Friday, October 14, 2011

Origins of the Name "Kiamensi"

This won't be a particularly long post, but I figured I'd address the subject now, since Bill Harris' recent comment got me thinking about it. There have already been two separate sites featured on this blog that contain the name "Kiamensi" -- the Kiamensi Woolen Mill and the Kiamensi Spring Water Company. On top of that, Kiamensi was adopted as the name of the community that sprung up around the woolen mill, as well as the B&O Railroad depot nearby. And of course, it survives today as the name of the road that goes through the area, and in the name of several neighborhoods. But where did this sometimes tricky to spell and pronounce word come from?

If you said, "From the Indians," you'd be right. It does in fact derive from a Native American word, one of the few still to be found in Mill Creek Hundred ("Hockessin" being another). However, like much associated with the region's first inhabitants, some of the details are not quite clear, and there is some overly-romanticized myth thrown in for good measure.

The myth, which you may or may not be familiar with, is that Kiamensi was the name of a lovelorn Indian maiden (or princess) who threw herself into Red Clay Creek from a rock at "Lover's Leap". Why she did this and where exactly this "Lover's Leap" was, as far as I know, was not recorded. I think it's fair to say that the likelihood of this story being true is not particularly great. It does, however, probably explain the Native American girl on the Kiamensi Springs postcard seen on that post (I guess she's supposed to be Kiamensi).

What I think is far more likely to be the real etymology of "Kiamensi" deals more with native words than names. And instead of being the name of one person, it was actually the name of the entire creek, and possibly a settlement. There seems to be agreement and good documentation on the origin of the word, even if there's a slight disagreement on one of the details. The original Algonquian (or Delaware, or Leni Lenape, or Unami, depending on how precise you care to be) word was Hwiskakimensi. The Native Americans in the area referred to the Red Clay Creek as the Hwiskakimensi Sippus, "Sippus" meaning creek, or stream. The name Hwiskakimensi can be seen on this map by Swede Peter Lindestrom, printed in 1691, but probably drawn in about 1654 (the name is near the top, just under and before the "R" in "Revier").

Hwiskakimensi is made up of two Unami words, the second of which, mensi, means "tree". There seems to be two differing opinions, though, on the first part of the word. Usually the name is translated as "young tree", apparently from weski, meaning "young". This source, however, has a different etymology for it. I won't go through all the variations, but they translate it as "grape vine tree", so named for the abundance of grapes in the area. (Now, "the area" could mean anywhere in the vicinity of the creek, not necessarily in the Marshallton/Brandywine Springs region.)

I can't seem to find it again, but I believe I saw one reference to Hwiskakimensi as also being the possible name of a Native American settlement somewhere in the area. This would make sense if Hwiskakimensi was used to describe the general area. Also, as a final side note, this source states that another old name for Red Clay Creek was "Rodlers Creek". I had never heard that name before, and I can't seem to find anything about with a cursory search. If I ever do uncover more about this name, I'll be sure to pass it along. As usual, it seems every answered question raises at least one more unanswered one.


  1. I seem to recall being told that the Kiamensi were a tribe of Minquas Indians that lived in the area around Newport, hence the name of area between Marshallton and Stanton. I also seem to recall that during the construction of the Rte. 4 bridge over the Red Clay Creek in the 1970's, remnants of an Indian settlement were uncovered ans studied. I assumed this was also related to the Kiamensi Indians. (I wonder if the archeologists found any cockle shells at the old camp?)

    It's too bad that the name Kaimensi didn't remain associated with the creek- I much prefer that name to the duller "Red Clay Creek".

    Thanks again for the research, I find word and place name etymologies just as interesting as history.

  2. I found a reference to "Rodlers Kihl" in
    "A history of New Sweden: or, The settlements on the River Delaware" during a Googloe book search.

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    A history of New Sweden: or, The settlements on the River Delaware Kihl" in

  3. Doing a little Googling on "Kiamensi", I discovered a reference to "Kiamensi Clay Company" of Neport in 1910, which produced "ground lump and prepared clay". Anyone else every here of this company? I assume it quarried clay along the banks of the Red Clay- perhaps near Bread and Cheese Island?

  4. Re: Kiamensi Indians. That recollection sounds plausible. I know there have been several encampment sites excavated over the years in the White Clay/Red Clay area (another big one over near DE Park). Sounds logical that they might refer to the inhabitants as the Kiamensi Indians, because of the name of the area.

    Re: Rodlers Kihl. Thanks, Denis. I'm not seeing the link or attachment you meant to post (Probably doesn't work in comments), but I did find what you mentioned. Yes, it does seem tha "Rodlers Kihl" was the Swedish name for the Red Clay. Next step would be to figure out who Rodler was. Maybe he had to do with the mill later called Greenbank?

    Re: Kiamensi Clay Co. I hadn't heard of it before, but did find it now. Founded 1902 by Oscar L. Young, bought in 1911 by JW Paxson Co of Philly, in business until at least 1929. Looks like it was a kaolin clay company, but it doesn't say whether it was mined near Hockessin (where a lot of it was) or closer to its home in Newport.

  5. Speaking of kaolin clay mining in Hockessin, does anyone know if any remnants of this industry still exist? The only old quarry I know of, and that was a granite quarry, was transformed into the community of Willow Springs off of Lancaster Pike.

  6. In the 1880's John Burgess mined clay from a quarry which still sits in the area between the W&W tracks, Stone Mill, Yorklyn Road, and Route 41. Burgess and a man named Lacy shared rights to this quarry. Joseph lake, in his book "Hockessin", describes the operation very well.
    There are also several quarries along Valley Road. Current ADC New Castle County maps show these sites as ponds. The miners dug down until they hit water.
    I know of two quarries in the Newport area, but I am not sure if they were clay or gravel. One was in the area where Mary street goes into Stonehurst. The other was between Tuxedo Park and Cedar Heights, now part of Westview.
    Don't forget Peaches Quarry off Paper Mill Road in the area of Chestnut Hill, and a Mr. Bell conducted a mining operation at the intersection of Paper Mill and Polly Drummond Hill Roads.

  7. John-

    Thanks, I see them now. I had previously just assumed the old kaolin quarries were retention basins. I didn't know about the Newport quarries, but I can see them now on Google Street View.

    When I think of quarries, I think of large areas with the landscape contoured for better access. I guess with kaolin, though, it was on the surface and could be dug up just about anywhere with little effort.


  8. I found something interesting in the Geological Survey bulletin, Issues 1245-1248
    By Geological Survey (U.S.). You can locate this in Google Book Search. It seems at one time Bread and Cheese Island was known as "Rodhlers Uno" meaning Red Clay Island in Swedish. I am wondering if "Rodlers" Creek,"Rodlers" Kihl and "Rodhlers Uno" are just different spellings for Red Clay.

  9. And Denis wins! Great catch. I'm sure I'm not the only one reading this saying, "Duh!". I don't speak Swedish, but when you put "red clay" into Google Translate, the Swedish comes out "rod lera", with an umlaut over the o. So it would seem that Rodlers (maybe originally Rodlera, maybe not) just means "Red Clay". "Kihl" or "kil" is the Dutch word for stream, so Rodlers Kihl sounds like a Dutch translation of the Swedish name for it. Thanks Denis!

  10. Bread and Cheese island was at one time called Brodundt Kees. Say it real fast after a few martinis and it might sound like Bread and Cheese. In the mid 1600's there were a few Swedes living there(it was the westernmost part of the settlement at that time). The Dutch took charge during this period and may have renamed the island wiping out the Rodhlers Uno name.
    When the English had their say it became Bread and Cheese.

  11. One quick question from someone who doesn't do this often. The Red Clay Creek's confluence with the White Clay Creek seems to have moved back when the Swedish were settled there. Was this a nature occurrence or did the Swedish relocate the stream to cut out an ox-bow and improve navigation?

    1. To the best of my knowledge, the path of the Red Clay hasn't changed significantly since the arrival of Europeans. I'm not sure why you say it did, except maybe from the existance of "Old Red Clay Creek"? Is that it? It's mentioned in my 9/2/11 post about floods. It's a small creek that joins White Clay just east of Red Clay -- more or less behind First State Plaza. It formed the eastern boundary of Bread and Cheese Island.

      I have no idea why it's called that, but the name implies it might have been the old course of the stream. Or, just that early inhabitants thought it was the old course. Late 17th Century residents had the ability to build large mill races (like the one that goes almost from Kiamensi Rd down to behind Stanton), but I don't think they could have (or would have reason to) change the entire course of the stream creek.

      That being said, I've come across some pretty odd stuff during my research, and so have many others. If you have anything that shows the creek might have been relocated, I'd love to see it. There's a lot about this area that's been forgotten over time, which is what makes it so fun to find! Thanks for the question.

  12. Wow I just read these comments and they are really interesting. I would love to see more posts about local indians. More about indian settlement camps that have been found recently. White clay creek state park in pike creek is full of old indian remnants, including arrowheads all over the fields and rivers, and the chief of one of the tribes is buried above ground way back in the woods near the rangers office. If anyone else has anything about local indians I would love to hear more! Also if anyone has new or old pictures about these quarries I would love to see. From what I've heard, one of the old quarries in the hockessin area was still in use in the 30s or 40s and 2 men made a bet that the one couldn't touch the bottom, he dove in, tried, and hit a cold spot and never came back up. And also it was shut down because something happened causing it to flood, leaving all the old trucks and equipment at the bottom of it, along with many workers. Creepy.