Tuesday, July 3, 2012

The Walter Craig House

Largest standing wall of the Craig Barn
For (I think) fairly obvious reasons, most of the structures profiled on this blog are, or recently were, still standing. Occasionally we'll look at a house, school, or mill that disappeared long ago, but in those cases there's usually nothing at all left of the building. In this area, that's normally because the land that the historic building stood on has since been developed. Once in a while, though, you can find the ruins of an old house in an area that hasn't been developed, if you know where to look. I didn't know where to look, but I was contacted recently by someone who does. He was kind enough to take me on a hike one morning and show me what he had found, which was A) the remains of some old structures, and B) a fascinating example of just how fast a landscape can change.

Roger Suro has been hiking the woods northwest of Corner Ketch for about thirty years now, always with an eye toward nature and history. Among the treasures he's come across on (and a good bit off) the trails in what's now a part of the White Clay Creek Preserve are the ruins of several structures just north of Thompson Station Road. The stone remains sit west of a road that used to run south from Corner Ketch Road to Thompson Station Road, crossing over Turkey Run just prior to its (the old road's) southern terminus. The road seems to have been passable by automobile as late as the 1950's, but now it remains only as a footpath, in some places only one person wide.

The ruins lie not far this old road, but they take some work to get to. After slowly making your way through the thick undergrowth and forest (a machete would be a helpful thing to have), if you can find your way to the site, you suddenly come across stone walls where you'd never expect to find them. It's only then that you realize that the seemingly virgin forest through which you've fought was, probably during the lifetime of some readers, open and cultivated fields. Because what those stone runs are, are the remains of a farmhouse and barn. Except for a few portions of the barn's walls, most of what's left is no more than about waist-high. It's certainly not much to look at, aesthetically-speaking, and most anyone who came across it in the woods would probably write it off as just "old walls". But like everything else, it does have its own story.

As you can probably imagine, there isn't anything (at least that I could find) written about this property, for the good reason that there probably aren't many people who know it's even there. Therefore, what follows is my best guess as to the history of the property, based on old maps, census information, and relevant genealogy. To start with, the house appears on the 1849 map as W. Craig, and is located in the far northwest of Mill Creek Hundred, just west of Corner Ketch. The 1868 Beers map gives it the same designation, which refers to Walter Craig (1810-1870), the likely builder of the house.

Another wall of the Craig barn

Walter Craig was born in Kennett Township, PA in 1810 to William and Hannah Craig. Sometime around 1835 he married Lydia Gilpin Buckingham (1800-1879), the daughter of Richard and Mary Buckingham. The Buckinghams, Quakers like the Craigs, were one of the most prominent families in the Corner Ketch/Pleasant Hill area for more than a century. When, exactly, Walter Craig moved to Delaware is hard to tell, as is the precise time he and Lydia built or moved into their home. The 1840 census shows the couple living in MCH, but they're tacked on to the end -- literally the last name listed in the hundred. I think this is because they were missed earlier, and just added to the end (I've gotten that impression elsewhere, too, where the names at the end seem to be from all over). If this was not the case, though, then it looks more like the Craigs were living further east, in the Mill Creek/Mermaid area (M.B. Ocheltree and William Bracken appear just before Craig).

In any case, by 1849 Walter, Lydia, and their five children (Elwood, Hannah, John, Lydia, and Harlan) were definitely living in the stone house and farming the land around Turkey Run. Unfortunately, there's really no way to know if Craig built the house or if he bought it from someone else, short of finding deed information somewhere. I'm also not nearly qualified to determine anything from the scant ruins that remain, and I'm not aware of any pictures of the house to use to guess its age from its architecture. The one thing that Roger and I did notice, though, was the presence of three wall-like projections from what we guessed to be the front of the house. Later on in our hike, we stopped by the 1816 William Little House on Corner Ketch Road, which we saw had identical walls that turned out to be supports for the front porch. This may or may not mean that the Craig House is the same age, but I think it points to an earlier date than mid-century.

Porch support walls, front of the Craig House

The family remained in the stone farmhouse at least until 1870, the year Walter Craig died. If I had to guess, I'd say the Craigs probably sold the property soon after Walter's death, but there's no way to tell. The 1870 census does show son John in the household as a farmer, so it's possible that he could have kept working the land for a while after his father's passing. By 1880 John was living in Wilmington working as a "laborer", living just a few doors down from his brother Elwood. In that same census, a new owner was shown in the Craig House, which we can determine with the help of a map from a year later.

The new owner was an Irish immigrant named John Quill, who had come to the US in 1855. Quill shows up in the 1860 and 1870 censuses as a farm laborer, very near to where he would eventually buy his own farm. In 1860, he was employed by Borten Hayes, who seems to have owned the farm on Hopkins Bridge Road next owned by A.J. Hopkins. Also in this household was an 18 year old Irish domestic servant named Julie (Julia) Lynch, whom Quill would soon marry. In 1870, John, Julia, and the first two of their eventual six children are listed directly after David Eastburn. This would seem to imply that Quill was working Eastburn's farm, possibly even living in the old tenant house there.

Interior walls of the Craig House
 By sometime (I think very soon) after 1870, the immigrant farm laborer Quill had apparently done well enough to purchase his own farm. The Quills moved into the Craig House and would stay there for about 30 years, give or take. John Quill is still shown in the house in 1900, along with four of his children and one grandchild. The aging Irishman apparently sold the farm sometime in the next ten years, as the 1910 census finds him living on Lancaster Pike (near Hockessin, I think -- most men on the same page are employed either in a fibre mill or a clay yard).

It's not clear who owned the farm next, or when the house was last occupied. An aerial photo of the area from 1937 seems to show that much of the area was still clear at that point, and the house may even be visible (hard to tell). By the early 1950's, much more of what must have been the farm was now wooded. I have a feeling that if it wasn't bought earlier, this property was one of those purchased by the DuPont Company to make room for the reservoir they were proposing at the time (thanks also to Roger for turning me on to that story, too). As such, the house was just abandoned and forgotten, allowing nature to quickly overtake the farm, turning farmland into woodland. When in 1984 DuPont turned over to the state the land it had acquired for the since defeated reservoir, the area -- including the old Walter Craig Farm -- became part of the White Clay Creek Preserve. Now, a few crumbling walls in the woods are all that's left of the house and barn.

Additional Facts and Related Thoughts:
  • I kind of wish Walter Craig had died a year earlier than he did, then the 1870 census would have shown what the family did afterwards.
  • Oddly, in 1880 John Craig (almost has to be the right one) is listed along with his wife and several children, the oldest of which is a 12 year old daughter. In 1870, his family is not shown. Either they lived separate from him (or were listed that way for some reason) at the time, or he married after 1870 and at least the oldest child was not his.
  • John Quill is actually listed in the 1860 census as "Daniel", so presumably either John or Daniel was his middle name.
  • Oddly (or ironically, I'm not sure which), both of John Quill's previous work locations -- the Hopkins House and the David Eastburn House -- are built in a very similar style. One not very common in this area.
  • The next household listed after John Quill in the 1910 census includes a 73 year old Irish woman named Ellen Quill, who emigrated in 1890. I would guess that she is the younger sister (by six years) of John.


  1. William and Rachel Boulden Moore owned what became known as the "Moore Reserve". It was bounded roughly by Corner Ketch Road, Pleasant Hill Road, Thompson Station Road, and White Clay Creek. William Died in 1818 leaving the Reserve to his Wife Rachel. She died in 1845. William had stipulated in his will that the Reserve was to be divided and sold, the proceeds to be divided between his children. The D.O.D. of Rachel would indicate that Craig probably bought his farm after 1845. The Moore Reserve was divided into 13 100+ acre farms. Most were purchased by children of William and Rachel.

    1. Interesting, John. I just have a few questions, since you seem to know more about this than I do. With a quick look, the only decent info I could find about William Moore was from Runks. It said he lived and died in MCH and served in the War of 1812. It said he bought his homestead farm of 225 acres in 1803, and lived there until his death. You're saying that within 15 years he owned over 1,300 acres. That's a very large holding for that late (ie, not an original Penn tract).

      Have you seen his will or other deeds that indicate he owned that much land? Runks does even refer to the "Moore reserve" in the Thomas Jefferson Moore entry, but doesn't mention it as being particularly large, or as William as owning a lot of land. Of course, none of this means that what you're saying isn't accurate. Runks tends to be less of a history and more a collection of family stories, especially the further you go back.

      One last point -- I know you said the bounds of Moore Reserve that you gave were rough (jeez, even when reading deeds from that time, usually you can get only a rough idea), but by that it looks like the Craig farm might have been just outside of it. If Thompson Station Rd was more or less the northern boundary, then Craig's farm (or at least his house) was on the other side. Of course, Moore's land might have extended a little further, too.

      Thanks again for the information. Please don't take any of this as me doubting or challenging you. As always, I just want to learn more! (or in this case, Moore)

    2. Here’s what I have on the History of the Moore properties.
      June 26, 1726 Dr. William McMechen of Christiana Bridge bought three tracts of land (“on the circle”) totaling 964 ¾ acres in “Stenning Manor”. He also bought another tract of 402 acres of which 253 were sold to Andrew McMechen 11/19/1734. (Scharf p 916)
      Jacob Moore (1730-1795) was a farmer and blacksmith, 3rd generation in MCH. He married a widow, Hannah Steel Donald (1732-1807). Hannah had inherited the property of her husband, Alexander Donald, or some places, Donnell. Jacob and Hannah were executors of the will of her brother, William Steel (9-15- 1772). These conveyed to Jacob and Hannah the tract of land owned and occupied by the Moore family until 1899, and Hannah also received an inheritance from her mother, Margaret Steel. These inheritances fit the description of the Reserve in Williams will. Jacob and Hannah had three children: Andrew, who went to Ohio, Mary, who married a Baptist minister, and William.
      Early in the 20th century, the duPont family became very wealthy and outgrew the Brandywine Valley. They expanded outward buying up tracts of land that seemed to follow the earliest grants or patents or whatever they were called. duPont property around Corner Ketch seems to fit this pattern.
      William Moore (1770-1818) married Rachel Bouldin May 31, 1796. 1803 bought 225 acres from his mother, Hannah, who then died in 1807. In his will, 1818 he directed that his farms “bounded on White Clay Creek, lands of Joseph Rankin, and others be sold… “. William and Rachel had inherited the Moore properties on the death of Hannah. A glance at either the 1849R & P map or the Beers 1868 map shows Rankin properties on Thompson Station Road as the southwest border of the Moore Reserve (present Deerfield). The East Branch of the white Clay curves to the NE encircling the high ground on which Corner Ketch is situated.
      R&P shows T.J. Moore along Corner Ketch road. This map also shows the East Branch of the White Clay on the NW, Corner Ketch on the NE.
      The donor of the box of Moore papers treated me to a tour of the area showing me the important landmarks. He told me that a duPont was living in the Moore House ~1990’s.
      This is the information I have. One day I’ll put it together properly. I believe it will prove correct. I apologize for any confusion I may have caused.

    3. John, if it weren't for confusion this would be no fun at all. Thanks for all the info!! Amongst all of it, you answered my main question. William essentially bought part of the family land when starting on his own, then inhereted the rest later. Makes perfect sense. Is "the Moore House" the one on what used to be Union Station Rd, due south of Corner Ketch by the pond (LB Moore on 1849 map)? County property info shows date of 1749 for a house on that property. Levi B. Moore was son of William and Rachael, for those trying to follow.

      Thanks for the follow-up. This does clear a lot up, at least for me.

  2. Scott, The 1749 date for that house fits very well. Jacob and Hannah, William's parents, were married in 1765. She inherited her husband's property and they would have moved into that house. My maps don't have a pond, though.
    However, I really enjoy your posts. I look for a new one every day.