Sunday, April 28, 2013

The David Wilson House

A short while back I made mention of the fact that for the foreseeable future I'd be having less time to research and write the blog. I also mentioned the possibility of "Guest Posts", if anyone had anything they knew about or were researching, and felt like sharing. After all, that's how this blog started -- I was doing my own research for fun and decided to find a way to share what I'd found with anyone who might be interested.

I'm happy to say that I've already received several responses, and this post represents the first such Guest Post on the MCH History Blog. It was written by Dave Olsen, who often runs across lost history, off the beaten path (literally). He's the one who showed me the Plumgrove Farm ruins last year. Here's what he came up with:


The David Wilson House
While running earlier this past winter, I happened to turn off of Brackenville Road into Hockessin Valley Falls.  As I headed around the outside loop of the neighborhood, which by the way gave me a great view of the valley looking towards Lantana Square, HAC and obviously Valley Road, I literally ran right back into the 1700’s and a complete farm that has changed little in the past 250+ years.  After pinching myself to make sure I hadn’t entered some time warp, I couldn’t get home quick enough to start looking into the details.  A return trip by car confirmed my initial reaction.  There are two lots:  506 and 516 Wilson Drive.

The site itself is really quite remarkable, and the fact that it remains even though it is surrounded by an upscale neighborhood makes it even more unique.  The farmhouse, with its many additions and upgrades over the years (logs, stone, stucco and framing) is still in excellent condition and is by all appearances still very much inhabited.  In addition, there are a number of out buildings and other structures that still survive.  The ruins of a substantial barn and silo are also there with the dairy cow milking pens still located in a portion of the barn.   It really gives one a great understanding of how many of the farms that make up our area were probably situated.  With a little MCH inspired research here is what I found.
 
Wilson Family holdings, 1868
 
On the north side of Wilson Drive is the complete homestead and farm of David Wilson which is clearly indicated in both the 1849 and 1868 maps.  I immediately searched your MCH blog and did not find any entries or references (didn’t want to duplicate your efforts).  The next step was to check in with my trusty Joseph Lake’s Hockessin History book and on page 24 through 26 the story of the Wilsons of Hockessin is detailed quite nicely.  It appears that the Wilsons have been a part of our community as far back as 1718.  All of the information that follows is directly from those pages.

According to Mr. Lake, the first of the Wilson clan was Christopher who was born in Yorkshire, England in 1690.  He immigrated to New Castle as an indentured servant and after serving his indenture married Ester Woodward of MCH in 1719.  For the next 21 years, Chris was a significant influence in our area helping to found the Hockessin Friends Meeting and becoming a minister in the society in 1728 and farming the current acreage.  He died in 1740 at which time the farmstead was inherited by his son James who continued to successfully farm, not to mention, upgraded the family cabin with a stone house around 1741.  He also significantly expanded the family holdings with the acquisition of several large farming parcels.
 
Aerial view of the Wilson Farm
 
In 1762, James’ son Stephen was born on the farm and he continued in the footsteps of his father and grandfather.  Of the six children he fathered through two marriages, the eldest, David was born in 1795 and inherited the farm upon Stephen’s death in 1823.  David improved and enlarged the current house around 1853, and furthered added to the family holdings as indicated on the 1868 map.  During the course of the next several decades, the Wilson family continued to dominate the Valley’s landscape becoming the “unofficial” Hockessin land barons.  The farmstead was eventually divided and sold in the mid 1980’s to developers and the neighborhoods of Hockessin Greene and Hockessin Valley Falls were born.


3 comments:

  1. Great job, Dave! A great account of one of the Hockessin area's hidden pieces of history. I'll only add that Runks has
    part of an entry
    about the Wilsons, too, if you wanted a few more tidbits.

    Also, Lake mentions that (in 1976) the house was still owned by a member of the Wilson family. It was sold in the 1980's, and is now owned by someone else. The name, though, is one with an equally deep history in Hockessin, so it could still be in the family.

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  2. There are still a few properties like this tucked away inside a sprawling subdivision, and they are truly delightful to find.

    I assume that Lake relied on Runk's Biographical Sketches, but Runk got some things wrong about the Wilsons. This particular property, 140 acres, was not acquired by James Wilson until 1763 (see NCC deed W1:24 and others). Previously, it was purchased by James Phillips, another prominent Quaker, in 1742. If that is truly the original date of the house, then Phillips was the builder. The tract is now Hockessin Valley Falls, but did not include Hockessin Greene.

    As for the early Wilson family, the Quaker records tell us that Christopher Willson of Christiana Hundred married Esther Woodward of Thornbury Twp, Chester County (not MCH), at Center Meeting on 22-8-1719. Subsequent Wilson marriages through 1761 were at Center Meeting, except for one at Kennett, and all indicate Christiana Hd. as their residence. It is not until 1772 that one is recorded at Hockessin. (Records available at www.delawareroots.org.) There is also a 1735 deed (K1:448) that puts the family of Christopher Wilson in Christiana Hundred.

    There is an indirect reference in 1734 to land owned by Thomas Wilson near Hockessin, but that property was north of Benge Road. Perhaps this was enough to create some confusion among the early historians.

    It certainly appears the Wilsons were active in their Quaker society, and Christopher may have been helpful in establishing the Hockessin Meeting. But all evidence points to his homestead as near the Brandywine in Christiana Hundred, with no indication that he ever resided in MCH. The Wilson land dynasty in MCH began with James in 1763 and lasted more than 100 years.

    - Walt C

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  3. Thank you for this blog and the comments as well. I am a direct decent of Christopher Wilson and I just love reading about them, history is so interesting so thank you again

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