Monday, May 23, 2011

The Biggest Thing That Almost Happened in MCH

The southeast corner of Mill Creek Hundred once came very close to being one of the most famous, or possibly infamous, locations in American history. -- I know that sounds like a pretty strong statement to make, but after doing a little reading, I really think it's true. More than 230 years ago, something monumental could have occurred here, forever altering the future not only of the surrounding area, but possibly of the nation itself. Instead, all that remains is the memory of a tense few days, and some rolling pieces of earth.

The story takes place in the late summer of 1777 -- well into the third year of the War for Independence, and just prior to what would become the darkest days of the struggle. The British had occupied New York the year before, and everyone knew their next major objective would be to take Philadelphia -- the colonial capital. Not wanting to march across New Jersey (can you blame him?) and cross the Delaware River, British Gen. William Howe opted to transport his army by ship around the Delmarva Peninsula, and disembark at Elkton, MD. They would then proceed by land to Philadelphia, but how? The most direct (and by Washington's thinking, most likely) route would be from Elkton, along the King's Road through Christiana, Stanton, and Newport, through Wilmington, and then northward to the capital. The American general decided that he would make his stand along this route.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

The MCH History Forum

I've been toying with the idea of doing something like this for a while, and I've finally decided to put it up. What is it? -- The Mill Creek Hundred History Forum! Actually, it's just a fancy way of saying "Open Thread". I'm not sure how it'll work, or how useful it'll be, but I'm going to give it a shot. The Forum is accessible via the button near the top of the page, near the Index, Map and About pages.

What I'm hoping it will be used for is for anything that anyone has to say that's not directly related to the subject of a published post. This can mean comments or reminiscences about anything in the area not-yet-covered; comments, questions, or issues with the site itself; or suggestions for future posts.  Also, I hope this page will make it even easier for all of us to share interesting information. And remember, this sharing of information goes in all directions. Anything shared or asked here is open for everyone. In fact, one of the reasons I wanted to create this page is so that I have a place to ask questions of the community, without the need to put a whole post up to do it. I might ask about something for an upcoming post, or for someone else who's posed a question to me, or just for my own curiosity.

This would also be the place to ask those little, nagging questions you might have ("Is that an old house?", "Did something used to be there?", "Does anyone remember what used to be there?") that might fall short of "You should do a post about that" territory. And even if I don't have the answer (which is always a distinct possibility), there's a decent chance someone else does. Comments on the Forum's page will show on the home page, too, so everyone who visits the site will see them. So, like I said, I'm not sure how this'll work, but we'll give it a try.

Monday, May 16, 2011

William Montgomery House

Sometimes, it seems as if all of the surviving 18th and early 19th Century houses in Mill Creek Hundred were, until recently at least, the anchors to large properties. Today, some still sit on relatively large tracts, while others have sold off all but an acre or two, leaving the old home nestled in the middle of a newer suburban neighborhood. There seem to be relatively few examples of old houses from smaller properties (or properties long since whittled down) surviving the years. And since most of the remaining old homes are farmhouses, it sometimes gives the impression that 150 years ago everyone in this part of Delaware was engaged in agriculture.

While it is true that most residents were farmers or farm laborers, there were many others who engaged in a multitude of other occupations. However, someone like a blacksmith, a cabinet-maker, or a shoemaker didn't always need as large a property as did a farmer (although some did do both). These smaller tracts and their accompanying homes were more vulnerable to being lost, leaving us with fewer examples of homes of 19th Century artisans. One that did survive, though -- The William Montgomery House -- has also been protected by the fact the the main road it was once on was shifted years ago, leaving it quiet and secluded (relatively speaking).

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

MCH History Blog Live!

OK, that might be overstating it just a bit, but I am pleased to announce that next week I will be giving a short presentation about a history topic at a real, live meeting, in front of actual people! (Yes, somewhat outside of my normal comfort zone, but it should be fun.) Now for the details: Jeff Peters, President of the Pike Creek Valley Civic League, has kindly invited me to give a short talk at their spring meeting next Monday, May 16. The meeting will be held at the Skyline United Methodist Church (at Skyline Drive and New Linden Hill Road), and will begin at 7:00 PM.

One of the topics on the agenda that night will be a proposed development project on the west side of Possum Park Road, across from Holy Angels School. It just so happens that this proposed site is near the former site of the Roseville Cotton Mill -- a topic covered in a post a few months ago. Since Jeff has a love of history himself, he thought it would be a good excuse very valid reason to include a history presentation as part of the meeting. And since neither Ken Burns nor an actual real historian was available, he asked me to give the talk instead (OK, that first part might not be true, and I do know enough to talk on the subject for 10 minutes or so...). After the brief presentation about the Roseville Mill, Jeff has graciously allowed me to take a few minutes to speak about this blog to those present. The facility has internet access, so I'll be able to give the nickel tour of the site and explain what it's about.

In any case, it should be a fun experience (for me, at least), and I invite anyone who's interested to come on out to the Pike Creek Valley Civic League's meeting next Monday. If nothing else, it should be a good way to expose a few more people to an interesting and mostly forgotten piece of our local history. And with any luck, maybe we'll gain a few more readers here. The more people we have involved, the more we all learn. (That didn't sound too Reading Rainbow-ish, did it?)

Friday, May 6, 2011

New Marshallton Book Released

Last summer, we did a two-part post about Marshallton in the 1920's (Part 1, Part 2), centered around the recollections of long-time resident Ann Hedrick. In the intro to Part 1, it was mentioned that there was a book in the works about Ann's life. Well, I'm pleased to report that the book has finally been published, and is now available. It is titled Annie's Marshallton, and was written by Kathleen C. Hildebrand. I haven't had a chance to purchase my own copy yet, but I did get to take a quick look at it over the weekend. From what I saw, there are many things inside that will be familiar to readers of this site, or anyone interested in Marshallton's past (I even saw a picture of the Kiamensi Mansion).

Printing of the book was paid for by the Crossroads Restaurant on Kirkwood Highway, and the book is available for purchase exclusively at the restaurant. Annie's Marshallton costs $10, and all proceeds from the book are being donated to the Mill Creek Fire Company Ladies Auxiliary. Ann has been involved with the fire company for most of her life, and even drove a fire truck herself during World War II. The book is not a full-scale biography about Ann -- more of a collection of reminiscences of her life and the village that she's called home for over 90 years. I'm glad that the book is finally out, and I can't wait to get a copy!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The Battle of the Mermaid, Part II


Lt. David Buckingham
In Part I of this post, we set the stage for the events of November 4, 1862, somewhat grandiosely referred to as "The Battle of the Mermaid". To briefly summarize, while the Republican Party held power in Washington, the Democrats controlled Delaware. Local Republicans requested that Federal troops (also under Republican control) monitor polling sites to head off the anticipated Democratic shenanigans (technical 19th Century political term (OK, maybe not)) during the election. One such place this occured was MCH's polling place, the Mermaid Tavern on Limestone Road.

The unit involved in the altercation at the Mermaid was Company E of the Fourth Delaware Regiment Infantry Volunteers. The 4th Delaware was raised earlier that year by prominent Wilmingtonian Arthur H. Grimshaw, and had for several months that summer been encamped at nearby Brandywine Springs. They had recently moved to Camp DuPont on Lancaster Pike near the DuPont mills, and Company E contained a number of MCH residents, probably why it was assigned to patrol here. The company's captain that day (one of two they had) was Cpt. John C. Harper, who probably was a MCH resident, too.

Monday, May 2, 2011

The Battle of the Mermaid, Part I


Mermaid Tavern
 Anyone who hasn't spent the past few years under a news-impenetrable rock has surely noticed an up-tick in partisan political rancor in this country. Hard as it may be to believe, though, what we have today pales in comparison to what the political atmosphere was like for much of the 1800's. Unsurprisingly, some of the worst episodes took place during the greatest political crisis this country has ever faced -- The Civil War. Since we have recently observed the sesquicentennial of the start of the war at Ft. Sumter, SC, I though this would be a good excuse to revisit the closest thing Mill Creek Hundred saw to a Civil War engagement -- The (so-called) Battle of the Mermaid.

While we now think of the battle lines of the 1860's as being drawn between North and South, or between the Union and the Confederacy, they were not the only divisions of the day, especially in a border state like Delaware. Whereas Lincoln and the Republican Party controlled Washington, in Delaware the Democrats held the Governorship and the state legislature. And because of his now iconic stature (and statue) in history, it's easy to forget that in 1862, Lincoln and his party were not universally loved in the North, and especially not in Delaware. The nation then was even more politically divided than today, with even less trust between parties. And while the Democrats (who were against the war and were pushing for negotiations with the Confederacy) held political power in Delaware, the Republicans controlled the federal government, and, just as importantly, the military. In different ways, this presented potential problems for both parties in the congressional (and in Delaware, Gubernatorial) election of 1862.