Monday, March 26, 2012

The Walkers of the Mermaid Area

Circa 1835 Robert Walker Barn
I was going to call this "The Mermaid Walkers", until I realized that it probably works better as a horror movie title than a blog post title. Researching this part of this family wasn't quite a horror, but it did get frustrating at times. I attempted to gather as much information as I could and to make as much sense out of it as I could, but there are still some gaps in the story and some unidentified people, including a few major ones. Making it worse, most of the holes are from the 18th and early 19th Centuries, when the records are less numerous. Instead of waiting until I have everything completely nailed down (which could be never), I'll just lay out what I know, what I think I know, what I'm guessing at, and what I have no idea about. At minimum, it should provide a base for further research and help clarify a few historic sites in the Mermaid (or what we'd now call Pike Creek) area.

In the previous post about the Little Baltimore Walkers, it was stated that that description was adopted in the early 1800's to differentiate that family from another set of Walkers already living in Mill Creek Hundred. These Walkers had been in place in the area near the Mermaid Tavern (just north of Milltown) for a while, but just how long is not quite clear. I've yet to find other, definitive proof, but it seems at least one family may have been here before 1750. There is a mention in the letter attached to the Mermaid's National Register form of a James Walker receiving a liquor license there in 1746 (he didn't own it, but may have operated it). Also, this page (about 3/4 of the way down) notes that a James Walker purchased 250 acres of James Robinson's land in 1762. My hypothesis is that this James Walker is the patriarch of the Walkers in the area, but I have not yet found concrete proof of him.

The oldest Walker I can talk about for sure is a man I think might have been the older James' son, and also named James Walker (1744-1796). This James was reportedly a carpenter, as well as being a Revolutionary War veteran who fought in the nearby Battle of Brandywine. He and wife Ann had eight children, three of whom were boys: Robert (1771-1853), John (1776-1837), and James (1778-1832). (There are a few other Walkers in MCH in the 1800 census who I can't place within the family, including a David and a Samuel. I also thought I had seen a reference to a John who could have been the same generation as this James, and may have been a brother. These other Walkers could have been his children.) One of James' sons -- John -- is actually the one through whom I got sucked into this decided to look into the family.

John Walker (1776-1837) was James' second son, and owned a beautiful farm that was relatively recently lost. Some readers may remember the house and barn seen below, sitting up the hill near the bottom of Stoney Batter Road. The property was owned in the late 1700's by a Dr. Robert Bines, and then, I think, by his son Robert. There was no date on the house, but the barn had a datestone of 1803, and tax records imply that the house was probably not older than that. A DelDOT report says that the datestone had the initials "HB" on it, which they guess to be Henry Brackin, but I wonder if it might not have been "RB" for Robert Bines. In either case, the house was probably built about the same time.


John Walker Farm

Not long after, and definitely before 1816, the property was purchased by John Walker. I hope to have more information about this property at a later time. There was a Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS) done of it in the 1980's, I think, but the data pages are not yet posted online. You can see pictures of the house and the barn now, and as soon as I see the data pages posted I'll write more about this farm. It does appear, though, that after John's death the farm went to his son James, who then sold it sometime between 1860 and 1868 to J. Gregg. The house and barn, although they appeared to be in good condition when the pictures were taken, disappeared sometime between 1992 and 1996. If anyone knows or recalls why, please let us know. It looks like the property is owned by a development company now, so perhaps they were demolished for a building project that never materialized.

Another Walker property, the only one I can be sure has a structure built by a member of the family, is located just a bit west, on the other side of Limestone Road. In the middle of the Linden Knoll Condominiums off of Skyline Drive sits the circa 1835 frame barn built by Robert Walker (its picture is at the top of the post). If the 1835 date is accurate, then it was most likely built by the Robert Walker born in 1771. It seems, though, that after his death the farm was taken over by his son, also Robert Walker (1818-1867).* Robert, Jr. and his wife Sarah had eleven children, and with the exception of one son, I believe the rest stayed in the area. After Robert, Jr.'s death in 1867, Sarah remained on the farm, aided by several of her still fairly young sons. The property is shown as "Mrs. Walker" on the 1881 map of the area, but by 1893 it's listed as "L. Walker". This was the couple's youngest son, Leslie (1859-1945), who eventually took over the farm himself.

Another of the sons, James Henry Walker (1844-1934), moved off of the farm, but not very far. It was he who bought the Aaron Klair farm from Klair's son Egbert, sometime in the 1870's. This property is the adjoining farm to the west, pretty much just down the hill from his father's farm.

Aaron Klair House, owned by James H. Walker
This brings us then to the last set of Walkers, and the one about which I know the least. If you take a look at the 1868 Beers Map (which is the one at the upper right of the page, not a way to find good micro-brews), you'll notice that the recently deceased R[obert] Walker is still listed at his farm. Just above that, shown as owning the Mermaid Tavern, is a Mrs. R. Walker. Even more confusingly, on the 1881 map the tavern is shown a part owned by a Mrs. Walker, while the farm is now also Mrs. Walker (Sarah, widow of Robert). Not only are these two Mrs. Walkers different women, I'm not even sure exactly how they're related.

I'll go into a bit more detail in a follow-up post, but the upshot is that the Walkers that owned the Mermaid for the bulk of the 19th Century appear not to be the same line as the others that were already here, but I have to believe they were somehow related. However, in 1895 James Henry Walker did purchase the Mermaid, perhaps putting the property back into the bloodline of the man who operated it a century and a half before. The descendants of James Henry Walker still own the property today.

The story of the Walker families in Mill Creek Hundred is certainly a winding and complex one, and one that is far from completely told. Hopefully this post has not succeeded in confusing the issue further, and maybe at some point we'll be able to sort out the details of their formidable family tree.





Additional Facts and Related Thoughts:
  • As you can see, the Walkers were fond of reusing certain names, like James, John, and Robert. Just one of the things that makes tracking them a challenge.
  • The Walkers were of Scotch-Irish descent, and like most of their background in the area were Presbyterians. The majority of these Walkers attended and were eventually interred at Red Clay Creek Presbyterian Church, although a few are at White Clay Creek.

5 comments:

  1. The R. Walker or the john Walker Farm on Stoney Batter Road - the house burned down, I think - it was abandoned for a long time...The Stoney Batter condo complex stands above that house site - sort of where the barn would have been - am I right about this? Monica

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    1. Yes, Monica, you're correct about the location. In fact, you can see one of the Stoney Batter Condo buildings behind the barn in the picture in the middle of the post. The idea of it burning down makes sense. It seemed to be in good shape as late about 1986, but was gone within 10 years. I doubt it was razed because of poor condition, and the land is still vacant. If it was abandoned -- even for a few years -- that would raise the likelyhood of it burning and the remains being cleared away.

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    2. It was not burned down. It was torn down and some of it was sold/salvaged. I lived in that house from 1962-1966 when it was part of the Ross farm. I drove in and looked at the banisters , old glass and floor boards strewn on the ground and it was just too sad.
      Should never have been allowed to happen.

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    3. How sad that the house and barn were torn down for salvage - I know it's been a very long time since that occurred, yet I'm till sad every time I drive by - now I see the spring house has been vandalized by taggers. We are planning to move to the Stoney Batter condos in a couple months time, so I appreciate knowing the history of the immediate area. In fact, I love the Hundred very much, all the history of it and this blog is fabulous. I grew up in the Cedars, so this whole area if very special to me - even as a child, I knew it was very different and unique - it is a little gem in this locale. Thanks for responding! Now is there anything we can do about the Harmony school before it falls to the ground?!
      Monica

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