Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Joseph Ball House, Part 2

The Joseph Ball House
In the last post, we took a look at the 19th Century history of what I call the Joseph Ball House, located in the parking lot of the Arundel Apartments northwest of Milltown. The little, stone, two-story house doesn't look like much, but I think it dates back well over 250 years and connects to an important early family in Mill Creek Hundred. The chronology may have been a bit confusing in the previous post, so here is how I believe the ownership/residency of the house went in the 1800's. At the start of the century, it was owned by Joseph Ball, whose son James may have worked the farm with him. After Joseph's 1821 death, James lived here for two years until his death in 1823. James' widow Isabella then had the house until her own passing in 1831. At this point the house went to John Ball, whose relationship to Joseph we'll look at later in the post.

When John died sometime in the 1850's, the house went back to James' son, James W. Ball. After James W.'s death in 1861, the house went to John's son Reuben, who lived there until his death in 1891. An unknown (to me, at least) F. Hicks is shown on the 1893 map, after which the ownership is unclear. The key to pushing the history back into the 18th Century -- and to figuring out who might have built the house and when -- is Joseph Ball. But to do this, we have to go back a couple generations. I think the easiest way to do this is to go back to the beginning, and work our way up. We'll also see how this house is linked to another historic house just up the road.

The Ball family first came to MCH as early as 1689, when William Ball purchased a 400 acre tract roughly between Limestone Road and Pike Creek. In 1703, his son John purchased a 202 acre tract just to the east of his. About 20 years later, John acquired another 100 acre parcel directly north of these. This last property was the Mermaid Tavern property, which John would sell to his son William (a blacksmith like his father) in 1735. Three years later, William Ball bought another 103 acre parcel from his father, this one southeast of the Mermaid property. This was probably part of the 202 acres purchased in 1703. (This section of a DelDOT report has more detailed information about this timeline.)

The early history of the Ball Family

In William's 1747 will, he left land to two of his sons. To John he left "the place I now live on", which was the Mermaid property. And to his son Joseph (1739-1821), he bequeathed "the other place". This "other place" was the 103 acre parcel William bought from his father in 1738. I haven't found anything to prove it conclusively, but I believe that the land Joseph Ball inherited in 1747 (and took possession of when he turned 21) included the land on which this house stands. The next question becomes, "Was the house already there, or did Joseph build it later?"

To me, the wording of William Ball's will suggests that there was already a house on the property by 1747. The document refers to the two tracts of land as, "the two Plantations I have now in Possession". The fact that both are referred to as "Plantations", and that it doesn't specify that only one contains a house, I think implies that both had dwellings on them. If so -- and if I'm right -- then the Joseph Ball House was built by William Ball sometime before 1747, or perhaps even earlier by his father John.

Again, if this theory is correct, Joseph probably took up residency in the house (or built it) around 1760. Later censuses indicate that he continued to live there until his death in 1821. This was not his only land holding, though. In 1772, Joseph bought the Mermaid Tavern property at a Sheriff's sale, which was being sold to fulfill his brother John's debts. Joseph held the Mermaid property until 1801, when he essentially gave it to his son William. Joseph's own house seems to have gone another son, James, after Joseph's passing. James died only two years later, in 1823, and James' widow Isabella is listed in the 1830 census as the head of household in what has to be this house.

This brings us to the final mystery -- Who exactly was the next owner, John Ball? John, if you'll recall from the last post, was the father of John (father of Lewis Heisler Ball) and Reuben Ball. I believe he took over the home after Isabella's 1831 death, and lived there until his own death in the 1850's. But with as much information as there is about the Balls (even if much of it is confusing), I've yet to be able to place John within the family. His wife Ezemy was born in 1790, and I found one reference to his being born the same year. If we assume he's closely related to Joseph, there are two possibilities.

The first, but unlikely, possibility is that he's a very late son of Joseph. However, this would have made his mother Hannah (Bracken) 51 when he was born. The more likely scenario is that John was an early son of James. The family tree above does show that James was married previous to Isabella, to Mary Eaves. My best guess is that John is the son of Mary and James. This is one of those times when I really wish that the early (pre-1850) censuses listed more than just the head of household.

Regardless of exactly where he fit in, John Ball was certainly very close, as he and his son owned the house until late in the 19th Century. Eventually, as happened to most MCH farms, 20th Century development slowly crept in. Now, the home of a member of one of the largest landholding families in the area in the 1700's, and the man who owned the Mermaid Tavern as a secondary property, is stuck on an island in the middle of an apartment parking lot. However, it is amazingly still standing. I don't know what the future is for this little old house, but hopefully I've been able to piece together (and convey not too confusingly) a picture of its past.

Additional Facts and Related Thoughts:
  • The reason I know that John Ball was not the son of James and Isabella Ball is, A) James and Isabella were not married until 1797, and B) Runks has an in-depth recounting of the McKnight family, including the children of James and Isabella. John is not listed.


  1. When I moved into Arundel in 1971, to my best recollection, the Ball house was unoccupied. By the late '70s a day care center located in the building. My daughter worked there one summer (mid 8os). she recalls there was one section of the house which was off-limits to everyone because the floor sagged. (termites?)The frame section was removed between 2000 and 2010. Several years passed between the removal of the frame section and the installation of the siding over the open end. Plans were at that time to restore the house and convert it into a community center.

  2. Scott-

    I was in Arundel this weekend and got some pictures of the Ball farmhouse; if you like to ad them to the post and can send them to you.

    I've driven past this house dozens of times over the years and never noticed it until you posted about it- it's amazing how we don't notice things that are so obvious once they are pointed out to us. For some reason I have grown attached to the history of Heisler Ball, so this discovery was a real treat for me.

    1. Sure, I'd love to see them. Send 'em my way ( I can't tell you how many times that's happened to me, about noticing things once you learn a little about them. Especially with a house, it somehow makes the history more "real" when you can at least put a name with it.

      I agree with you on Dr. Ball. I ran across him first in connection with Brandywine Springs. One of these days I'll definitely have a good post about him. He certainly had a very interesting life.

  3. Scott, I think this house may be a bit older and more interesting than you imagine. I just found the deed that I was looking for. I think I could convince you that the 103-acre William Ball property above was adjacent to this tract, but on the west side of Mill Creek. Joseph Ball bought his property at sheriff's sale from James Robinson.

    This land was part of a tract patented first to Charles Rumsey in 1679, then sold to William Guest in 1682 as part of a larger 700-acre tract called Wedgbury - from Mill Creek to Calf Run, north to Hyde Run, then west back to Mill Creek. I don't believe either Rumsey or Guest built the Ball house, although a dwelling is shown about 1/4 mile SSE on a 1682 survey.

    In 1691, Guest sold 500 acres (probably 600-700 acres by current measures) to Anne Robinson, widow of George Robinson (I1:36). Over the next 60 years, the property was slowly divided among Robinson children and grandchildren, but remained in large tracts. As you know, the Robinsons built the earliest mills in Milltown. I'm no expert on Robinson genealogy, but I presume a tract was devised to George's son John. John Robinson then leaves a tract of 200 acres to his five children probably around 1748; in 1749, four children release their claim to James Robinson, the fifth child (Q1:209). In 1768, to settle a debt of James Robinson, the property is sold (with messuage, or dwelling house) by the sheriff to Joseph Ball (Y1-690). This looks like the property in question.

    It seems to be accepted in Robinson genealogy that John Robinson married Mary Buckley in 1705; sources generally give his birth year as 1675. Can't vouch for either. Again from web sources, his first child was born in 1706. But this would suggest that John may have settled on the tract between 1700-1705. So the property was held by John until his death around 1748, and then by his son James until 1768.

    I know this doesn't prove anything, but it makes it likely that James Robinson, or possibly his father John, built the original house.

    1. Interesting idea, Walt, and easily at least as plausible as mine. I know the Robinsons once owned a lot of land in the area, and my impression was that it was mostly south of Milltown Road. However, it would be easy for some of it to extend a bit further north. I'm fairly certain that at least some of that 200 acre tract left in 1748 contained the millseat later owned by the Harlans and the Chandlers (southwest corner Limestone and Milltown Roads).

      I don't have all the Robinson info in front of me, but was the James (1667-1726) referenced in the Robinson-Murray House post the brother of John? If so, I wonder if there's some overlap of the Robinson lands depending on when and where you're looking. Certainly confusing.

      I figured at least the bulk of the 103 acre plot was to the north, but thought it might extend south enough to contain this house. If not, then Joseph probably lived in the house also listed J. Ball on the 1849 map but to the north of this one, west of Mill Creek. Then maybe James got this house earlier, before Joseph's death.

    2. If I'm reading the genealogies correctly, James (1667-1726) was the oldest son of George Robinson. He had a brother, known as John Sr., who is the John in my note above. The immediate division of the Robinson lands is not clear, as you note, but can be discerned from later records. So far, I think the evidence points to James Robinson owning 250 acres at the southern end of the tract, and that he was the owner and builder of the mill.

      The 103 acres that William Ball left to son Joseph was a wedge of land extending from the NE corner of the Mermaid property down to Mill Creek. They were contiguous. I have the survey done for John Ball Sr in 1713/4, but I do not have the deed reference. Meanwhile, John Ball Sr. left his original 202 acres (part of New Design) to his son John Jr. although I have questions about this transaction.

      Give me a few days to plug some holes in my info and I will find a way to present this to you visually. It is just too complicated to narrate.

  4. Scott, the Joseph Ball house is slated for a huge renovation and should be completed by the fall of 2015. It will become the Arundel Apartments Clubhouse. They plan to renovate the existing stone structure and build off the right side and back of the house. I have pictures and architect drawings if you want to see them. Glad they are saving this historic house!

    1. That's great news! Considering its location, I'm a bit amazed it's still there and I've kind of figured its days had to be numbered. It's great to hear that it has a new life in front of it. I'd love to see anything you've got.

    2. The property owner kept it up due to its historical value in hoping to get use out of the building at some point down the road. I'll send the files over to you, they are keeping everything exactly the way it was which includes using materials to preserve its original state (windows, doors etc) do you have a certain email you want me to send them to?

    3. Yes, thank you. You can send it to let me know what, if anything, you wouldn't mind me posting. Thanks!!

    4. Scott, they just started construction on the Joseph Ball House renovations..the large old tree in front of the house got hit by the bad storms the past month and lost a lot of branches so they took that down two weeks ago...should look amazing when done!

  5. Wow! dont hear of that much anymore. Most let a dwelling to fall into disrepair until it becomes a safety hazard then raze. Hats off to Arundel for their efforts!

  6. I've read all through the posts and thank everyone for the information. I have been driving by that house up to Pike Creek almost all of my 64 years and have always been fascinated with that little house on an island.

  7. I drove past the Joseph Ball House this week and noticed a large addition being added. The original structure looks to be unaffected, so this is good news.

    1. Glad to hear it has started. I went by about two months ago and saw that they were working, but nothing new was up yet.

  8. I am so very excited to find your blog! My granddaughter found your info.
    My grandparents lived in the historic house from the late 40's till soon after my grandfather's passing in 1965 - so perhaps close to 1967. I lived with them while my father was in Korea.
    I LOVE that house. I have a clear memory of the old part and the part that was torn down. Many family pictures and an arial overview of the farm. Arundel is close to my heart! Some of my fondest memories are from my times at Arundel farm.
    My grandfather ran the farm for a member of the duPont family, Mrs. DeBie. She owned other land near where Alexis I duPont High School now is, but at one point sold Valmy and moved my grandfather to Arundel to farm it - dairy and crops.
    My bedroom was the second floor in the historic part. I am thankful they saved most of the building. I have driven by to check on it every year when I am in town. O now live in Indiana.
    My daughter and her family have a small farm they named Arundel in honor of the farm we loved.
    Hope to hear from you soon.
    And I give a huge thank you to my granddaughter, Kendra, for not giving up the search for information on the history of our beloved farm.
    I hope we can share more info

    1. Yvonne -- Thank you so much for sharing! I'm excited to hear from you. I can honestly say that this is one of the more interesting sites I've looked into. I'd love to hear more of your recollections of the farm. It's easy for us sometimes, I think, to look at these historic houses and see them just as "Historic Sites", forgetting that they were (or still are in some cases) peoples homes. I love hearing the personal stories that bring the homes alive. I know this house still has more stories to tell. At some point in the near future I'd like to take another look at the later history of the farm, now that I have some resources available that I did not have when I wrote the original post. If you're so inclined, feel free to email me at Maybe we can gather some stories and pictures together for a future post to share with everyone.

      On a side note, I'm about to reach out to Jim Derickson's family about another issue. If you lived at Arundel I'm sure you'd know him. Wonderful family. Hope to hear from you!!

    2. this post shows that history is not about dates and facts, it is about people.history is the fabric that ties us all together.if the rest of the world showed the same amount of interest in their history as this small portion of delaware does,maybe the world would be in a better state today.

    3. Very well said. Thank you.