Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Joseph Ball House, Part 2

The Joseph Ball House
In the last post, we took a look at the 19th Century history of what I call the Joseph Ball House, located in the parking lot of the Arundel Apartments northwest of Milltown. The little, stone, two-story house doesn't look like much, but I think it dates back well over 250 years and connects to an important early family in Mill Creek Hundred. The chronology may have been a bit confusing in the previous post, so here is how I believe the ownership/residency of the house went in the 1800's. At the start of the century, it was owned by Joseph Ball, whose son James may have worked the farm with him. After Joseph's 1821 death, James lived here for two years until his death in 1823. James' widow Isabella then had the house until her own passing in 1831. At this point the house went to John Ball, whose relationship to Joseph we'll look at later in the post.

When John died sometime in the 1850's, the house went back to James' son, James W. Ball. After James W.'s death in 1861, the house went to John's son Reuben, who lived there until his death in 1891. An unknown (to me, at least) F. Hicks is shown on the 1893 map, after which the ownership is unclear. The key to pushing the history back into the 18th Century -- and to figuring out who might have built the house and when -- is Joseph Ball. But to do this, we have to go back a couple generations. I think the easiest way to do this is to go back to the beginning, and work our way up. We'll also see how this house is linked to another historic house just up the road.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Joseph Ball House, Part 1

I've only been writing this blog for a little less than two years now, but in that time I feel I've learned a pretty decent amount about the history of Mill Creek Hundred (and I hope I've been able to pass along a lot of "new" knowledge, too). But even in a relatively small area like MCH, I'm still coming across things that surprise me -- even in an area of the hundred that I consider to be my "backyard". To be accurate, though, I didn't come across this one by myself. A couple weeks ago, Dave O. (he's commented a few times), in the context of discussing other sites, offhandedly mentioned to me in an email that there was an old house in the middle of the parking lot of the Arundel Apartments (northeast of Limestone Road, just above Milltown Road). Intrigued, and pretty sure I knew which house it was on the 19th Century maps, I went to check it out. As soon as I saw it, I knew there was going to be some frustrating research ahead. I was right.

As it turned out, there were really three parts to researching this house -- one which I'm pretty confident about (its 19th Century history), one that I'm less sure of but still feel good about (its 18th Century history), and one in which I've made an educated guess based on circumstantial evidence (connecting the two). All in all, I think I have a good idea of the history of the house, but I still reserve the right to come back at some point in the future and say, "What? You really thought he built it?" The difficulty in putting all this together springs from the fact that the family in question, the Balls, are another one of those that tended to reuse a few core names over and over again. The further back you go in time, the more difficult it becomes to know exactly who is being referenced at any given time.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Hockessin Colored School #107C

Hockessin Colored School #107C
In my opinion, there are many interesting and significant historical sites in Mill Creek Hundred. Most, though, are significant only in a local context, and not much more. However, one site in Hockessin -- recently almost lost -- bucks that trend. Not only was it born of one of the greatest philanthropic crusades in early 20th Century Delaware, it had a contributing role in probably the most important court case of the century, too. Although it's been in the news quite a bit the past year or so, many people probably don't know very much about the Hockessin Colored School #107C. The story of this plain-looking little brick building -- especially its beginning and its end -- is really the story of a few principled individuals trying to better the futures of children overlooked and mostly disregarded at the time.

To fully understand "107C" we have to go back a little, to the 1800's. Beginning in the 1820's, the schools in MCH and the rest of Delaware were controlled and mostly funded locally, by local school boards, with minimal assistance from the state. This, though, was for the white schools. Black children had far fewer options. Before the Civil War, there were very few schools in Delaware for African-Americans. In the years following the war some organizations, most notably the Delaware Association for the Moral Improvement and Education of the Colored People, did establish and fund black schools. And while these schools seemed always on the verge of exhausting their limited funding, these efforts did help to prompt an 1875 state law that taxed African-Americans for the support of their local school. In 1881 the state began contributing funding for black schools, and in 1897 this support was raised to be equal to that of white schools. Unfortunately, schools still relied mostly on local school taxes, so even with increased state support the black schools were still noticeably inferior.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Joseph Jones' Sale Ad

Joseph Jones' 1855 sale ad
I wanted to share something here that got forwarded to me while back, and that I'm just now getting around to posting. It comes from the personal collection of Denis Hehman, of the Lower Red Clay Valley blog. Since it doesn't seem to specifically fit into the bounds of his blog, he's graciously allowed me to share it here with everyone. It's not (as far as I know) a particularly historically significant document, but it's interesting nonetheless. I haven't found a whole lot of information about, but I did recently find just enough to give it a bit of historical and geographical context.

What Denis has is a handwritten document from 1855 detailing an upcoming sale of personal property. For those who can't read the document (although the handwriting is impressively clear -- this coming from one whose handwriting is often illegible even to himself), I've transcribed it below:

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The Brown Farm, AKA "The Farmhouse"

As we've seen in through the pages of this blog, there are still quite a few historic houses scattered around Mill Creek Hundred. Most of the survivors are still being used for the purpose for which they were erected many years ago -- as private homes. A few, though, have been repurposed over the years and now serve a commercial function for their owners. Several of them -- like the Meeteer House and the Aquila Derickson House -- have been featured already. Another one that some of you may have visited sits on the south side of Old Capitol Trail, west of Stanton, between Kirkwood Highway and Delaware Park. Now a beautiful setting for weddings and other events, The Farmhouse was once, well, a farmhouse.

Like a few of the things I've written about recently, I don't know nearly as much about this house as I'd like to (yes, after almost two years I've exhausted most of the "low hanging fruit" -- the things there's a lot written about already). For one thing, I don't know exactly how old it is. Dating this house is particularly tricky, since there has been so much new construction added onto it to turn it into the reception center that it is today. What we do know is that a house at this location (in all probability the same house) is shown on the 1849 Rea & Price map as being owned by a W. Rice. At first I thought this might be Washington Rice, a Mill Creek Hundred native who became a successful grocer and businessman in Wilmington. I was probably drawn that way by the "W. Rice's Store" not far away on Old Coach Road. However, after looking through the census records from the time, I now realize it was actually a different W. Rice.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

The Lang and Sturgis Store

The Lang & Sturgis Store
At the risk of seeming to be fixated on the topic, I have one more post on the general subject of the Smith's Corner area. After this one, though, I promise you'll never look the same way at a building you probably never gave a second thought to in the past. I know that personally, I'm kind of fascinated with it now. The starting point for all this comes via Denis Hehman (who authors the wonderful Lower Red Clay Valley blog), who got the basic information (and the old pictures) from someone in what started out as a conversation about other historical sites. (You can also read Denis' original post about the store, which also includes a picture of a Wilmington store, mentioned later.) He asked about Smith's Store, and instead of getting information about it, he got a story and photos of what was either a competitor or successor to Smith's.

What Denis was told was that there was another store on that same intersection (Old Capitol Trail and Newport Gap Pike), this one owned by Lang and Sturgis. Through some basic research, by studying the pictures, and by hashing out some ideas back and forth through email (as well as some information from a family member), I think Denis and I have come up with a somewhat coherent picture of what was going on at the time. And at two separate times, just by staring at the picture above, I think I realized two sort of surprising things. Both things now amaze me every time I pass by this intersection (which is almost every day).