Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Fell Historic District

Fell Historic District area, c.1860
A couple years ago (have I been doing this that long?) we took a brief look at the history of the Fell Spice Mill at Faulkland. In that post, we focused primarily on the history of the spice mill itself, and the Fell family who ran it. I mentioned, however, that there are several other aspects of the story that are worthy of their own posts. I think the most obvious are the surrounding buildings in the Faulkland area that comprise the Fell Historic District, entered into the National Register of Historic Places in 1983. There are eight buildings in the district, erected over a period of a century and a quarter, from 1800 to 1925. Some of them are visible from Faulkland Road, and some are not. You may even have driven by them without realizing their historic nature.

We'll now take a look at these eight homes (they weren't all homes to begin with, but they are now), which I've divided into three periods -- Early, Middle, and Late (original, huh?). There's more to say about some than others, but we'll touch on them all (with pictures!!). If you want to refamiliarize yourself with the basic history of the district, I recommend going back and reading the original Spice Mill post. That will hopefully make it easier to follow along with the names being used here.

Early Period



William Foulk's "Miller's House" today

The Miller's House: The oldest building still standing in the historic district is visible from Faulkland Road, just west of the creek. Known as "The Miller's House", this stuccoed fieldstone home was built by William Foulk soon after he consolidated ownership of the mill and property in 1798. During the Fell's tenure it was known as "The Farmer's House", as it served partially as the residence for the tenant farmer who worked the surrounding fields.

Miller's House on the right, c.1867

Miller's House with gable, behind burned mill, 1895

Foulk's old home has undergone several renovations and modifications over the years. According to Ken Shelin, his ancestors the Woodwards (who were employees at the spice mill), were occupying "the west half" of the Miller's house as early as 1833 (see comments section). This would seem to imply that it was being used as a double family home from the early days of the Fell's tenure here. In 1867, as shown in the top picture above, there was still only one front entrance. At some later date, a second front entrance was added, only to be removed when the house was changed back to a single-family dwelling in the 1940's. The house was damaged by what turned out to be the final mill fire in 1878. It may have been in the rebuilding afterwards that the cross-gabled roof and side addition (visible in the bottom picture above) were added.
 
William Foulk's Stone Barn, now a residence
 
The Stone Barn: Not long after building his home, William Foulk erected a stone barn along the road, down in front of his house. Whereas the house first appears in the records on the 1803 tax assessment, the barn pops up in 1816. Partially shrouded from the road by shrubbery and trees, its end wall sits very near the widened Faulkland Road. It was used by the tenant farmer throughout the 1800's, but converted into a residence in the 1950's.


Courtland Fell's 1836 Mansion
The Fell Mansion: By far the most impressive of the three Early Period edifices is the Fell Mansion, which sits a bit up the hill and away from the road. This Greek Revival home was built by Courtland J. Fell, soon after he moved to Faulkland in 1836. Courtland had been raised in Philadelphia, and presumably the older, smaller home of William Foulk was not up to his more refined tastes. Like the other two Early Period structures, it can be seen (along with the spice mill) in the painting at the top of the post. The five-bay symmetrical home is built of stuccoed fieldstone, and measures approximately 50' x 40'. Except for a kitchen wing on one end and a porch on the other, the house is little changed from Courtland Fell's day. With its up-to-date architecture and double-linked chimneys on each end, the house surely conveyed that Fell was a man of taste and means. It was also the last major structure erected in the district for about 30 years.

It remained in the Fell family until 1992, when it was finally sold off. By then the old home had started to feel the effects of its age, but was beautifully restored by the new owners.

Middle Period


The Gate House, Or Gatekeeper's House

The Gate House: The three Middle Period houses were all likely built by Franklin Fell, sometime in the mid-to-late 1860's. In fact, all three seem to appear on the 1868 Beers map. Franklin had retired from the day-to-day operations of C.J. Fell and Brother in early 1867, turning the family company over to his son, William Jenks Fell. Franklin continued to reside at Faulkland, however, and turned his attention to other business ventures. He was, for example, a major investor in the Wilmington and Western Railroad, and was named as one of the original VP's of the railroad. (The official groundbreaking for the W&W RR actually took place here, at Faulkland.)

Another of Franklin Fell's investments was his purchase, in 1869, of the Brandywine Springs Hotel and its property. His initial idea was to donate it to the Episcopal Church, but that deal was never finalized (a nice way of saying they didn't want it). Sometime just before this, and certainly prior to 1871 when they were described in insurance documents, Franklin built three houses on his property, all along Faulkland Road. These were built as tenant houses, to be leased either for a full year, or for the summer for visitors coming to Brandywine Springs (and presumably who didn't want to stay in the hotel. The hotel was pretty much at its lowest point then, and may have been bit on the run-down side).

The smallest of these houses is known as the Gate House, as it sits at the entrance to the "new" Fells Lane which replaced the old one when cars supplanted carriages in the early 1900's. It's a 1-1/2 story frame house, described as a Carpenter Gothic style. The Gate House has recently been restored by the owners, and probably looks as good as it did 140 years ago.

The Swiss Chalet double tenant house
The Swiss Chalet: By far the most architecturally unique of the tenant houses (and maybe of the whole district) is the Swiss Chalet. Facing Faulkland Road just up from the mill site, this striking red home is actually a double tenant house, used by the Fells in the same way as the Gate House. It stands now pretty much exactly as described by Franklin Fell in an insurance document in 1871. Like the other properties, it was sold off by the descendants of William Jenks Fell sometime in the 1940's or 50's.
 
Frame Tenant House
Tenant House: The final of the Middle Period houses is probably the most architecturally conservative of the bunch, but is no less appealing. It sits just below the Swiss Chalet, facing down the hill towards Red Clay Creek. It's a two story, three bay, frame house built on a stone foundation. The main block of the home is little changed from 1871, with only a rear ell added around 1900 and a side garage put on later. Like the other two Middle Period homes, this tenant house appears to be in excellent condition. So good, in fact, that I wonder how many people driving along Faulkland Road realize that these three homes were built 145 years ago to supplement the income of a 19th Century spice merchant?


Late Period


William Jenks Fell's 1894 Carriage House
 The Carriage House:  The final two elements of the Fell Historic District comprise what I call The Late Period, since they both date to a time after the dissolution of C.J. Fell and Brother and the end of spice milling along the Red Clay. The first of these two is the Carriage House, built by William Jenks Fell in 1894. The Carriage House sits up the hill from Faulkland Road, off of Fell’s Lane and sort of behind the Fell Mansion. It was built by William Jenks Fell to house his carriage, as well as the carriage attendant and family. By looking at the 1900 Census, it appears that the attendant at that time was an African-American named George Roberts (I’m fairly certain his occupation is listed as “Horse Man”, and he’s listed directly after the Fells). If so, then it was Roberts, along with wife Louisa, children Norris, Bessie, Walter, and Caroline, and mother-in-law Hannah Smith who lived in the Carriage House then.

The Carriage House is constructed of beautiful gray, rough-finished granite, built in the Romanesque Revival style. It's designed in a T shape, and I believe the near section in the picture was the portion that housed the carriage. When the structure was converted into solely a residence in the 1950's, the carriage door was enclosed with a large picture window. Since this is the side facing toward Fells Lane, I assume the square window with the lintel above was the carriage door opening. The house also retains some of its original stained glass, some of which I think can be seen in the upper window on the end of the carriage wing.

1925 Georgian Revival House
Georgian Revival House: The last, and newest, home included in the historic district could easily be mistaken at a glance as being one of the oldest structures. This is the large Georgian Revival house, situated at the end of Fell's Lane, past the Fell Mansion. Like its older neighbor, this home is a five-bay, fieldstone (although not stuccoed) house topped by three dormers. It was constructed in 1925 by a granddaughter of William Jenks Fell, and designed by her husband. I have to believe he designed his new home to complement the old family home next door.

There are two interesting architectural details about this house that I was tipped-off to recently by the mother of the house's current owner (thanks, Pat!). Both deal with elements of the house that were saved from older local structures and incorporated into this one. First, some of the stones used in the foundation were salvaged from the Yarnall Tavern, a colonial-era inn that sat on Newport Gap Pike just south of Faulkland Road. Also, one of the mantelpieces was rescued from the old hotel at Brandywine Springs, which in 1925 was on the verge of being torn down.

In a way, these help to bring full circle the story of the Fells in Faulkland. It was in large part due to Brandywine Springs that they were here to begin with (Jonathan Fell purchased the mill property after visiting Brandywine Springs and falling in love with the area). Now, in the last major structure built by the family, there are items honoring the area's earlier history -- Much as the Fell Historic District honors, in its own quiet way, the impact of a century of milling at Faulkland.


The house shown below was (I now believe incorrectly) identified originally in this post as being the Miller's House. The real identity of this house is unclear, but may be addressed in a future post. Sorry for the confusion.

A Fell House, possibly an early tenant house



21 comments:

  1. Fell Family of America book at http://archive.org/details/genealogyoffellf00fell

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    1. Thanks for the tip!! I hadn't seen that before. It doesn't give much more info about the Faulkland Fells, other than a few other kids and their ancestry. It did answer one thing for me I've been wondering for a while, though -- the relationship between these Fells and the ones up west of Corner Ketch. I might write it up one day, but the short answer is that Jonathan Fell (who bought the Faulkland mill in 1828) and Lewis Fell (the "L. Fell" on the 1849 and 1868 maps and father of the other Fells up there) were cousins. Their fathers were brothers. I've been wondering about that for several years. Thanks!

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    2. Scot
      The fun part of history is learning about the old buildings we see every day. Thanks so much for the work you do on this blog.

      In an earlier post you mentioned a book by Ann Hetrick about her recollections of Marshallton. It was available at The Crossroads Restaurant. I went, but too late. Do you know of another source? I would very much like to have a copy. My email is johnmichen@comcast.net.

      For what it's worth, Thomas Fell, Father of Lewis, was a blacksmith at Valley Forge. He was the only man trusted by Gen. Washington tocare for his horse. DAR records.

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    3. I am of the Joseph Fell line-6th ggranddaughter. I find the statement of Thomas Fell most interesting and would like to add it to my Ancestry.com tree. Is there some proof or statement you can share that I can use there. I would probably need your name or your proof.
      Philip491@verizon.net

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  2. Scott, thanks for the interesting articles on the Fell Spice District. Could you, or your readers, shed any more light on William Foulk or his family? He presumably died in 1818, leaving his wfe Hannah or his children to run the mill until it was sold to the Fell family in late 1820's by William's son John.

    Supposedly, William was born in Brandywine Hundred and according to records moved to Mill Creek Hundred, but also owned adjoining property in Christiana Hundred. My wife descends from a William Foulk (Faulk), so my interest is somewhat selfish. Just trying to figure out if this is the same guy.

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    1. Delaware21, William Foulk was married to Hannah Sharpley. He was the son of John Foulk and Sarah Talley. This link has good genealogical info. http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~duffy/reports/foulk/rr01_003.htm#P277 Donna

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    2. Donna P, Thanks for the quick reply. I have referenced that link before, however, it only mentions 3 children for William Foulk and I have seen other references that they had 11. Most of them died fairly young. His fourth child Sarah married Thomas Springer in 1802, and she died in 1817.
      I still don't know for sure if this is the same William Foulk who owned the mill on Red Clay creek, but an educated guess tells me that it probably is very likely.

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    3. At some point, I will have to look more at the Foulks. I can add a few things, though. First, I don't think there's any question that the William Foulk in that link is the one who owned the Faulkland mill. It says he moved to MCH, the death date is right, and he had a son John. In Carroll Purcell's book about the mill (from where I got a lot of my info), it's mentioned that, "William Foulk died intestate, leaving seven children to share his estate. On May 29, 1824, they sold their father's mill to John Foulk, one of the sons. Within two years the younger Foulk saw the mill once again seized by the Sheriff."

      The 1849 map shows a J. Foulk living justeast of the creek, on the north side of Faulkland Road. I assume this is John Foulk. If/when I come up with anything more, I'll let you know.

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  3. I was particularly interested in your comments about the Miller's House.You said it was apparently converted into a double house about 1878 after a mill fire. Last year I found the lease my 3xs great grandfather, Leonard Woodward signed with the Fell's to rent the western half of the Miller's house. The lease is in Fell family business papers at the Hagley Library. The lease is dated 1833 so the house was converted at some point before 1833. Leonard, the spice mill manager and his wife continued to live in the western half of that house until Leonard died in 1862. (Interestingly, Jonathan Fell, MD signed his death certificate. He's buried at St. James Church in Stanton.) Fell family correspondence dated 1864 shows my 3xs great grandmother, Elizabeth Woodward, still living in that house with the Fell's planning to leave her there for the time being. Leonard's son George Woodward (who I believe lived in the Tenant's House)and his son James Woodward all worked in the mill for many years. I am directly descended from all three generations.

    There are a number of letters at the Hagley Library talking about
    renovations to the Mansion, the building of the dam and more. For someone with lots of time to sift through the many documents, there are a number of snippets of life at Faulkland. One letter talks about dining at Mrs. McCorkle's at 911 Market St. in Wilmington. That letter is dated 11th month, 2nd, 1872. Remember the Fell's were originally Quakers.

    I am skeptical that the photo marked 19th century Miller's House is actually the same house because the land behind the house actually rises very steeply very close to the rear of the house to the property that was formerly the Hercules Country Club. The land in your photo seems to have a much gentler rise.

    The current owners of the Miller's House have an intense interest in its history and may be able to provide you additional information. The house may have even been a station on the Underground Railroad. There is a hidden compartment beneath the dining room floor that may have hidden people making their way along the railroad.

    Ken Shelin

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    1. OK, you're right. That house in the picture probably isn't the Miller's House. Thanks to your info I've updated the post and added a couple pictures for illustrative purposes. The problem is that now, I can't remember where I got that picture. It didn't say exactly what gouse it was, only that it was a (or the) "Fell House". Originally I thought it might have been the Fell Mansion, until I realized that it was built pretty much as it is today.

      I now see that the mystery house has a different (less steep) roof pitch. I'll keep working on it, but maybe it was an earlier tenant house near the mill.

      Thanks for the info about the Woodwards. I remember you commenting (maybe your first one here) that you were trying to find out exactly where they lived. That's great that you found more documentation. Maybe I'll have to try to contact the people there and see what we can learn.

      I wish I had time to go and look through those old papers, but it's good to know that they're there. Maybe someday. Thanks, Ken!

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    2. Ken, I was wondering if your Woodward line descends from the Chester County branch of the family or from some other branch?

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    3. There are a number of interconnections between my Woodwards and those from Chester County. For example, I believe my Great Grandfather had a brother Lewis Woodward who lived in the New London area. But Leonard Woodward, my 3xs great grandfather, who managed the Fell Spice Mill for many years was the son of John and Hester Woodward. I do not know where they lived or were born.In fact, I don't know where Leonard was born. There are also several interconnections with Brackins. Not all of them are clear, but I rememember playing on a Brackin farm in Hockessin when I was a kid and rolling down a steep hill from the barn. I think it was Clarence's barn. Thomas Brackin worked at Fell's Spice Mill along with Leonard and George Woodward, my 2 xs great grandfather in the 1860s.

      Ken Shelin

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  4. Scott,

    The house which you originally thought might be the Miller's House could be the Tenants House (now remodeled and painted bright yellow)across the road from the Spice Mill site. It has three bays across the front and the slope of the land seems right for that house rising toward Newport Gap Pike and Brandywine Springs Park. The photo could have been taken from Faulkland Road.

    Ken Shelin

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    1. My first thoughts also. That resembles 3010 now painted yellow tenants house. The cellar way is still in the same position and the front/side main entrance door are still basically the same. If that's the same tree I think it is, it is now huge.

      DM

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    2. After clicking on that photo and looking at the larger image. That is two tenant houses in that photo. 3010 with 3012/14 to the right of it. At first it appeared to be just one house with additions. I would love to know the date of the photo, If I took a wild guess I would think 1880-1890.

      DM

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  5. William Foulk had eleven children - John, Susanne, Sarah, Hannah, Naomi, Aquila, William Sharpley, Esther, Jacob, Elizabeth, and Stephen. He married Hannah Sharpley at St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Chester, PA. William was the son of John and Sarah Talley Foulk whose land was on both sides of Foulk Road on north side of Naamans Road and went to Naamans Creek. This land was owned by Sarah Talley's grandfather William Talley. Jacob Foulk married Edith Yarnall daughter of Holton and Ann Buffington Yarnall. Jacob is my great great grandfather. They had eight children - Janes, Jacob Yarnall, Mary P., Lewis Holton, William Henry, Franklin, Stephen G., and Sarah Ann.

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  6. A friend just sent me this link. It's pretty cool to see these houses pictured here. Im the owner of the 'Swiss Chalet". Moved into 2001. I have some literature about the Fell's historic area that I received form the historic society. The gate house was built in 1859. My house and the yellow tenants house next to me were built in 1860.

    DM

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    1. Thanks for the information! And thanks for taking such good care of the house, it looks beautiful. I'm sure Franklin Fell would be amazed at how great all these houses look after 150+ years.

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  7. Scott on the 1868 beers map of Newport there is a C.J. Fell and brother flour mill along the christiana river. Is this the same Fells as the ones at Brandywine Springs? Dave Z

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    1. Yes, Dave, the flour mill there was another one of the company holdings. If I can find a little more info I'll let you know.

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  8. Just stumbled across this article and I must say that the mansion is beautiful. Everyday I drive by those stone gates and wonder what's back there!

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