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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.

The record doesn't indicate what, if anything, was standing on the property when it was purchased by Aquila Derickson (1809-1881) and his wife Margaret (1810-1892). [Incidentally, depending on where you look, his name is alternately spelled with one or two L's, and one or two R's. His headstone has one of each, so that's the spelling I'm going with.] It doesn't appear that Benjamin Springer lived here -- I believe he resided in a house at what is now at the corner of New Linden Hill Road and Skyline Drive. It's possible that if a house did still stand on Limestone Road by the 1840's, it was used as a tenement house. In any case, when Derickson bought his part of the Springer estate (here is the decision of an 1848 court case regarding a right of way from Limestone Road to the Springer farm, through Derickson's property -- Linden Hill Road did not yet exist), he quickly set about erecting a new home for himself and his family.

The home Derickson built in 1846 is at once both similar to many of its contemporaries, and different enough to make it, I think, unique in this area. It is a 2-1/2 story home, built of stucco-covered fieldstone, that at first glance appears to be much like the other Georgian-style homes in the area dating from the first half of the 19th Century. However, where a typical Georgian-style house would have an odd number of symmetrical bays (usually 3 or five), Derickson's has six. Within those six are a pair of entrances, centered in the middle two bays. This seems to be the result of a mix between the traditional Georgian "I" house plan, and the older "continental" plan, which was usually a three-bay, side-passage design. It almost seems like Derickson took two continental plan homes and stuck them together to create a larger house more in-line with Georgian ideals. Later, two additions were built onto the rear of the house -- a 2 1/2 story stone ell on the north end, and a 1 1/2 story frame section on the rear of that.

North rear of Derickson House, showing additions
Aquila Derickson lived in his home from its construction in 1846 (as evidenced by a diamond-shaped date stone high on the north gable end) until his death in 1881. During that time, although he primarily worked farming his land, he was involved in other pursuits as well. For one thing, he served two terms in the State House of Representatives, twenty years apart (1851-1853, 1871-1873). I've found a few other places, too, where his name has popped up -- all, I think, showing that he was considered to be a respected member of the community. He was a trustee of Red Clay Creek Presbyterian Church. He was named to a committee to determine if a new road was needed in Hockessin (I think this might be what is now Evanson Road ). And, I think most interestingly, he was deposed by the General Assembly about what he saw regarding trouble surrounding the 1862 election, a topic that will come up again in a future post.

The Dericksons had 11 children in all, but only four survived past early adulthood. Three of those were sons, and they all eventually settled in homes on land originally owned by their father. The eldest son, Joseph (1833-1898), moved into a now-gone house across the road from his father. It sat towards the end of what is now (go figure) Derickson Drive. The next son was Calvin (1844-1900), and it was he who stayed in the family home after Aquila's death. There doesn't seem to be any indication of this anywhere, but I would speculate that he also built the ell onto the north end of the rear of the house. Both Joseph and Calvin were involved at one time with the Spring Grove textile mill, which sat on Mill Creek near the foot of Stoney Batter Road.

The youngest son, Bayard (1846-1904), resided in a house just south of Old Linden Hill Road. It appears, without a name, on an 1849 map, so this was likely a farmhouse associated with one of the tracts Aquila purchased in the early 1840's. It may have been the Williams or McDonald farm referenced in the right of way case. As best as I can tell, it sat about where the gravel parking lot for Carousel Park is now.  Although the Derickson family once owned numerous structures in the area (including a barn, dating from the Burns ownership, that sat where New Linden Hill Road now meets Limestone Road), the only one remaining is Aquila's beautiful and unique house. Thankfully this one still stands as a reminder of this once important family.


  1. Scott, thank you so much for posting this info about the Derickson house (I know it's an old post, but I just found your delightful blog!). My ancestors were Greggs from NC and one of the artifacts that has ended up in my possession is an autograph quilt created for Aquilla's niece Mary Anne Gregg, who died in 1850. Uncle Aquilla and Aunt Margaret Derickson are on the quilt, along with cousins Joseph (I always thought it said Dickinson, but it probably is Derickson), Bayard, Calvin, Elizabeth, Margaretta and Mary. I'm working on a site for NC county genealogy and will be adding some photos of the quilt soon.

    Mary Briggeman
    New Castle County Genealogy

    PS. I'm going with 2 L's and 1 R since that's how it appears on the quilt :)

  2. Scott P.
    There was also a Derrickson Family, maybe decendants, that owned all the farm land where Sherwood Park II is surrounding McKennons Church Rd in the same general area.That family had a similar house on Mckennans Church Rd. below where the Delcastle Recreation area is today.

    1. Same family. I haven't had a chance to look into that house yet, but the house on the north (golf course) side of McKennans Church Road just above Westlock Drive was owned for much of the 1800's by Zachariah Derickson, Aquila's younger (by a year and a half) brother. I don't know if he built it (my guess would be yes), but I think it later went to his son William. Definitely something I want to research at some point, and figure out when and from whom Zachariah bought the property.

  3. Scott-

    While surfing the internet, I stumbled across a State Archive blog about mills. This comment caught my eye:

    " December 6, 2011 at 6:35 am

    I am a walker in the area of North Pointe and Delcastle Golf Course and I have found the remains of a little known mill on the stream named MILL CREEK. It is on the North west side about 1/2 mile south west of the Stoney Batter Area of the creek. I am trying to get the word out and learn more about this area of industry believed to be in the 1800′s and on old maps I have determined that the name might be “SPRING GROVE MILL” and one of the property owners at that time was a family named DERICKSON which was an old new castle county name. If anyone knows of someone working on old mill history and would like a tour and maybe take photos, this winter will be a good one since the forest sub growth is low this year. They may reply to this email or call 302-528-4115. Sincerely, Bob Bieh"

    1. Thanks, Bill, I found it. I'll see if I can contact him. I know I've briefly looked into Spring Grove, but was never able to find much.

    2. Doing a little research myself and I don't think these ruins are Spring Mill itself but another mill. The Beers map of Christiana Hundred labels the area at the base of the current Hoopes Reservoir as Spring Grove. That's a little too far east for the description given my Mr. Bieh.

    3. You're right, Bill, that there's a Spring Grove on Barley Mill Road near the present reservoir. Confusingly, there is also a Spring Grove Mill listed just south of Stoney-Batter Road along Mill Creek. The name is only on the 1868 map. 1849 has it as "w. Allen's Cot[tton] Fac[tory]", and the 1881 and 1893 maps just say "Woolen Mill".