To be more specific, the subject in question is Harlan's 1876 agricultural treatise "Farming with Green Manures, on Plumgrove Farm". It's a highly thought-out and fairly scientifically-approached work that advises farmers on how best to use the idea of green manures on their fields. This process involves strategically planting cover crops in certain fields, then plowing this vegetation into the soil in order to replenish nutrients. The concept was not new in the 1870's (heck, it's really just a better version of the centuries old idea of crop rotation), but Harlan approached it in a very scientific way, always looking for better methods to use. The ideas he espoused in his book were not just theoretical -- they were based on years of actual experimentation.
As you could probably guess, this experimentation took place on a property owned by Harlan, known as Plumgrove Farm. There is little actual information (at least that we could find) about Plumgrove Farm, aside from a few basic facts. These are that Harlan purchased the property in 1863, and that it's always described as being "a few miles from the city". This would tend to narrow down its location to approximately most of northern New Castle County. There are, however, two other clues which seem to point to a specific location. First, there is (as far as I can tell) only one mention within the book itself that alludes to the location of the farm (not including references to features within the confines of Plumgrove itself). This comes in a remark about a field trampled by British soldiers in 1777, which sat, "In the north of Delaware, near the head-waters of Mill Creek and about three miles north-west of Plumgrove Farm...". Since we know Gen. Howe's army marched through northern MCH on their way to the Battle of Brandywine, this description fits pretty well with where Caleb Harlan's property is shown on the maps. Oh, did I forget to mention that it's on the old maps?
Beginning with the 1868 Beers map and continuing through the 1893 Baist map, there is a property labelled as "Dr. C. Harlan". As shown above, it lies just west of Mill Creek, directly south of Stoney Batter Road and east of Limestone Road. (The north-south road that runs alongside the farm has been abandoned.) For readers of this blog, if this area seems familiar, it's because I recently wrote about this property, although mistakenly so, because at the time I thought it was one tract over. If you check the 1849 map, the property is labelled as "J. Ball", which would have been John Ball. As outlined in the Joseph Ball House post, I believe John was, at the time, residing in the house now in Arundel. However, due to new information passed along by Walt C. (who has extensively studied old property records), I now agree with him that that house came slightly later to the family.
I now believe that the 103 acre parcel purchased by William Ball from his father John in 1735, and subsequently willed to his son Joseph in 1747 was this property, later bought by Caleb Harlan. The exact movement through, and use by, the Ball family of this property may be sifted through another time, but its leaving the Balls does fit the dates. Regardless of how they used it earlier, I think by the mid 1800's it was probably leased as a tenant property by the Balls. In 1861, the probable owner of both properties, James W. Ball, died. If the family were looking to sell the secondary farm then, it would likely put it available for Harlan to buy in 1863.
All this has, in my mind, two major implications. The first is that we now know exactly where Caleb Harlan did the experimentation that led to his influential book. The second is that we have a tangible link to a property occupied since at least the first half of the 18th Century. As I stated in the Ball House post, the wording of the 1747 will implies that there was a house on this property by that time, and Joseph very well may have moved into it before purchasing the tract to the south, present-day Arundel. But why would I say there's a "tangible" link? Well, because even though the farm has not been occupied for decades, at least, and is now completely surrounded by late 20th Century development, there are still traces of what may be 18th Century structures there.
|Springhouse or root cellar|
By studying the old maps, I had a pretty good idea of where the Plumgrove/Ball House should have been (and so could you), but I had no idea that there were any ruins. This fact was brought to my attention by Dave Olsen, who has been running and hiking through these woods since the early 1990's. As far as buildings go, there are at least three structures with visible remains, all constructed of stone. The first structure, slightly away from the other two, appears to be some sort of springhouse or root cellar. It's hard to see from the picture above, but it's reasonably tall and built into the side of a hill. Built into several of the walls are niches and contours, possibly used in the storage of whatever was held here.
The other two structures are just a short distance away, and would have been the heart of the farm. Although there's nothing to definitively identify them, both Dave and I agree that the smaller, less intact structure was the house. Just about the only thing remaining of the house is a portion of a corner, seen in the picture at the top of the post. In the thick undergrowth of summer, it was not possible to discern the perimeter of the structure to determine its size, but further investigation in the winter may yield better results.
The final building onsite is the largest and (relatively speaking) best preserved of the group. It was almost certainly the barn. Part of one wall and the foundations of the the other three are still present, and there appear to be window openings in the large wall. Measurements of the barn's size were not made, but could be at a later date. The pictures below give an idea of what is there.
|Views of the Plumgrove Farm Barn|