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Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Dixon-Wilson House

I think it's been a while since we've been in the Hockessin area, so I thought we'd take a quick look at one of Mill Creek Hundred's historic houses hiding in Hockessin (also, it seems to be Alliteration Day). Sitting on the north side of Valley Road, about half way between Limestone Road and Lancaster Pike, is the Dixon-Wilson House, one of the oldest in the area. Sometimes, I think, people tend to think of Hockessin as a bit of a newer area, relatively speaking. There is some truth to this, since Hockessin as an organized town didn't really take off until later in the 19th Century, well behind such earlier centers as Stanton, Marshallton, Milltown, or Brackenville. It got its economic steam from the kaolin mining industry, and has even been likened to a western boom town in the late 1800's. However, the roots of settlement in the area go back much further, back to the beginnings of English occupation of what would be Mill Creek Hundred.

One of the original families to settle in the Hockessin area was the Dixons, who purchased a large tract from the Penns around 1730. The family consisted of a widow, and her four sons. One of the sons, Henry, built a home along what's now Lancaster Pike. His brother, John Dixon (1702-1740), received a portion of the homestead a bit farther west, and built his own home on Valley Road. Although it appears to have been added to extensively over the years, Dixon's house still stands. It's quite possible that the inscription on the datestone -- "I & J Dixon - 1732" -- reflects the construction date of the earliest section. The "I" in the inscription refers to John's son Isaac, to whom the house went after John Dixon's untimely death.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Fell Spice Bottle

Prompted by the recent comment on the Fell Spice Mill post by a descendant of several workers at the mill, blog reader and occasional information-provider Donna Peters decided to do a little electronic digging, and she came up with a few things that I thought were rather interesting. I don't think I have too much to say about them, but I'll share them with everyone here.

The first, and to me, the most interesting, is the bottle shown on the right. It is a full, unopened bottle of "Borneo Ginger" from CJ Fell and Bros. I've seen empty Fell's bottles online a few times, but I had never seen a full one before. I'm not sure if there's any way to be certain that the contents of this bottle were ground at the mill at Faulkland, but I assume that that's the likely scenario. If so, there's even a chance that they were processed by Leonard, George, or James Woodward, the ancestors of the commenter. For what it's worth, according to "The Grocer's Encyclopedia" from 1911, "Borneo Ginger" was just a trade name for some white ginger, none of which was actually from Borneo. Below are a few other views of the Fell ginger bottle.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

A New Page on the Blog -- Cemetery Pics

As some of you may have noticed, a new page went up on the Mill Creek Hundred History Blog yesterday (I think that's what they call a "soft opening".) It's something that I've been wanting to do (or at least start) for quite a while now -- cemetery pictures. Here's what I wrote as a quick intro on the page:
One of the greatest resources we have for researching history and genealogy, or just for feeling a tangible link to the past, is cemeteries. Here in Mill Creek Hundred, we're fortunate to have several cemeteries that contain burials dating back to the 1700's, and which hold the final resting places of a large portion of the hundred's 18th and 19th Century residents. This page contains links to photos of many of their headstones. This is by no means a comprehensive catalog, and will be a work in progress for quite some time. If you have any corrections or additions to this collection, feel free to chime in on the Forum or email me directly.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Biographical and Genealogical History of the State of Delaware, Volume 1

I realized that it's been a while since I've done a post highlighting one of the resources I regularly use in my own research for this site. I while back, I wrote a bit about Scharf's 1888 History of Delaware, but now I'd like to look at a slightly different work, from about the same time. The Biographical and Genealogical History of the State of Delaware was published in 1899 by J.M. Runk & Co. of Chambersburg, PA. Much like Scharf's work, Runk's can be an invaluable resource -- so long as you only take it for what it is. And thanks to Google, part of it is now free and online.

Runk's is somewhat of an odd work, but useful in its oddness. It was published in two volumes, totalling around 1,400 pages. Volume 1, which is the one currently available for free through Google Books, starts off with an almost 80 page general history of the state, most focusing on the early period of settlement and colonization. After that, it goes on for about another 100 pages with brief biographies of some of the prominent men and families of the state. Following those begins the real meat of the work -- its "Biographical and Genealogical Sketches".

Friday, June 17, 2011

Yellow Hall

Thomas Rankin, Jr.'s Yellow Hall
 Interestingly, there are at least two examples in Mill Creek Hundred of historic houses sitting today in the middle of golf courses. And since it seems like we haven't visited the western reaches of MCH for a while, I thought we'd take a look at one of these, a home sitting between the fairways of the Deerfield Golf Club (or Louviers, for you older DuPonters). The house in question was known as Yellow Hall, and I believe it is the only remaining historical link in the area to the Rankin family, once a highly-regarded clan in western MCH and northern White Clay Creek Hundred. But, due to emigration from the area and a phenomenon I have yet to see to this degree in any other local family, the Rankins more or less faded away by the early 20th Century (although I'm sure there are a few around linked to this part of the family).

The first of his family to settle in our area was Joseph Rankin (1704-1764), a Scots-Irish emigre who came to the New World with his family about 1721, originally settling in Chester County. Ten years later, he purchased 150 acres in White Clay Creek Hundred, near the Head of Christiana (Rt. 273, near the MD line). Joseph was one of the first settlers in that area, and was one of the founders of the Head of Christiana Presbyterian Church, where he and many of his family would later be buried. On his farm northwest of Newark, Joseph Rankin raised at least eight children we know about -- seven boys and one girl. The daughter never married, and three of his sons moved to North Carolina. Two more of the sons remained in Delaware, but I believe moved out of the area. Only two of the boys -- Thomas and Joseph, Jr. (who we'll return to in a moment) -- remained to have an impact on the local area.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

The Brandywine Chalybeate Springs Hotel (Part II)

As we saw in the last post, the Brandywine Chalybeate Springs Hotel, built in 1826 by Justa Justis and owned by a group of Quaker businessmen from Wilmington, was easily the grandest entertainment venture launched in Mill Creek Hundred in the 19th Century. Only three years in, it was already receiving its first expansion. Prior to the 1830 season, the hotel was enlarged, lengthening the piazza and increasing the number of rooms to nearly 100. However, even with all these improvements, the hotel was still not making the kind of money its investors had hoped. After taking an additional loan to make the 1830 upgrades, the Brandywine Chalybeate Springs Company was in bad financial shape.

The company was in such debt, in fact, that in August 1833 they were forced to sell the resort and grounds at what must have been a painful loss. So, who could afford to buy a resort hotel that a group of the wealthiest men in Wilmington could not afford to keep? One of the richest men in Philadelphia, that's who. His name was Matthew Newkirk, and he was quite familiar with, and fond of, Brandywine Springs, after having spent several summers at the resort. Newkirk was said to be the largest landowner in Philadelphia, as well as owning property in 11 states. Among other things, he was a director of the United States Bank, and a few years later would be one of the founders of the Philadelphia, Washington, and Baltimore Railroad (PW&B), as well as its first president. After purchasing The Springs, Newkirk wasted no time in further upgrading the already beautiful property.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The Brandywine Chalybeate Springs Hotel

As we've seen in a few earlier posts, there were, throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, a number of hotels, taverns, and inns in Mill Creek Hundred. There was, however, only one true resort hotel -- Brandywine Springs. When constructed in the 1820's, the Brandywine Chalybeate Springs Hotel was probably the largest building in the hundred, and certainly the most lavish. In fact, it may have been the largest non-industrial building in MCH until well into the 20th Century. And though it never operated as successfully as its backers had hoped and eventually came to an untimely end, it left a mark on the area felt to this day.

The land on which the hotel sat, at the corner of Newport Gap Pike and Faulkland Road, was owned in the late 18th and early 19th Centuries by the Yarnall family, who operated there an inn known as the Conestoga Wagon. By the early 1800's, Holton Yarnall was deeply in debt, and he unsuccessfully tried to sell his property several times. In 1827, the land was finally sold at a sheriff's sale, purchased not by a local innkeeper or farmer, but by a group of Quaker businessmen from Wilmington. These investors didn't buy the Yarnall property just because it was a beautiful, bucolic lot -- they bought it because of the foul-tasting, reddish water seeping from the ground at the base of a hill behind the old tavern. The water in question was a chalybeate (iron-bearing salt) spring, and the Quakers were sure it was going to make them all rich (or richer, in most cases).

Thursday, June 2, 2011

The Yearsleys of Mill Creek Hundred

Remains of the Yearsley Barn
Mill Creek Hundred, like every region of Delaware (or anywhere else, for that matter), has had certain families who you would call the "movers and shakers". Around here, those would be clans like the Eastburns, Marshalls, Cranstons, Montgomerys, and others. But moving past these families, you find a lot of smaller families whose names may not be quite as familiar, but whose history in the area goes just as deep. One family that certainly fits this description is the Yearsleys, who for at least a century and a half (and maybe more) lived and worked along the northern end of Duncan Road, just south of Red Clay Creek Presbyterian, where many of them now lie. We're also lucky enough to have one of their homes, as well as the remains of another structure, still standing today.

Now, because the Yearsley family was never particularly large or high profile in the area, there is very little written about this part of their family. I have, however, been able to piece together a little of the Yearsley story in MCH. It began in the late 18th Century with Thomas Yearsley (1759-1809), whose Quaker great-grandfather had emigrated to Chester County, Pennsylvania about a century before. Sometime between 1787 and 1792, Thomas and his wife Jane arrived in MCH, and presumably settled in the area just below Rev. McKennan's church. They had several children, including Nathan Yearsley (1792-1862), the only child I can be sure remained in the area.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

New Lower Red Clay Valley Blog

I need to put up this post to make up for an omission from the last one. While researching for the last post about the Continental Army encampment and battle that wasn't, I came across a new blog relating to the history of the Marshallton/Red Clay Valley area. Lower Red Clay Valley is authored by the same local resident, Denis Hehman, who also put up the Historic Lower Red Clay Valley PictureTrail site, which I've had a link to on this site for a while. While both sites have roughly the same mission, the new blog should end up being a more open, flexible platform for him to expand. While there is some text, the site mainly focuses on being a pictorial journey through the region.

As for the site's mission, here is how he puts it:
If you walked along the Red Clay Creek from Faulkland Road to a little beyond Stanton you would pass remnants of Delaware's history / heritage. Here are remains of a 19th. century amusement park, a 1860's steam train, saw and grist mills along with cotton mills that supplied cloth to the army during the Civil War. Here Gen. George Washington's Army entrenched in 1777 for the defense of Philadelphia and in 1782 the French camped here returning from the final battle of the Revolutionary War in Yorktown. Also, at the southern end is the W3R, The Washington - Rochambeau Revolutionary Route, a National Parks Service Trail.

If you were to stray away from the stream you could still find structures and landscapes that have supported these activities and more.

The intent of this site is to show these resources in photos and maybe a little text to help tell its story.
Already, Denis has posted pictures of St. Barnabas' Church, flooding along the Red Clay, an endangered house on Kiamensi Road, and a picture of a local semi-pro baseball team from 1932, among many other things. Also, the map and picture I used for the Battle of Red Clay post came courtesy of this site. If you want to see more, go take a look! And since this is in a blog format, unlike the old site (which is still active), there is commenting available on the posts, allowing for a more interactive experience. I personally think this is great, and I'd love to see a whole network of local history-focused sites someday. As we've seen here, there is certainly interest in the topic out there. Good luck, Denis, and I can't wait to see what beautiful pictures you post next!