Sunday, January 5, 2014

The Hollingsworth Case and Wild Wooddale -- Part 1

The (Phil.) North American - June 16, 1896
As we've seen in previous posts, Mill Creek Hundred was home to a number of communities mid-sized and small in the 19th Century, places like Stanton, Hockessin, Corner Ketch, Milford Crossroads, Milltown, and Marshallton, to name a few. Some have survived the years in one form or another, while others have disappeared in all but name. But for at least a few decades in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, one of the largest communities in the hundred was quite different from the rest, and for a combination of reasons has pretty much disappeared from history -- until now. The community in question was Wooddale, and I don't feel exaggeratory (yeah, it's a word) in calling it Sin City, MCH.

In a couple of previous posts we've alluded to this community, but only recently did I become aware of its true nature. Wooddale got its start (and eventually, its name) from the Delaware Iron Works, located at the top of the oxbow on the Red Clay north of Lancaster Pike. When the Wilmington & Western Railroad was built in 1872 and needed a name for the station at the factory, it was named after Alan Wood, owner of the iron works. Not long before that, a quarry was begun just north of the iron works on the west side of Red Clay Creek, south of where Barley Mill Road crosses over it. Between the iron works and the quarry there were quite a few laborers, many of them single men. What grew up around them was what you'd expect of a community of single, working men. It just may not be what you think of when you picture the Victorian and Edwardian Eras.

We'll get to the community itself in the next post, but first a century old cold case. My knowledge of and interest in this aspect of Wooddale came about from a newspaper article given to me by current residents of Wooddale (thanks, Jane and Chris!). It concerns the unsolved murder of a local farmer who appears to have been caught up in the dark side of Wooddale. The story appeared in the Sunday Morning Star on September 21, 1924, although the events recounted took place some 28 years before. For a full account, read the whole story here. For our purposes I'll recap the tale in brief.

On the morning of Sunday, June 14, 1896 (although I'm thinking they mean late Saturday night/early Sunday morning), 27 year old local farmer Abner Hollingsworth and his friend Patrick Thornton arrived at Wooddale after a successful day at the Wilmington market. They probably had some money in their pockets and were looking to spend it the way twenty-something men often are on a Saturday night. Wooddale at that time provided ample opportunities to do so, but more on that in the next post.

In the course of the morning Hollingsworth had run-ins with several Italian-born Wooddale residents, one of whom ran one of the saloons. Both had tried to separate the inebriated Abner from his money in less than honorable ways, and the young farmer was none too pleased. Or to put it another way, they tried to rob him and he fought back. Thornton tried to keep him out of trouble, but the two got separated somewhere along the way. The next time Thornton saw his friend, Hollingsworth was lying in a drunken stupor behind a shack. Thinking he would be fine, Thornton left him there. The next person to see Abner Hollingsworth was John Connor, the station agent at Wooddale, when he found Hollingsworth's dead body in a clump of bushes near the tracks.

Two Italians were arrested at the time for Hollingsworth's murder but both were subsequently released. More than a year later one of them was rearrested, but a Grand Jury failed to indict him. To the best of my knowledge, no one was ever tried or convicted of the murder of Abner Hollingsworth. His case, though, opens up a whole slew of questions, only some of which I can answer at this time.

Wooddale area 1893

I can tell you a little more about Abner Hollingsworth, who was probably not the first or last person to meet an untimely end around Wooddale. He was born on August 15, 1868 to John J. (1824-1871) and Hannah (Pyle) (1826-1902) Hollingsworth. Originally from Christiana Hundred, sometime in the 1850's the family moved into the farm formerly owned by Rev. Patrick Kenney on Lancaster Pike, just a short walk from Wooddale. At the time of his death, Abner was still living there running the farm (destroyed in a 2010 fire) with his widowed mother. In the next post, we'll take a closer look at the community in which Abner lost his life.

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