Friday, April 1, 2011

An Answer to the Corner Ketch Mystery?

From time to time, different posts have addressed the topic of the origin of the names of various roads, communities and areas in Mill Creek Hundred. In most cases, the names are pretty easy to find the origins for, usually being named for someone who lived in the area, or for something (man-made or natural) nearby. At least one name in the area, though, seems to defy any attempt to uncover its origins -- Corner Ketch. It's a topic I've had in mind for a while, but I had put off writing about it mainly for one reason. That reason was that I didn't like any of the explanations I had ever read as to the derivation of the name. Recently, however, I came across an old newspaper article that gives the most plausible explanation that I've seen yet about how this unique name may have arisen.

I don't want to go too in-depth about Corner Ketch in general right now, since it as a community will probably end up being the subject of a future post. There are, however, a few relevant things to know about it. The community that came to be known as Corner Ketch sprang up around the junction of several roads, one of which was a major wagon route from Pennsylvania to Christiana, then known as Christiana Bridge (or Christeen Bridge). Since it was the last stop before reaching the port at Christiana (the Christina River was navigable that far in the pre-railroad era), it's not surprising that a tavern/inn was opened at the crossroads.

The most common explanations that I had seen for the hamlet's unique name were derived from the fact that there were, at one time, six roads that met near the area. The story was that either travellers would get confused at the convoluted intersection, or that they would have to be warned about highwaymen and robbers who frequented the area. In either case, locals would yell to them some variation of, "Watch out! They'll catch ye at the corners!" Or, in another variation, the travellers would be in danger of being "caught at the corners" in confusion. In some tellings, an early name for the hamlet was actually "The Corners". Somehow, these old warnings morphed into the name of Corner Ketch.

I don't know about anyone else, but all of these "explanations" feel to me a whole lot like false or folk etymologies. It seems as if people long after the fact were trying to weave some sort of story to explain a name whose real origin had been lost. None of these really felt to me like they had any historic legitimacy. Who knows -- maybe I'm wrong and maybe one day we'll find proof that one of these stories is actually true, but I'm not putting my money on them.

Then, just when I had almost written off any hope of finding a "good" explanation for the origin of the name, I stumbled across an article (here's the rest of it) that appeared in the [Wilmington] Sunday Morning Star on May 5, 1946. It tells the story of Mrs. Wilmer S. Hill (nee, Miss Ethel Ferguson), who taught in the 1898-99 school year at the Fairview School on Polly Drummond Hill Road. Mrs. Hill gives us another possibility for the origin of the name, and it doesn't have anything (directly, at least) to do with danger or confusion at the crossroads. According to her, the old tavern that catered to the wagondrivers in the 18th and early 19th Centuries had a name -- The Corner Kedge. I'll just put out there now that I have not found anywhere any corroboration of this, but it sounds plausible.

As you probably know, colonial-era taverns very often had names that were easily identifiable by the painted signs that hung out in front of them. It stands to reason that the tavern/inn at what became Corner Ketch would have had some sort of a name, and The Corner Kedge sounds as good as any. In case you're not a sailor and don't know (as I didn't), a kedge is a type of anchor commonly used in "kedging", which is the act of moving a boat through shallow water by throwing the anchor ahead and pulling the boat along by the anchor line. It looks like the picture at the top of the post, which is pretty much what most people now picture when they think of an anchor.

Again, I have not been able to verify that the name of the tavern was, in fact, The Corner Kedge, although I'd love to. If it was, then I can see how it could change to "Corner Ketch" in a generation or two after the name was changed, as many were when those early sign names went out of style in the 19th Century. The whole story sounds more reasonable to me than the other, "Catch ye at the Corners!", explanations. Unfortunately, Mrs. Hill doesn't seem to offer any proof for her claim about the tavern's name, so we'll have to take it for what it is at this point -- just another possible explanation for the origin of one of the oddest names in Mill Creek Hundred.

12 comments:

  1. In case anyone's noticed, sorry about the slow posting and commenting. I happen to be on vacation right now, so I'm not on a normal research/posting/commenting schedule. I do have access to monitor the blog, so I'll do what I can.

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  2. Scott, I agree this is the best explanation I have seen yet. I am looking forward to the probable post on the Fairview School. My great grandparents, Oliver Wilson Eastburn and Marion Ellen Evans lived there for a time. I don't know when they moved there but he died there in OCT 1941. My mother remembers spending the night with her grandparents and watching the original Little's Garage building burn down. Donna P.

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    1. I disagree... There are way too numerous "Corner Ketch" roads in the USA for this explanation. Just Google :Corner Ketch" to see what I mean. Evrey state has several roads with this name... sorry :-(

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    2. I have several responses to this. First, I did Google it, and except for a farm in NC the only other Corner Ketchs I could find were nearby, in PA. There is one just north of Downingtown, and a road near Strasburg. There was also a village formerly called Corner Ketch near Bethel, near Foulk Road just over the state line. There is no concrete explanation for the names, except that the one near Bethel, like the one here in MCH, was a point were several roads came together. The guess there was that travellers would get caught at the corners, meaning confused by the roads. Corner Catch became Corner Ketch.

      Considering the proximity of these three instances, its plausible that the residents could all have used the same idioms, leading to the same name in different places. Although the tavern explanation is the one I personally "want" to be right, this one is at least equally possible, if not more so.

      The last thing I'd say is that if there ARE Corner Ketchs in "every state" that I'm just not seeing (could be possible), then what are the explanations for the names there? If there's lots of them, somebody somewhere must have a definitive answer. Until I hear one, I'll just keep an open mind.

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    3. Scottt. My grand father purchased the propeterory where. The hotle was have stood ihave heard there was. A. Genreal store and black smith shop in the same area

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    4. Scott where the was to have stood you can see remits of a stone foundtion and the taveren was said to have stood on same properity on the doe run road side and where the black smith. Shop was there wasa harness & shoe repair shop and on site where the union grange now stands was the redmens hall burned to the ground in the early 1900's thank u for the info u where able to share

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    5. I keep meaning to come back to this topic. I have a contact I need to get in touch with who has more info about the area. I remember seeing photos (from Hagley, I think) taken right after the lodge fire. I'll have to find them again.

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  3. I lived at Corner Ketch and Hopewell Rds outside Downingtown--the house with the pump -- in the early eighties. The real name of that road is Corner Ketch-Lyndell Rd. It has been shortened in the last 20 years to just Corner Ketch Rd. It is a point to point rd that runs between Rt 322 and Rt 282. There is one cross road at Hopewell Rd and one 'T' intersection at Jeffrries Rd...My point being that there are no multi-point intersections. I have often wondered if the name of the road was carried forward from some other location. The rt 282 terminus is in Lyndell, so one could conclude that the Rt 322 intersection is Corner Ketch. At 322 there is an offset crossroad with Osbourne Road, So exiting Corner Ketch Rd to Osbourne you need to make a left and a quick right. .maybe that quick turn is the 'Catch'

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  4. I have some old articles I wrote on this and I'll try to find them. There was another "Corner Ketch" in Pennsylvania, northwest if I recall correctly, of where Rt 322 meets Rt 30. My conclusion some years ago about the Corner Ketch in Mill Creek Hundred, was that the simplest explanation would be that it referred to the stagecoach stop located there - one would go there to "ketch the stagecoach" .
    The 1930's Francis Cooch book "History of Newark, Delaware and its Environs" mentioned the possibility of the inn being the Corner Kedge, as well as the "catch ye at the corners" theory.

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  5. Scott this is ralph c I have been told that stage coaches stopped at the hotel & taveren and road was concreted well before it was blactop this I know for I have seen the concrete when deldot made some repairs. And that on thompson staion rd there was a railroad depot where farmers would shovel lime off he train on to horse. Drawn wagons and motor trucks to be used on their farms all so the generalstore also served as the postoffice

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    1. Ralph -- Yes, the hotel at Corner Ketch was definitely an early stage coach stop. Neat that the old concrete is still under there.

      The Pomery and Newark RR's Thompson Station was just south of Chambers Rock Road. It was apparently just a freight station. 1881 map shows Joel Thompson's nearby house as the PO.

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  6. Two responses I've seen in another thread regarding this topic, similar to what people have state:
    "there used to be a "road house" called "The Corners" there that preyed on travelers... hence they were warned, "Be careful, they'll catch you at "The Corners" - at least that is what Francis Cooch wrote in his book "The Little Known History of Newark Delaware and its Environs"
    And:
    Regarding the large rock that juts out into white clay creek on Creek Rd(which used to connect to corner ketch road)
    "I remember the large rock landing that extended into the creek, and had a steel eye bolt secured in it. Any theories what that was for? I've heard talk that the name Corner Ketch came from boats tying up there"
    I didn't know many boats traveled the creek, way before the damns, I didn't never it was ever deep enough in parts.

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