Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Armstrongs of Woodland and Brookland

Brookland
In the last post, we began looking at the Armstrong family of southwestern Christiana Hundred, a portion of which they came to dominate in the 19th Century. We saw four generations of Robert Armstrongs, at least three of whom lived on the farm called Hedgeland, located at the present-day site of DuPont's Chestnut Run facility. The funny thing is, this is not even what I started out researching. Initially I was looking into two other Armstrong properties -- Woodland and Brookland -- situated west of Centre Road (Route 141) and south of Faulkland Road. The recent removal of the Woodland name (which I doubt many people knew dated back at least 200 years) from a prominent place along the road got me thinking about the area, which in turn lead me down the whole Armstrong family path.

In the Armstrongs of Hedgeland post I noted that most of the family biographical information (which primarily came from Runks) began with Robert Armstrong (1743-1821). It said little other than A) he served in the Revolutionary War, B) owned a farm called "The Hedge", and C) had two sons, Robert and William. In the first post we followed the line of son Robert. In this one we'll take a look at William and his descendants.

William Armstrong (1777-1840) was likely born on his father's Hedge farm, as best as I can tell, in 1777. As noted in the last post many of the dates for the Armstrongs tend to vary from place to place. In the Runks biography of one of his grandsons, it states that William fought in the Continental Army during the Revolution. If this date of birth is anywhere close to correct, I think we can safely rule that out and say that he actually fought in the War of 1812, like his brother Robert. It would have been in this conflict then, that William rose to the rank of Major, a rank he proudly wore the rest of his life (and beyond -- his headstone id's him as Major William Armstrong).

If William grew up at Hedgeland as seems reasonable, he soon moved away to his own farm, but not very far away. By at least 1806, William was residing at the farm he called Woodland, a name still very much in use, although I doubt many know the name dates back over 200 years. Woodland occupied the southwest corner of 141 and Faulkland Road, with the manor house probably sitting near the back of the apartment/condo complex, until recently, known as Woodland Terrace. (Its name change to "Greenville at 141" is what got me thinking about the area in the first place.) Having not seen any property records relating to the tract, it's unclear whether Woodland was a part of the larger family holdings, or whether William purchased it himself. Major William Armstrong lived on his Woodland farm until his death in 1840, after which he was buried at St. James Church near Stanton, like so many in his family.

The Armstrong area in 1868

Maj. Armstrong and his wife Ann had eight children, the first five of whom were sons. Of these boys, Robert (the oldest) moved away to farm first in White Clay Creek Hundred, and then in Pencader Hundred. The youngest, George, moved to Wilmington. Second son John Paulson (1808-1885) purchased his own farm, Oakland, located west of Centerville Road near today's Little Falls Corporate Center. The other two sons stayed even closer to home. After Maj. Armstrong's 1840 passing, ownership of Woodland went to the fourth son, James Armstrong (1818-1873). James lived the rest of his life at Woodland, after which it remained in the family.

The remaining son, William Armstrong (1815-1890), third child of Maj. Armstrong, would eventually cultivate the last of the Armstrong estates in the area. William was born at Woodland in 1815, although this is an example of the dates not agreeing in different sources. Runks says he was born in 1806, the 1850 Census implies 1820, but his headstone says 1815. For our purposes, I'm going with the date literally written in stone. Whatever the true date was, William grew up at Woodland, then as a young man trained to be a blacksmith. He moved to Wilmington where he worked in that profession, before eventually returning to Christiana Hundred about 1850.

Like some of the personal dates surrounding the family, that 1850 date for William's purchase of Brookland seems to be an approximation. Since the Runks tome that it came from was written nearly a half century later, I'm willing to cut them some slack on this one. However, the 1849 map clearly shows William already owning the property. On the 1850 Census he's listed as owning property, but is shown in the same household with his brother James at Woodland. Perhaps he was in the midst of building or rebuilding the house at Brookland at the time of the census. Again, like with his father's purchase of Woodland, it's not clear whether William bought part of a larger family tract or if he purchased a neighboring farm from someone else. What I do know, though, is that his house is still there, tucked away in the middle of the Brookland Terrace development.

While residing at his Brookland farm, William and his wife Mary Lowber (Banning) had three children. The youngest, and the only son to reach manhood, was William J. Armstrong (1861-1925). [Again, Runks says 1862 but his headstone says 1861.] After finishing his schooling (both locally and in Wilmington), William J. returned to Brookland and worked his father's farm. After William, Sr.'s death in 1890 (or 1892 if you go by Runks), William J. took over ownership of the property and home. He also owned neighboring Woodland. His Uncle James had died in 1873, but the 1881 map shows it as owned by his wife Mary. So sometime between 1881 and 1899, Mary sold the farm to either her brother-in-law or nephew.

William J. Armstrong presumably lived on his Brookland farm until his death in 1925. Since the earliest homes in the Brookland Terrace/Centre Road area began to go up only a few years later, it seems likely that the land was sold to developers after his passing. The farms may have passed into history during the interwar period, but the names live on. So the next time you drive along 141 and see a street sign for Brookland Aveneue or Woodland Heights, bear in mind that those names go back over 150 and 200 years, respectively. Just another neat example of how sometimes our history is still there in plain sight, if you know where to look.

4 comments:

  1. i can look out my bedroom window and see the armstrong place. my house was built in 1920 i believe. my mom and dad's house down the street in 1930 or so. the terrace is a great old neighborhood. all the houses are different. people bought lots (each lot was like 30 x 100) and you bought as many as you wanted and built your own house on it. my lot is 60x100. so it is actually 2 lots.

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  2. Good old days when you could get a nice piece of property to build a house on!

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  3. I have a metal plate photo of what my grandmother, Edna Springer Lamborn, told us was of the house that stood where the entrance of Chestnut Run duPont buildings are today. She said it stood on route 141 facing the road. Nine people are sitting on the porch. On the back of the plate is an advertisement for the Pennellograph Copying Co'y, S. J. Collingson, Agent, Kirkwood, Delaware. My grandmother was a decendent of Robert Louis Armstrong. She told us it was a beautiful, well kept farm and she was always sad to have seen it developed. I will try to take a photo of it and send it to you.

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    1. That would be awesome! I've never seen a good picture of it, only the blurry aerial photos. If you can, you can send it to mchhistory@verizon.net. I also can't help but notice the Springer and Lamborn names, too. Sounds like you may have long roots in the area, in addition to the Armstrong's.

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