Saturday, April 20, 2013

The Isaac Flinn House

There was a picture I had seen a while back (shown at right) that had piqued my interest, but I hadn't gotten around to writing about it until now. The only clue to go on in the quest to figure out where it might have been was the caption attached to the picture, which reads -- "Isaac Flinn House, Price's Corner, Wilmington, Delaware, 1890's. Isaac Flinn and his family pose inside the gates in front of their home. The house had served as an inn about the time of the American Revolution." Obviously, the mention of Price's Corner caught my eye, and while that meant it was probably a bit outside of MCH, it was close enough to interest me.

Since the house didn't look like anything I recognized as standing today anywhere near Price's Corner, the only clue to go on was the name "Isaac Flinn".  The Flinn family has been in the region for quite a while, and was prominent in the 19th Century in a broad swath from Newport to Greenbank. The name shows up all over the 19th Century maps, but sorting out the family is a bit tricky since there doesn't seem to be a good, comprehensive genealogy of the clan.

Many questions came to mind in thinking about the picture, but three stood out to me -- 1) Who was Isaac Flinn? 2) Where was the house? and 3) If it was used as an inn in the late Colonial Era, who might have owned and operated it? As usually is the case, some questions were easier to answer than others. The first thing I wanted to know was who Isaac Flinn was, since the answer to that would probably also give me the location of the house. Finding him was slightly confusing at first, but then relatively simple. However (as also usually is the case), the answer raised other questions.

At first I though the man in the photo might have been the same man mentioned in the post about the Cox-Mitchell House. I soon figured out that he wasn't, but the Isaac W. Flinn who moved to Hockessin might have been an uncle of the Isaac in our picture (again, my grasp of the family is thin in places). The Isaac we're looking for -- who would have been living near Price's Corner about 1900 -- is Isaac J. Flinn, born in 1851 to John J. (1818-1894) and Ellen Flinn. It's this connection to John Flinn that gives us the location of the house in the photo (as best as I can figure). John Flinn is shown on all the maps (1849-1893), and couldn't be more in "Price's Corner". In fact, he lived on the adjacent property to David Price, namesake of the area.


The above maps show the location of John J. Flinn's house, on the northwest corner of present-day Old Capital Trail and Centerville Road. As you can see on the later maps, Flinn acquired a number of surrounding properties, some of which may have been used by his sons. Since the 1849 map shows only the one, I think it's safe to assume that this was his original home. To get even a bit more specific as to the exact location, old aerial photos seem to place it right about where the Wells Fargo (formerly Delaware Trust) bank is now.

If you recall, I mentioned earlier that Isaac's identity raised some questions of its own. The question is, if that is Isaac in the picture, who are the other people? Isaac Flinn was a life-long bachelor. The 1880 Census lists Isaac in his father's household, and Thomas Flinn (Isaac's older brother) directly before them, so Thomas probably resided in one of the other properties his father owned. The 1890 Census is lost, but 1900 (the first after the passing of John J. Flinn) has Isaac again listed directly after Thomas, who was married with 2 children (including son Darlington, who would inherit the properties). So it is possible that younger son Isaac took over father John's home, since Thomas was already in a home of his own.

But since Isaac was single, who is in the picture? We have to assume the man in the hat is Isaac. It's a bit hard to see, but to my eyes it looks like two older women (on the front porch and in the rear) and a younger woman between them. My guess from their placements is that the woman on the porch is Thomas' wife Anna, the younger woman is their daughter Sarah, and the woman in the rear is Isaac's servant Marian Lynam. Why Thomas is not there I don't know. Perhaps he was busy, and the photographer had them get Anna and Sarah to make it more of a family picture. Since all we have to go on is the caption (which may have even been added later), we may never know.

The final question I wanted to answer is by far the most difficult one for which to do so. That is, if the house truly was used as an inn during the time of the Revolution, who ran it? The short answer is, I don't know. [And I should mention that the reason I don't sound 100% convinced that it really was an inn is that the only evidence (that I've found so far) comes from this one photo caption, made by a photographer who was going around taking pictures in the 1890's. He was probably told the story by the family, and we all know how family stories can get exaggerated over time.] All I can do for now is surmise that one of two possibilities must be true -- either it was owned by an ancestor of Isaac's, or it wasn't. (Brilliant, huh?) If it was not a Flinn who owned it in the 1770's then I currently have no leads on who else it might have been.

If we make the assumption, however, that this house had stayed in the Flinn family for a few generations going back, then I do at least think I have a guess. John J. Flinn's father was also named Isaac, and he died in 1844, early enough for John to have inherited the house and be listed on the 1849 map. This Isaac is still probably a bit too young to be who we're looking for, and I'm having a hard time finding good information about the family back that far. However, Scharf provides us with a list of taxables for Christiana Hundred (in which the Price's Corner area sits) for 1787, and on that list is one Flinn -- confusingly but not surprisingly, John Flinn. My guess is that this is the elder Isaac's father, and grandfather of John J. Flinn. So if this house was used as an inn around the time of the Revolution, and if it was in the Flinn family then, the owner at the time may have been this John. Until better information comes along, that's my best guess.

As you can see, not only is a picture worth a thousand words, sometimes it's worth as many questions.


  1. Scott, back in December you posted a link to some cabinet photos that were available on Ebay. Some were of the Flinn family, and one in particular was of Thomas Flinn.
    On another note, The J.Woodward listed on the right hand side of the 1849 and 1868 property maps (near Price and Flinn) was Joseph Woodward who married Mary Klair. They paid $6200 for 150 acres in 1834. Their 10th child Edward purchased it in 1876. Joseph and Mary originally owned a large farm in Mill Creek Hundred that was situated in the area of Limestone Rd. and Kirkwood Highway, which, of course, was not yet built. According to a newspaper article written in 1962, their house on a hill overlooked present day Howard Johnson's restaurant, and their barn sat on the exact location of Grant's store. Both are buried at Hockessin Friends.

    1. I grew up in Marshallton and remember that house on the hill. As I recall, though I could not have been more then 12 or 13 at the time, it was in pretty bad shape and was due to be torn down to build the shopping center that contained Howard Johnsons, now Crossroads, and that Millcreek Fire Company used it for an excercise. That is a vague memory from long long ago.

    2. I have an ancestor, John Flinn who had a son named Issac. John was born in Virginia. I never really thought about how close Delaware was to Va. Perhaps this is an area I must explore more:).