Saturday, February 4, 2012

The Lynam Log House

Lynam House at the Smithsonian
As you can plainly see by reading the pages of this blog -- or, if you want to shell out the big bucks, by actually driving around -- there are many historic houses all around Mill Creek Hundred. Probably far more than most people realize. But, did you know there is one historic MCH house not in MCH? For most of forty years*, the Lynam Log House was on display to the world at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC, in exhibits about the early years of the country. Its significance to the nation laid in its archetypal form for the era. Its significance for us, in addition to that, lies in its connections to several of the oldest families in the state, as well as a brief but important link to one of the most prominent in the area.

The house that would eventually bear the Lynam name was first occupied by a member of another of the old Swedish families in Delaware, the Springers. In 1762, a tract of land on the west side of Milltown, part of which is now occupied by John Dickinson High School, was bought by Charles Springer (1728-1814), whose grandfather had come to Delaware in 1685*. Charles married Ann Ogle in 1752, and the couple had five children. He was born in Christiana Hundred, but presumably they moved to Milltown in 1762 when he bought the land along Mill Creek. By 1785, at least part of this tract was likely being worked by Charles' youngest son, Thomas Springer (1763-1804), as he appears in tax records for that year.

In 1787, Charles remarried (presumably, Ann had died), to Elizabeth Rice, the widow of prominent landowner and attorney Evan Rice. It seems that Charles may have gone to live in Elizabeth's larger house, because in 1788, Thomas bought several smaller pieces of land adjoining his own. In 1790, Charles sold a portion of his tract (I believe this was the part south of Milltown Road, later to be owned by the Lindells) to a millwright, and two years later sold the remainder to Thomas. In the 1792 deed, it's noted that Thomas was already living on the property.

There is nothing on or in the small 20 foot x 23 foot log house that indicates when it was built, but the prevailing opinion is that it was erected by Thomas Springer, sometime between 1785 and 1792. I suppose it's possible that it was built earlier by Charles, but Thomas is usually credited with its construction. Thomas remained in the house until his death in 1804. He had only two minor daughters, so after his death his belongings (including four slaves) were divided up and much of it was sold. The following year, the property (148 acres) and the house were sold at auction for $4658 to a 32-year old Quaker from Pennsylvania -- David Eastburn.

In most accounts of the history of the Eastburns, David's tenure at Milltown is usually glossed over pretty quickly, as he only spent about ten years (maybe less) here before purchasing a farm adjacent to his brother-in-law near Pike Creek. Almost never (at least that I could find), is it clarified exactly where he settled for that decade. Luckily, local researcher and Eastburn descendant Donna Peters happened to note one throw-away line in a book that mentioned that it was the Thomas Springer property that was, in fact, purchased by David Eastburn. Now we know that before heading over to start his lime-burning business, the Eastburns settled here, in Thomas Springer's house. In fact, going by the dates, it seems that five or six of their fourteen children were probably born here.

1817 newspaper ad for Eastburn's Milltown property

Eventually, though, the Eastburns did move out, sometime around 1815. It seems that for several years, Eastburn retained ownership of the property, renting it out to a tenant farmer. In the book Donna found, it states that after buying the property, "Within a few years, he rented it out to a tenant farmer." This could mean one of two things. It could mean that the Eastburns did only live here a few years, and lived somewhere else between here and Pike Creek. Or, as I think, the "few years" refers to the full decade or so they were in MCH before moving to the Lime Kiln District. In this scenario, they did still leave the farm at least three or four years before they sold it. The above ad from 1817 shows they were attempting to sell it by then.*

Eastburn did finally sell the house and land in 1819, to a man named Francis Denny. Although he owned the property for almost thirty years, I'm unable to find very much about him. I don't even know for sure whether he lived there or not. The only other references I can find, show that he (or someone of the same name) owned the lot on the southwest corner of the crossroads in Stanton. I think it's very possible that he used the Milltown farm as a rental property. Denny died sometime prior to 1847, and in 1848 the little house and its farm were sold again. This time, it would remain in the same family for the next 110 years.

The new owners of the property in 1848 were Robert Thomas Lynam (1822-1888?) and his young wife, Mary Jane (Medill) Lynam (1832-1916). Although the Lynams (like the Springers, members of one of the old Swedish families) may have lived in the old log house for a time after they first bought the farm, they probably didn't live there for long. They soon built (I'm not sure exactly when) a larger home for themselves, and used the older house for their farm laborers. The newer, brick Lynam House still stands on Milltown Road, just west of the entrance to Dickinson High School.

The log house underwent several upgrades over the years, enlarging it from its original one room, one story configuration. Robert Lynam added an upstairs bedroom, as well as a kitchen. Later, his son and grandson would add electricity and plumbing. In addition to enlarging the old log house, Lynam also enlarged his holdings. In the late 1870's, he purchased the property south of Milltown Road, which would later be sold to the Lindells, probably for the use of his older son, Robinson. Interestingly, in doing this, he more or less reformed the original tract of Charles Springer.

Lynam Log House, as it was being disassembled in 1958

The property north of the the road eventually went to Robert's second son, Lewis H. Lynam (1855-1938). Again, Lewis, and later his son, Henry Clifford Lynam used the old house as a tenant property, but it was inhabited up until the land was sold in 1958. That year, H.C. Lynam sold his farm to the Conrad School District for the construction of a new high school. When crews arrived to begin building John Dickinson High School, they found the little old log house. Someone contacted the Smithsonian, and in late 1958 it was dismantled and sent to Washington for use in the museum.

Page from the Feb 1959 issue of the Conrad HS newsletter

There is never any mention made of the exact location of the log house, but I believe I have a pretty good guess. Maps, going back to 1849, show what is presumably this house as being right along Milltown Road. The aerial view below shows the area in 1937. The brick Lynam House can be seen just above the words "Montclaire Dr". I think the old log house is located just up the road from that, near the clump of trees above the "Rd" of Milltown Rd. Today, this spot has a row of trees located between the road and the Dickinson tennis courts. Specifically, it sits just about across from the long driveway that comes up on the other side, just before you get to the school driveway (if you're coming from Limestone Road).

Aerial view, 1937

All in all, the Lynam Log House is really not very different from the hundreds of other similar houses built over the years in Mill Creek Hundred. But then again, that was the reason it was taken by the Smithsonian. It was not significant or unique architecturally, nor was it associated with a significant person (with the local exception of the Eastburns). What was somewhat unique about it was that it survived until the mid 20th Century. A far more common fate would have been for it to have been torn down, or possibly built onto, sometime in the first half of the 19th Century. Very few of the many houses used by farm tenants in the 1800's survived, as they were normally the smaller, older houses on their property. When there were no more tenants, they were usually demolished (if they didn't fall down by themselves). In this house, we at least get a glimpse of the kind of construction once commonplace across MCH.

*Additional Facts and Related Thoughts:
  • As best as I can tell, the house first went on display in 1964, then was used as a centerpiece in another exhibit than ran from 1985 until 2002. I'm not sure what happened to it then, but I think it was taken out of public display then.
  • Charles Springer's grandfather, also Charles, has his own interesting story. A Swede, he was visiting London in 1678 when he was kidnapped and shipped to America. He landed in Virginia, where he was sold, apparently as an indentured servant. After serving his seven years there, he moved to Wilmington, where he had heard there was a Swedish community. Here, he became an important part of the that community, among other things being one of the founders of Holy Trinity (Old Swedes) Church.
  • Thomas Springer was apparently good friends with Joshua Johnson, who was named as the guardian for his daughters in his will. Thomas' first wife, Elizabeth, died in 1801, and he remarried to 22-year old Margaret Wells. I assume this explains why Johnson was named guardian.
  • For those interested in a more in-depth look into the life of Thomas Springer, here is a page with links to the inventory of his property taken in 1804. You can see the original document, as well as a transcription that may be a bit easier to read.
  • The 1817 Eastburn real estate ad also mentions a 20 acre plot along Newport-Gap Pike near "the yellow springs". That would be what would be called about ten years later, Brandywine Springs. I don't know what piece of land this is. The Madison Factory listed in the ad, by the way, is the Greenbank Mill, which John Phillips owned and operated at the time.
  • I had known a little about this house for a while, but had never looked closely into it until I was sent some more information, mostly about the Springers, by Donna Peters and Rich Morrison. Thank you to both of you for filling in a lot of the blanks.


  1. Thanks Scott! Excellent job on the post. You answered the main question I had on the log house, where exactly it stood. My 3X great grandfather, Isaac Eastburn was one of the children born in that house. Donna

  2. Nice work! I wasn't aware of the Lynam connection, as I read a few years back that the Smithsonian referred to it as "Thomas Springers Cabin". If you google it, you can still find the interactive lessons that are called - You Be The Historian-.
    Regarding the original Charles Springer(1658-1738),or Carl Christopher Springer, as some would call him, he had 11 known children and 95 grandchildren. Many, many Springer descendants still reside in Mill Creek Hundred today.
    For kicks, I suggest googling "The Springer Hoax". It is light reading with a local twist.

  3. Scott, Mark J. here. I always like to read this stuff and recognize the family names as some of those of the kids I went to school with at Mote, Brandywine and Mckean, from the mid 60's on up.
    ps. I'm not sure what the 'profile' is so I simply choose anonymous.

  4. Thanks for this information! But as a JDHS graduate, I feel a bit short-changed that at least a few days of US History class was not devoted to very local history. I could have literally looked out of the classroom window and considered the impact of the early settlers on MCH and our nation (just imagine the British passing through Delcastle Park). It would have made history a lot more interesting to this 16 year old kid!kc.

    1. I agree 100%. We had no local history when I was in school, although I believe there is some Delaware history taught 5th grade I think. I don't know the curriculum, but my guess is there's not much skewed toward the very local. I doubt many teachers could teach much about their immediate locale.

      On a related note, I was just thinking the other day how many JDHS people are aware that there were once slaves living on the property. It would be a great way to bring the subject home, and show that at least in the 18th and early 19th centuries, slavery was not just a southern institution.

    2. Scott, Arguably the greatest Delaware history teacher ever, lives right here,right now in Mill Creek Hundred...Carol Hoffecker. Barbara Benson,another Mill Creek Hundred resident, is also a well respected Delaware Historian.

    3. You know, I knew when I wrote that that I didn't word it well. I didn't mean that there wasn't anyone around that could teach local history. I just meant that my guess is that most middle school and high school history teachers probably don't know a tremendous amount about the history of the immediate surroundings of their schools. Although, with the little bit more focus on local/state history that there is now, I might be very wrong about that.

      A great deal of what I know about local, and especially Wilmington, history, I learned from Carol Hoffecker books.

  5. Scott, I do agree with your statement. I also think that the schools are probably getting away from teaching any history at all, let alone local history. Geography and Civics are probably back-burner courses as well.

  6. I would have loved to have local history like this taught at Stanton and Dickinson. Growing up, I felt like nothing interesting ever happened in our little neck of the woods. I heard vague tales about George Washington at the Hale-Byrnes House but that was about it. Now, thanks to Scott, I know that is far from the truth.

    I guess part of the reason for a lack of focus on micro-local history is that our educators and many families are not from the area and do not have the resources nor the inclination to find out about those local landmarks that could become teachable moments.

    Have you ever been asked to speak at any local schools about MCH history? I for one could see how a presentation about Brandywine Springs at its namesake school would be a natural fit.

    1. I would have liked to have learned more, too. My feeling about the area was about the same as yours, which is probably the same as most people's. Usually the area's past gets dismissed with a "Well, it was all just farms". That's one of the things I've tried to overturn with this site.

      That's a good point about the teachers. For most of them, there's probably no reason why they would know their school's micro-local history (I like that term).

      Funny you should ask about that particular topic. No, I haven't been asked to speak at any schools, and I don't know how good I'd be at it anyway, although I wouldn't be averse to trying. But your idea is so good, it's already being done. There is a guy named Mel who is a member of the Friends of Brandywine Springs, who has been giving a talk about the park at the school for a number of years. He probably started whenever they began teaching Delaware history in the schools.

  7. I seem to remember a talk about the history of Brandywine Springs Park by an elderly lady, Miss Ball- maybe this was in Mote or Marbrook, in the middle 60's. Apparently she was around before it was history. It seems to have made an impression, at least on me, since I remember it over 40 years later

    1. MS -- That was probably Ruth A. Ball (1909-1990). She was the daughter of George K., and niece of Lewis Heisler Ball (the doctor and Senator). If I remember correctly, she grew up in a house across from Brandywine Springs, one I think that's since been torn down. She was one of the people responsible for getting the state to buy Brandywine Springs for use as a state park in the 1950's. I know she also helped in passing on info about the park shortly before her death.

      Knowing all that, it doesn't surprise me to learn that she would have been speaking to schoolkids back then.

  8. Does anyone know where this house is at today?

    1. I don't know for sure, but since it seems that it was taken off of public display, I would assume it's in the Smithsonian's warehouse. The vast majority of items they own are not on public display.