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Thursday, July 17, 2014

Ashland Mill -- Part 1

Ashland Mill, 1895
As we've seen many times on this blog, Mill Creek Hundred may be the most aptly named of all the hundreds in Delaware (although to be fair, I don't know how many ducks there are in Duck Creek Hundred, and I don't even want to deal with either of the Murderkills). And even though we've covered many of the mills in the area already, there are still some we've yet to hit upon. One point that has come up several times is the fact that the majority of the mills along Red Clay Creek are situated on the west (MCH) side of the waterway. There are a few, however, on the Christiana Hundred side, including one of the earliest, which has direct connections to "our side" of the creek. This one was even mentioned previously in an "On the Road" post.

The Gregg family originally settled in eastern Christiana Hundred in the 1680's, near what would later become Montchanin. William Gregg, the patriarch of the family, had four children, but the one we're concerned with now was his son John. John Gregg (1668-1738) was a prodigious purchaser of property, ending up with holdings in the thousands of acres. One of his purchases was a 200 acre tract straddling Red Clay Creek, which he bought from Letitia Penn's agent in 1702.

In 1715, John Gregg built a mill on this property, on the east side (actually more like the north side there) of Red Clay, nestled in a small bend in the waterway. Undoubtedly he chose this location for the ease of constructing a race across the bend. Almost 300 years later, the mill race is still quite evident. Soon after completing the mill, Gregg built a stone house directly behind it, tucked in at the northern terminus of Barley Mill Road, at Creek Road (NCC officially dates the house at 1720, for whatever that's worth). In the photo below, the mill was located where the dense trees now grow directly in front of the house.

Circa 1720 Gregg House and Mill Site

Since John Gregg was a busy entrepreneur and seems to have always resided at either Rock Spring or Strand Millas, I have a feeling that the day to day operation of the Red Clay mill may have been handled from the beginning by his son William Gregg (1695-1747). If the dates are accurate, William would have been 20 when the mill was constructed, and may well have built and/or lived in the stone house nearest the mill. In 1730, William officially acquired the 200 acre property (including the mill) from his father, and would operate it until his death in 1747.

Obviously doing well with his mill, which was the only one on this stretch of the Red Clay at the time, William built a new brick home for himself and his family in 1737. Sitting behind the older home, across Creek Road and on a bit of a hill, this beautiful example of the bricklayer's craft still overlooks the creek and mill site today. On one gable end can still be seen William's commemoration of himself, his wife Marjory, and the date of construction. Molded in the brick is a "G", over "WM", over "1737".

The William Gregg House, built 1737

After William Gregg's death, the property remained in the family until 1797, when it was purchased by James Philips (1745-1832), son of the William Philips who had purchased the Cox-Mitchell House some 21 years earlier. James probably ran the mill with the help of at least two of his sons, John C. and Evan C. Philips. Upon James' passing in 1830, the Ashland Mill went to John C. Philips (1782-1854). If this name sounds at all familiar, it may be because in that same year (and maybe with money inherited from his father) John C. Philips also purchased the Greenbank Mill from the estate of his Uncle Robert.

The history (at least that I've seen) is not clear as to whether John worked primarily at Greenbank or Ashland. The 1849 map lists both as "J.C. Philips G. & S.M." (grist and saw mill). William Gregg's 1737 brick house is occupied on the 1849 map by John's brother Evan. This seems to hint that maybe he was overseeing the Ashland operation. We know that John's sons became more involved in the Greenbank Mill as mid-century approached, so he may have been more or less retired by that point.

It seems logical that the Ashland Mill was probably sold out of the Philips family about the time of John C. Philips' death in 1854, likely to George Spencer. We know that because in 1862 Spencer sold the mill (and presumably the old stone house) to Jehu D. Sharpless, who ran it for the next 33 years. On the 1868 map the brick house on the hill is under different ownership, so it seems that it was likely separated from the mill property when they were sold by the Philips family. In the next post, we'll delve deeper into the Sharpless family and follow the history of the mill through their tenure and beyond, all the way to the end of the more than 200 year old mill.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for this posting on the Ashland Mill. I was particularly interested in this William Gregg information and the pictures of his home and mill. William Gregg was married to Marjory Kankey and I have their Quaker marriage certificate from 1725. She was the sister of Catherine Kankey Cox who married my William Cox of your Cox-Mitchell house posting. Thank you again. It was fun to see!