Thursday, August 2, 2012

More About the McDaniel-Peach House

McDaniel-Peach House, 1910's
A while back I did a couple of posts about a pair of related houses -- the John McDaniel House and the McDaniel-Peach House. I had a few scraps of information about the John McDaniel House, but for the older McDaniel-Peach House I was left with little more than an old story and a heap of educated guesses. Recently (OK, my version of "recently" is "within the past few months"), however, I've been fortunate enough to have been contacted by several people with family connections to the McDaniel-Peach House. And while we still don't have all the answers, they were able to fill in a few blanks along the way. In the process -- in regard to the original post -- I managed to confirm one thing I wrote and refute another. And while we're here, we'll take a quick look at the industry that flourished for a time on the property.

First, to quickly get everyone up to speed and recap the original post, the McDaniel-Peach House is located just north of Paper Mill Road, about half way between North Star Road and Limestone Road in the development of Chestnut Valley. I had speculated that it was built sometime before 1777 by James McDaniel, who may have been a descendant of Bryan McDonald, an early MCH settler in the area near Brandywine Springs. The 1777 date sprung from a story related by Francis Cooch in the 1930's, and later compiled in the book Little Known History of Newark, Delaware and Its Environs. (I'm happy to say I found the original version of  Cooch's article, printed October 16, 1932.) I believe that a few of the items graciously forwarded to me to share can shed some light on the construction of this home overlooking the Pike Creek Valley.

The first is a nearly 100 year old notation that, if correct, would slightly change this house's connection to that story of Hessian Aggression (like that?) during the march to Brandywine. (If you can't follow links, very short version: British (many Hessian) soldiers basically ransacked the house on their way to the Battle of Brandywine in 1777.) A close family friend of the Peaches (who owned it at the time), while on a visit in 1921, wrote in her address book, "Will Peach's house was built in 1782. The name on the datestone M & J McD. Mary & James McDannell." As far as the name goes, it confirms that it was James McDaniel who built the house. And "McDannell" seems like a plausible intermediate step between McDonald and McDaniel. The questions come with the date.

Obviously, if the house was built in 1782, it wasn't there to be ransacked by Redcoats in 1777. I can think of three possible explanations. The first is that the 1782 date is wrong. Although it's not clear if the date itself was on the datestone (sometimes they were just initials), I have no reason to doubt its accuracy. It's a pretty specific date and the house had basically stayed in the same family, so I'm inclined to take it at face value. A second possibility is that the house actually was built prior to 1777, and that the 1782 date memorializes a renovation or reconstruction of it. The third possibility I see is that the current house really was built in 1782, replacing an older one on the site. It would have been the older one, then, that was plundered by the British.

McDaniel-Peach House today

And as for the house itself, whenever it was built, I can now make a better assessment of it thanks to an old picture. I can also see that my original supposition was incorrect. The photo at the top of this post shows the McDaniel-Peach House as it looked around the early 1910's. Compare that to the current configuration of the house, as seen above. Without a good look at the home, I had guessed that the eastern part (on the right - the house faces south) was the original section. The old picture clearly shows that the western end is the oldest part of the house. I also think it shows that there have been several phases in the construction of the house. If you look closely at the old picture, you can see a line running down the roof, coming down to the near end of the two-story bay. That, combined with the seemingly interior chimney, leads me to believe that the section where the bay is was added at a later date to the original western portion. And since the three windows on that block don't seem to be symmetrical, it's possible that there was more than one phase to that part, as well. The entire eastern wing does not appear to be present in the 1910's photo (nor does it seem to be in the 1937 aerial shot, but that's very difficult to tell), so it must have been erected later. There's also a rear wing on the western end, but the old picture doesn't include that area so I can't be sure of its date. I would think it would be 19th Century, but it could also have been built at the same time as the eastern wing.

William Peach (on the left)

The final thing I wanted to share was a picture not of the house, but of the industry that was undertaken on the property for several decades -- kaolin mining. As with several other properties in and around Hockessin, kaolin clay was discovered on the Peach farm in the late 1800's. After discovering the valuable clay on their property in 1893, William Paul Peach and his siblings soon went about extracting and processing the material. They built a plant on-site and by 1899 had 35 people in their employ. The picture below is of the processing plant, circa 1920. The Peach family sold the business to an outside firm in 1916.

Peach Kaolin Clay Company

I have been unable to find any mention of exactly where the plant was, or from where the clay was mined. One source puts the plant "along Pike Creek", but I think that's a more general description of the property than of the plant. From studying the the 1937 aerial photos of the area, though, I think I might have a guess or two. I'll lay them out and see what everyone else thinks.

Peach Farm, 1937
In the picture above, the McDaniel-Peach House is in the upper center, just to the right of the words "Oakridge Ct". The white line coming up from the lower left is Paper Mill Road. If you'll notice, there are some white areas just above the road, in the area around what's now Renee Lane. I think those white spots are the clay pits. Modern aerial shots show a small pond just above Renee Lane, which I think is the remains of one of the clay mines. However, I can't see any sign of the plant in the 1937 aerial, so it may have been abandoned and razed by then.

I've also spent a good amount of time staring at the clay company picture, too. I can't find anything definitive to tell me exactly where we're looking, but I have a theory (yes, of course I do). Since the picture was taken by someone visiting the house, it makes sense that they would have been coming from there. I think the picture is looking south, with the house somewhere behind the photographer. This would put Paper Mill Road possibly on the other side of the trees beyond the structures. Interestingly, if this is true, then there's one other identifiable structure. In the upper right, you can see a white building. If the picture looks the direction I think it does, then this structure could be the large barn built by Abel Jeanes in 1832.

Peach Kaolin Company brick, found onsite

In any case, these new pictures and documents give us a bit more information about this historic property. I want to thank the contributors very much for passing these along to us.


  1. By any chance do you happen to know, directly across from the Independence School entrance behind the first house to the neighborhood there used to be a very old basketball court set back about 100 feet from the house and 100 ft from Paper Mill Road. Along with 2 other concrete slabs. It is all completely overgrown now, but I used to know the people who owned the house and they were told it was from something that was there before the neighborhood was built. Any idea? You can see what I'm talking about on Google Earth. Also, speaking of the Independence School do you have any pictures or details from when it was located in The Polly Drummond Shopping Center (Above Dunkin Donuts).

    1. I'll do this in two parts. First, I see the bball court and where it is. I can't find evidence of a structure near there either on the old maps or the historic aerials. Since it's near the creek, it's very possible there was some sort of outbuilding there at some point. May have been associated with the farm, or maybe even with the kaolin works. The two old houses there were pretty much in the same family. Since you say it's concrete, I'd be thinking more like late 19th or 20th Century rather than older. Looks like there was some sort of path that lead from the driveway over to the creek, right through that area. Could all be related.

    2. Second -- I just learned more about the Independence School in the last 15 minutes than I ever knew before. It started in the shopping center in 1978, bought the current campus in 1980, moved in in 1983. There was a grainy picture on their Facebook page. Didn't seem to fit here (and unlike FB, can't add picture in comments), so I added it to the Nostalgia page.

      In my reading, I learned that much (or all, not sure) of the land came from Katherine Eastburn. The school is responsible for the current great condition (for a ruin) of the Abel Jeanes Barn. Since they're very aware of the history around them, it gives me hope that maybe somewhere the school has pictures of the Eastburn house that was on the north side of Granville Rd and the Hanna House on the south. If anyone has any contacts there, let me know. I'd love to talk to someone there, maybe share info.

  2. Wonderful! Thank you for the great reply. I drove over to that area and looked around today, noticed the old house in the center out that Meadowdale neighborhood. Crazy how so many neighborhoods have those old houses in the center of them that you never notice until your looking.