Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Ashland Mill -- Part 2

In the previous post, we began looking at the history of the Ashland Mill, located on the east (north?) or Christiana Hundred side of Red Clay Creek along Barley Mill Road. We saw how the original mill was constructed about 1715 by John Gregg, and remained in the family until 1797. During that time, two houses were built that still stand -- the circa 1720 stone house behind the mill site and the 1737 brick house across Creek Road on a slight rise.

The mill and both houses passed into the Philips family for the next half century or so, before being sold sometime in the early 1850's. It's probably at this point that the 1737 brick William Gregg House was separated from the mill property and the stone house. On the 1868 map, the two are shown under different ownership. We'll leave William's beautiful house now, and focus our attention on the mill property and a "newer" tract just to the west, in Mill Creek Hundred. This is because in 1862, the old Gregg Mill at Ashland was purchased by another longtime local resident, Jehu D. Sharpless.

Jehu Dixon Sharpless (1824-1902) was born in Mill Creek Hundred in 1824, the son of Amos and Martha (Dixon) Sharpless. Martha was the daughter of Jehu Dixon, builder of the nearby Samuel P. Dixon House, in which Martha was raised. (Samuel was Martha's brother.) Her great-grandfather, John Dixon, built the Dixon-Wilson House on Valley Road in Hockessin. On Jehu's father's side, the family's history in America goes back even further. John Sharpless, an English Quaker, emigrated to America with William Penn in the 1680's. The first Sharpless to reside in Delaware was Jehu's grandfather, Caleb.

Caleb Sharpless (1750-1821) was born in Pennsylvania, but in 1772 moved south into Christiana Hundred (as Runk tells us). Caleb and his wife Ruhamah were both active members of the Society of Friends, and were both buried at the Hockessin Friends Cemetery after their deaths, in 1821 and 1824, respectively. Their sixth child (of nine) was Amos Sharpless (1785-1875), who like the others was born on the Christiana Hundred farm (which may have been on Ashland-Clinton School Road). At some point, Amos acquired a tract of land on the west side of Red Clay Creek, in Mill Creek Hundred. He can be seen on the 1849 map across the creek from the then Philips Mill, on land that is now part of the Ashland Nature Center.

1849 map, showing Amos Sharpless near the
Philips Mill at Ashland

Amos and Martha Sharpless had nine children together -- first three girls, then six boys. Their fourth child (and eldest son) was Jehu, future owner of the Ashland Mill. Runk states that Jehu attended "the public schools of Christiana Hundred at Ebenezer School", which was located on what's now Snuff Mill Road. This would seem to imply that they still lived in CH at least through the mid-to-late 1830's, perhaps on a portion of Caleb's original tract. This idea is further reinforced by the fact that the frame house located at the Ashland Nature Center -- Amos' on the 1849 map and Jehu's on the later ones -- has a date of 1840 listed by the county. If correct, then soon after Amos built his new home, Jehu left it.

At the age of eighteen, Jehu moved to Chester County to apprentice as a miller with Marshall Yeatman, at his grist mill on White Clay Creek north of Newark. It can be seen on the 1849 map as well. (There is also a "Sharpless' Tannery" shown very nearby, so Jehu may have had family there.) He stayed there for 15 years, then in 1857 moved to Fairville, Chester County (along Kennett Pike just north of the state line) where he opened a small store.

Finally, five years later in 1862, Jehu D. Sharpless returned to the Red Clay Valley and purchased the Ashland Mill from George Spencer. Along with his younger brother Amos, he formed the company of A & J.D. Sharpless. That firm would profitably run the mill for over thirty years. When the Wilmington & Western Railroad was built in 1872, a station was placed near the mill at Ashland, and Jehu was named as its first postmaster, a post which he held for 25 years. He had previously acted as postmaster during his stint in Fairville.

On the 1868 map, Jehu is shown as residing in the house currently on the Nature Center grounds. On the 1881 and 1893 maps, that house, the mill, and several other nearby properties are all labeled as "A&J.D. Sharpless". Jehu probably continued to live in the house his father built, while the other houses may have been rentals or used by workers from the mill. Or mills, technically, as there appear to have been separate grist and saw mills at that time.

While the "J.D. Sharpless" in the milling firm's name is obviously Jehu Dixon, initially (no pun intended) I thought the "A" referred to his father, Amos. However, for one thing Amos died in 1875, years before his name would have still been included on the 1881 and 1893 maps. Secondly, after stating that the millers had retired, Runk says, "Amos Sharpless now resides in Kennett Township, Chester County, Pa...". That means that Jehu's partner in the mill was his younger brother Amos, who was born in 1832.

A. & J.D. Sharpless properties in 1881

The brothers operated the mill for over thirty years, doing a major upgrade to the equipment in 1882, adding new rollers, among other things. However, in 1895, the 71 year old Jehu and the 63 year old Amos retired from milling, selling the mill property to George W. Pusey. This didn't mean, though, that the mill had left the family.

George W. Pusey (1868-1943) was the son of Jesse and Hannah (Yeatman) Pusey. Hannah's father was Marshall Yeatman, from whom Jehu Sharpless learned the miller's trade. George grew up in London Grove, PA, then (like Jehu) spent time learning milling at the Yeatman mill. After three years there, George became a partner at the Clifton Mills in 1890. He and partner Israel Durham enlarged the mill there, and had considerable success. Five years later, George went out on his own and purchased the Ashland mill from the Sharpless brothers.

A year earlier, in 1894, George Pusey took something else from the Sharpless family -- a wife. He married Sarah Florence Sharpless, daughter of Samuel Sharpless. Samuel was the brother of Amos and Jehu, and lived on a farm nearby along what's now called Sharpless Road. Under Pusey's management, the Ashland Mill produced flour under such brand names as Pride of Delaware FFFF, Ashland, Morning Star, and Fairy Queen. In 1897, George also took over the postmaster's duties at the Ashland P.O. from his new Uncle Jehu.

According to what appears to have been an obituary announcement included in his Find-A-Grave entry, Pusey at some point added a gasoline engine to supplement the waterwheel. Unfortunately for him, George purchased the mill right about the time when smaller local grist mills such as this were firmly locked in an inevitable decline, unable to match the output of larger regional and national mills, primarily in the midwest. The aforementioned announcement states that the mill closed "a few weeks after Mr. Pusey died", implying that he continued to operate it until his death in January 1943. If so, it would have been one of the few mills in the area still operating by that time.

Demolished mill in 1954, with c.1720 stone
Gregg House behind

Interior of the Ashland Mill while being razed in 1954

It seems that after Pusey's passing, the old mill stood idle for another decade. Hagley Museum has photos of the structure being demolished (seen above), dated 1954. Although it had been updated and upgraded several times, John  Gregg's millseat on the Red Clay remained active for nearly 230 years -- most of that span under the ownership of but three families. The mill race, presumably the same one cut by Gregg about the same time George I was being crowned in England, is still quite evident today, cutting across Barley Mill Road just north of the Ashland Covered Bridge. And though it technically sat in Christiana Hundred, the Ashland Mill was also an important part of Mill Creek Hundred history.

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