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).

With the 1771 sale came into the area probably the most prominent Hockessin family of the 19th century, the Jacksons. James Jackson (1736-1817) purchased from Dixon 200 acres surrounding the intersection of the main road from Lancaster to Wilmington and the Hockessin Road (Valley Road). Included in the tract was the small log house built by Henry Dixon, along with possibly a mill, as Jackson operated a saw mill as well as farming the land. The house we see today was constructed in four stages, with the log house being the first. The second stage was built by James Jackson sometime between 1771 and 1798. To the old log house Jackson added a two story (with basement) stone addition, which is present today as the front, right (north) parlor. The front door was located where the middle, right window is now, and the winder stairs now on the interior wall were then on the north exterior wall. During this period (either before or after the renovation), local lore states that the house was used as a hospital during the Revolutionary War. There might be some truth to this, as apparently a twentieth century owner unearthed a grave in the front yard containing the remains of British and American soldiers.
Plan of first floor, showing periods of construction
The next owner of the house was Thomas Jackson (1777-1861), who obtained it in 1818 following his father's death. It was Thomas who undertook the next, and largest, renovation of the house, essentially giving it the appearance it has today. From tax records, it seems likely that sometime between 1822 and 1828 Thomas removed the log section of the house, replacing it with a two-story, two room deep stone addition. With this change, the house came to conform with the typical Georgian five-bay, central stair, two pile configuration fashionable at the time. To replace the kitchen that was located in the log section, there was a kitchen wing built on the rear of the north parlor. This configuration would remain for over a hundred years.

Sometime before 1849 (judging by a map), ownership of the house passed to Thomas' oldest son, James C. Jackson (1816-1907). There is not much information around about James C., outside of the mention that he was a farmer, primarily a fruit-grower. In his family and in history, he was far overshadowed by his brother John G. Jackson, who I know will be the subject of a future post. Most mentions I found about James don't say anything about him after 1868, some even implying or outright speculating that he died about that time. In fact, he did sell the house on Lancaster Pike in 1868, but did not die until much later. Here is the only evidence I can find of James after 1868 -- record of a grave in a cemetery near Swarthmore in Ridley Township, PA. I'm confident that this is the same man, because, A) I know his daughter Alice attended Swarthmore College and later taught at an adjoining school, and B) his wife Amelia is interred at the same cemetery. So, apparently after selling the house, James moved his family to Pennsylvania. One other note on the house during this period, local lore suggests that the house and barn (which I think was located along the road just beyond the current parking lot) were used as a stop along the Underground Railroad. Since the house is just south of the state line, and the Jacksons were Quakers, I think it's very possible that this legend has some truth to it.

The history of the house gets a bit foggy after 1868, but it looks like Jackson sold the house to John McGovern, which is lent credence by the fact that the next road past the property is McGovern Rd. From 1875 to 1926, the house was owned by members of the Garrett family, who operated the Snuff Mill just to the east in Yorklyn. The final alterations to the house were made in the first few decades of the 20th century, either by Garretts or later owners. This last phase consisted of the addition of a porch on the north gable end and the insertion of a door to the porch (which then necessitated the moving of the winder stairs to the opposite wall), and later on the enlarging of the porch and a small expansion of the kitchen wing. Today, the house serves as an example of something I've run across more in cities than rural areas -- old houses being preserved and used as commercial space. The Dixon-Jackson House is currently being used as a chiropractic office. Of the many who drive by or enter this beautiful old home each day, I'm sure few are fully aware of the property's long history, stretching back almost 300 years.

Rear of the house, showing parking lot and
entrance for chiropractic office

7 comments:

  1. I was in Delaware in 1998 and had *no* idea that this house existed.

    I am descended from Henry, and from Samuel's brother Joseph. I need to see this house!

    Thank you so much for the details and pictures.

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  2. Thanks for the comment, Glenn. I always think it's cool to hear from descendants of the people I write about. In an odd way, it confirms that they really were real people. Hope that makes sense.

    I could be wrong, but from a very quick search, it looks like Joseph Dixon ended up in North Carolina. And if I'm not mistaken, he went to the same area that some of the Hadley's went to down there (as reported in the Hadley-Dennison House post). Actually, now that I've had another minute or two to look, it seems like there were Dixons already in NC before the 1750's-60s. I wonder if that's why the Hadleys went there? Might have to research that some day...

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  3. Henry's cousin (and Samuel and Joseph's uncle) Simon Dixon was the first Dixon to hit Chatham County down there. He bought land there in 1751, erected a mill (of course) in 1753. My line (Joseph) moved there in 1764 settling a few miles south along Tick Ridge/Creek. I've been to the Napton burying ground and wandered the stones under the trees and a bed of fall leaves. Lots of Hadley and Dixon marriages along the way. The main meeting down there was Cane Creek. The Dixons were mostly part of a smaller satellite meeting (Napton) for which I have never found any meeting records.

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  4. My husband & I tried to stop by this house this summer. We found a chiropractic office that had been built as an addition to the front of a house on Limestone Road. However, the house we found would have had four windows (bays?) in the front. The picture (with one window hidden by a tree) and floor plan you have shows five windows. Did we get the wrong house?

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    1. I wonder if maybe you were looking at the back of the house. The parking lot and entrance to the office are in what was actually the rear of the house. The front (photo at the top of the post) faces south, down Lancaster Pike. I've added an aerial shot of the back of the house at the bottom of the post. There are four windows there. It's an easy mistake to make. I've seen other houses, still used as homes, that have been completely turned around so that the back is the front and vice versa.

      Did you also visit the Cox-Mitchell House while you were here?

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    2. Yes, we were looking at the rear of the Dixon-Jackson house.
      Yes, we were very pleased to have an excellent tour guide and be able to see the Cox-Mitchell House from basement to attic.
      However, the receptionist at Wilmington Country Club did not know about the Gregg Burial Grounds and wasn't able to contact anyone who might know, so we didn't see it.

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  5. Oops, I meant Lancaster Pike, not Limestone Road.

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