Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The David E. Eastburn Farm

David Eastburn House
It's been a while since we've focused directly on the Eastburn family (although it's hard to stay more than two or three steps away from them), so we'll now return to northern Mill Creek Hundred and take a look at a farm anchored by a mid-19th Century home, but with elements a good deal older than that. I started thinking about this property while revisiting the Josiah Hulett House recently. While there are not too many examples in the area of the mid-century architectural styles that featured square-shaped houses, the David E. Eastburn house is a good one. Located on the northeast side of Corner Ketch Road, partway between Paper Mill Road and Doe Run Road, the farm dates back to the time when the Eastburns were the preeminent family in the area.

Although there are older structures extant on the property, the Italianate Style (as best as I can determine) house was built in the mid 1850's by David E. Eastburn (1811-1899), probably at the time of his marriage in 1857. David was the seventh child (of fourteen!) of David and Elizabeth Jeanes Eastburn. The elder David was, along with brother-in-law Abel Jeanes, the co-founder of the Eastburn-Jeanes Lime Kiln business. After the younger David's father died when he was only 13, he, like most of his siblings, stayed in the area to help run the family business and farm the surrounding land.

For more than half his life, it appears that David kept the family home on Paper Mill Road as his primary residence. He did own some other properties, including the England (Red) Mill from 1836 until 1870 as well as another house further up Polly Drummond Hill Road, but both the 1840 and 1850 censuses list him in the family home with his mother. One reason why it was sensible for him to remain "at home" was that he was a bachelor during this time. That changed in April 1857, when David married Tacy J. Hallowell at the Abington Meeting near her home in Montgomery County, PA. Although the two married fairly late in life (he was 46 and she 44), they would remain together for the rest of their lives, and would enjoy almost 35 years together. Not surprisingly, they had no children.

David E. Eastburn, probably prior to marriage
Now that he was married, it was time for David to find a new home for himself and his bride. As a successful man in a successful family, he had the resources to construct a fine house, and he certainly did so. His three story stuccoed stone house has a symmetrical four-bay front, with a pair of centered doors. A square belvedere tops its pyramidal roof. Somewhat surprisingly for a man from a solid Quaker family, he had his home built in the latest style of the time. I'm sure his new home stood out from those of his neighbors, and proclaimed him to be the man of means that he was.
The house in 1986, before front addition
While the facts of the construction of the house are fairly straightforward, the history of the property is a bit more hazy. According to the farm's section in the National Register entry of Agricultural Buildings and Complexes in Mill Creek Hundred 1800-1840, there are two structures on the property that predate David's occupation of the farm. One is the large frame and stone bank barn that stood just to the southeast of the house. Only the stone foundation and a few walls remain today, but as of 1986 (when the National Register form was submitted) the barn was intact, and the farm was still active. The farm was sold and the land behind it developed about 1990, and the barn reportedly burned in 1992 after being struck by lightning. 
The barn in 1986, part of a working farm

What remains of the barn today
According to the National Register report, the barn was built circa 1825. The authors, though, don't state why they give this date for the barn. Since they don't mention anything like a datestone or inscription, I assume they're dating it by the construction style. Since I'm no expert at dating barns (frankly, I was never much good at dating, period), I'll have to take their word for it. However, if there was a barn present in the 1820's, it stands to reason that there was a farmhouse of some kind, also. While the 1849 Rea & Price map doesn't show a house at this location, the Register report mentions an earlier log barn and a brick house. Unfortunately, I think the authors are confusing this property with the Abel Jeanes property (previously the James Black property) to the south. For one thing, they do also confuse David, Sr. and David, Jr. in the report, not seeming to realize there were two different men. Nevertheless, if the barn predated David's house, there must have been something there.

18th Century Tenant House

This then leads us to what is certainly the oldest remaining structure on the site -- the one and a half story stone tenant house that sits about 200 feet southeast of the barn. Little is known about this house, except that it almost certainly dates to at least the 18th Century. In fact, this Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS) entry states that the left end of the house may date back as far as the 17th Century. If so, that would make it one of the oldest remaining structures in Mill Creek Hundred. Clearly, more research is needed to illuminate the early history of this property.

An older David E. Eastburn
As for the later history of the farm, while the National Register report doesn't go into it (outside of naming the then-current owner), I believe I may have uncovered a likely chain of ownership. David lived out the rest of his life in his house, until his death in 1899 (wife Tacy had passed eight years before). As for who owned the farm next, I think I found that answer when I happened upon this obituary from 1941. The fourth entry down is for Wilmer E. Fell, who "lived on the David Eastburn farm for 70 years". Sure enough, the 1880 census does show 18 year old Wilmer living with David and Tacy and working on their farm.

Wilmer was the son of Samuel and Rachel Elizabeth Eastburn Fell. His mother, who went by Elizabeth, was the daughter of Amos Eastburn, David's brother. Censuses from 1900-1930 all show Wilmer living in the area, so it seems he did stay on David's farm. Since David and Tacy had no children of their own, it makes sense that the property would go next to a family member who was intimately familiar with it. Although it's possible that ownership went to someone else in the family, and that Wilmer stayed as a tenant farmer, my guess is that it passed from David to him. Either way, Wilmer remained there until his death in 1941.

It's likely that the next owner was the man who is listed as such in the 1986 National register report -- Harry Emerson Eastburn. Emerson, as he was known, was the great-grandson of Isaac Eastburn, another of David's brothers. It seems though that Emerson didn't actually live on the farm -- he lived near Mt. Cuba. The David Eastburn farm was a pretty long hold-out against the encroaching suburbia. It was a working farm up until the late 1980's, when Emerson finally sold it to a developer. The main house, tenant house, barn foundation, and a few late 19th/early 20th Century farm buildings were saved, but the rest of the property was developed. Thankfully, at least some of this historic property remains to remind us of the days when the Eastburns dominated this part of Mill Creek Hundred.

Additional Facts and Related Thoughts:
  • While the 1850 census clearly shows David in the same household with his mother and other family, the 1840 is a little tougher, since it was the last to list only the head of household by name. However, David is listed as the head of a household with well over ten people, including a woman in the 50-60 age group that has to be his mother Elizabeth.
  • The Quaker influence on architecture in the area is something I've thought about before. I've always thought that that's the reason why there were so few big, flashy houses in the Wilmington and New Castle County area. Many of the older houses are beautiful, but it's not until the Quaker influence starts to wane a bit in the later 1800's that some of the homes start to seem a bit showier.
  • I just have to say that I love the house-matching birdhouse seen in the picture of the barn ruins. Classic
  • At some point I hope to be able to learn more about the early history of the property, and about the tenant house specifically. Judging by the style, I have no doubt it dates to before 1800. The asymmetry of the windows suggests that it may have been built in more than one phase, which the HABS report agrees with. And though the HABS report has more detailed info about the layout and construction of the house, it doesn't have anything more than guesses about it's history.
  • In case you didn't notice, or for those who can't follow the link, Wilmer Fell's obit was published on Sunday, December 7, 1941. On page 5 there's a story titled "Firm US Stand Seen Averting Pacific Conflict: Senators Claim Japs Will Not Force Issue". So I guess everything worked out OK, huh?
  • Thanks go out to Donna Peters for the pictures of David Eastburn. I don't always have a lot of pictures to use in posts, especially not of individuals, so I wanted to use a lot in this one.


  1. The picture of the barn(dated 1986)seems to indicate that it was in really good shape. Too bad it had to be torn down!

  2. It was not torn down, it was hit by lightning and burned down in 1992 the owner told me.

  3. Thanks, C, for the info. I figured it was possible that it had burned, but I couldn't find any proof. Just the fact that it was in good working shape, as Delaware21 noted, and since the house was saved, it seemed odd that they would have torn down the barn. I've updated the post to reflect this information.

  4. The owner has nice gardens inside and around the remains of it now.