Friday, October 25, 2013

The Henry Clark Woollen Mill

Sunnybrook Cottage
From the late 17th Century through the early 20th, Mill Creek Hundred was home to numerous water-powered mills. For obvious reasons of power, most were seated where you would expect -- along the main waterways of the region (Red Clay and White Clay Creeks) or their major tributaries, like Mill Creek and Pike Creek. A few, though, sat on smaller streams where, frankly, you're likely to look at them and say, "There was a mill powered by that?" One of those streams (which actually hosted at least two mills), was the usually tame Hyde Run, which winds its way from north of Loveville down to join the Red Clay in Brandywine Springs Park. And for nearly 100 years, in a now-wooded area east of Newport Gap Pike, stood a textile mill.

The story begins, though, more than a century before any cloth was manufactured on Hyde Run, or Great Run as it was referred to in the oldest documents. The property was originally part of a larger 239 acre tract purchased in 1689 by Bryan McDonald (or McDonnell, or MacDonald, or McDannell, or...don't even go there), of which this was in the northern part. It went next to Brian, Jr., who in 1747 sold his holding at the time to Jeremiah Wollaston. Wollaston in turn sold a 147 acre portion of the tract to George Robinson in 1757. Its location can be seen in the illustration below.

Disposition of McDonald land (courtesy W. Chiquoine)

From this point, the property stayed in the Robinson family for about the next 75 years. I wish I could say a bit more about the Robinsons, but information about these particular individuals has been hard to come by. I think there's a strong possibility that they're the same family that owned land and the mill at Milltown. There were marriages around this time between members of the McDonald, Wollaston, and Robinson families, so there's reason to believe that the men involved in these early transfers at least knew each other well, if they were not somehow related.

The next time (I believe) the property shows up is in a listing in the 1804 tax assessment, as related by Scharf. John Robinson is listed as having a grist mill, one which Scharf labels as "forgotten". There is no note as to where this mill is, but I believe it was located on Hyde Run, across from Emily Bissell Hospital. Although I've not yet been able to find out for sure, I'd assume John was related to George, quite possibly his son. At that point, John's was strictly a grist mill. Textile manufacturing was a relatively small-scale affair at the time, and there were very few textile mills in the area. For a number of reasons having to do with supply, demand, trade, and tariffs, textile manufacturing in the region (and in the US in general) exploded around the time of the War of 1812. It was likely then that John Robinson began doing custom carding of cotton (straightening the fibers so they can be woven) in his mill. He is mentioned as doing such in 1816. He obviously wasn't all that successful in his venture, as his property was sold in 1821 by Sheriff John Moody for the repayment of debts. [Although to be fair, the wartime boom soon crashed, and many textile mills fell on hard times, as seen by the troubles of the larger Madison Factory not far away. But see the note below anyway.*]

Possible ruins of the Clark Woollen Mill

The new owner in 1821 was James Robinson. As with George and John, I don't know for sure the relationship to James, but I think it's safe to assume he was related. What James bought from Sheriff Moody was two tracts, one of 40 and one of 66 acres. The smaller one was described as containing a log dwelling house, frame barn, grist mill, dam, and race. The second tract contained only a log house. Since there is no mention of a cotton mill -- only a grist mill -- this implies that either John had given up on textiles, or it was sort of a side job for the grist mill. Carding was done under James, though, reportedly by a Robert Robinson. (Yeah, again, sure related, don't know how.)

In or about 1833, the mill was hit by a fire. In that year, James Robinson sold the mill tract (now listed at 50 acres) to James Donnell. Interestingly, Robinson retained the right to use the road over the breast of the dam to get between his farm and Newport Gap Pike. This shows that the 66 acre tract he retained was situated to the east of the mill tract. The next chapter in the story began the following year, when Donnell turned around and sold the mill to Henry Clark (1798-1886), a woolen miller from Sussex County.

More potential mill ruins

Clark had recently begun a wool carding and spinning mill in Sussex County* in 1831. According to the 1832 McLane Report, he produced 300 yards of woolen goods in his first year. Upon moving to MCH, Clark began a fulling mill at the site of the Robinson mill. Whether he built a new structure or adapted and repaired the old one is unclear. While he originally did only fulling (the process of cleaning the cloth and making it thicker), by 1845 Clark was also producing small quantities of cloth. No doubt, his sons William and James* worked side by side with Henry in the mill and learned the business. In 1862, the two Clark boys purchased the Auburn Cotton Mill in Yorklyn from Jacob Pusey, which they then converted to work wool. It seems that James stayed on with his father at the Hyde Run site (probably taking over the day-to-day operations from the aging Henry), while William moved up to Yorklyn to oversee the mill there. There is mention of the two mills working in concert, but no details of this arrangement have yet been found.

Henry Clark (or more likely, James) continued to operate the mill until the early 1880's. In 1882, all but one room of the mill was leased to Abraham Marshall and Anderson Smith. That same year, a trade magazine listed the mill's equipment as one carding machine, four looms, and 144 spindles, making it a fairly small factory. After Henry Clark's 1886 passing, the property went to his son James, who died a year or two later. It then passed through several hands before being purchased by the Delaware Anti-Tuberculosis Society in 1910. The mill was certainly out of commission by then, probably ceasing operation in the early 1890's. The property became part of the Hope Farm/Brandywine Sanitarium/Emily Bissell Hospital.


There's never been any official archaeological work done to determine the site of the woolen mill (that I'm aware of), but there may be some clues to its location. Of the four 19th Century maps (1849, 1868, 1881, 1893), all but the 1849 show it on the west side of Hyde Run, behind the house. There are several locations with ruins around there, made more confusing because the sanitarium built several sewage and waste treatment facilities along the creek. Several sites are clearly these later structures, as they're built from brick and concrete, and look like 20th Century buildings. One though, shown in the accompanying photos, looks older and at least the base of it is built of fieldstone. It's almost exactly where the three maps show the woolen factory, but it probably is not it. The photo below is from 1939, and the ruins are likely the base of the large white barn to the right (thanks for the tip, David Z.)*.

Area behind Sunnybrook Cottage, 1939
As seen from the other direction

The TB hospital also made use of the large house on the property. There doesn't seem to be much recorded history of the home except for one brief mention, but we know from the Robinson deeds that it was not present in 1833. A house does appear on the 1849 map (and the later ones) in the same location as the present house, though. In a 1959 paper, Carroll Purcell offhandedly notes that in 1858 the Delaware Weekly Republican noted that Henry Clark had recently built a new two-story home. Presumably this is the house still standing, possibly replacing an earlier home on the site dating to the Robinson tenure. In the early 20th Century the house served as Sunnybrook Cottage, a home for children exposed to, but not showing symptoms of, tuberculosis. More recently it has come into the possession of the Delaware Association for the Blind, for whom it serves as a camp for children.


Additional Facts and Related Thoughts:
  • I found here a reference from 1818 to the legal troubles for a "John Robinson, now, or formerly, a resident of Mill Creek Hundred". It seems this John Robinson was caught passing a counterfeit bill, tried, and convicted. He was sentenced to prison, given a hefty fine, and forced to wear a scarlet "F" sewn onto his clothes. Yes, that was apparently a real thing even that late. I don't know if this was the same guy who ran the mill, but if so it would explain why the mill was seized and sold.
  • Well, Henry Clark's first woollen mill was probably in Sussex County. His entry in the McLane Report lists him as being in Sussex, but his answer to question 1 says he's in New Castle County. To confuse things even further ('cause that's just how I roll), the only Henry Clarks I can find in the 1830 Census are in Kent County.
  • The last aerial photo in the post shows the two barns a bit better. I believe I can see steps going up along the left side of the smaller, darker structure. These steps can be seen in the top "ruins" picture. Also, the little wooden shed seen in the bottom "ruins" picture can be seen towards the right side of the small building. Since this one is smaller than the white barn and appears to be older, it still might have had some relation to the woolen mill. Incidentally, I didn't find this view earlier because it was mislabeled as being the Ferris School.

19 comments:

  1. I've added some new pictures to the post, of what I think is Henry Clark's house and what might be remains of the woolen mill. I also rewrote the last paragraph (splitting in two) to reflect what I found.

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  2. Scott if you look at the dallin areral photos of the brandywine sanitarium it shows the buildings you took the photos of the foundations. David Z.

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  3. Ok, one more little change. Thanks to David Z.'s suggestion I found the Dallin aerial photo of the area which probably shows the building whose foundation I photographed. Looks like a barn. Also found a date for Henry Clark's house, 1858.

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  4. There was a wooden bridge over Hyde Run near Sunnybrook Cottage until the mid-60's when it either collapsed or was demolished. The water wasn't very deep and there were rocks you could step on even after the bridge was gone. There was evidence of a road going through the woods there leading up to the bridge.
    MS

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  5. Where the road crossed you can still see the walls on each side of the creek. Dave Z

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  6. Added yet one more 1930's aerial photo and an AFART note. This shot shows the "barns" from the other direction, looking westward towards the hospital.

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  7. Scott where did you get this picture. Dave Z

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    1. Dave -- From the Dalin Aerial Survey on Hagley's site, same as the other. Like I noted, the trick is that it's labeled as being Ferris. Search under that and you'll find it. By dumb luck I happened to be working on something over in that area and found it.

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  8. Good A.M. Mr. Palmer. I came across this site searching for Bryan McDonald. I am a direct descendant of his and have found very little about the family while living in mill creek hundred. Any information would be greatly appreciated. Shannon

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    1. I don't know nearly as much as I wish I did, not much more than the fact that he settled right around the area of Brandywine Springs. I've never read through the whole thing, but this book might be of some help.
      http://books.google.com/books/about/Contributions_to_the_Early_History_of_Br.html?id=FgIwAAAAYAAJ

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  9. Scott would this mill have a concrete floor or is it to old for that.
    Dave Z.

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    1. Dave -- I couldn't say for sure, but I'd guess that that it wouldn't. I would think it would have had wood flooring, although a later structure could have had concrete.

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  10. Scott I found a section of stone wall along the creek bank, don't know if it was part of the mill or not but its on the east side of the creek. below all the structures for Bissell and just above Sunnybrook. If you are intrested I can show you some day. Plus other areas I have found in that general area that you have written about. Dave Z

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    1. hey dave care to link up put our imfo together lot stuff found more foundations going up to old course and brandywine springs now is time plus sunnybrook is gone as of this month bulldozed just a pile now mayrebuild that was a big piece of history

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  11. there still a lot in woods deep in hit me up if ya like more imfo

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  12. also now 1-24-15 sunnybrook is gone in a pile knocked down pool and cottages still there hit me up rottieboy.ef@gmail.com or fb eric ferretti aka pro-v-recovery still a lot of history in them woods if ya like link up im ya man 40+ years in them woods Greenville overlook took a lot out with sewrs more on its way now that Hercules sold waiting hear from you scott

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    1. That's really disturbing to hear. I had no idea they were planning on tearing it down. Any chance anyone can get some shots of the site? I wouldn't be able to get over there in daylight hours until next weekend. Thanks for letting us know, and I'll be in touch.

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    2. I got pics did some walking not looking good hit me up scott thanks eric

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  13. Thank you for this information! I am a Tennessee descendant of Bryan McDonald (Donnell). This information about his land is a pretty amazing coincidence because my ex-husband grew up on Red Clay Creek.

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