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Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Joseph Ball House, Part 1

I've only been writing this blog for a little less than two years now, but in that time I feel I've learned a pretty decent amount about the history of Mill Creek Hundred (and I hope I've been able to pass along a lot of "new" knowledge, too). But even in a relatively small area like MCH, I'm still coming across things that surprise me -- even in an area of the hundred that I consider to be my "backyard". To be accurate, though, I didn't come across this one by myself. A couple weeks ago, Dave O. (he's commented a few times), in the context of discussing other sites, offhandedly mentioned to me in an email that there was an old house in the middle of the parking lot of the Arundel Apartments (northeast of Limestone Road, just above Milltown Road). Intrigued, and pretty sure I knew which house it was on the 19th Century maps, I went to check it out. As soon as I saw it, I knew there was going to be some frustrating research ahead. I was right.

As it turned out, there were really three parts to researching this house -- one which I'm pretty confident about (its 19th Century history), one that I'm less sure of but still feel good about (its 18th Century history), and one in which I've made an educated guess based on circumstantial evidence (connecting the two). All in all, I think I have a good idea of the history of the house, but I still reserve the right to come back at some point in the future and say, "What? You really thought he built it?" The difficulty in putting all this together springs from the fact that the family in question, the Balls, are another one of those that tended to reuse a few core names over and over again. The further back you go in time, the more difficult it becomes to know exactly who is being referenced at any given time.

We'll start at the beginning (of my research, not of the house), because that was the easiest and most straightforward part. The house that Dave told me about is included on all the usual maps, which gives us a good starting point. On the 1849 Rea and Price map, it's shown as J. Ball, just northwest of Milltown. On the 1868 Beers map, it's R. Ball. Thanks to census information and genealogical data, I believe I have a good idea of how the house changed hands through the 1800's, or at least who lived in it. The easiest place to start is with the J. Ball who's listed on the 1849 map -- John Ball.

1850 Census showing John Ball and family

John Ball is shown as residing in the house* in both the 1840 and 1850 censuses, and I think he obtained ownership almost ten years prior to that. John and his wife, Ezemy, had several children, including two sons -- John (1828-1900) and Reuben (1824-1891). John would be given the southeastern portion of the property (possibly upon his father's death), and would occupy a home in Milltown more or less across Limestone Road from the William Montgomery House. Here, John and his wife Sarah (Baldwin) would raise eight children, including two doctors. Their third child, Dr. Lewis Heisler Ball, would also enter the political world. In addition to practicing medicine (I actually know someone who was delivered by him), Dr. Ball would serve as State Treasurer, as Delaware's Congressman, and twice as US Senator. I'm sure there will eventually be a separate post focusing on him.

While the younger John Ball carved out his own farm, his brother Reuben would eventually take over the family home. Their father died sometime in the 1850's, but Reuben did not move in immediately (more on who was living there in a moment). In 1860 he was living south of Corner Ketch, listed next to storekeeper Isaac Eastburn. However, after the death of the intermediate resident in 1861, Reuben and his family moved back into the family homestead, where he would stay until his own death in 1891. According to the 1893 map, the next resident was an "F. Hicks", but at this time I'm unsure of exactly who he was. He's not listed in the 1900 census, and ownership of the house from there on is unclear. Almost certainly some of the property became Camp Mattahoon in 1930, but unsurprisingly I'm more interested in going back and digging into the beginnings of the house and the farm it served.

The first clue in delving into the deeper history of the house is actually the "intermediate" resident noted earlier -- the one between John and his son Reuben. The 1860 Census shows the resident of the house to be James W. Ball (1814-1861). James was certainly related to John, but just how is one of those tricky connections we'll make in the next post. There are a few things we do know about James W. Ball's family, though. His sister Hannah was married to Samuel D. Newlin and lived in the Robinson-Murray House, which was also owned by various members of the family. His brother Jesse B. Ball was an innkeeper in Corner Ketch. But most importantly (or at least, most relevantly for us), his father was James Ball (c1764-1823). This James probably grew up in the house, and may have lived here at various times in his life. His widow, Isabella (McKnight) Ball, seems to have been the owner of the house in the 1830 Census, so she probably gained ownership after James' death.

James, in turn, may only have had sole possession of the house for a couple years, if he inherited it from his father. It's James' father, Joseph Ball (1739-1821), who gives us a clear connection to the 18th Century history of the house. In the next post, I'll lay out what I believe to be the early history of what I call the Joseph Ball House. If I'm correct, this little house in the middle of an apartment parking lot is a direct link to some of the most influential men in this part of MCH in its formative years in the early 18th Century.

Additional Facts and Related Thoughts:
  • Figuring out who lived in the house in the 19th Century was fairly easy through the census. Since the Ball house was directly behind the McKennan-Klair House, all you have to do is look for who's listed directly before or after the Klair.


  1. What stands out to me when I first look at the photo of the house is it appears to be the way it was when originaly built. No additions like many of the earlier homes.

    1. Well, yes and no. Right now, from that angle, it looks that way. I didn't mention it in this post (I'll try to in part 2), but there actually was a frame addition on it -- the right side as looking in the pic. This was removed about two years ago, if I recall what Dave said. There's modern siding covering the right endwall now.

      But as far as the addition goes, it was only frame, not stone. And I'm guessing it wasn't in too good a shape, hence why it was removed. I think it's obvious the house hasn't been inhabited for a while. But you're right, it certainly was never greatly enlarged like many of the other old houses.