creek Road and the David Eastburn House on Paper Mill Road. For varying reasons, though, I'm not going to spend much time on either of them. For the Eastburn House, it's mostly because I don't have much information on it at this time, except for the fact that it was built by David Eastburn, most likely when he moved to the area in about 1816. If I'm ever able to come up with more, I'll certainly devote a post to this historic home, and the base of the Eastburn family in the region. As for the house occupied by Abel Jeanes, I have been able to piece together a little of what I believe is its history (complete with a prominent but long-forgotten name) that I'll detail in a forthcoming post. But don't worry, that still leaves us with plenty to talk about in this post.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Eastburn-Jeanes Lime Kiln District History

Abel Jeanes Mansion
 I know that I've written this before, but one of the things I find most interesting about the history of Mill Creek Hundred is the variety of people and activities that have taken place here over the past few hundred years. In fact, if there's one thing I'd like people to take from this site, it's that this area's story is a lot more than just, "It all used to be farms." For my money, one of the more interesting industries to pop up in MCH operated in the area just below Paper Mill Road, between Polly Drummond Hill Road and Pike Creek. In this tract, for most of the 19th century, operated the limestone quarries and lime kilns of the Jeanes and Eastburn families. Although some parts of its history are a little sketchy on details, there's enough information about the subject as a whole for me to drag spread it out over several posts. In this post, I'd like to deal with the 19th century history of the site and the families involved (although the Eastburns are far too large to handle in one post, so I'll limit myself to the ones relevant to the lime kilns). In the next posts, I'll explain (as best as I can) what the business was, and then what I think I've found about the earlier history of the property. I'd also like to do a post about the houses and other buildings in the district, if I can piece together enough to make it worth it. [I did, it's here.] Thanks for bearing with me.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Dixon-Jackson House

Dixon-Jackson House
Lying on the high ground in the north of Mill Creek Hundred, Hockessin straddles the old Newport and Gap Turnpike (although "Lancaster Pike" is now used for this stretch) as if keeping watch over the rest of the hundred. Along this road, and also facing down its length, sits a house that, over its more than two and a half centuries, has been associated with three of the leading families in the area -- the Dixons, the Jacksons, and the Garretts. The Dixon-Jackson House is a fine example of several building and preservation phenomena, and like many structures of its age has gathered several myths and legends around it -- some of which may even have some evidence to support them.

The property on which the Dixon-Jackson House sits (on the northeast side of Lancaster Pike, just north of Valley Road) was originally purchased from Letitia Penn in 1726 by Henry Dixon (1692-1742), the son of an Irish Quaker. Although there is no direct evidence to know for sure, it's likely that Henry, who was a founding member of the Hockessin Friends Meeting, built the first part of the house, a one room log home, not long after he bought the land. After his death in 1742, the house went next to his son Samuel Dixon (1725-1804), who sold it in 1771. Although some members of the Dixon family remained in the area, Samuel moved west after selling his property, ending up in far southwest Pennsylvania's Fayette County (where hopefully he didn't get caught up in the Whiskey Rebellion of 1794).