Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Eastburn Store

Isaac Eastburn (1806-1890)
In this blog, we've looked at a variety of different sites from life in Mill Creek Hundred in the 18th, 19th, and early 20th Centuries. We've seen houses, mills, hotels, churches, and even a resort and amusement park. There's one important community building of the time that we've yet to focus on, though, mostly because precious little survives of these outposts. I don't know if it comes from watching too many Little House on the Prairie episodes with my daughter and wondering how Mr. Oleson gets all his supplies and who he sells them to, but I've been interested recently in the small general stores that once served rural residents like those in MCH. Now, thanks to prompting from a question from a reader and local resident (thanks, Robin S), we'll take a quick look at one of those stores, owned by a member of a very prominent local family -- the Eastburns. As with most things, it seems, we don't have a complete picture of what went on, but we do have enough to get a general idea.

Just south of Corner Ketch, and north of the Paper Mill Road/Polly Drummond Hill Road intersection, there's a small little stub of a street called Pigeon Hollow Road. There are only about three or four houses on the street, but two of them are survivors from the era when the Eastburns controlled the region. There is a two-story stone house, with a large, newer addition on the rear; next to it is a longer, 1 1/2 story frame house. This second house, for much of the second half of the 1800's, was the site of the Eastburn Store (I don't know that that was what it was called, but that's how I'll refer to it).

As best as we can tell (much of the information comes from Eastburn descendant Donna Peters), the first proprietor of the store was Isaac Eastburn (1806-1890), a son of David Eastburn, co-founder of the Eastburn-Jeanes Lime Kilns. When he first opened his shop is unclear, except that by the 1860 census he was listed as a store keeper. (I couldn't find Isaac in the 1850 census.) Since it appears that the stone house may be older than the store (now also a house), Isaac likely farmed his portion of the family land for a while before becoming a store keeper, and may have even continued doing both. Interestingly, the proprietor of the store just up the road at Corner Ketch was Samuel Lloyd. Isaac and Samuel were brothers-in-law twice over -- Isaac was married to Mary Lloyd, and Samuel's wife was Rebecca Eastburn. I wonder whether Isaac opened his store to compete with his brother-in-law, or whether there was cooperation between the shops?

Front of Eastburn's Store
Sometime before 1860, Mary L. Eastburn, Isaac's wife, died. Isaac eventually met Rachel Wier, and it seems one or both of them had the idea to move to Virginia. In late 1865, Isaac sold a little more than three acres of land (presumably including both buildings) to Samuel Eastburn. The next year, Isaac and Rachel married and moved to Fredricksburg, VA. He seems to have lived the life of a farmer down there, and later returned to Delaware shortly before his death.

One of the biggest mysteries in this story seems to be, just exactly who did buy Isaac's land? There are two possibilities, and each makes sense in its own way. The prevailing wisdom was that it was Isaac's son, Samuel L. Eastburn (1834-1900). Sounds logical that he would sell to his son, but if so, Samuel didn't stick around long. The 1870 and 1880 censuses both show Samuel L. in Wilmington, first as a store clerk, then as a liveryman. An 1874 directory lists him as having a livery stable on French Street. Whether or not it was he who bought his father's land, Samuel L. Eastburn almost certainly did not operate the store -- at least not for long.

Samuel L. Eastburn
The other possibility was that the Samuel Eastburn in question was Isaac's brother. This Samuel Eastburn (1818-1906) was the son of David Eastburn who eventually inherited his father's house, now on Paper Mill Road, after the death of his mother Elizabeth. In its own way, this makes sense, too -- Isaac selling his lot (for $1575, not a small amount) to his brother, in order to consolidated the family's holdings. Bear in mind also that Paper Mill Road as it is in this area today did not exist until the 20th Century. At the time, Pigeon Hollow Road was the main road east to Limestone Road, although it did merge with the present road not too far away. The relevant point being that all this land (Isaac's and Samuel's) was on the same side of the main road, not separated as it is today. Also, one part of the deed from Isaac to Samuel (which Donna has seen and scanned) seems to indicate (to me, at least) that the plot is being sold to the same Samuel Eastburn who owns the adjoining land -- this would be the elder Samuel.

Regardless of who bought the land, it seems obvious that neither one actually ran the store. So, who did? My best guess, based on the evidence I've seen, is that the man who operated the store after Isaac's departure was another of his brothers -- Isaiah Eastburn (1810-1891). As a younger man, Isaiah owned a farm farther south on Polly Drummond Hill Road, near Old Coach Road. By 1860, he was living near the rest of his family, and was listed as a shoemaker in the 1860 census, and as a bootmaker in 1870. In 1880, his occupation was listed as storekeeper. What seems likely is that Isaiah moved onto Isaac's former property after 1865, and worked both as a shoemaker and as a storekeeper. In fact, the 1874 state directory does list Isaiah as both, as shown below.

I've yet to find out how long the store operated, or if anyone ran it after the passing of Isaiah Eastburn in 1891. Whenever it closed, the old homes on the once-busy Pigeon Hollow Road stand as two more reminders of the time when the Eastburns dominated this region of Mill Creek Hundred.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the post Scott! Lots of information and very interesting. Thanks to Donna for the pics. So is it safe to assume the house next to the store was also owned by either David or Samuel Eastburn?