Friday, June 22, 2012

The Hattie Milliken House

This is a bit of an odd post for several reasons. First, the site is slightly outside of Mill Creek Hundred, but only very slightly. Second, the house in question, although built in an old style, dates only to the mid 1930's. Finally, the topic grew completely out of comments on another post. It's actually because of one comment in particular that I've decided to give the subject its own post. I thought the story was interesting enough that I didn't want this comment (which is almost a post in itself) lost in the shuffle.

It all started last November, with a question in a comment on the post about the Josiah G. Hulett House. Bill Harris asked if I knew anything about a nearby stone house that overlooked Lancaster Pike. It sits on the south side of the road, on the left just before you cross Red Clay Creek and the railroad tracks if you're coming from Centerville Road or 141. It's made of fieldstone, and at first glance looks as if it could be 18th or 19th Century. I didn't really know anything about it at first, and some quick research gave me only the barest of facts. County information stated it was built in 1936, on land purchased the previous year by Hattie and Mahlon Milliken. An anonymous commenter stated that he/she cared for the Millikens late in their lives, and that they called the house "Beech Bower".

The real break, though, came recently when an even more closely connected source kindly filled in most of the gaps for us. I don't think I can tell the story any better, so I'll just repost the entire comment, then add a few thoughts of my own. This is what V Milliken B had to say:

My grandmother Harriet Fuller Milliken designed the house when she was a young girl aspiring to go to MIT and study architecture. (Her father and brother had graduated from MIT in civil engineering.) That didn't happen, but she kept her plans and was able to build her dream house in 1936. It was featured in the local newspaper when it was built.

I grew up in Wilmington where my father, the eldest son of Hattie and Mahlon, worked for Dupont and Mahlon worked as a VP for Hercules. I spent many weekends there, we always went sledding on the golf course and walked in the woods attached to the property. The house was fabulous inside with lots of space to play and three porches. The grounds had a huge lawn for croquet, rows of flowers, a huge vegetable garden, paths through the woods, gigantic fallen trees to play on, and a swing strung by ropes way up high between two beech trees on which we would swing way out over the hill which descended to the little marsh between our grandparents house and the Hercules golf course. I spent a great deal of my youth there between 1946 and 1963. At that time it had a lovely long curved driveway descending down the hill to Lancaster Pike before they cut away half of the hill widening the highway.

The Millikens moved out in 1963, I believe that was the year that we moved their furniture into Lancaster Court apartments (they had a house in Dunedin, FL where they spent most of their time) and it became the Hercules guest house. Later a family named the Browns, I believe, rented it. It fell into the hands of vandals and vagrants for many years until some wonderful people bought it in 2007, saved it from demolition, and have renovated it and made it exactly the way it was when it was built in 1936. Our family is forever grateful to them for saving my grandmother's dream house.
Thank you, V Milliken B, for sharing your family's story with us. That's certainly more of a story than I expected that house to have. I want to mention that I did try to find the newspaper story about the house, but it must not have been in one that has been digitized and posted online yet. Pity. I'd love to see that story. The house sounds like it was the perfect grandparent's house to visit and play at, and it sounds like there were lots of fun times there.

I also did some quick research into Hattie and Mahlon, and found a few interesting things (VMB, feel free to correct anything I've gotten wrong). Harriet "Hattie" Fuller Milliken was born May 1892 in Snohomish, Washington to William B. and Carrie S. Fuller. William was from Massachusetts, and Carrie was Canadian (naturalized in 1881). The family moved around a lot, undoubtedly due to William's job. Harriet, born in DC, had siblings born in Minnesota, Massachusetts, and New Jersey. As VMB stated, William was a civil engineer, and apparently a rather accomplished one (I'd expect no less from an MIT grad). His specialty seems to have been in the use of concrete, as this ad, in a book he helped write, shows. His moving around to various projects I'm sure explains the variety of birthplaces for his children. And as this 1913 New York Times article shows, his job could even be potentially dangerous at times.

As VMB noted, Harriet's brother, Bernard R. Fuller also graduated from MIT, and followed in his father's footsteps as a civil engineer. And also like his father, Bernard became a prominent builder of dams and water control facilities. This 1957 article at the time of his retirement has a good recap of his career, including some thrilling additions to the 1913 Mexican story. And on a personal note, that Mt. Morris dam mentioned is located on the Genesee River in NY, and helps to protect Letchworth State Park. It's a gorgeous park I've had the pleasure of visiting, so thank you Mr. Fuller for helping to protect it.

I guess the point of all that is that it shows that it's no surprise that Hattie designed such a beautiful house. It's a shame that she didn't get to attend MIT, too. Who knows how many other wonderful buildings she would have designed.

As a final note, I should also point out that VMB cleared up the connection to Hercules, too. It was clear that the property was linked to the site next door, and Mahlon Milliken was that link. As stated, he was an engineer and later a VP with the DuPont spin-off. It's no surprise then that the property and the house were eventually sold (or given) to the company, before recently returning to private hands. Thanks again to V Milliken B for giving us this great story, and thanks to the current owners for saving and restoring Hattie Milliken's dream house.

5 comments:

  1. Scott-

    Thanks for the follow up. It does sound like a wonderful house. Although it is in private hands, I hope some day to be able to tour it. Hattie obviously had a talent for architecture as the house used to fit in so well with its surroundings (before the widening of Lancaster Pike).

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  2. I just found out that Hattie Milliken did not die in Delaware, but in Duneiden, Florida. A family member corrected that for me, thanks!

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  3. Thanks to Scott for all of the interesting research. Hattie was my grandmother, too (I am VMB's cousin).

    Since you asked for corrections, I would like to note that Hattie was not born in Washington, DC. She was born in Snohomish, Washington i.e. in the Pacific Northwest. It is my understanding that her father took the family there while he was part of the team of engineers who laid out the city. Among other places, she also lived in Ishpeming, Michigan (way up in the Upper Pennisula) while, I suppose, her father was on another engineering assignment. We visited up there once when I was very young.

    I have several pleasant memories of visiting my grandparents at Beech Bower as a youngster. A few years ago, at my mother's request, I stopped by to take photos of the house, due to her concern for the condition it had fallen into. At that time, I happened to meet the people who are now restoring the house. This was very joyful news to my mother and, indeed, to the whole family.

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    1. Jay -- Thanks for the correction! And not that I didn't believe you, but I actually was able to find a reference in the 1891 Year Book of the American Society of Civil Engineers that listed William B. Fuller in Snohomish. Also, I think Snohomish is now one of my favorite words.

      I really sounds like she and her family had a very interesting life. I know that it doesn't necessarily have much to do with the house, but once I started learning about it I had to include it. But I guess I figured that the house sounded like a very personal thing for Hattie, so her background and upbringing would help to explain who she was, which would in turn help to give some background for the house. Either way, it's all turned out to be a much more interesting story than I ever would have imagined.

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  4. I wanted to repost here a comment left on the Josiah Hullet post, where the whole discussion of the Milliken House originated. As you'll see, it's from the current owner of the house, who is able to add some wonderful insight into its condition and construction. Thank you very much, SRL, for contributing. And thank you VERY MUCH for rescuing and taking such great care of the house!! (And I'd still love to find that newspaper article.)

    Reposted Comment:

    Hi, I wanted to clear up a few things about Beech Bower (Hattie Milliken House), the reason online records showed the $10.00 price is when the buyers do not want it public knowledge of the selling price. I am aware of this because I am the private owner of this house currently. I have done extensive research on the Milliken family, the people that rented in the years after the Milliken family left. Harriett Fay Fuller Milliken was born in DC 6/30/1891 and died in Delaware 3/3/1979. Don't know when she married Mahlon G. Milliken, but he was born 5/15/1890 and died in Florida 10/28/1976, they are both buried in Silverbrook Cemetery located on Lancaster Pike and DuPont Rd. in Wilmington.

    I have met Margaret, the only living child of Hattie & Mahlon's and her son Jay and they have filled in the gaps, and provided me with many wonderful pictures. I was also fortunate to me VMB and her sister to shared some extraordinary stories.

    I have been restoring Beech Bower since 2008, and think if Hattie were alive she would be very happy with the results. I always wanted an older home, and when I saw this beautiful home falling into disrepair I was angry. I became a person possessed to know everything about this house and try to purchase it! It had been left vacant for over 12 years with many people going in and out trashing it!

    After it was sold in 2001 along with the Golf Course, this is when the most vandalism began. There were no attempts to secure the house, and with every hit, the house lost something else. Copper, shutters, stairs, lights, switch plates and even the fireplace mantle were gone! Radiators were blown out and most of the windows and mirrors were kicked in. I was so sick when I saw what the house looked like in 1936, and what the previous owner had left it become.

    Craftmanship that you find in older homes is becoming a dying art! Each generation wants to go things a new and easier way to make the most money and do the least work. I wanted this home to be of the period, not close enough, so finding the right people had been difficult.

    I found an old picture from a family that had rented in the 1980's till 1997 and they gave me some insight into what the inside looked like before the vandalism. Hattie had done a wonderful job of designing this home. Each room was designed with a person in mind, each closet had it own purpose, and even the third floor was designed for live in help. I was surprised that there was a Bathroom in the basement, just in case people needed to wash up or use a Bathroom, they wouldn't have to go through her home if they were dirty.

    In the 30's people were happy to work because of those depression years, and the Milliken's were fortunate to hire the best of the best. The beautiful stone came from the Woodsdale Quarry, which was located off Lancaster Pike. They had many knowledgeable craftsmen working on their home who were proud tradesmen of the time.

    When the work was completed they had an article written in the local paper showing the beautiful finished job. Hattie was so proud to show off every detail of her beautiful "Beech Bower". and so am I!

    Thank You letting me share.
    SRL

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