Thursday, October 18, 2012

The Spring Hill Brewery

Red dot marks location of the Spring Hill Brewery
With all of the variety of industries and manufactories that have operated in Mill Creek Hundred over the past 300 years, there is one type that breaks my heart to say (as far as I know) has never been present -- a brewery. (And no, the Mr. Beer in your basement doesn't count.) Luckily, though, if you were around 120 years ago, there was one literally a stones throw away in Christiana Hundred. I've heard stories -- mostly not far above urban legend level -- of the existence of a 19th Century brewery for a while now, but I had never been able to find any more information about it. Then, the other day, while looking for something completely unrelated, I stumbled across a reference to it that contained the name of the brewery and the man who ran it. Yea for serendipity!!

All I really knew about the brewery before was that it was located on the other (east) side of Red Clay Creek somewhere near the Wooddale Quarry. The quarry is located just north of the former Delaware Iron Works, along the Wilmington & Western Railroad tracks. It was used by the B&O (of which the Wilmington & Western was then a part) as a source for ballast stone (the stones lying under and around the tracks). The quarry was last used in 1932 to aid in construction of the nearby Hoopes Reservoir dam. Today, the site of the quarry is easily visible from the railroad, with the 175 foot sheer-face back wall providing an impressive backdrop for the house now located where Italian immigrants once toiled. Stating the brewery's location in relation to the iron works and the quarry is not an arbitrary choice -- they were in large part the reason for its existance. Or, more precisely, their workers were the reason. 

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

"Stanton"-Tatnall-Byrnes House Mystery Solved?

The Sutton-Tatnall-Byrnes House?
I have a lot of fun doing research for this blog, and just as much fun writing it. If you catch me on the right day, I might even admit to being proud of it. I like the fact that I've helped to make a good bit of our local history accessible to more people. That being said, I'll be the first to admit that most of what I do is usually just gathering, compiling, sometimes fact-checking, and repackaging work that was done by others before me. To be fair, though, I do always try to add value where I can, whether it's adding a little bit of background or tying together a few threads from different sources (almost never does one source have all the information). Once in a while, though, I get to make what feels like an actual contribution to our collective knowledge.

Now, I'm not saying that these contributions are on the scale of unearthing the Holy Grail, deciphering Linear A, or finding an original copy of the Declaration of Independence, but they're contributions none the less. It's at least locally significant -- and pretty cool -- to realize that we've uncovered or figured out something that no one else may have known for several hundred years, not since the original actors in the story. As you've probably guessed, I think we've (mostly not me) found another piece of "new" information.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

The Stanton Mills and Stanton-Byrnes House -- Part 2

In the last post, we looked at the first 150 years or so of the history of the mills and house that sat south of Stanton. We tracked it (as well as possible) from its beginnings in the 1670's until its sale from the estate of James Brian to Samuel Bailey. One pattern that arose (and is shown in the Brian-Bailey sale) is the fact that the mills were very often "foreign owned". By this, I mean that unlike some of the other mill complexes in the area, the Stanton Mills (from probably sometime early in the 1700's) were owned by people who either didn't reside near the mills, or who lived here for only a short time. This, again, is one of the things that makes figuring out who lived in the brick house a bit difficult. I think that much of the time, it was a contracted miller, not the mill owner, who probably lived there.

But back to our story, in 1820 the Stanton Mills were purchased by Samuel Bailey. He was the son of Joseph Bailey, one of the most prominent and well-connected men in Wilmington. How well-connected? His father-in-law was Joseph Tatnall, who may have been the most famous person in the city's first 200 years. Elizabeth Montgomery mentions that Joseph Bailey "succeeded in the drug business", so he may have made his money originally as a druggist. From 1810-1841, he served as the President of the Bank of Delaware. He and his son Samuel probably knew James Brian, and knew of the Stanton Mills. Scharf says that after buying the mills, Samuel Bailey built a new frame mill, presumably to replace the old stone structure. If the stone mill he mentioned was the original mill, it would have been over 140 years old at that point.

Monday, October 1, 2012

The Stanton Mills and Stanton-Byrnes House -- Part 1

One thing I've found while doing my research -- and I have a feeling it holds true for some of you, too -- is that not all historic sites generate the same feelings in me. Don't get me wrong, I think they're all interesting. It's just that some seem to "stick with me" more than others. It might be because it's in an area I'm more familiar with, or because I find its story more interesting, or it might just be aesthetically pleasing to me. One such site that's always fascinated me is the old Stanton Mills site and the house that stood near it. They were located just south of Stanton, down towards the end of what's now Mill Road. The road, which is really an extension of Limestone Road south of Route 4, stops about half way now, but once extended almost to where Red Clay Creek empties into White Clay Creek.

So if I'm so fascinated by this site, you might ask, why has it taken me so long to write about it? Well, basically because the information about it always seemed rather confusing to me. The mill was in operation for over 200 years, but was destroyed well over 100 years ago (think about that for a moment). In cursory searches in the past, I was never able to find much about it. But as I dug some more, I came up with a decent amount of information, testified to by the fact that this ended up as a two-part post, where I wasn't sure at first that I'd have enough for one. There are still a few gaps in the story, but I now have a much clearer notion of the history of this fascinating site.