Friday, March 4, 2011

Powell M. Ford


Powell Ford's 1946 marriage certificate
 I think this is a first here on this site -- a post that grew directly out of a discussion in comments of another post. In the post about the Kiamensi Woolen Mill, a series of comments ended up on the subject of Powell Ford. The county park that bears his name is (more or less) across Kiamensi Road from the old mill site, and a large old house that has some sort of connection to the mill also may or may not be associated with him. With some help from readers Bill Harris and Donna Peters, I was able to tack down a little information about Mr. Powell, but I haven't quite found the answers to a few of our questions. Here, though, is a quick rundown of what I was able to find.

Powell Miller Ford was born in Church Hill, MD on March 24, 1888, the son of Merrit and Hester Ford. The elder Mr. Ford was originally from Delaware, and was living in Kenton, DE in 1880. By the 1900 census, the Ford family was living in Galena, MD, also on the Eastern Shore and not far north of Church Hill. In 1910, the 22 year old and newly married (to Mary Clair) Ford was living in Baltimore and working as a book keeper for a meat business. Sometime in the following ten years, Mr. and Mrs. Powell Ford, along with their first son Arthur, born about 1912, moved to Marshallton. In the 1920 census Ford's occupation is listed as an accountant with a manufacturing company. Assuming that he moved to Marshallton for his job, that probably means he worker for one of the two large manufactories in the area -- the Kiamensi Woolen Company or the Delaware Hard Fibre Company (I think that's what it was called at the time). It's possible that he may have worked for Kiamensi Woolen during their last few years, but I think the higher probability is that he worked for the fiber mill (previously the Marshallton Rolling mill, later Ametek and Haveg).

At some point probably in the following few years, Ford left his corporate job and joined (or started) the Marshallton Building and Loan. This seems like where he made his money. The reason I'm hesitant to say whether he founded or joined the company is this: in references to B&L, it is usually listed as having a founding date of 1922. This would fit in nicely with the "Powell Ford founded it" theory, however I also found a legislative act from 1891 that incorporates a company of the same name. It's possible that the original one had folded by '22 and Ford started it up again, or just re-used the name. Also bolstering the idea that it was his company is the fact that he lists himself as self-employed on a 1942 draft card. You generally don't do that unless you own the company.

It seems that Powell M. Ford probably worked for the Marshallton Building and Loan for the rest of his career, becoming by the 30's (if he wasn't from the outset) its president. His first wife, Mary (whose mother, along with their second son Edward,  lived with them in 1920), died sometime between 1930 and 1938, as Powell remarried that year to Alice Cox Joy. The Fords lived somewhere on Old Capitol Trail (then called the Lincoln Highway), but I don't know exactly where. They seem to have been very involved in their community, with Mrs. Ford (the first one, I think) being involved with the local Civic League and a temperance organization. Powell Ford was also the president of the board of trustees of the Marshallton Methodist Church, and in 1954 donated $1,000 to it to help build a parking lot in the rear of the church.

From research I had done a while back, I seem to recall that the Fords later in life donated several properties they owned to New Castle County.  Unfortunately, I don't recall exactly where they were, but it seems to fit with their civic-mindedness. Ford married his third wife, Helen (maybe Short Fox), in 1946. Amazingly, Powell M. Ford finally passed away in 1986, at the ripe old age of 98. I don't know where he lived later in life, but one reader stated that he thought the Powell house was on Newport Pike (Rt. 4) outside of Newport, later torn down for a strip mall. This may be correct, as his place of residence is listed as Newport on his third marriage certificate.

Although I was able to find a good bit of information on Powell Ford after only a quick search, a few questions still remain, and I'd like to put them out there and see if anyone knows the answers. First, does anyone know where the Fords resided? One piece of evidence on the census leads me to think they may have lived on Old Capitol Trail somewhere heading towards Price's Corner, but I'm far from sure. Second, what ever happened to the Marshallton Building and Loan, and where was it? (*See below and comments) I found a more recent mention of a Marshallton Savings and Loan, located behind Price's Corner on Newport Gap Pike, but I don't know if it was a successor. Finally, we still haven't figured out exactly what the relationship (if any) was between Powell Ford and the house, also known as the Mansion House, on Kiamensi Road. And was the park named as an honor for him, or because he donated the land (or maybe a little of both). Now, see what happens when I start going off on a tangent? I'll never get this day back...

17 comments:

  1. Scott-

    Wow, great work on such short notice! Everything you have come up meshes with what I remember my father telling me (he grew up in Newport in the 1930's and 40's) about Powell Ford. I think I even remember his passing in 1986. I'll continue to poke around and see if I can add anything to your excellent owrk.

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  2. Thanks, Bill. It's amazing what one little piece of information, like a middle initial or a birthdate, can do for an investigation. I have some people from the Marshallton area (one of whom I'll hopefully see this weekend) that I can ask about him, now that I know where he lived.

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  3. I found a little more info about the Marshallton Building and Loan, and inserted a newspaper clipping into the post (it was just the easiest way to do it). Apparently, the B&L was headquartered at the E.J. Hollingsworth office. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I think it was the same place it is now, on Old Capitol Trail behind Price's Corner. The ad also lists many of the other officers and employees.

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  4. I can tell you that Powell Ford owned the white mansion. When my brother first married in 1976, he lived in an apartment in the mansion for around 2 years. My brother used to do small side jobs for Ford, and I helped him on a couple of occasions. We dug the foundation for the white shed that sits directly behind the mansion around 1979, and I also met Ford when helping out with another small job. He owned what is now Powell Ford Park and donated it to New Castle County for $1, uner the condition the park be named after him. This happened sometime around 1974. He also owned some row houses that sit across from Shone Lumber in Stanton. The last house he lived in was a beautiful gray stone home in Newport. After Ford passed away, it was torn down and replaced by a now half vacant shopping center(gray stone plaza). That's Delaware for you! I would be curious to know when Ford first purchased the white mansion.

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    1. I too know for a fact that he owned Brickrow as it was know across from Shone's Lumber. I lived there for about 11 years. 1952 to 1963. Hearing the stories my dad tells about Powell Ford he was a very likeable man. He helped my dad in many ways while we lived there, and I know my dad helped him do things around there at different times. When my dad told him about he wanted to but a house, Mr. Ford told him to look around and that he wanted to go check out the builder before he bought anything. When my dad found a place in Sheridan Square he went and looked the whole house over, and told my dad they were doing a fine job and it's was well worth the price. He helped my dad with everything getting him into that home. He did live in Newport as my dad always took his rent there to his house. He did tell my dad that he was lucky in the fact that during the depression he had money and bought a lot of property in the area. People were selling just to have money to feed their families.

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  5. Dave C-

    Interesting that Powell Ford owned the row homes in Stanton- my father was born in one of those homes and he was the person who told me about Ford and the grey stone house outside of Newport.

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  6. I lived next to what is now Powell Ford Park for the first 20 years of my life(1955 - 1975). I remember the Mansion as an apartment building. I used to play in some of the old building foundations in the woods near it. I can remember building many a fort in the field. I remember that a family named Tyndale(sp) owned the woods next to the field. I lived on Grayling Court which was a one street development across from Kiamenski Gardens and was built by the Grey Family.

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    1. In the late 1960s to early 1970s, Marshallton S&L was located in the large brick building on the north side of the Newport-Gap Pike exit from the Prices Corner Shopping Center parking lot where I happened to have a savings account.. After being turned down for a loan, I grudgingly stopped banking there and lost track of what may have become of the institution or Powell Ford's connection with it (in all fairness, maybe I was a bad risk!). As for Powell Ford's ownership of Brick Row, my wife's great-grandmother was born there in 1878; So that property had a reasonably long history even before Mr. Ford bought it!

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  7. Thanks for the info about Ford. It's fascinating to me to learn more about him as a person. His is a name I've known all my life on some level. I went to the park to watch my Dad play softball in the 70's. Sounds like a man who touched a lot of lives in a positive way.

    As for Brickrow, I'll have to get back at some point and try to sort out some of the later mills in and around Stanton. It was surely mill housing, and the 1878 date helps put at least that far back.

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  8. We still have not discovered who built that white mansion, and what happened to the original owner. Powell Ford owned it much later, i believe the cornerstone of the building dates 1902 or 1904.

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  9. When my husband and I were first married in 1978, Powell Ford was our landlord at the Mansion. He was a dear man!

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    1. Good to hear. I don't think I've heard a bad thing about him. So, did you live in the big house there? Do you recall hearing anything about its history, or when it was built? Does the 1902/1904 date sound right to you?

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  10. My adult son recently brought this blog to my attention, so I thought I’d add my recollections of my interactions with Powell Ford.

    My wife and I moved into the Kiamensi Road mansion on April 1, 1977. Actually I moved in alone on that date, with my wife joining me after our April 22nd wedding. Mr. Ford was a very conservative gentleman, and it was well known that he would not rent apartments to single male tenants. In fact, when my wife first contacted him to express an interest in renting at the mansion, we had to meet him personally at the mansion, at which point he questioned us extensively on our wedding plans. I can also add that he called me personally on April 22 and wished us good luck on our “pending nuptials” – which I took as an indication that he was carefully monitoring whether or not we were following through with the wedding!

    During one of my initial trips to the apartment after we took possession, Mr. Ford happened to be at the mansion and stopped by to see how the move-in was going. He also answered some of my questions as to the history of the mansion. He indicated to me at that time that the mansion was originally owned by the owner of the Kiamensi Woolen Mill, which was nearby. Mr. Ford indicated that at some point after the closure of the mill, the owner fell upon hard times, after which Mr. Ford was able to acquire the property. I can only assume that Mr. Ford’s business at Marshallton B+L may have given him some insight into this opportunity, and the timeline would seem to fit the other facts presented earlier in this blog.

    Another thing in regard to Mr. Ford’s conservative rental practices. He was known until 1975 as having a “married couples only” policy in his choice of tenants. During that year, a couple of my female colleagues at Delaware Trust Company were able to persuade him to change that policy to include single women (I don’t think single men were ever allowed). I think I attribute part of that to the fact that Mr. Ford, even in his early 90s, was extremely mentally sharp and always very attentive to a good-looking young woman.

    In reference to Powell Ford Park, Mr. Ford did donate the land to the county for a nominal charge of $1.00, which was a win-win for both sides. I believe the land could not be built upon due to its location in the floodplain of Red Clay Creek. Mr. Ford did get a nice tax write-off and the county got a nice park.

    My wife and I stayed at the mansion until September 1978 when we purchased a home in Mendenhall Village. The mansion was always perfectly maintained and never had any problems with the apartment or our neighbors. As a previous poster mentioned, I also recall dropping my rent off at Mr. Ford’s home in Newport (current site of Greystone Plaza), where you would also meet the very pleasant Mrs. Ford.

    Living at the mansion was a great experience, and as other folks have mentioned, I recall Mr. Ford as a very nice “old world” gentleman.

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  11. I found the below article from the September 2, 1910 Wilmington Every Evening paper. I was looking for anything on the old Kiamensi White Mansion house on Kiamensi road that Powell Ford once owned. But this article confuses things for me even more, as it states that the mansion burned and was nearly destroyed. As this fire took place in 1910, and the mansion was built around 1902, it looks like the original owner and builder of mansion was mill owner John Pilling. Any thoughts? I am posting article below as it has to many characters for one post.

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  12. A most mysterious and disastrous fire occurred between 3 and 4 o'clock this morning, at Kiamensi, about six miles southwest of 'Wilmingtonwhich destroyed the old Thomas Pilling mansion and damaged the dwelling of Richard T. Pilling, son of the late Thomas Pilling, causing a loss estimated at $7,000. The mansion evidently caught fire first, but from what source is not known, and while it was ablaze a fire was discovered inside Richard T. Pilling's house, which was closed and which could scarcely have been ignited from any outside agency. The fire in the second house appears to have started in the cellar and it was burning its way through the parlor floor when it was discovered. The Pilling mansion was occupied by the late Thomas Pilling up to the time of his death, about five years ago. It is directly cross the road "from the residence of Richard T. Pilling, a distance of about 50 feet, and has not been occupied recently, except as a summer house, being used largely by the children of Richard T. Pilling as a playhouse during the day, but it has not been occupied for some time. Occasionally Mr. Pilling's family. which comprise himself, Mrs.Pilling and their four children! sleep at night in the upper portion of the office of the Kiamensi Woolen Mills, about 300 yards away, and last night the family was sleeping at the mill office. When Mr. Pilling was seen by a reporter of Every Evening this morning he said his house and the mansion were securely fastened for the night last night about 10 o'clock, and as far as he knows no person was at either house at that time, and it is believed there was no fire in either house. The first intimation of the fire n as given about 4 o'clock this morning, when Mr. Pilling and his family, as well as other residents of the town, were awakened by the shrill blasts of the whistle of a Baltimore& Ohio locomotive. The crew of a passing train had seen the fire and chose this means of giving the alarm. Mr. Pilling and the members of his family, as well as many other persons hastened to the scene of the fire. At that time the mansion, which was of frame, was all ablaze, and those who reached the house first noticed smoke coming from Richard T. Pilling's house, on the. opposite side of the road. Mr. Pilling- and several other persons rushed into the latter house and found the parlor floor in flames, which had evidently worked their way from the cellar. With fire-fighting apparatus from the mill this blaze was soon extinguished and .without serious damage, but it w-as impossible to save the mansion, which was nearly destroyed by. that time, but as other buildings, including the mill, were in danger, a telephone message was sent to Wilmington for help and the Union jend Reliance apparatus quickly responded and saved nearby buildings. Mr. Pilling was unable to advance any theory for either fire this morning. It was suggested that the mansion might have been fired by a spark from a passing locomotive, but as the railroad is 300 yards away Mr. Pilling did not give much credence to this theory, in view of the fact that the barn is much nearer the railroad and he believed that if there had been any sparks flying the barn would have Seen more likely to have caught them, though there was a high wind from the railroad last night. Some of the town residents expressed the belief that both houses were set on fire by thieves or tramps, but so far as Mr. Pilling had been able to discover, there was no trace of thieves or evidences of robbery and he is at a loss to find an explanation. Both houses contained furniture. That in the mansion was destroyed, while a piano, carpet and some other articles in the second house were damaged. Mr. Pilling could not estimate the loss, but he said he thought it would be covered bv insurance. Both housing were of frame. They are owned by the Kiamensi Woolen Co., of which Mr. Pilling is treasurer. The Kiamensi Woolen Mills are closed temporarily, while repairs are being made. They have been idle for several - days.

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  13. Hmmm. I've got to think about this one. Not sure if this helps us or not.

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    1. It makes me wonder if the Richard Pilling dwelling may have been the old house across from Powell Ford Park that was recently torn down. But it does not explain the white mansion that exists today. Article also states that mansion that burned down was 300 yards away from the mill office. The white mansion seems like it is much closer to the mill office building then 300 yards. Maybe another long gone mansion sat in the area, but I never knew of any other ruins growing up near here in 1960's.

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