Wednesday, February 29, 2012

John Mitchell


John Mitchell, c.1870 (courtesy - Seely Family)
 I had the great pleasure recently of visiting one of the oldest and most historic homes in Hockessin. The house --which will be the subject of a future post -- is an amazing piece of history. It's been owned by several of the most prominent families in the area over the past 226 years, including spending the past 144 years in the same family. The house is now owned by Mrs. Gertrude Bell, whose grandfather purchased the property in 1868. Yes -- her grandfather. His name was John Mitchell, and he was certainly one of the most industrious men in 19th Century Mill Creek Hundred.

John Mitchell (1818-1897) was the fifth of eleven children born to Joseph and Sarah Mitchell, and grew up on his family's farm near North Star, the property now known as the Woodside Farm Creamery (featured in a previous post). Presumably, John spent his first 29 years living on the home farm, working alongside his father and brothers. In 1847, John married Sarah Eastburn, the 12th child of David and Elizabeth Eastburn. That same year, he bought a house and farm, the first of at least six he would purchase in his life. In this first home, known as Sugar Loaf Farm and located just north of Hercules Road near Newport Gap Pike, John and family would reside for the next 19 years. The house had previously been owned by Abraham Mendenhall, son of Aaron Mendenhall, and may have been built by him around 1814. After Abraham died in 1833 and several of his children moved west joining the initial westward Mormon migration, his widow Elizabeth Mendenhall continued to live here. Mitchell almost certainly purchased the property from her, and she remained either on the land or in a neighboring house after 1847.*

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Another Possible Explanation for Pecco

In the last post, I laid out a possible explanation for the origin of the name "Pike Creek". Long story short (for the long version, read the original post here), we traced it back to an alias, or nickname, given to a particular Finn residing in what is now southern Mill Creek Hundred -- Pecco. Blog-reader (and aficionado of reading and interpreting old land records) Walt C suggested that Pecco's (who did own land along Pike Creek) name was the basis of the waterway's moniker. Over time, "Pecco's Creek" (which I don't believe we've actually found used), changed to Peck's Creek, then to Pike Creek.

After I wrote that post, Walt did some more digging and may have come up with an interesting possible origin and meaning of the alias Pecco. I am very far from an expert on the Swedish era of Delaware history, but from what I've gathered, the granting and use of aliases, or nicknames, was a common custom. These aliases seem to be pretty formal things, and taken seriously -- not like calling someone "Slick" or "Bubba" today. (Why the fist two names I came up with were Clinton nicknames is anyone's guess.) It was not unusual for a man's alias to be used in legal documents, and sometimes became almost interchangeable with his family name (which also could change from generation to generation -- such as Peter Thomasson was the son of Thomas Jacobson, whose father's name was surely Jacob).

Friday, February 17, 2012

A Possible Origin of Pike Creek

A few times before, we've attempted to delve into the past and uncover the origins of a place name in Mill Creek Hundred. And I do mean "we". As often as not, it seems the initial idea or key connection in finding the root of the name comes not from me or my research, but from information uncovered by a reader. [This is probably the thing I love most about doing this site. Individually, none of us knows everything, but collectively we've got a chance at finding a lot.] This is another example of a reader (who I know has done a lot of research into things that make my head spin) coming up with a key fact I probably would never have found. This key fact may very well explain something that I don't think I've ever seen explained before.

Over on another post, Walt C left the following comment in response to Delaware21's question about the origin of the name "Pike Creek":
Just struck me. In the 17/18th centuries, many smaller streams were often identified by the adjacent property owners. Hyde Run has been referred to as Guest's Run, for William or John Guest who acquired property on the creek from the MacDonald family. Pike Creek has been referred to as Brewer's Run, not for the distilleries but for Brewer (Broor) Sineckson (Sinneck) who owned land where the creek emptied into White Clay Creek. Broor purchased the land from Peter Oalson (Olafson) Pecco in 1682. Certainly a Swede, perhaps a Finn, and an early settler.

Pecco...Peck...Pike? Anybody want to run with this one?

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Smith's Corner and Beetle Cops

Smith's Corner, 1921
I've had a few topics sitting around for a while that I've thought were interesting for various reasons, but were not really substantial enough to warrant their own posts. What I've decided to do is to get a couple of them off my plate by doing a combined post here, with geography being the connecting thread. The first topic relates to a picture and its caption, which I'm fairly sure I understand, but which I'd love to have someone confirm for me. The second topic has to do with a long-time resident's vague childhood memory, which I was thrilled to be able to confirm and flesh out a bit.

For the first subject here, we technically have to go a little bit outside of Mill Creek Hundred, but only by a few hundred yards. It's something that's bugged me for a while, so I'm going to put it out there in the hope that somebody might be able to confirm my, and several other people's, suspicions. It has to do with the picture above, which comes from the 1921 bridge inventory conducted by the State Highway Department. I wouldn't be surprised if many area residents immediately recognize the location, especially with the building visible in the background. It's almost certainly a view looking west on Old Capitol Trail, taken from a point just west of Newport-Gap Pike. You can see the E.J Hollingsworth Co. building, which of course is still in the same location today. If you look closely, you can even see a bit of the house on the rise just beyond it, which is still there as well.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

The Robinson-Murray House

The Robinson-Murray House, 1958
Generally speaking, as far as post subjects are concerned, I usually prefer to move around as much as I can, geographically and topically, to give as much variety as possible. In this case, though, I decided to stick very close to the last post -- for a reason -- and I'm glad I did. I chose to look at the Robinson-Murray House now because of a specific connection to the Lynam (or Springer) Log House (one that had me kind of confused for a while), and because otherwise it might have been quite a while before I would have written about it. In and of itself, the Robinson-Murray House was not particularly significant, except that part of it survived for over 200 years. It (well, almost all of it) was demolished in 1958, but prior to its razing, a Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS) report was made on it, preserving a few pictures of the house, and uncovering a bit about its history.

The house sat on the east side of Limestone Road, south of Milltown Road. As best as I can tell, it appears to have been right about where the third house is south of the Mealey Funeral Home. It was built in two phases, about 30 years apart. The oldest section, a two-story, gambrel-roofed log house (later stuccoed), was built in 1741, according to an inscription in the chimney. A two and a half story stone section was built onto the west end sometime between 1768 and 1781. Beside the facts that they were both 18th Century homes and less than a half mile apart, the connection between the Robinson-Murray and Lynam Houses came after their removals, which occurred within a few months of each other. Since fires years ago had damaged portions of the interior of the Lynam House, sections of the wood paneling from the Robinson-Murray House were removed from it and installed in the Lynam House when it was reassembled at the Smithsonian.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

The Lynam Log House

Lynam House at the Smithsonian
As you can plainly see by reading the pages of this blog -- or, if you want to shell out the big bucks, by actually driving around -- there are many historic houses all around Mill Creek Hundred. Probably far more than most people realize. But, did you know there is one historic MCH house not in MCH? For most of forty years*, the Lynam Log House was on display to the world at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC, in exhibits about the early years of the country. Its significance to the nation laid in its archetypal form for the era. Its significance for us, in addition to that, lies in its connections to several of the oldest families in the state, as well as a brief but important link to one of the most prominent in the area.

The house that would eventually bear the Lynam name was first occupied by a member of another of the old Swedish families in Delaware, the Springers. In 1762, a tract of land on the west side of Milltown, part of which is now occupied by John Dickinson High School, was bought by Charles Springer (1728-1814), whose grandfather had come to Delaware in 1685*. Charles married Ann Ogle in 1752, and the couple had five children. He was born in Christiana Hundred, but presumably they moved to Milltown in 1762 when he bought the land along Mill Creek. By 1785, at least part of this tract was likely being worked by Charles' youngest son, Thomas Springer (1763-1804), as he appears in tax records for that year.