Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Roseville Cotton Factory

Ad for James Black's land, later the Roseville Mill
 One thing that always surprises me is how, through the course of history, things get forgotten. I'm not talking about average people, or small businesses, or family homesteads. I mean important people, large industrial sites, and even whole communities. One location that illustrates all of these points is the Roseville Cotton Factory, which was located on White Clay Creek just east of Newark, Delaware, in the southwestern corner of Mill Creek Hundred. Although the name "Roseville" hangs on by a thread in the area, I'm sure very few people are fully aware of the scale of the area's industrial past. In a real way, this post is almost a follow-up to the James Black post since it deals with the property once occupied by him. Although there are still a few holes in the story, I've been able to piece together a rough idea of how this area turned from a quiet agricultural tract, to a busy industrial one, and back.

This particular story picks up after James Black's death in 1794, when most of his property passed to his son, James R. Black. As the pictured ad shows, the property was still for sale in 1809. And although I haven't yet been able to figure out who, someone obviously bought the property soon after that with the intention of introducing a new industry to the millseat. As we'll see shortly, James Black's flour mill remained on the site, but was now joined by a substantially-sized cotton factory. This footnote from a book about the nation's early economy contains an excerpt from a letter written by the residents in the area around Roseville. The date of the letter, January 1816, tells us that the Roseville Cotton Factory was in operation by that date. The only reference I could find to the factory for the next 16 years was its mention in an 1820 tax survey, when the proprietors are listed as "Hart & Hamer". I've not yet found any more on these gentlemen.

The next place I found mention of the factory was in the McLane Report of 1832. In that year, Delaware's Louis McLane, then Secretary of the Treasury under Andrew Jackson, commissioned what amounted to a comprehensive survey of the state of manufacturing in the country. For the most part, surveys and questionnaires were sent out to business owners all over the country, with the hope that they would answer specific questions about their industries, as well as give information about their own businesses, and those around them. As luck would have it, the report contains two letters from the proprietor of the Roseville Cotton Factory, a man named Harry Connelly (more on him in a moment). His response gives us one of the two best insights into the scope of this enterprise on White Clay Creek. According to Connelly, in 1832, "There is invested in the factory at Roseville $75,000; 3,850 spindles, and consume 230,000 lbs. per annum; 90 hands employed, and 165 dependant, wages $11,700 per annum; the sales of yarn amount to $58,500 per annum." If the percentages here are the same as for the area as a whole, about 50 employees were male and 40 female. I'm not sure about this, but I think the 90 might be full-time workers, while the 165 were part-time or seasonal employees. I also think it's a safe assumption that many of those were children.

The man who ran the mill at the time, Harry Connelly, turned out to have his own story, too. He was born in Philadelphia in 1806, and came to Roseville "after his education had been completed", which probably means about 1825, give or take. He ran the mill here until about 1840, when he moved back to Philadelphia. In his role as a cotton manufacturer, it's not surprising that he had extensive dealings with Southern suppliers and clients. It seems that through these relationships, he developed a close affinity for the Southern cause. During the Civil War, Connelly was an outspoken supporter of the Confederacy, and was actually a guest of Jefferson Davis when the two learned of the attack on Fort Sumter in April 1861. While residing in Philadelphia during the conflict, Connelly was on a list of persons suspected of communicating with the rebel government, and he was in constant fear of arrest. He had, however, stated publicly that he would not be taken alive. He may well have been true to his word, because in February 1863, his body was found floating in the Delaware River. Although his death was officially ruled as an accidental drowning, many believed that his demise was far more political than accidental.

It's not clear if Connelly owned the property on which the cotton mill sat, but if he did, he sold it in about 1840 when he left. Buying it then, if he did not already own it, was Thomas Cooch of White Clay Creek Hundred. We know this because of this wonderful record of an act passed by the state legislature in February 1841. This "Act to incorporate the Roseville Manufacturing Company" gives us amazing insight into what happened to the site next, as well as what was present at the time. To summarize, a group of prominent men (including the nephew of E.I. du Pont) were forming a public company "for the purpose of carrying on the manufacture of cotton, wool, grain, plaster of Paris, and other materials..." at the Roseville site. So it seems these investors were looking to expand the scope of manufacturing at the site. The act goes on to outline the usual details of incorporation, but, at the end, includes a great treasure for us. Described in full are all of the structures present on the property in 1841. Here is what constituted Roseville at the time:

As you can see, with among other things over 30 houses, this could easily have been a "Forgotten Communities" post. As for what happened to the site after this, details get a bit sparse. I was not able to find any more about the Roseville Manufacturing Company, so I'm not sure who operated it or how long this particular venture lasted. The last mention I found of an operating mill was an 1864 tax assessment showing Hamilton Maxwell as the operator of the Roseville Factory. As Scharf alludes to, and the Depression-Era Federal Writer's Guide states, cotton manufacturing continued at Roseville until sometime soon after the Civil War, when the mill was destroyed in a fire. Since this history states that Maxwell had been running a mill in Conshohoken since 1866, it's possible he went there after Roseville burned.

It seems that after manufacturing ceased at Roseville, the property was sold to the Chillas family*, who by looking at the 1849 map seems to have lived just north of the millseat. I haven't found much about them, except that the owners were probably Scottish immigrant David Chillas, and then his son Arthur. As far as what remains now, I admit to being not quite sure. As of the 1930's, the Federal Writer's Guide states there was only a two-story stuccoed stone structure. This may be the "large stone building used as a dwelling house" in the 1841 list, or it could be another structure. There is a house on the north side of Kirkwood Highway, just west of Possum Park Road, that may very well be associated with the long history of the millseat. The county parcel search website states that the house was built in 1735, which, if true, would mean it even predates James Black's ownership. Since I know this site is notoriously unreliable (I'm sure they just list whatever someone tells them), I'm hesitant to state for sure that this is an original house to the site. However, I'll try to look into it, and if anyone knows any more about it, please feel free to share. In any case, the industrial history of the Roseville Mill is far more extensive than most realize, and is an excellent example of how even large enterprises can almost totally vanish from history in only a few generations.

* - See the post here for more information about David Chillas, and another post here for more about the Chillas family and their involvement with the Roseville property.


  1. I notice that on the Google map just south of the Kirkwood Highway is labeled "Windy Mill". Possibly a mis-print, but perhaps a clue to the history of the mill?

  2. No, it's not a misprint. The development on the south side of Kirkwood Highway, just west of White Clay Creek, is called Windy Hills. The park (county, I think) along the creek is Windy Mill Park. From looking at old maps and pictures, I can't see any indication of there being another mill there. For all I know, some developer in the 50's just thought "Windy Hills" sounded pleasant, and the "Windy" got combined with the memory of a nearby mill to get the name of the park. If anyone knows different, feel free to jump in.

  3. Thanks to Donna Peters, we now have another piece of Roseville's story. She recently sent to me the following newspaper article from 1844 (the article was from '44, not her, although that would be cool):

    "The large cotton factory at Roseville, near Newark, Delaware, was burnt to the ground on Saturday night last [Nov. 30]; we have not heard the particulars, but were informed that a boy, who had gone into the factory, took a piece of cotton to light a candle, afterwards threw it on the floor, intending to extinguish the fire with his foot, but unfortunately the cotton that was strewn about the floor ignited and the fire soon spread all over the building. The loss we have heard estimated at $40,000, while the insurance was only $20,000."

    This was only a few years after Cooch, et al. started their company. Presumably they rebuilt soon after. Their luck didn't get all that much better, because the other story Donna sent states that in June 1846, a severe storm and tornado passed through NCC. Among the damages listed was that nearly 1000 panes of glass were broken in the windows at the Roseville Factory. Sounds like the place couldn't buy a break (well, except for the windows).

  4. I am a fellow at Winterthur doing some research on the Maxwell family and was interested to know that Hamilton Maxwell was running the Roseville Cotton Factory as early as 1864. I discovered this 1868 map of Newark and the White Clay Creek area:

    As you will see, it shows the location of the Harmony Mill and a woolen factory just north of Newark. It also shows a cotton factory farther down the creek at Stanton Station, but it does not indicate a location for the Roseville Cotton Factory, as it was probably destroyed by the making of the map.

    An 1880 article, "The Middle Atlantic Watershed" in a Census Office report: "Statistics of power and machinery employed in manufactures: reports," Pt 1, describes the locations of several mills on White Clay Creek on page 99: "Those [tributaries] below Wilmington are small sand hill streams and their power utilized is tabulated beyond Christiana creek however which empties near Wilmington has considerable power and its tributaries lie partly above the fall line The main stream which has its sources in both Maryland and Delaware lies entirely below the fall line and is essentially a sand hill stream It has a navigable depth of 12 feet at low water up to Wilmington 12 miles from the mouth above which it runs a number of small mills whose power is given in the appended table Clay creek one of its tributaries has more fall and rises in Pennsylvania above the fall line It runs a number grist mills besides paper cotton and woolen mills and is in fact one of the best utilized streams in the neighborhood The Kiamensi woolen mill at Stanton the head of tide water uses a fall of from 9 to 16 feet and 55 to 75 horsepower holding the water at night just above is a site not used formerly occupied by the Harmony flour mill with a fall of 8 feet then a flour mill with a small power then a site formerly occupied by the Roseville cotton mill with a fall of 12 feet and then at Newark Dean's woolen factory and Curtis & Brother's paper mill the former a fall of 10 feet and 50 horse power during eight months and the latter with a fall of 12 feet and 75 or 80 horse during three months The flow of the stream is very variable and is said to be much less constant than in years."

    I hope this is helpful in understanding the location of the historic mills on White Clay Creek. If anyone has information regarding Hamilton Maxwell, please post.

  5. I have found the following newspaper article mentioning Hamilton Maxwell.

    Collection: Pennsylvania Newspaper Record
    Date: March 4, 1836

    Death Notice On Tuesday the 23d ult., in Middletown township, in the 26th year of her age, JANE MAXWELL, wife of Hamilton Maxwell , and youngest sister of Samuel and James Riddle, Manufacturers, Parkmount Factory, on Chester creek.

    Also, 2 mentions of him in, CHAPTER XLI.BOROUGH OF CONSHOHOCKEN.

    And in, Rockdale: The Growth Of An American Village In The Early Industrial Revolution By Anthony F. C. Wallace (Google Books)

    In, Title: Biographical and portrait cyclopedia of Montgomery County, Pennsylvania : containing biographical sketches of prominent and representative citizens of the county, together with an introductory historical sketch.
    Authors: Wiley, Samuel T.
    City of Publication: Philadelphia
    Publisher: Biographical Pub. Co., Date: 1895, Page Count: 709

    And in, Title: Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, a history
    Authors: Hunsicker, Clifton Swenk,
    City of Publication: New York
    Publisher: Lewis Historical Pub. Co.
    Date: 1923
    Page Count: 1292
    are mentions about his daughter, Elizabeth who married
    James Wood Harry. I have copied the biographical sketches on Mr. Harry and can send them also.
    If you do not want to leave an email address here, send it to Scott, owner of this Blog and he can forward it to me.

  6. Thank you for the references to Hamilton Maxwell. I was aware of the published biographical sketches and the References to him in the Rockdale book, but I do not have the obituary notice for Jane Riddle Maxwell. These are very helpful. Does the newspaper source you cite have a page number?

    1. The source for the article is Accessible Archives Inc. I have access to this database as part of a “bundle” through my subscription to Godfrey Memorial Library. The citation does not give a page number. Here is the contact info for Accessible Archives Inc.:

      Tom Nagy
      Accessible Archives, Inc.
      Chief Operating Officer
      5 Great Valley Parkway, Suite 216
      Malvern, PA 19355
      Telephone: 866-296-1488 (toll-free) or 610-296-7441
      Fax: 610-725-1745

      I am not sure of the focus of you research. Are you interested in the family for genealogy or in the manufacturing aspect? I found no other newspaper articles on Hamilton Maxwell but there are several on James and Samuel Riddle, their families and their businesses. Such as:

      Collection: Pennsylvania Newspaper Record
      Date: March 30, 1838
      Title: Advertisement

      Advertisement DISSOLUTION - The partnership heretofore existing between Samuel and James Riddle, Manufacturers, is this day dissolved by mutual consent, Samuel Riddle continues the business, and is authorized to settle the affairs of the firm. SAMUEL RIDDLE , JAMES RIDDLE. Park Mount Factory.

      Collection: Pennsylvania Newspaper Record
      Date: January 21, 1857
      Title: FIRE. - The Drying House belonging to Samuel Riddle , at

      FIRE. - The Drying House belonging to Samuel Riddle , at RiddleMills, Rockdale, with its contents was destroyed by fire on Sunday last. The fire broke out about half past eleven o'clock, and when discovered, the flames had obtained such headway, that it was impossible to save the cotton, consisting of about sixty warps. A number of houses (situated on the South West side of the Drying House, and the wind blowing from the North East,) were only save by the great exertions of the operatives, to whom great praise is due. The severity of the day, the thermometer being one degree below zero, rendered it impossible for the workmen to endure the cold long at a time, and Mr. George Zell, who keeps the coal yard at that place, remained upon the roof of the endangered building, until he lost the power of his limbs, and when taken down was almost perished.

      Collection: Pennsylvania Newspaper Record
      Date: March 24, 1854
      Title: Marriage

      Marriage At Village Green, on the 11th inst., by the Rev. Henry G. King, Mr. SAMUEL RIDDLE , Jr., to Miss ANNA E. THOMPSON, both of Aston township

      There is one too long to include here which begins:
      Collection: Pennsylvania Newspaper Record
      Date: June 9, 1869
      Title: GLEN RIDDLE. - During an hourvisit to Glen Riddle we

      GLEN RIDDLE. - During an hourvisit to Glen Riddle we acquired some facts of local interest. The original tract of ground on which the village and mills are erected, was owned by Nathan Sharpless, and extended from near Village Green to what is now the Middletown line. G.W. Hill afterwards held the property, he selling to Eli D. Peirce, and he to Samuel Riddle , Esq., the present owner.

      I can copy and send more if you are interested. Donna

    2. I have gone ahead and copied many articles concerning Samuel and James Riddle. I have pasted them into a word document which numbers 20 pages. Some may be repeated but there is a lot of info there. I will need to send it as an attachment, so if you are interested, contact me through Scott at mchhistory@verizon.net. Donna

    3. Thank you for your help. I just discovered that I have access to Accessible Archives through the UD connection at the Winterthur Library. The reference to the dissolution of the Samuel and James Riddle partnership is helpful. I will be traveling to UD tomorrow and will look for the relevant newspapers on microfilm.

      I am researching the life and work of James Riddle Maxwell, a civil and railroad engineer (the son of Hamilton Maxwell and Jane Riddle). Apparently, Jane died shortly after James' birth in 1836. I am collecting biographical information on James R. Maxwell for a book I am working on. James' diaries and correspondence are at the University of Delaware Special Collections.

      Anything that might help me traced the whereabouts of James from 1836 to about 1860 will be helpful. I am sure he worked in his father's cotton factory as a boy.

      If you find anything more on Hamilton Maxwell, or his son James, please send it to me at noel.carmack@usu.edu
      Thanks again for your help. -Noel

  7. There is a stone wall remaining from the cotton factory to this day. East end of the Kirkwood hwy bridge... ~ half mile hike.

    1. Very interesting. I'll have to go check that out some time. Thanks!!

    2. Follow the WCC from the Kirkwood highway bridge about a quarter mile. To your right 100 yards or so you will see a tall embankment... continue to follow the embankment until it ends, and go Right then right again. It will make sense when you there.

    3. Thanks for the info. Is there a trail there or do you have to make your own way through?

    4. Scott Did you make it back there? It is much easier in spring and fall when underbrush dies back...

    5. No, I have not gotten over there yet, and now I have sort of an onging family emergency that'll make it even tougher. But as you say, later in the fall will be better anyway. This is very preliminary and currently just a thought off the top of my head (and it depends greatly on what kind of time I'll have then), but I might see if we can organize a series of suburban archaeological adventures. There are a few sites I'd like to check out, and it might be fun to get a few people together to take a look at them. We'll see what we can work out.

  8. make your own.... It looks like a hill from the creek side. Walk around the far end, and it is just woods. Walk straight into the woods ( Level - no climbing) It was amazing 10 years ago, last time I was there.

    1. I just read this blog. I have been wondering about that property for some time now. At least I think it is the same property. On the corner of Capitol Trail and Possum Park road (more accurately, Capitol Trail and Last Lane) there use to be 2 large barns. I believe they were the horse barns of the Stopira or Stopyra family I have pictures of the barns, house and mill grist(?). My Dad and his family lived not far from there. My Uncle told me about a mill along the White Clay Creek in that area. He wants to go down there to see if parts of it are still there. He mentioned a stone wall of some sort along the creek and a mill there. He is 85, so I know he won't get there, but I can! So if you are still up for a suburban archeologiocal adventure, let me know.

    2. How can I post pictures?

  9. Hi I know the Stopira barn... Iused to go to school at holy angels and used to stare out the window at it. The Wall I was talking about is not part of that barn. That barn was up at the end of the stopria driveway... on top of the hill. the 'wall' is down by the creek. At the end of the stopira driveway right on capitol trail, put possum park road at your back, and walk upstream n the creek between 1/4 and 1/2 mile. then look to your left. a bank or hill of trees is right next to you ( NOT UP IN THE MIDDLE OF THE FIELD) go around the end of the bank/hill and the wall appears in the trees. Tom.

    1. Is the barn still there?

    2. No long gone early eighties I believe Tom