Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Guthrie Tract Along Limestone Road

1886 Dennison House, site of the 1822 Guthrie House
At first I wasn't sure what to title this post, or exactly how to approach writing it. In it, we'll look at two properties along Limestone Road that were associated with a family that's been mentioned before, but never directly featured -- the Guthries. What's a little odd about the houses we'll focus on is that neither was the family's home for the bulk of their tenure in the area. One was built by the subsequent owner of much of the original farm, and the other was built for the widow of the last Guthrie to farm in the area. What ties the sites together is the family, whose ties to the area stretch back into the mists of the 18th Century.

The Guthrie family in Mill Creek Hundred is, depending on when and where you look, either fairly easy or very frustrating to try to follow. Thankfully for the purposes of this post, the branch that resided along Limestone Road is pretty easy to trace. The other main branch in MCH lived in the Milford Crossroads area near Paper Mill Road and Possum Park Road. This is the family that has been mentioned in connection with Ebenezer Methodist Church. The two are certainly connected, most likely with the Limestone Road line breaking off during the days of the Early Republic. At some point I hope to have more information about the Milford Crossroads Guthries, and a better understanding of how the two fit together. But like with some other families, the Guthries are challenging to trace partially because of reused names. In this case, the name is Alexander.

And speaking of Alexanders, the story of the Limestone Road Guthries seems to begin in 1792, when Alexander Guthrie (1736-1810) purchased a tract along both sides of Limestone Road, just south of Brackenville Road. The early history of this Alexander (henceforth "Alexander (I)") is tricky to pin down for certain, but the consensus seems to be that he was born in Ireland, the son of William Guthrie (1710-1775). Since there are also references to Scotland in Guthrie histories, I think it's a good bet that they were Scotch-Irish like many of their fellow Presbyterian neighbors. William brought his family to America around 1745, and soon settled in Mill Creek Hundred. Alexander (I) married sometime before 1787, and in 1792 purchased his farm along Limestone Road.

When Alexander (I) moved his family to his new farm, they either moved into an existing house or he had one built -- probably of log or frame construction. This house would serve the family for thirty years, before being replaced by a stone house erected by the next owner, Alexander (II) Guthrie (1787-1860). Alexander (II) had inherited the property upon his father's death in 1810, and would reside there the rest of his life. And though his house is long gone, one clue from it remains to tell us when it was built.

After Alexander (II)'s death (which we'll get back to in a moment), the portion of the property containing the house was sold to Samuel Dennison, who owned a house and farm just to the south. Before selling the property to his son Robert in 1888, Samuel Dennison had the old house razed and a new brick home built. This house, which still stands today between Mendehall Mill and Brackenville Roads, has two datestones. One inscribed "1886" for the date of the Dennison house, and another older one inscribed "1822". It's almost certain that this one was retained from the old house, built by Alexander (II) Guthrie. Maps show the Guthrie house in the same location as the present Dennison house, and up until the 1990's a large stone and frame barn stood behind the house. While some of the frame sections were added later by Dennisons, the main fieldstone barn was erected by Guthrie, as the "A E G 1825" datestone on it attested.

Alexander (II) Guthrie's 1825 barn

The "E" on the barn's datestone referred to the first of Alexander (II)'s three wives, Elizabeth Springer (1789-1835). They were married in 1813, but had no children. Three years after Elizabeth's passing, Alexander (II) remarried, this time to Ann Ocheltree (1799-1850). This union produced one child, a daughter named Elizabeth (or Ann Elizabeth). After Ann's death, Alexander (II) married once again, to widow Hannah Durnall. Finally in 1856 Guthrie had a son, named (any guesses?...) Alexander (1856-1932). Sadly, only four years later Alexander (II) died. It was Alexander (II)'s 1860 death that prompted the sale of the home farm to Samuel Dennison, as well as the construction of the other Guthrie house a short distance north.

Hannah Guthrie House

When Alexander (II) died in 1860, his will stipulated for the sale of most of his land except for "all that part ... on the westerly side of Limestone Road and on the northerly side of the road to Brackenville." This land and $2000 "for the purpose of erecting a homestead and appurtenances on the land" were to go to his wife Hannah. Soon after, a two-story, three bay, single-pile stone house was built on the northwest corner of Limestone Road and (on that side) Little Baltimore Road, fronting towards Little Baltimore Road. At some point the fieldstone was covered over with stucco, as it is today. Also at a later date (but probably still 19th Century), a brick wing was added to the east end of the rear of the house, running parallel to Limestone Road. This wing, too, was stuccoed.

Hannah lived the rest of her life in this house, for at least part of that time with Alexander (III) as well as three sons from her previous marriage. After Hannah's death in 1899, the house went to Alexander (III), but he had moved out years before. Alexander (III) had previously moved up to Hockessin, and was working there as an undertaker. For anyone who's looked up death certificates in the Hockessin area in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, you've almost certainly seen his signature down at the bottom.

Guthrie seems to have held onto the property for a little while longer, probably leasing it to a tenant farmer. He finally sold the house and farm to the Faulkner family in 1918, with whom it stayed for the next twenty years. In 1938, the property was purchased by Joseph and Paul Mitchell, who added it to their own holdings, which included Woodside Farm.

The houses now stand as two of the few remaining of the 19th Century farms that once lined Limestone Road. Both connected to the Guthrie family, but with stories of their own.

Additional Facts and Related Thoughts:
  • I don't think I've ever used this method before, but I believe there's a way to determine at least part of the boundaries of the Guthrie property. If you look at the 1849 Rea & Price Map, you'll see a dotted line to the south and east of the "A. Guthrie" house. These lines are the school district boundaries, this particular one putting the Guthries just within District 30 (North Star School). I think it's logical to assume that where a "natural" border was not used (like a stream or a road), the district boundaries went around properties. That means that the district border here is actually the bounds of the Guthrie estate, at least part of its eastern and southern boundary.
  • Oddly, I can't seem to find Hannah, Alexander (III), and Hannah's older sons in the 1860 Census. My only guess is that maybe Alexander (II) died right about that time, and somehow they got missed by the enumerator.
  • A DelDOT report from the 1980's contains National Register of Historic Places nomination forms for both the Guthrie-Dennison House as well as the Hannah Guthrie House. I don't know if they were ever actually submitted, but they do contain more information about each of these properties.

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