Monday, October 21, 2013

Ephraim Jackson House and Mill

If it seems sometimes like there's no particular rhyme or reason to what I write about at any given time, that's only because there isn't. One of the things this blog is meant to be is a documentation of my own journey of discovery through Mill Creek Hundred history. And that journey is about as straight a line as one of those old Family Circus comics. Once in a while a few posts will connect to each other, but more often than not I'm all over the place. The other day, as I was trying to decide where to focus next, I got an email from someone asking about a certain house (thanks, Julie!). As it turns out, I knew a little about it (although not as much as I thought I did), had mentioned it once before in a post, and always meant to get back to it. So since I'm that easily influenced, we'll take a look at a beautiful tucked-away house whose secluded location belies its significance to its area's history -- The Ephraim Jackson House.

The two story brick house is probably one of Hockessin's oldest, and sits on the south side of Evanson Road, most of the way down to Mill Creek Road, coming from Valley Road. There doesn't seem to be any firm date for the construction of the house, but a look into the property's history does lend some clues. Most of the information I was able to find came from Joseph Lake's book, Hockessin: A Pictorial History, with help on the early years from the research of Walt Chiquoine. There are still a few parts of the history that aren't exactly clear (especially towards the end), but a general story does emerge.

The story begins with the Dixon family, already featured in several posts (like here, here, and here). Their whole story is a post all to itself, but for now suffice it to say that their land came from an 800 acre purchase by John Houghton about 1715. Houghton was married to Ann Dixon, the widowed mother of four sons. Each son received a quarter of the tract, with Henry Dixon buying his part in 1718. His is the left-middle portion of the large rectangle below, the left one with pink borders. In 1721, Henry purchased an additional 130 acres to the north, on which the Dixon-Jackson House stands. He sold part of the northern tract in 1725, and when he died in 1738 the remainder of his land (two tracts of 61 and 190 acres) were passed to his son Samuel. If you get your bearings in the picture below (Lancaster Pike and Valley Road intersect about in the middle), you can see that the current Evanson Road pretty much bisects Henry's (now Samuel's) southern tract.

Dixon holdings in Hockessin (courtesy Walt Chiquoine)

The next time this property appears in the historical record is in 1771, when Samuel Dixon sells his property (both tracts) to James Jackson (1736-1817). According to Lake, in that transaction Jackson purchased, among other things, a house and a mill. It's unclear at this time whether the house refered to is the Dixon-Jackson House on the northern property (which Jackson and family did move into), or if it's a separate house near the mill on the southern tract. In all likelyhood Samuel resided in the house on Lancaster Pike, but the brick house near the mill could have been erected as a miller's house. There's no firm evidence for the build date of the mill, either, but if it was present by 1771, then a good guess would be that Samuel Dixon erected it sometime between about 1750 and 1770.

Whether or not the brick house was there yet, later maps do show us where the mill was located -- behind the house, about halfway between it and Mill Creek. A mill race ran north-south past the mill, cutting across the bend in the creek. James Jackson is noted to have operated the saw mill, but at some point it seems to have been taken over by his son Ephraim (1766-1843). In the 1804 county tax assessment, Ephraim Jackson is listed as owning a saw mill. It's interesting to note that unlike most mill seats, this one only ever hosted a saw mill. No grinding stones were ever installed, and no grain milling was ever done. The mill would have had an up and down blade, as circular blades were a later European import and never really caught on in the mills around MCH. The boards cut here would have likely been used locally in houses, barns, and other structures.

Ephraim Jackson moved into the Dixon-Jackson House with his family when he was five. He grew up here, but after his father's death in 1817 the family home went to his brother Thomas (father of John G. Jackson). Lake mentions a sale of 108 acres, a house, and a mill to Ephraim in 1816, a year before James Jackson's death. I've not seen this documentation, but I surmise that this may have been a formal transfer to him of the property and mill on which he was already living and working. If it turns out that the house was not built during the Dixon tenure, then I think it's likely that Ephraim built it, perhaps around the time of his marriage in 1786. Further study of the 1771 deed may yet provide an answer to this.

Hockessin area, 1849

After Ephraim Jackson's death in 1843, the house and mill passed to his son, Haines Jackson (1797-1861). It's Haines who is the "H. Jackson" listed by the house and mill on the 1849 map. Although it must have been operating then, it was certainly old and probably outdated. Haines* (or Hayns, as he's listed) is listed as a farmer in the 1850 Census, so any saw milling he was doing may have been a side operation by that point. He sold the house and mill in 1857 to George Springer, who had recently built a new home just north on Valley Road. And though Lake notes that Springer liked the house, it's all but certain he did not live there. Under Springer, the mill may have been used even less, if at all. It's not even noted on the 1868 map.

Since he already had his own home, Springer likely rented the farm out. In 1877, he sold the property to another man who bought it as an "investment property" -- John Mitchell. John Mitchell(1818-1897) had already bought, renovated, and sold several properties, and this was certainly his plan here. Like Springer, Mitchell didn't live in the house, as he resided in Ocasson, the Cox-Mitchell House on Old Wilmington Road. And like he had done with his previous purchases, Mitchell made some upgrades and renovations to the old Jackson home.

First, he renovated the house, which may have been more than a hundred years old at that point.* He also upgraded the mill, adding a steam engine that either complimented or replaced the water wheel. Finally, Mitchell supposedly started a creamery in one wing of the mill. In 1888, he leased the creamery to C.G. Gallagher, who converted the entire structure into a creamery. Scharf reports that in 1888 Gallagher was producing 175 pounds of butter per day for transport to Baltimore and Wilmington, presumably on the Wilmington and Western Railroad, by then a part of the Baltimore and Ohio. Mitchell sold the creamery in 1899 to his son Stephen H. Mitchell, who continued the lease to Gallagher. Sometime in the early 20th Century the mill was destroyed in a fire. Or not.

Here we get the other point of confusion regarding this house and mill to go along with its early years -- its later years. Like many times before, I'll preface this by saying it's possible that I'm just misunderstanding it in some way. If so, anything that can help lift the veil of confusion would be appreciated. Lake writes that Mitchell enlarged the mill, and that it was so large that one wing was occasionally used as a dance hall, and for a brief time served as an overflow schoolhouse. However, in another part of the book he shows a photo of "the creamery" that was used this was, but states that it sat on the southeast corner of Lancaster Pike and Valley Road. If that location is correct, then there were two creameries in Hockessin, and it was not the Jackson-Mitchell one that was the big one.

I suppose that one other possibility is that John Mitchell bought both properties around the same time, and that the creamery and the old Jackson saw mill became confused. This almost seems to make more sense to me, as it seems odd that Mitchell would or could enlarge a small mid-18th Century saw mill to the size that's implied. If anyone can clear this mystery up, I'd appreciate it greatly.

Whatever the case was, it seems the saw mill and the creamery (whether one structure or two) were out of service by the early 1900's. The old brick house, though, survived. Today it stands, secluded in its location just out of reach of modern, bustling Hockessin, as a reminder of the early days of the region's settlement.

Additional Facts and Related Thoughts:
  • I'll add this one only because I love finding and making connections between families, especially ones I've featured before. Haines Jackson was married to Ruth Heald, sister of Joshua T. Heald.
  • Since it seems like just about every house that John Mitchell renovated is still standing and in good shape, I think it's fair to say that he's personally responsible for their continued existence. Thanks, John!

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the information on this beautiful old house that I pass every day. It now sits on about 10 acres and is lovingly cared for. Nice to see a bit of history still preserved in private ownership. Nice too, to have this bit of living history to remind us of what once was. Too few of these places are still used for the original purpose, a lovely, warm and welcoming home.