Saturday, October 12, 2013

The David Chambers House

David Chambers House, September 2013
Recently I reported on the status of two historic homes on Limestone Road, located just north of Paper Mill Road. The larger and more prominent of the two houses (which will both be saved and renovated) was the Samuel Dennison House, built in 1876 and now standing completely exposed on the property cleared for construction
(as of October 2013). The history of this house has already been covered, and can be found here. However, there is a second house on the property, which even though it sits closer to the highway is less conspicuous due to surrounding foliage. This house, which is actually about a half century older than its larger neighbor, is the David Chambers House.

The David Chambers House is a two story, stuccoed fieldstone home with 20th Century additions on its west and south sides. The main block has four unevenly-spaced bays, with the main entrance set in the middle right bay. A faint line over the first floor windows hints at a front porch, long since removed. As of this writing, small trees help insulate the house from the widened and encroaching Limestone Road out front.

The history, especially the early history, of the house is at once both detailed in some places, and frustratingly vague in others. We know that the property, which included the Dennison House tract, belonged in the late 1700's to Abraham Holmes, who died sometime just before 1800. After his passing, the property went to Josher Holmes, officially transferring in early 1804. Although I don't know for sure at this point, I would assume that Josher was Abraham's son. The administrators of the will were Jonathan Holmes and Isaac Dixon. Jonathan was either a brother or another son, but I do know that Isaac Dixon was Abraham's son-in-law, married to his daughter Julia Ann. (Isaac and Julia Ann's son was Jesher Dixon, so the name, which I've seen both ways, must have been in the Holmes family.)

Josher Holmes only ended up spending about a dozen years on the property, apparently falling upon hard times. He mortgaged the property to Isaac Chambers, but ultimately lost it to him in late 1815/early 1816. It's never made quite clear, but this DelDOT report seems to say that the house was in place at least by this date. It may have been built by Josher Holmes, or may very well date to the 18th Century and the ownership of his father Abraham. I'll update if more information comes to light about the construction date of the house.

David Chambers House, 1986

However old the house was at the time, the Chambers family would end up owning it for more than a hundred years. For as big as they were, I've had difficulty finding a good comprehensive genealogy of the Chambers family, but I have been able to piece a few things together. Isaac Chambers was a part of the same Chambers family that owned the Hopyard tract and had multiple holdings in the western MCH-eastern White Clay Creek Hundred-southern Chester County area. If Isaac ever did actually live in the house (and the 1820 Census seems to indicate that he did), he didn't stay for long. In March, 1821 he divided the property and sold part (the later Dennison tract) to Richard Chambers (1775-1863) and part (with the existing house) to David Chambers (1787-1852). I'm fairly certain these were his brothers. I had originally fallen into the trap of assuming, "House going from one family member to another must be father to son", but several things make more sense if David is Isaac's brother. Richard turned around and sold his portion three years later to Robert Dennison, but his bloodline would eventually return to the area.

David Chambers would remain in the house, along with his wife Elizabeth, until his death in 1852. He can be seen listed in the house on the 1849 map. After David's death, the property was divided, with Elizabeth receiving 28 1/4 acres, including the house. Since the couple had no children, the remainder was divided between several of their nieces and nephews. The largest portion went to John W. Chambers (1816-1869), the son of Richard Chambers (the guy who sold the Dennison property). The DelDOT report then says, "John W. Chambers eventually obtained possession of Elizabeth's 28 1/4 acres, and when he died in 1869 his widow, Mary Jane, inherited the tract." I don't have the original documents that they were presumably using, but I do question a couple things about this story, or at least what's implied. (Knowing full well that it could just be me misunderstanding it.)

While we know that David Chambers did live in the house for about 21 years, I don't think that John W. Chambers ever did. To be fair, though, the DelDOT paper doesn't explicitly say that he did. John had already inherited part of the family land along the White Clay, and built a new home called Hilltop in 1851, a year before coming into the property on Limestone Road. Hilltop was located in the very northern tip of White Clay Creek Hundred north of Newark, and the 1860 Census clearly has him living there. In the 1870 Census Elizabeth Chambers (David's widow) is still listed next door to Samuel Dennison, and is shown as owning the house. Both the 1869 and 1881 maps show the house as "Mrs. Chambers". I don't know for sure who owned what when, but Elizabeth does appear to have continued to reside in the house.

The history then states that in 1889 Mary Jane conveyed the property to her son, Isaac Newton Chambers (1834-1910). Here we have several problems. First, John W. and Mary Jane Kemble Chambers were married in 1841, and I'm relatively certain that Isaac Newton was not their son. He may have been a nephew. Secondly, as early as 1860 he seems like he may have been living in the house, although he didn't own it at the time. Perhaps confusing matters is that there is another John Chambers (not John W.) who owned a farm just south of here (the house and barn are still there, south of Ocheltree Lane, now the offices of Duffield Associates).

Also potentially confusing things (or at least, me) is that there used to be one other house nearby. There was another John Chambers House that stood on the northwest corner of Limestone and Paper Mill, probably about where the turn lane is now. It was razed in 1964 when the road was widened. This home was also made of stone, and although it doesn't appear on the 1849 map, it looks like it was older than that. I wonder if maybe it was a tenant house on the David Chambers property, then separated when his land was broken up. Since most of this doesn't seem directly related to the David Chambers House, a full analysis of who lived where during this 30 or 40 year period will have to wait until another day.

John Chambers House, before demolition in 1964

Whenever it was that Isaac Newton Chambers gained ownership of the house, he retained it until his death in 1910, at which time it went to his son William H. Chambers. (Yes, he does actually seem to be his son. Yea!)  William owned the home until 1928, when he was forced to sell it in order to pay off a mortgage debt. The purchaser of the house in 1928 was William P. Naudain, who shortly thereafter in 1930 undertook some renovations to the century-plus year old home. He added an addition to the rear, and built a garage onto the south end.

For such a simple-looking and easily overlooked home, the David Chambers House has a confusing and convoluted past. At least its future seems to be safe. If further investigation leads to any clarification on any of the Chambers properties along Limestone Road, I'll be sure to pass it along.


  1. The David Chambers house was last owned/lived in by Warner Naudain and his wife Carrie. They had 2 sons, Raymond and Lynn.
    Looking at the latest Google Earth image, Lynn's house is at the rear of the property at the tree line and been demolished.
    The demolished John Chambers house on Papermill road was lived in by a Naudain, I believe. The next house, a much larger house west of the John Chambers house on Papermill Rd. might have been Edward Naudain's house.
    Warner's brother William owned and lived in the Walker house and farm on Little Baltimore Rd. That farm is now the Autumnwood development.

    1. Thanks for all the info, Dirk! I followed along with everything except for the larger house further west that might have been Edward's. Was there something else closer to the road, or do you mean the McDaniel-Peach House, up in Chestnut Valley?

      Also, are you related to Ray? Are you part of that clan of Harringtons?