Friday, April 1, 2011
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.