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.

There is no record I can find stating whether Thomas did anything besides farming, but Nathan certainly did -- he was a blacksmith. Thomas Yearsley died when Nathan was only 17, and it seems likely that he then remained living in his father's house. I don't believe there is anything remaining of this house, but it was probably a log home built in the late 1780's. Not long after his father's passing, Nathan married Margaret McCoy (1795-1848), with whom he had six or seven children. Daughters Jane and Mary married and moved away. Son Nathan moved also, ending up eventually in Iowa. The three youngest sons, however, stayed in and around the family property on what is now Duncan Road, and at least two of them would follow in their father's professional footsteps.

The eldest remaining son, Samuel Yearsley (1827-1874), seems to be the one who managed the family farm, since in both the 1860 and 1870 censuses Samuel is listed as a farmer. I think it's also possible that he may have lived in the family home, if it was still standing. The family's property seems to have extended northward to Mill Creek Road, and maybe even over it, since there is a reference to Samuel selling two acres to Red Clay Creek church in the 1860's. I don't know if the church has ever owned any land south of Mill Creek Road.

The next son, James (1830-1860), did apprentice with his father and become a blacksmith. However, he died young, at age 30. Before his death, though, he may have been in business a few years with his younger brother, McCoy (1835-1900). Eventually, McCoy would become the patriarch of the Yearsleys in MCH. I think it's also probably his house that stands along Duncan Road today, now looking across at the Delcastle Recreation Area. I haven't had a chance to examine this house close-up, but county records indicate a construction date of 1870, and from the looks of it, that date seems to be in the right ballpark. As it so happens, in exactly that same year, McCoy Yearsley married Susan Naudain (1844-1910). McCoy was 35 at that point, so it would be reasonable that he would have enough money by then to build a nice, new house in which to start a family.

Duncan Rd - McKennan's Church Rd Area through the Years
As mentioned, I have not yet had a chance to examine the property closely, but there are definitely at least two other older structures on site, besides the house and the remains of the barn. In the rear, there is either an old carriage house, or possibly an open stable. More interestingly, next to the house is a smaller, long red building, mostly frame, but with a foundation of the same stone as the barn. This leads me to believe that this, too, is a 19th Century structure, and by my thinking, the logical function for it would have been as a blacksmith shop -- either McCoy's, or possibly Nathan's. These seem to be the only standing remnants of the multiple properties once owned by the family in the area.

As the maps above show, the Yearsleys owned several holdings through the years. The 1849 map shows only N(athan) Yearsley, and his "Smithy" next door. By 1868, the same property is listed as M(cCoy) Yearsley, with the "B S SH" (blacksmith shop) next to it. However, McCoy now owns a house on the other side of McKennan's Church Rd, opposite the end of Duncan Rd (about where Cranhill Dr is today). In 1881, that house is shown as "Mrs. Yearsley", presumably Susanna, Samuel's widow. And while McCoy still has the original property (presumably with the 1870 house on it), he also seems to have a house at the corner of Duncan and Faulkland Rds. On all the maps, there are shops (blacksmith and wheelwright) shown at this corner, which makes me wonder if McCoy purchased this property to expand his blacksmith business, which was fairly successful. (In 1880, for example, he was the highest grossing blacksmith in MCH, with an annual product valued at $1800.) By 1893, I think we get to see the name of the business, as the western property (formerly Mrs. Yearsley's) is shown as "Yearsley & Bro.". Presumably, this is McCoy's business, with the "Brother" being the long-since-passed James, with whom he may have started. There doesn't seem to be any other brother it could be, unless Samuel was a partner.

McCoy must have been fairly well-known at the time, as this 1893 legislation shows. It's an act to re-divide school districts in the Marshallton area, and defines the boundaries of the new districts. Since there weren't many official road names in rural areas yet, they were usually described by where they came from and went, or a major point along the way. Here (from the best I can tell), the road we know as Duncan Road/Newport Road is named as "The road leading from Newport to McCoy Yearsley's shops". So it seems his shop was generally known at the time, not surprising since his family had been there for over 100 years by then.

McCoy Yearsley's Certificate of Death, 1900
Sadly, as seen above, McCoy died only seven years later in a farm accident. He was buried at Red Clay Creek Presbyterian Church, like many of his other family members. I don't have any good information about the later fate of the Yearsley properties, but it does seem that McCoy's son Frank did remain in the area, quite possibly farming the same land his great-grandfather did years before. On the 1930 census, Frank's daughter Ruth is listed as a public school teacher, possibly at the No. 33 Brandywine Springs school nearby on Duncan Road. Presumably, the property did eventually leave the family's hands. However, the name does still linger, as the residential streets surrounding the the old house are named Yearsley Drive and Yearsley Place. Just another example of how even a relatively small family, remaining in an area for generations, can have a lasting legacy, even if few are aware of it.

10 comments:

  1. there is a Dave Yeasley who worked at Hercules as a ground keeper, he use to live accross from delcastle driving range..I havent seen him in 5 years

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  2. I am a yearsley and one of my ancestors was Thomas yearsley who was read out of meeting by the quakers for hiring himself out to the continental army as a blacksmith and farrier...he was closly related to the yearsleys in your sketch

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  3. I've got your Yearsleys in my tree. http://wc.rootsweb.ancestry.com/cgi-bin/igm.cgi?op=DESC&db=rjmorrison&id=I9166

    McCoy Yearsley's sister Mary married my great granduncle Moses Morrison. http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=30165093

    Rich Morrison

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  4. My family moved into Parkwood off of Duncan Road in 1959. I attended Burkholder Kindergarten on Paoletti Drive off of Milltown Road in 1962 and I have numerous and diverse memories of that so my memories are good and accurate in the essentials as far back as 1962. I remember the ruined remains of what was probably, based on the info in your post, Susanna Yearsley's house opposite the end of Duncan Road. All that was there was a concrete pad/foundation and a tall masonry fireplace and chimney. The land around the ruin was a bit overgrown and not maintained. This was where Brookdale Farms/Cranhill Drive is now. I had no idea until I read your post that the Yearsley's owned property on both sides of McKennan's Church Road. Also, the builder who built Parkwood was a man named McCallister. He was a small scale conservative builder. My mother told me way back that McCallister could have acquired and developed all of the land where Crossgates is now, all the way over to Red Clay Creek Church, but that he did not want to take on a large development. So the implication is that Yearsleys owned land all the way over to Red Clay Creek Church. Another tid bit... I remember being in the family car and pulling up to the stop sign at the end of Duncan Road at McKennans. I mean the old intersection, not the new one built for the golf course. I am absolutely certain I remember cows grazing at that intersection, across from the Susanna Yearsley ruin, where Crossgates is now. I remember a cow sticking its head right over the fence and up to the window of the car. So there were still cows on some of that Yearsley land after 1959 but they were gone by 1964. Finally, I remember, and I was probably in college, around 1975 maybe, there was a mailbox along Mill Creek Road, between McKennans and Stoney Batter, with the Yearsley name on it.

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    1. Did you mean "Kneisley" on the mailbox. News Journal had an Obit for Joseph Wayne Kneisley, age 96. His family lived in this house, beginning in 1950. I went to school with his son Steven, at Brandywine Springs Jr. High in 1963-65.

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    2. Forgot to add the date of Obit for J W Kneisley. Feb. 19, 2014. Was listed in the paper on Mar. 9, 2014.

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    3. The mailbox I am speaking of was on Millcreek Road out near Stoney Batter and the name was Yearsley. The mailbox you are speaking of was on Duncan Road. I knew Mr. Wayne Kneisley and spoke with him as recently as about 2010. I think he told me he was 90 something years old when we spoke. He saw me doing some pruning at my now deceased mother's house and came over to ask about my mother's health. As I recall, Mr. Kneisley, who lived in what I take to be the McCoy Yearsley house, was a retired manager with the Hercules company, and maintaining the property around the house, including maintaining as much as possible the old Yearsley stone barn ruin, was a serious hobby with him. Sad to say, when I was much younger my friends and I were thorns in Mr. Kneisley's side. There was no park in the area at the time so we played ball in his large yard and occasionally went into his gardens chasing balls. We used to play around the stone barn too. We used to get into all of his out buildings, and we played basketball in his driveway. I think the net may still be there to this day.

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  5. It's been such a long time, but I have a very vague idea that when I was a child growing up in Parkwood, I heard that the old stone Yearsley barn across from the Delcastle Park tennis courts burned down. It didn't just get old and rot. It burned. Obviously that's not a very confident or authoritative assertion, but maybe this tid bit of old Parkwood lore could lead you to more of the truth about what happened to the Yearsley property after the death of McCoy Yearsley. I have a strong "suspicion" that a childhood friend may have been related to the Yearsley family somehow, and maybe that's where this bit of lore came from, but I'm not sure.

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  6. Interesting to read this story of the Yearsley family. I researched Nathan Hiram Yearsley (1821-1890), son of blacksmith Nathan (1792-1862). Nathan is the son who lived in Iowa. He married a Delaware girl, Mary Elizabeth Penton, prior to 1846, before leaving the state. Along the route to Iowa, they lived in several other places, including Marshall County, Virginia (later West Virginia). They next settled in Fayette County, Pennsylvania, where Nathan worked in a coal mine. Ohio came next, and finally, Marshall Township, Taylor County, Iowa, where the family farmed. Nathan died in 1890. Mary Elizabeth and their eldest son, Thomas, who never married, remained in Iowa for another 15 years, when they moved to Alberta, Canada, where they became homesteaders and were awarded land under the 1872 Dominion Lands Act in exchange for a $10 filing fee. Within a year, Thomas built a house, stables, and chicken houses, and added fencing to corral his 30 horses, 16 cows and 30 pigs. Mary Elizabeth died in 1911 at age 89, and Thomas followed a year later. Both are buried in Highwood Cemetery in High River, Alberta.

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    1. Thanks, Cindy, for the great information. We tend to get tied up here in our own little corner of the world, but it's fascinating to see how people from here went out and had effects in the rest of the world. Every time I drive by there now I'll think about the Yearsley legacy in Canada.

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