Saturday, October 29, 2011

Ambrose Reed

Ambrose Reed
In reading this site or through research of your own, you've no doubt realized that the history (and for the most part, the present) of Mill Creek Hundred is, not to put too fine a point on it, rather white. That's not to say that there were no non-white residents in the hundred, however. For example, in 1800 there were 85 free blacks and 82 slaves (for comparison, there were 2,027 white residents), and in 1840 there were 311 free blacks and 43 slaves (2,789 white). After the Civil War and the passing of the Thirteenth Amendment, there continued to be free black residents in the hundred, mostly working as hired farm labor, although some did own their own properties. And while it's difficult to find much information on most of the area's black residents, there is one man we do know a little about, although not as much as I had hoped.

In his excellent 1976 book Hockessin: A Pictorial History, author Joseph Lake briefly mentions the story of Ambrose Reed in the chapter dealing with the kaolin clay mining industry in the region. When I saw the name in the book, I remembered having been asked about him by a commenter earlier this year, and I recalled having found some information about Reed. I also remembered that some of the information didn't seem to line up exactly right. As it so happened, things only got more confusing as I dug further.

Monday, October 24, 2011

The Robinson-Highfield House

Once in a while, we get really lucky and we'll have a great deal of information about a particular site -- who built it and when, who lived there, and a nice pile of background information about the residents. This ain't one of those sites. The Robinson-Highfield House (AFART note below), located on the northwest corner of Lancaster Pike and Loveville Road, has several very frustrating holes and ambiguities in its story. Instead of continuing to bang my head against this particular wall, I'll just lay out what I have been able to figure out about it, as well as what I haven't. And while we do know a good bit about this property, this is one of those instances where I'll have to accept that this is just a starting point for investigation into the house and its owners, and not a comprehensive history.

The first of the mysteries surrounding the Robinson-Highfield House is also the most basic -- When was it built? A 1999 DelDOT survey, which included information from earlier work in the area, states that the house was constructed in about 1850. While this is very possible, there are a couple of things that call this into question, although none of them are anything close to definitive. The first is that New Castle County Land Use records list the construction date of the house as 1820. I know that these records are notoriously inaccurate (as far as I know, they just list what someone tells them), but it makes me wonder if the owners have a specific reason for putting the date that early.

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.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Kiamensi Spring Water Company


Kiamensi Spring Water Bottling Plant, 1908
 One of the most heavily mocked (at least, by me) business models of the past few decades was bottled water. Only in late 20th Century America, so I thought, could a company expect people to pay good money for something they can get almost free at home. As it turns out though, bottled water is now a nearly $10 billion industry in the US alone (although sales have sagged a bit the last few years). It also turns out that it was far from a new idea -- our area was ahead of the curve by almost a century. In 1907, a new company was formed -- The Kiamensi Spring Water Company -- and began shipping its product from its source on the east bank of Red Clay Creek.

As one might expect, there are, in the vicinity of Brandywine Springs Park, quite a few natural springs. One, a chalybeate spring, was the impetus for a resort hotel, and later, an amusement park. Most of the springs in the area, though, are clear, clean, and fresh (or at least, they were a century ago). In 1907, while the amusement park was at the height of its popularity, several of its officers (including owner Richard Crook and VP L. Heisler Ball (in between stints as US Senator from Delaware)) decided to capitalize on one of these clear springs and market its waters directly to consumers. Considering the rather questionable state of municipal water supplies at the time, in conjunction with a public newly-aware of the dangers of germs and contamination, bottled spring water and beverages made from it were hot sellers.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

The Adventurous Hettie Dickey

Sometimes I think we develop this picture of Victorians as being very staid, never-step-out-of-line, do-what-they're-told kind of people, especially Victorian women (the occasional Lizzie Borden notwithstanding). And while that certainly was not always the case, it probably was more often than not, which is what makes a story like Hettie Dickey's newsworthy at the time, whereas now she would just be that weird cousin that no one wants to talk about.

The first time I ran across Hettie Dickey was this newspaper article from 1895, which details the young Stanton woman's trek halfway across the country to Chicago earlier in the year. You can read the article in its entirety, but I'll try to briefly summarize it here. In the early afternoon of March 24, the 26 year old Hettie donned her brother's suit (which she had stowed away in the woodshed), and walked from her house in Stanton towards the B&O station at Kiamensi. From there, she walked westward along the tracks, then across some fields until she arrived in Newark. In Newark, she boarded a train to Baltimore, then another to Chicago.