Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Bartley-Tweed Farm

Bartley-Tweed House
Tucked away on a bend on what I always thought of as a "cut-through" road (on the back way to Newark), sits a brick house with a few surprises, and an interesting story. The house, which turns out to be quite a bit older than I thought it was, is flanked by a somewhat newer (but still historic) carriage house/granary. And until recently a barn stood across (and unnervingly close to) the road from the house, all making up what is known as the Bartley-Tweed Farm.

The house sits on the north side of Fox Den Road, a few hundred yards west of Polly Drummond Hill Road (across from the Polly Drummond Shopping Center and McGlynn's). From the construction of the earliest remaining part until the late 19th Century, the property was owned by at least 5 different families. Unfortunately, not much is known about most of the owners except for one, and he's more closely connected with another site -- even though he owned this one for almost thirty years. The property itself is notable for two reasons: 1) it was the site of several undertakings not common elsewhere in the area, and 2) in several instances some of the construction here was a bit ahead of its time.

The oldest part of the Bartley-Tweed House is the smaller section on the west, or left, end. Although it's covered on two sides by stucco and one side by brick, this original house is actually made of stone. The exact construction date is unknown, but it was definitely built sometime prior to 1798, when it first appears in the historical record. According to its short write-up for the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) (it was included in the "Agricultural Buildings and Complexes in Mill Creek Hundred, 1800-1840" submission), the house's first mention was in the 1798 tax assessment, where it was listed as part of "the John Bartley estate". From this wording, I assume both that John Bartley built the house, and that he had recently died. Unfortunately, I have not yet been able to find any more information about Bartley, who must have been fairly well-off for the area and time. The assessment also lists a log barn and a log house (which may have either been an older family home or a tenant house), but the main house was stone, at a time when there were very few stone houses around.

If, in fact, John Bartley did die around 1798, it appears his property was purchased next by a man I believe may have been a neighbor -- Robert Crawford, Jr. It is under Crawford's ownership that we first have proof of industry on the property. Although there doesn't seem to be any mention of it, it's possible that there may have been a mill earlier, during Bartley's tenure. However, the 1809 ad below clearly shows that by that time, Robert Crawford had a tanyard, bark mill, and saw mill in operation. The ad also states that Crawford lived "near the premises", which may have meant that he lived on a neighboring farm, or it might have meant that the things listed were near this house, which he lived in. Note that the ad does not make mention of a house for rent.

Of the four (or more likely, three) things mentioned in the ad, the farm and the saw mill are pretty straightforward (the mill was probably a combined saw and bark mill). The other two -- the tanyard and the bark mill -- are things we've not yet mentioned in this blog. Those familiar with Wilmington history know that the tanning (or leathermaking) industry was an important one there in the later 19th and early 20th Centuries. Prior to the rise of the large, urban tanneries in the later 1800's, most leathermaking was done in small, rural tanyards like this one. The bark mill was part of the same process. The "good black and Spanish oak bark" mentioned in the ad was harvested and ground in the mill. The ground bark was then used to make the liquid mixture in which the hides were tanned (by tannin, an acidic substance in the bark) to make leather.

It's not clear if Crawford ever ran the tannery and mills himself, or whether he only leased them. The idea that he did live in the house, however, is strengthened by what he did around 1825 -- he greatly enlarged the house. The old 18 x 18 foot stone house was joined then by a much larger brick wing, which now towers over the older section and makes it look as if it were the addition. To help them have a more uniform look, the old house was given a brick facade to match the new three-bay, centered door section. (A little bit more info about the house, but not much more, can be found in the NRHP report.) Whether Robert Crawford operated the tanyard and mill, or just ran the farm, I find it unlikely that he would have put as much effort into enlarging the house as he did if he didn't live in it himself.

The Bartley-Tweed House, 1986

It's interesting to note a couple things about the sections of the house, while we're at it. I mentioned at the top of the post that the house was ahead of its time in a few respects. First, the stone house, although small and only a one room design, was built of that material in the 18th Century. Most of the stone houses still standing were built several decades later, during the rebuilding phase in the hundred during the 1800-1830 period. Secondly, the idea of enlarging a home by adding a newer section and keeping the older part was much more prevalent during the second half of the 19th Century. When Crawford did his remodeling in 1825, the usual procedure was to tear down the old home and rebuild a new one, which explains why we see lots of early 19th Century houses around, but not many 18th Century ones.

Across the road from the house stood, until just a couple of years ago, a frame barn with a stone foundation. The barn, built about 1835, also represents changing times in the area. The NRHP report has more about the construction of the barn, but the gist of it is that the barn is kind of a transitional structure, having elements common in older barns, as well as newer elements that would appear more frequently in later designs. Tucked tightly between the barn and the road was a metal silo, erected in 1954.

Barn and Carriage House/Granary in 1986

Silo and Barn, shortly before demolition

The report doesn't specifically state who built the barn, but if the 1835 date is accurate, it was done by the property's next owner, James Dixon. Dixon owned the property for only three years, 1834-1837, and he may have purchased it after Robert Crawford's death (I haven't been able to determine when Crawford died, but he doesn't seem to be in the 1840 census). According to the report, Dixon operated a different kind of mill at the site -- a plaster mill. There doesn't seem to be much information about plaster mills in the area, but in general, plaster mills ground gypsum for use either as a fertilizer or for plaster. It seems that Dixon might have been a short-lived competitor to Joseph Eastburn and Abel Jeanes, as these were the same uses as the product of their lime kilns.

Dixon, though, only ran his plaster mill until 1837, when he sold the property to John Tweed (1810-1875). The Tweed family is another one that calls for further investigation, and hopefully its own post one day. What we do know is that Tweed owned the property from 1837 until 1866, but how he used it takes some digging, and a little guesswork. It's stated that he operated a bark mill here, so if that's all he did, it seems the tanyard was never reopened. Tweed himself, though, may not have actually run the mill, as the 1850 census lists a James Steward here as a "Bark Grinder". The next name listed is John Tweed, farmer. The assumption is that Tweed farmed the land, and leased the mill to Steward (or Stuart, as he's listed in 1860 in Newark as a laborer).

Tweed didn't reside here much longer, though, because in 1855 he purchased the old Rankin Mills (later, known as the Tweed Mills) on White Clay Creek, north of Newark. John Tweed likely moved there when he bought it, leaving the Bartley-Tweed Farm to his son Mansel. Scharf states that the bark mill ceased operation about 1860, and sure enough, the 1860 census lists Mansel Tweed here as a farmer (a "farm tenant", actually), but there is no miller listed. It appears that sometime between 1855 and 1860, the mill (which sat, incidentally, on the south side of Fox Den Road, west of the barn) did shut down.

Carriage House/Granary

In 1866, John Tweed sold the property to James Little (Mansel would eventually take over the White Clay Creek mills). James Little, the grandfather of educator Lora Little, would reside here until his death in 1892. The third historic structure on the site, the red-roofed Carriage House/Granary, may have been built by Little. The NRHP report states only that it is a "late nineteenth century" structure, but my hunch is that it was erected by James Little.

I am unable to discern what happened to the property after Little's death in 1892, as this area is difficult to follow in the succeeding censuses. Regardless, in a little more than one hundred years' time, the Bartley-Tweed Farm had an interesting history. With its tannery, bark mill, and plaster mill, the site was home to industries seen few other places in the immediate area. With the early stone house, brick addition, and transitional barn, it was often one step ahead of building trends in the area. Now off the "beaten path" and hidden away, the farm only hints at its unusual past.

Additional Facts and Related Thoughts:
  • There are two reasons why I say that Robert Crawford may have been a neighbor of John Bartley. First, a Robert Crawford (not noted whether it's junior or senior) sold water rights on Pike Creek, directly east of here, in 1796. Second, the 1849 map shows an E. Crawford in a house on the east side of Polly Drummond Hill Road, where the Village of Meeting House Hill is now. This may be Elizabeth Crawford, who may be Robert's widow. However, finding anything about this family is tough.
  • The NRHP report mentions that the old, stone section of the house had a deep basement, and four steps leading down from that. At the bottom is an arched opening in the wall leading to "an intact stone-lined well". I don't know how common something like this is (I can't recall reading about anything like this elsewhere), but it sounds pretty cool.
  • There seems to be a close connection between the Crawford, Rankin, and Tweed families. The Rankin/Tweed Mills were owned by all three families at different times. Also, what I believe was the old Crawford farm (either Robert Sr. or Jr.) east of Polly Drummond Hill Road was later owned by Robert T. Rankin. If I'm able to find more info about the Crawfords or Tweeds, I'd be very surprised if there isn't some intermarriage between them and the Rankins.



  2. Cool! I always love to hear from family of the people in the posts. Maybe someday I'll branch over and do a post about the Tweed Mills on White Clay Creek. I remember in college running down Wedgewood Rd. to Creek Rd., through Carpenter State Park, and seeing ruins down at the bottom of the hill. Now I see that it was probably one of John Tweed's houses.

  3. Scott,
    I'm interested in the people of color working in the Tweed's Tavern 1816?
    Let me know if you find anything out about them.
    I love your blogs!

    Darleen Amobi,

    Darleen Amobi

  4. As kids we swam in Mr. Little's pond behind the house in 1950s. The house I grew up in at 196 Possum Park Road had a similar well arrangement in the earth floor basement.

    1. First, thanks for the for the story from your childhood. Second, you have my attention about your house. If the numbering is still the same, it's the house on the east side of the road across from the doctor's office in the old house. I did a post about this one, which I think is the original Possum Park farm. Your house seems separate from it, but does appear (or at least a house in the same location) as far back as the 1849 map. From the mention about the well, it sounds like it's a very old house. Do you know anything more about its history, or about the Possum Park property? You can put Possum Park in the search bar in the upper right to find the post. Thanks!!

    2. We lived across the road from Dr. Hurm's professional building and house. I do not have the history of our house. Dr. Hurm was the one who totally rebuilt his house, tearing down a large bank barn to build his professional building.

  5. The open space under the carriage house always used to give me the creeps driving by it at night...

    A few things to mention, but not that important: A family friend, had friends who's family members lived at this house at one point, and apparently they went back about 10 or 15 years ago and asked to look around. While exploring outside of the house, they came across in the dirt old glass milk bottles partially buried in the ground, and unearthed them. Pretty cool, but maybe now that old.

    Further down Fox Den Road, as your heading towards Paper Mill Rd, about exactly halfway down, on your left, there is a gated off dirt entrance, it used to be open and you could park and access trails from there, but has been closed off for years now, I just noticed on the old maps there were a few structures in this location. Any idea? Assuming another farm, but never knew there was something there before.

    I also seem to recall seeing an old wooden power line post about 50 feet off into the field right about where the curve is on Fox Den, but looking at the maps, it doesn't look like the road was ever rerouted or changed. I will have to drive by again and look before the greenery grows back.

    One last thing regarding this area. Back in the woods, behind where I mentioned you used to be able to park and go hike, I recall seeing an old, abandoned pump house of some sort by the creek. It was a little creepy to go in. Would this be something owned by White Clay? Thanks.