Monday, January 9, 2012

Aaron F. Klair and Family

The Aaron Klair House
In the last post, we took a look at Prohibition Era Delaware, and Delaware's own heatedly contentious anti-liquor statute, the Klair Law. While all that was interesting in its own right (although possibly only to me), besides the fact that the law did apply to Mill Creek Hundred, the main connection to our area was the name of the law and its legislative sponsor, Aaron F. Klair. In this post, we'll turn our attention to Rep. Klair and his family, which I believe has been under-represented so far in this blog. Aaron Klair was a life-long resident of MCH, and his family has a rich history here dating back two full centuries. Also, on a personal note, I happen to have a couple of personal connections to the family, which I'll throw in at the end. And to top it all off, I came across a historic house that I imagine few people are aware of.

The Klair family story in MCH began in 1810, when farmer Frederick Klair (1771-1857) moved down from Pennsylvania and purchased a farm along Limestone Road. As outlined in the post about the McKennan-Klair House, Frederick Klair would reside in the house for the rest of his life, doubling its size in 1818 with a stone addition. Frederick and his wife, Hannah (Supplee) Klair (1772-1829), had eight children, but the one we'll focus on now is their third child (and second son), Aaron. He would be the grandfather of our prohibitionist legislator, Aaron Francis Klair.

Aaron Klair (1802-1874) was born in Pennsylvania, and moved to MCH with his family at the age of seven or eight. He grew up in the McKennan-Klair House, and in 1824 married Hannah Stidham, a descendant of Dr. Timen Stiddem, one of the original Swedish colonists who arrived on the Kalmar Nyckel in 1638. Aaron and Hannah probably moved out on their own soon after being married. Knowing where they would end up, I was expecting to find them in the 1830 census in the house shown above. However, after searching the census, I found Aaron listed directly between James Buckingham and Jacob Derrickson. At that time, Buckingham operated the old Hersey grist mill (later site of the Marshall Iron Mill), and Derrickson lived on Stanton Road near Kiamensi Road. This was at a time when the Springer-Cranston House was "between owners", so it's unclear who, if anyone, lived there. Either way, it looks like Aaron and family lived in the Marshallton area, before it was Marshallton.

Frustratingly, Aaron does not appear in the 1840 census (at least not in MCH), but he reappears on the 1849 Rea and Price Map. By that point, he and his family were living on the east side of Pike Creek, a bit southwest of the Mermaid Tavern. His house is still standing on what was, until recently, Three Little Bakers (Pike Creek) Golf Course. I had a chance recently to go over and take a look at it, and it appears to be in decent shape. It's a four bay, fieldstone house, with what looks like two doors on the front. (I assume the front to be the side shown above, which faces out towards Pike Creek and Pike Creek Road.) I was hoping to find a datestone on it somewhere, but no such luck. From its style, though, it certainly dates to at least the first half of the 19th Century. Whether Aaron built it in the 1830's or 40's, or whether it was built earlier by someone else, I'm not sure.

By 1849, Aaron and Hannah had seven children at home (three others had died in infancy), the eldest being Egbert. Egbert Klair (1826-1915) was probably born either at his grandfather's home on Limestone Road, or possibly at the house in Not-Yet-Marshallton. When Frederick Klair passed away in 1857, he left the McKennan-Klair House to Aaron, who moved in to it then. Aaron, in turn, left his home to Egbert, who in 1859 married Elizabeth Cranston (1832-1907), daughter of Joseph Cranston. Egbert and Elizabeth (who apparently had a thing for vowels), had five children in their home overlooking Pike Creek: Evalina, Aaron, Adeline, Ella, and Evan. Aaron was, of course, the future author of the despised Klair Law.

Presumably the rear of Aaron Klair's house

Egbert continued to farm the land around his house until sometime in the 1870's, when the family moved to the Stanton area. I don't know this for a fact yet (I can't find any solid information on it), but I believe Egbert and Elizabeth may have moved in about 1872, because that's when her father died. I think they moved into her father's large white home on Limestone Road just north of Stanton. This house, the Cranston-Klair House, stood until about 2001 when it was torn down for the Commerce bank (now TD Bank). If this is correct, then this is where Aaron F. Klair grew up.


The Cranston-Klair House, soon before demolition

On the topic of Aaron F. Klair's formative years, it's interesting to note that the Cranstons were Friends, and several members of the family are specifically mentioned as being active in the temperance movement. Perhaps this is where Rep. Klair's views on drink originated. After coming of age, Aaron married Annie Armor in 1889. The couple had two children, Sarah Edith and Norman. By 1900 Aaron was farming his own land, somewhere just west of Stanton, I believe. (I find the later the census, the harder it is to figure out exactly where anyone is.) In 1910, he appears to be living just south of the Cedars, although it's possible that the census list is jumbled at that point.

In both the 1920 and 1930 censuses, Aaron (or Frank, as he is on the 1930), is listed on Lincoln Highway in Marshallton. Since to the best of my knowledge this would be what we'd call Old Capitol Trail, it appears he may have lived somewhere on OCT west of Marshallton. Both of his children lived next to him. Edith had married Kemper B. Pierson, and Norman wed Helen Pryor. Although his name stirred debate for over a decade, Aaron served only one two-year term in the state House (1919-1921). His cousin Irvin G. Klair served two sessions later, as did several other relatives at other times. Aaron finally passed away in 1939, at the age of 76, and was buried with many of his family members at Red Clay Creek Presbyterian Church. Since he doesn't show up in any of the newpaper pieces I read, we can only guess at what his opinion of his legacy was.


Personal Side Note:  I happened to grow up in Klair Estates, which was part of the property associated with the Cranston-Klair House. The house eventually went to Evan Klair, Aaron F.'s brother. While my wife and I were dating, we found out that in the 1930's, her grandfather came to the area from Maryland and befriended Evan's son, Howard "Pete" Klair. He actually worked for a time on the farm that included the land I would later be raised on. Pete Klair later built for himself the brick house on OCT at Farrand Drive, where for a time, I delivered newspapers to. I always remember him as a very nice old man.


Additional Facts and Related Thoughts:
  • Sadly, Frederick and Hannah Klair's eighth child, Hiram, died in infancy. The other seven, though, as a whole, were remarkably long-lived. Aaron had the shortest lifespan, at 72, while Jesse, the eldest died at 78. The other five all lived to be 90 or more, with George topping out at an even 100.
  • That Klair blood was pretty strong, because several of Aaron's children lived to an old age, too. Three of his sons lived to be 83 or older, and daughter Emily beat them all, living to the ripe old age of 98.
  • In another instance of those odd family relationships, Aaron Klair's brother Jesse married Hannah Stidham's sister Ann.
  • Mostly due to not really having the time for it, I haven't gotten much into active historic preservation activism yet. However, the Aaron Klair House seems like it would be a good one to keep an eye on. It seems to be (at least from the outside) in decent structural shape. If anyone knows if there are any plans for it, I'd love to know about it.
  • The "barn" next to the Aaron Klair House is a mid 20th Century structure (I figured that out from the "1950" inscription. Brilliant, huh?) Most of it is metal and concrete, except for the foundation of one section of a raised patio-like area. This foundation is clearly much older, being made of fieldstone similar to the house. My assumption is that it's the remains of the foundation of Aaron Klair's barn.
  • Presumably, Annie Armor is somehow related to Howard Armor, who married Aaron F.'s cousin Bertha Klair. Bertha was Jonas Klair's daughter, and a cousin of Aaron F.'s. Jonas had inherited the McKennan-Klair House, which eventually passed to Bertha's son Merritt K. Armor. 
  • In another interesting area Prohibition connection, the Federal Prohibition Director for the State of Delaware was W. Truxton Boyce. Boyce resided in the Hale-Byrnes House south of Stanton. Boyce didn't have to worry about the Klair Law, though, as he was tasked with enforcing only federal Prohibition laws. In a few of the newspaper articles I read, Boyce almost seemed to be irked at the further-reaching state law.

30 comments:

  1. I was going to ask about Merritt and how he fit in, thanks. I used to go to his basement store to buy candles and other gifts for my mom for Christmas. His dad lived in a house across Limestone Rd. that they torn down to build Linden Knowl. His sister lived in a house on the next lot up from Merritt on Limestone. That house has also been razed.

    Did Pete Klair's property include the Red Barn restaurant?

    When I was a kid, I worked at Pike Creek Country Club. The superintendent lived in Arron's house. I always wanted to check it out but the guy was pretty creepy.

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  2. That's interesting, Larry. He had a basement store in the McKennan-Klair House? Unless you're older than I think you are, it wasn't Merritt's father -- Howard Armor died in 1918. The 1930 census (I know it's before the time you were talking about) shows Mary (Jonas' widow), her unmarried daughter Annie, widowed Bertha, Merritt, and his sister Mary living in presumably) the old house. Mary never married, and died in 1987, so I assume that's who later lived next door. In 1930, Jonas' sons Irvin G. (1876-1952) and Willard E. (1883-1975) were also listed in neighboring houses. The man who lived across Limestone, was it a Klair or an Armor?

    As for the Red Barn property, I don't know for sure (ie., at all), but my guess would be no. My impression was that the Klair land was basically all on the other side of OCT.

    Thanks for the info about Aaron's house. I figured it was used by the golf course, but I didn't know if it was office/storage or residential. If I remember correctly, someone said there was a similar deal at Delcastle, with a course super living in one of the old houses.

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    1. The Red Barn property was part of the Norman and Helen Klair farm which extended across Kirkwood highway, including the 'famous' Chuck Wagon. My father is Howard Klair and we lived across the street from the Norman Klair farm. Our house was built on the Evan Klair farm adjacent to Klair Estates. Our Airedale dog would go over to the 'red barn' and bring back a chicken...alive!

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    2. Thanks for the info and the memories, Carolyn. One of these days when I have the chance, I'll get around to doing another Klair post with more of the info and photos that Gabe Jackson has dug up and shared with me. Lots of great stuff.

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  3. Great piece, Scott. I was kind of hoping that Aaron F. Klair's property was located in Milltown on the present site of the Total Wine Liquor store...I suppose that would have been a bit too ironic!
    My wife is descended from Frederick Klair and Hannah Supplee Klair, through their daughter Mary who was married to Joseph Woodward. Mary(1808-1898)was another of those long-lived Klairs.
    I have some interesting newspaper articles that chronicle the old Woodward-Klair family reunions, complete with photos.
    I can pass them along to you at some point if you are interested.

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    1. Delaware21, Joseph and Frederick Woodward are my 4th great grandparents on my father's side and I've spent much of the past year researching my family's genealogy and history. I would love to have a copy of the newspaper articles and pictures you have related to the Woodward-Klair family. Can you contact me at don268@yahoo.com? I grew up in Delaware but presently live in Phoenix, AZ.

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    2. Sorry..just realized that I mis-typed. I meant to say that Joseph Woodward and Mary Klair are my 4th G-grandparents.

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    3. I realize I am replying to a five-year-old comment, but I would love to get a copy of any newspaper articles and pictures you have about the Woodward-Klair family reunions. If anyone has the articles/pictures Delaware21 is referring to, please email me. stevo933 @ gmail.com

      My name is Steve Woodward, and I'm a descendant of Joseph and Mary, too. I suppose that makes us cousins of some sort. :)

      Joseph and Mary > Frederic K. and Hannah (Mitchell) Woodward > T. Leslie and Ida (Pierson) Woodward > Donald P. and Elsie (McCormick) Woodward > Ken and Nancy Woodward > Me

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  4. Scott, Merritt had a fire place shop in the basement. The entry was on the right side of the house. He sold fire place accessories, candles, etc. I remember him saying that his dad lived across the street, he didn’t say when, I just assumed that it was at that time. His sister lived on top of the hill up from his house. That house wasn’t that old, 50- 75 years. As far as being older than you think I am, the years are moving along quickly enough, thanks!

    DE21, I went to Lora Little Elementary when they took all of the dirt from the corner, where Total Wine is now. The hill went straight across to about where Valero’s front lot is. I don’t remember there ever being a building on the property. If there was, it must have been before the school was built. There was no place for a driveway to climb the hill.

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  5. Larry T and Delaware 21, I also went to Lora Little starting in the 4th grade. Stanton Elementary for grades 2&3. You are right Larry T. All of the corner of Limestone & Milltown Rd's was scraped flat for the shopping center. I also think the "Red Barn" had a different original owner. It is close to Klair Estates but further up Old Capitol Trail toward Marshaltown unless that was a early parcel sold off when Kirkwood Hwy was coming thru. There was alot of open land between Elesmere and Newark in 1957 when my parents moved to the suburbs.

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  6. I grew up all over the three little bakers golf course and somehow im having a hard time remembering where this house is. I can only think of the stone barn next to the pool club. Would love to know more about what used to be on the golf course site

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    1. The house is off of upper pike creek road.

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  7. Well, The Klairs on Limestone Rd. where Egbert, Edna, Florence, Howard, Harvey, and Ethel. Edna was the oldest and the fight over no liquor was between Mr. Ball and Edna Klair all over the Howard Johnsons not having any alcohol. If there was going to be drinks, there wouldn't have been the Howard Johnson,s Mr. Ball's farm was the Limestone Gardens property. When they both died the booze starting flowing. Edna died in 1979 she was 81 married to Sherman Bristow. I know this and many other stories about the farm and who's barn was who's and who was married to whom, and who died when. Interesting stuff. And I have pictures..... Egbert had a Turdkey Farm and the orginal Farm house was the white one just torn down, not the stone one where the bank is. The white one (Rice) was older than the stone one. That barn was put together with all wooden pegs...People came from miles around to watch the barn be taken down. And yes they were pretty much all Presybeterians. Pardon my spelling I can't see the small print. I was Betty Bristow's son and we lived in Penndrew Manor in 1959. It would all make a good book, you might want to wait a few more years. I know the white wooden house was the original because my mother told me so and she played in the yard in the 1920's .... I never completely the stone house, that was later where Egbert moved in and married Sue Gregg of the Marshalton Greggs Automotive. Richard Klair lived up in Hockession and had a sheep farm. That would be Egberts son. Oh well all in all a very nice family....

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    1. Fascinating stories, thanks! I've heard from others that the frame house was older than the stone one. I haven't quite figured all that out and put them together in the right context. Harder now, of course, with both of them gone. Thanks for sharing, and I'd love to hear more!!!

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    2. Florence Klair Jackson was my great grandmother and my family can fill in most any gaps if anyone is curious - I love these posts! Sadly, I think her son, my grandfather, was the last Klair to live in Klair Estates (up till about 2003).

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    3. I am Howard Klair's daughter and Jane Bristow Marple's first cousin. I visited the frame house many times and it is the oldest of the 2 houses. I also saw the barn taken down --- so emotional for my father!

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  8. Who owns the Aaron Klair house now? I would love to see it restored and someone (like me!) living in it....

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    1. Mark W -- It's part of the former golf course property. It's a long story, but the short version is that developers and the county have been fighting for several years now over what can be built there. As far as I know, it's still up in the air. If it does get developed, I hope the builders can put the house to some sort of use, as has been done several other places in the area. Maybe as a residence, maybe as an office or clubhouse of some sort.

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  9. Hey Scotty, I to grew up in Klair Estates and played sports and games with you. Remember the plane crash across the street from your house. Maybe you were to young then. This is Dydee you knew me by. TOO funny we're both fascinated with the Klair Estates history! How can I find the original flow charts of the creek that went by my house on Harris place? My mom said they moved it to build the neighborhood. Also, would love to see how the area looked before they messed it all up. And if there's any knowledge of Indian trails through there at all. Remember the big tree in the woods by Marshalltown side? I always felt something or spirits in there? Keep rocking this site, your doing a great job! Everyone is, thank you!!!

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    1. Thanks for the kind words, and great to hear from you!! Yes, I remember the plane crash. It was a Saturday morning, and I was at CCD class at St. Johns. My Mom was walking the dog and saw it come down. Didn't help her fear of flying much. My dad came to pick me up (which was odd) and told me what happened. I didn't believe him until we got to the entrance and he had to show his ID to get in. Yeah, the crash was probably only about 100 feet or so from my bedroom.

      As for the creek, as I'm sure you know by now, Mothers are always right. Yes, it looks like a section of it was straightened a bit when the development was built. From the looks of it, the original course went directly through a certain house on the cul de sac at the end of Harris Place. Funny side note, all the years growing up and playing in it, I never knew it had a name. We just called it The Creek (or The Crick, if you were my Dad). Only about 20 years ago did I learn it was Calf Run, a name that goes back hundreds of years.

      I don't have any charts (although I'll bet the county does), but I have a cool tool I can show you. Here is the link for GeoExplorer, which has old aerial photos you can flip between. http://maps.demac.udel.edu/geoexplorer/composer/

      Use the map to zoom in, then you can see photos from 1937, 54, 61, 68, 92, 97, and a bunch from this century. I've lost many hours to this thing. The 1954 shot shows the area cleared, but no houses built yet. You can clearly see that "The Woods" as we called it was an older growth area. The edge of it was cleared for Harris Place, and my house was near the very corner. The large oak in our front yard was on the very edge of this older wooded area.

      Thanks again for commenting, and I hope you enjoy the link!

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    2. I remember that plane crash in Klair
      Estates also, it was a bright sunny Saturday morning, me and 2 friends were shooting basketballs at house in Kiamensi Gardens, when someone saw a plane twirling out of the sky. We thought it landed a few blocks away, but we ended up running about a mile to the crash site in Klair Estates. All I remember thinking was how close to corner house it landed. On our walk back home we saw the wing which had landed in the front yard of a home on Binstead Avenue in Kiamensi heights. Long time ago but still remember that day like it was yesterday.

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    3. I remember the plane crash but didn't see it. My father Howard Klair was so scared since it was right behind his property next to Klair Estates. I think it landed in the Hermann yard, a local pharmacist.

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  10. This is exciting information Scott. Yes that house in the flood was the Austin house next store to mine. We got it pretty good as well. My house was the split level on Harris pl, behind the Harringtons across from you. My mom wanted to move after that storm of '89! And finally did in 1994 to Dallas Texas where my dad transferred when General Motors closed on Boxwood rd. If my research yields more info on the old neighbor hood i'll let you know. I'm currently researching harmony mill on old harmony rd. Since that's currently where I live. It's all connected though, that's how I found you. Keep up the good work, I'll keep checking back. Happy researching, Dydee

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    1. Maybe that's how you ended up here, but I did do a post about the Harmony Mill a while back. You can find it in the Index page under Rotheram House (http://mchhistory.blogspot.com/2013/07/the-rotheram-harmony-mill-house.html). What kind of shape is the house in these days? It's been a while since I've been back there.

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    2. It's Boarded up

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    3. There is another old house back there. When will you do the history on that one?

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    4. Thanks for the update. At least it's still standing.

      And regarding "another old house back there", do you mean near Harmony or new the Klair House?

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  11. Across the street from the one mentioned on Spring Lake Road. Stone house covered in cement w/wood siding add on to the side covered with vinyl and a full enclosed front porch.

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    1. Ahhh, now I see. Down about where the road starts to bend, set back a bit compared to the other houses, on the creek side. I don't think I knew that one was there. Like you mention, it's a bit covered up, but certainly old. The 19th Century maps show it as belonging first to David Morrison, then his son Lewis. Later it went to John L. Greenwalt, who also owned a farm on the other side of the creek, where the condos are on Creekside Drive.

      I can't tell just yet from looking at it how old the house is, but the homesite definitely goes back a ways. It's just out of MCH (barely), but connected by the families. There's at least one regular reader who's almost certainly pretty directly related to the Morrisons there (if this isn't you already, Rich). I have a couple of ideas already in the pipeline and I've been having trouble finding enough time to work on this, so it might be a little bit. However, this is certainly a good property to look at and write about. Thanks for pointing it out to me!!!

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  12. I too would love to see the photos and articles
    My name is Robert h klair Jr. I have been doing research for numerous years on family tree. My email is rklair@delawareonline.com

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