Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Abel Jeanes' Great Stone Barn

Aerial view of the Jeanes Barn remains
A while back, in what ended up being a series of posts (history, structures, lime kilns, Abel Jeanes), we took looks at several different aspects of the Eastburn-Jeanes Lime Kiln District. This turned out to be a fun topic to explore for a number of reasons. Among these were the facts that there is a fair amount of documentation about the area and the industry that went on there; that the families involved are pretty well documented (a process that continues today, right Donna?); and that the structures in the district are generally in a remarkable state of preservation. Except for the lime kilns themselves (which I doubt could be pressed into service now), there was only one structure mentioned that would fall into the "ruins" category -- Abel Jeanes' Great Stone Barn.

The barn was erected by Abel Jeanes in 1832 and sits sort of away from everything else, on the east side of Pike Creek. The general consensus for why Jeanes built it over there was to place it a safe distance away from any stray sparks that might escape from the lime kilns. Aside from its placement, the most outstanding feature of Jeanes' barn has always been its size. For many years after its construction, it was thought to be the largest barn in Delaware. It's not known exactly why it was built so large, but I put forth two possible explanations -- one serious and one semi-serious. My serious theory is that it was so big because of all the livestock Jeanes owned and needed to house. To do the heavy work of hauling around cartloads of lime, at the time the barn was built Jeanes owned 38 horses and 10 or 12 yoke of oxen. In this way I look at it as being as much a 19th Century parking garage as a barn. An alternate explanation is that from what we know of Abel Jeanes himself, he might have built the barn so large just because he could. He was not exactly what you'd call a shrinking violet.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Two Abandoned Bridges in the Woods

Bridge over Turkey Run
This might not be the most exciting little post, but I wanted to write it anyway. There was something I had found a little while ago and shared with someone, but I realized I never posted it for everyone to see. Now I've come across another similar situation, so I figured I'd bundle them together in one post. At issue are two small bridges -- one repurposed and one abandoned -- in the woods near ruins I've been shown recently. These bridges were never very large or heavily trafficked even when in use, and are certainly not much to look at today. What this story is, I think, more than anything, is a neat way to use a reference source I haven't touched on in a while -- the 1921 State Highway Department Bridge Survey. Well, at least I thought it was neat. Your mileage may vary.

The first bridge in question goes back to the post about the Walter Craig House, which if you'll recall is located southwest of Corner Ketch, and just north of Thompson Station Road. In the post, I mentioned that the ruins are also near an old, abandoned road, visible on the old maps, that now serves as part of one of the trails through White Clay Creek Preserve. After having walked down this old road/new trail to get to the Craig House, and before going to the ruins themselves, my guide and suburbosylvan explorer (any chance that term'll catch on?) Roger Suro showed me the bridge that carries the trail over Turkey Run. The decking and upper portion of the bridge are new, presumably put in place by the state when the trail was created. However, if you look underneath the newer footbridge's decking and railings, you'll see a much older support system.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Plumgrove Farm

In the last post, we took a fairly in-depth look at the life and works of Dr. Caleb Harlan (1814-1902), originally of Milltown. We touched on his family roots, his work as a homeopathic doctor, his poetic writings, and his instrumental role in establishing the Ferris School. To be honest, when I set out to write that post, that was pretty much all I had planned to write about. I either knew or had read little bits about all those topics, and figured that's all the post would be. However, while researching Dr. Harlan I did come across one topic that had eluded me before, and which was mentioned in the post. This in turn led to what I think was the most exciting part of the story, and one that, I believe, even ties into another one of our "ongoing investigations" here on the blog.

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.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Caleb Harlan -- Physician, Poet, Agronomist

Dr. Caleb Harlan
For any given area, you'll always be able to find a few people who stand out from the rest. Not necessarily for their talent or success (although those may come with it), but just because they seem to think a bit differently from those around them, or do things that others don't. One such person in Mill Creek Hundred a century and a half ago was Caleb Harlan. He was born to a family of farmers and millers, but ended up using his intellect more than his frail body for both his profession and his passion. He had the mind of a poet and a radical thinker, but always remained focused on improving the well-being of his fellow man, both physically and economically. His name is almost forgotten today, but there was a time when I'm sure almost everyone in the area knew Dr. Harlan.

Caleb Harlan was born on October 13, 1814 to John and Elizabeth (Quinby) Harlan, at their home in Milltown. John Harlan (1773-1851) was a Quaker miller who, along with brothers Caleb, Jr. and Joshua, owned and operated a mill along Mill Creek at the intersection of Limestone Road and Milltown Road. The "new" mill erected by the Harlan brothers in 1815, converted in the 20th Century to a residence, still stands today. No other homes from this era remain (the brick house next to the mill was built by a later owner in 1860's), but it's very possible that the Harlan house(s) stood on the east side of the old course of Limestone Road. This would place them right in the current path of Limestone Road, as changed in 1964.

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.