Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Smith's Corner and Beetle Cops

Smith's Corner, 1921
I've had a few topics sitting around for a while that I've thought were interesting for various reasons, but were not really substantial enough to warrant their own posts. What I've decided to do is to get a couple of them off my plate by doing a combined post here, with geography being the connecting thread. The first topic relates to a picture and its caption, which I'm fairly sure I understand, but which I'd love to have someone confirm for me. The second topic has to do with a long-time resident's vague childhood memory, which I was thrilled to be able to confirm and flesh out a bit.

For the first subject here, we technically have to go a little bit outside of Mill Creek Hundred, but only by a few hundred yards. It's something that's bugged me for a while, so I'm going to put it out there in the hope that somebody might be able to confirm my, and several other people's, suspicions. It has to do with the picture above, which comes from the 1921 bridge inventory conducted by the State Highway Department. I wouldn't be surprised if many area residents immediately recognize the location, especially with the building visible in the background. It's almost certainly a view looking west on Old Capitol Trail, taken from a point just west of Newport-Gap Pike. You can see the E.J Hollingsworth Co. building, which of course is still in the same location today. If you look closely, you can even see a bit of the house on the rise just beyond it, which is still there as well.

A modern, equivalent, view

The visible evidence seems to make it clear that this is where the picture was taken, and the documentary evidence backs it up as well. The pictures were generally taken in order, and the shots just before it were in Elsmere and Brack-Ex, and just after are pictures in Marshallton and Kiamensi. My question has less to do with the location than with the caption. The picture is listed as being near "Smith's Corner". I assume that Smith's Corner probably refers to the intersection of Old Capitol Trail (called Lincoln Highway at the time) and Newport-Gap Pike. Nowadays, the entire area is referred to as Price's Corner (which I believe specifically was the intersection of Old Capitol Trail, Center Road, and Centerville Road -- which Kirkwood Highway now runs through and 141 runs over), and this would probably be called "behind Price's Corner".

So, I really have two sets of questions about this picture -- the first deals with the name. Was this area actually called "Smith's Corner"? Was it called this by the local residents, or was it an obscure name that the highway department used for their description? And then, of course, who was Smith? Looking at census records, the only Smith I can find in the area is a relatively young (37 in 1920) English immigrant named John S. Young who was an accountant for a "powder company" (presumably DuPont or a spin-off), and had moved to the area only in the past few years. He lived on Marshall Avenue in Cranston Heights, possibly on or near Old Capitol Trail. It doesn't make much sense that the intersection would be named for him, so maybe there was a Smith further back that I couldn't find (I admit I'm not as good at figuring out locations on older Christiana Hundred censuses).

As for a question on a different note, there obviously was a bridge here at the time (that's, um, why the picture's here in the bridge inventory). There isn't now. It looks like it was a pretty small bridge, probably just spanning a small creek. What happened to that creek? No old maps I've seen show one there, although there are some nearby, upper branches of what becomes Old Red Clay Creek further south. Did this branch dry up, or was it diverted or eliminated when the area became more developed (like maybe when Cranston Heights was built)? All fairly minor questions, but they've been bugging me for a while.

And speaking of bugs (I must say, one of my better segues in a while), the second topic for this post has to do with them. More specifically, with trying to stop them. My knowledge of this subject stemmed from interviews we did with life-long Marshallton resident Ann Hedrick, which were written up as posts in 2010. In reminiscing, Ann recalled the presence of people she called "Beetle Cops", although she didn't remember anything more about them. The term meant nothing to me at the time. Some time later I decided to look into it, and I was thrilled to be able to find some information about these Beetle Cops, and to able to confirm for her that they were real -- not a figment of her imagination (no one else she talked to seemed to remember them).

A Beetle Cop, supposedly in Marshallton

The beetles in question were Japanese Beetles, which were first discovered in the U.S. in New Jersey in 1916. They quickly became a menace to agriculture, and with the concurrent rise in mechanized trucking soon spread to neighboring states. With not much in the way of pesticides at the time to control them, the best hope was to physically stop their spread. This is where the Beetle Cops came in. (And yes, they were called Beetle Cops by some. Here is an amusing 1927 article documenting how the Beetle Cops were hurting Pennsylvania bootleggers.) They set up inspection stations around the state to ensure that produce shipments were not infested with the beetles. The picture above shows one such station.

The picture comes from the state archives, and is stated as being taken on August 27, 1925, in Marshallton. I can't determine where the picture is, assuming the captioning is correct. The Beetle Cops it seems were largely part-time workers, with many college students hired to work during the summer. To my eyes, the man in the picture seems pretty young, possibly a college student himself. Whether or not this picture was taken in Marshallton (if it was, I'd love to be able to pin down exactly where), the Beetle Cops definitely had a presence there, as the memories of an about 10 year old Ann attest. Since the village was located on the main route between Newark and Wilmington (and probably one of the better roads in the area at the time), the location does make sense for an inspection station.

Like the mystery of Smith's Corner, the Beetle Cops were not a huge part of the history of the area. They were big enough, however, to still be on at least my mind almost 90 years later. I'm glad to finally get these topics out, because big or small, they all add up to the history of our area.

Additional Facts and Related Thoughts:
  • Maybe someone can confirm this, too, but to the best of my knowledge the Hollingsworth building that is there now is the same building, just enlarged in an unfortunately bland way. And on a side note, it looks like there is an old visible gas pump in front of the 1921 building. I'd love to see what that looked like up close.


  1. Way to go Scott...It totally slipped my mind about this. Really cool photo. Whoever did renovate the Hollingsworth Building really did mess it up. I remember at the very top of the front wall it had the Hollingsworth name etched in the concrete. I remember seeing them covering it up on the way home from work one day. Sad.

    Your "Beetle Cop" picture. I just sent you a photo from about the same exact spot the photo you posted was taken. I was told it was in Marshallton on the Newport Road side of the Hersey Bridge. I do not know who is in the photo but looks like they are having fun. Let me know if you agree with the location.

    1. I think you're right, Denis. Looking at it and other pics I could find of the old bridge, it does look like the same wingwall. If the picture is on the Newport Road (or now, Old Capitol Trail) side, then the house in the background would be fronting on Greenbank Road. Not a real good look, but I looked back at some old pics on the LRCV Blog. The house next to the McCullen's Store did have a central chimney. Could be that, or a house or two down.

      Maybe what looks like a wrought iron fence next to the stone wall is a guard -- bridging the gap between the stone wall and the iron truss of the bridge, which did angle away.

  2. The Hollingsworth building looks to be the same one. The front portion looks like it was heavily remodelled, but the rear portion has the same roof and windows as the one in the picture. Had no idea that building was that old. Just always thought it was weird how the front didn't match the back