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.

Thomas Rankin (1735-1795) was a well-respected member of the community, and like two of his brothers, was a veteran of the Revolutionary War. In fact, Thomas served as a Lieutenant in the 2nd Delaware Militia. After returning home from the war, he married Elizabeth Montgomery and had five children. Two daughters never married and one son moved out of state, leaving only two boys to carry on the name in the area -- Joseph and Thomas, Jr. They were all born on their father's homestead along the west side of White Clay Creek, the farm and mills that would later be known as Tweed's Mill. Sadly, Lt. Rankin died when the children were quite young, leaving the family in a predicament. It's unclear where the others ended up (the property was sold within a few years), but we do know where Joseph and Thomas, Jr. went -- re-enter their uncle, Joseph Rankin, Jr.

Like his brother Thomas, Joseph (1728-1820) also moved off of his father's farm -- first to Chester County, then to western Mill Creek Hundred sometime in the 1780's. And like what seems to be an unusually large number of his family, Joseph, Jr. never married. With no sons of his own to help him on his farm, Joseph no doubt welcomed the addition of his nephews, Joseph and Thomas, Jr. The sons of Lt. Rankin lived with their uncle until his death in 1820, at which time they each received half of the 300 acre property. This property, the land of Joseph Rankin, Jr., lay just to the east of his brother's -- north of Paper Mill Road, west of Thompson's Station Road, and east of White Clay Creek. It was, more or less, what is now much of the Deerfield property, or what used to be DuPont's Louviers Site and golf course.

Rankin Homes, northwest of Milford Crossroads, 1868

Thomas seems to have received the northern part of the lot, and he soon built a new home for himself which he named "Yellow Hall". His house still stands today, now nestled between two greens. His brother's house, long gone, seems to have been not far away, probably just east of the clubhouse today. Joseph Rankin (1785-1866), being the elder brother, likely received the portion of the property containing their uncle's house. It took him 10 years before he built his own home, known as "Rankin Hall", in 1830. Here, Joseph, who served as a private in the War of 1812, raised his own family of six children, five of whom never married. Of the two sons, Robert T. Rankin (1820-1896) worked his own farm northeast of Polly Drummond Hill Road and Linden Hill Road, while Joseph C. (1823-1916) eventually inherited Rankin Hall. Having no heirs, it seems likely that the farm was sold out of the family after Joseph C.'s passing, and it's very possible that the house was razed in the early 1950's by DuPont.

Finally, we get to the house that is still standing, Yellow Hall. The house is a beautiful five-bay Georgian home with a centered doorway -- the height of fashion at the time. On this farm, Thomas Rankin, Jr. (1796-1860) and his wife Sarah Crawford (which, oddly enough, was also the name of his brother Joseph's wife) raised nine children, five of whom remained unmarried. Three sons and one daughter moved to Maryland, one daughter to Chester County. Son William bought a farm in White Clay Creek Hundred along Rt. 896, where the Carpenter Recreaction Area is in White Clay Creek State Park. After Thomas' death in 1860, his youngest son, T. Crawford Rankin (1847-1917), remained on the family farm with his mother. After she died in 1887, Crawford, assisted by his sister Hannah, managed Yellow Hall. Although he never married, Crawford was a respected member of the community, serving as a trustee of White Clay Creek Presbyterian Church, as well as a school commissioner, most likely for the Milford Crossroads school.

As best as I can tell, of all nine of Thomas, Jr.'s children, only Louise, who married Thomas Nivin and moved to New London Township, PA, had any children of her own. With the deaths in 1916 and 1917 of cousins Joseph C. and T. Crawford, the Rankin name disappeared from the White Clay and Mill Creek Hundred areas (at least the line from the original Joseph). With them went a name that had helped to found the region, fought for its independence, and was highly respected for almost 200 years. Other families have had members move to other parts of the country (especially from this region, North Carolina, it seems), but in no other family have I seen as many individuals remain unmarried and/or childless. I don't know whether it had to do with strong religious feelings or if it was "just one of those things", but in the 18th and 19th Centuries it was unusual to see that many single members of a family. Especially for farmers, large families were often essential for success. The Rankins made do for quite a while with smaller clans, but eventually it meant that Yellow Hall was left as the only tangible reminder of this once vibrant family.

9 comments:

  1. So this is where the name "Rankin Road" of meeting house hill neighborhood comes from. Ive noticed all the street names in that neighborhood came from historic/famous people/places in the area. Good to know where my street name I grew up on came from

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    1. Hi, this is a previous comment of mine from a few years back. I now know (thanks to you) where all the street names in Meeting House Hill came from (Rankin, White Clay, McMecham, Tysons Ford, Quarry, Old Side, New Side, Boyds Valley, Whitfield) except for one: Taven Keep. Any idea?

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    2. Short answer: I don't know for sure, but I can venture a guess. Not surprisingly, a quick search doesn't show anyone with the name Tavenkeep living in Delaware (in the census or in land records). I can't get past, however, how close that is to tavern keep. My best guess is that it was supposed to be Tavern Keep Court, in reference probably to Polly Drummond. Then, somewhere along the line, someone transcribed it wrong and there you go. That's just me thinking, though, and I haven't even had my coffee yet this morning. If anyone has any other ideas, I'm willing to listen.

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  2. I grew up on Tysons Ford that was the street over

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    1. amyo -- If you look at the 1849 map (link above to the right), Tyson lived in the house just north of the Rankins, labeled A.J. Hopkins on the 1868 map. I assume that before Hopkins and the bridge (Hopkins Bridge Rd.), there was a ford near the Tyson farm. Go and impress your neighbors. Assuming they have a very low bar for being impressed. :)

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    2. So I guess this is another beautiful home that is standing empty? Does anybody live there or is it just "in the middle of the golf course"?

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    3. I doubt anyone lives there. I would imagine that it's used in some capacity by the golf course, although I don't know exactly how.

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  3. Scott, can you share your source(s) for the statement that 'Joseph Rankin raised at least eight children ... and three of his [seven] sons went to North Carolina." There are two deeds which conclusively prove four of Joseph's sons, including Thomas and Joseph (who stayed in New Castle) and John and William (who went to NC). The tax and military records provide convincing circumstantial evidence for two other sons, James and Robert. The deeds also establish that Joseph left a 1764 will, but it may be lost (or, in any event, I haven't found it). I'm interested, of course, in the seventh son, who also reportedly went to NC, and would thus love to hear about your sources. Thanks in advance!
    Robin Rankin Willis, Houston, TX

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  4. Hi Robin,
    Do you know if Samuel born about 1732 is mentioned has one of his sons anywhere in will or other papers of Joseph Rankin born about 1704-1764? Could you share all of the names or send me a copy of what is in will? Also do have any information on Joseph parents or what ship he may have came over on? I have been told that Joseph is most likely the father I f Samuel though some records suggest he may have been the son of a Robert Rankin. My line is Samuel,Robert. Any help would be greatly appreciated.

    Mike Rankin
    Aar9sm@cox.net

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