The pair of 300+ year old houses along Rockland Road between Montchanin and Rockland were both built by one of the earliest of the Quaker immigrant families to the area, the Greggs. In 1682, William Gregg (1642-1687) emigrated from Ireland with his wife Ann, and four children -- John, Ann, George, and Richard. They arrived first at Upland, in Chester County, but in 1683 Gregg purchased 200 acres from William Penn on the west side of Brandywine Creek. He added another 400 acres the following year. On his tract William Gregg erected a log house for his family, probably on land now occupied by the Wilmington Country Club. He gave his tract the name of Strand Millas, although I think the original name may have been "Stran Millis". This is derived from the Irish for "sweet, or pleasant stream" (the Brandywine?), and is also the name of a neighborhood in Belfast.
The elder Gregg lived only four years in Christiana Hundred, but in that time solidified himself and his family as integral parts of the community. For instance, in early 1687, only months before his death, William Gregg was one of the Friends given permission to hold their meetings on the west side of the Brandywine during the winter months. This was due to the difficulty in fording the creek in bad weather, and this group would eventually become the Centre Meeting. In the summer of 1687, William died and his property eventually went to John, the oldest son. At that time, the boys were 19, 13, and 11, so they initially stayed in the family house. As they came of age, however, the Gregg sons acquired their own lands, some around their father's tract and some farther away. The map below gives a general idea of where the sons' holdings were in the Montchanin area. The Brandywine is on the right, Montchanin Road (Route 100) is near the middle with the (much later) railroad tracks crossing it, and Rockland Road is in the lower right.
|Gregg holdings near Montchanin|
I say "general idea", for two reasons. First, although it's possible, I tend to doubt that the tracts were laid out that geometrically. Usually they seem to be more irregular. Secondly, while much is known about the family in that era, there is also a lot of confusion and ambiguity. The exact chain of custody of each parcel is muddled in the various accounts, but suffice it to say that the family owned a lot of land in eastern Christiana Hundred. The most prodigious land purchaser was John Gregg (1668-1738), who bought near and far, and is almost certainly responsible for at least one, if not both of the subject houses.
The larger of the two old homes is the one known by the name of the original estate, Strand Millas. It sits on the south side of Rockland Road, a few hundred feet back. Seen in the picture at the top of the post, the original section (right 2/3), according to its datestone, was erected in 1701. The 2-1/2 story stone house was built on the Penn, or Quaker, Plan suggested by William Penn, and is one of the older examples of the style remaining. There doesn't seem to be any firm indication, but it's thought that Strand Millas was built by John Gregg. The house later was owned by one of John's sons, Samuel Gregg (1710-1767). Sometime near the end of Samuel's life, an additional full-depth room was added on each floor to the east end of the house, either by him or one of his sons. If you look closely at the picture, you can see a vertical white line marking the beginning of the addition. The 20th Century saw the addition of the dormers, a service wing on the rear, and the addition (and later removal) of a sunporch on the west end.
For as little concrete information as there is about Strand Millas, its sister house is even more of a mystery. A couple hundred yards northeast of Strand Millas, on the north side of Rockland Road, stands Rock Spring. Built on the side of a hill, Rock Spring is probably a few years older than Strand Millas, and stands next to the spring that gave it its name. The spring emerges from beneath an overhanging rock in the hillside, and into a man-made pool. The Greggs surely used the spring from the earliest days, and soon built a springhouse over it.
|The Rock Spring springhouse, behind the home|
There's no definite date that I could find for the house, but pre-1700 seems to be the consensus. The 1973 National Register of Historic Places form for the two homes says it may have been built in the 1680's, while several sites (like this one) say that John Gregg built it in 1694. Interestingly, John was also married in 1694, so it's at least possible that he built it for himself and his new bride. This picture in the Hagley archives also states the 1694 date, and says that it was originally two stories, with the roof sloping back against the hillside. The third story was then added later. How the idea of John being the builder effects the theory of his building Strand Millas seven years later I'm not sure. Some accounts have John's bachelor brother Richard Gregg (1676-1716) as the builder of Strand Millas. Richard's relatively young death and lack of heirs could explain how John's son Samuel came to own it, and could be the source of some of the confusion. Honestly, much more research needs to be done into these historic homes.
Even if John Gregg did build both homes, this would still be only a small part of his legacy. For one thing, he bought a lot of land. I've seen figures thrown around in the neighborhood of four to five thousand acres. Although sometimes it's said that this was just his holdings in the Strand Millas area, I think this probably encompasses his tracts in Christiana and Mill Creek Hundreds, as well as land in Pennsylvania. John extended his holdings southward, toward the current city limits of Wilmington. Two of his grandsons (John and Samuel, sons of Samuel) first developed and named the millseat at Hagley, which was later purchased by E. I. duPont. In fact, much of the Greggs' Christiana Hundred holdings would eventually end up in DuPont hands, including Strand Millas and Rock Spring. Much of the area we think of now as "DuPont Country" was originally owned by the Greggs.
Industrial development didn't have to wait until John's grandkids, though. He built at least two mills himself, one on each side of Christiana Hundred. Around 1724 Gregg erected a grist mill, along with Adam Kirk, on the west side of Brandywine Creek near the mouth of Wilson's Run. This frame and stone mill would be replaced about 80 years later with a larger stone one, the remains of which can still be seen. Even this mill, though, would be overshadowed by the Rockland paper mill (and for a time, cotton mill) across the creek.
Two decades earlier, however, John Gregg made a substantial purchase a few miles to the west of the family home. On August 17, 1702, Gregg made the first purchase from Letitia Manor, the large tract belonging to William Penn's daughter. He bought 200 acres straddling Red Clay Creek and sometime in the ensuing few years erected a grist mill on the east side of the creek. This millseat, which would come to be known as "Ashland", was passed to his son William in 1730. Seven years after that, William erected a beautiful brick house, which still stands today overlooking the mill site. The mill was sold out of the family in the early 19th Century, but some of this branch of the Greggs ended up settling in the Hockessin area. I'm sure this part of the story will be revisited one day in a later post.
Today, Strand Millas and Rock Spring sit in a quiet area of the Brandywine Valley, their 17th Century heritage overshadowed by later sites like the Village of Montchanin and the huge influence of a certain gunpowder-making French immigrant family. They are, however, direct links to some of the earliest settlers in both Christiana and Mill Creek Hundreds.