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Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Dr. Lewis Heisler Ball

Sen. L. Heisler Ball, 1919
As has been noted several times in the past, Mill Creek Hundred doesn't really boast much in the way of nationally famous sons or daughters. No Presidents, Nobel Prize winners, or world-famous artists hailed from here, as far as I know. That doesn't mean, however, that there weren't certain people who had their time upon the statewide or national stage. One such person who did rise above his humble beginnings was the son of a well-entrenched local family -- the physician turned politician Lewis Heisler Ball.

L. Heisler Ball (as he was more often known) was born in Milltown on September 21, 1861, the son of John and Sarah (Baldwin) Ball. Sarah Ball (1834-1905) was the daughter of William Baldwin, and probably grew up on Polly Drummond Hill Road, just south of Ebenezer Methodist Church. John Ball (1828-1900), Heisler's father, was the son of John Ball, Sr., and both Johns have popped up several times before in other posts. Both John Balls grew up near Milltown, in what I've dubbed the Joseph Ball House, still standing in what is now the parking lot of the Arundel Apartments.

After the elder John's death sometime in the 1850's, his son John inherited the southeastern portion of the family estate. He soon built a house for his new family (he and Sarah had been married in 1858) on the east side of Limestone Road just north of Milltown Road. It's described in the 1938 Delaware: A Guide to the First State as being a two-story, buff-plastered home. Here, John and Sarah raised eight children, two of whom would become doctors. And though their third child would gain more widespread notoriety, John Ball did quite well in his own right. Writing in 1899, Runk gives Ball credit as having "introduced the culture of small fruit into Mill Creek Hundred, in 1860". This was probably shortly after he established his own farm, through which the "new" (1960's) section of Limestone Road now runs.

John also owned several other properties in addition to his portion of the home farm. On the 1868 map, a J. Ball is shown on the west side of Polly Drummond Hill Road, just south of Ebenezer M.E. Church. This is probably not at all coincidentally almost directly across the street from where his wife may have grown up. Although his primary residence was always in Milltown, John may have spent time here as well. I still think it was probably he who turned up in the tragic story of Mary Whiteman from 1866. A few years later, in 1884, John purchased the Thomas Justis House on Milltown Road. Since he ultimately sold it to oldest son William, I have a feeling that it was probably bought specifically for William's use.

I give this longish introduction to Dr. Ball for two reasons -- 1) it helps to define his starting place within our continuing story of MCH, and 2) it shows that he was born to a father who had become moderately successful himself and who certainly wanted even better things for his children. For him, as for many parents, that began with a good education.

We're told that young Heisler first attended public school, which for him would have been the Forest Oak #35 school, which was located on what's now St. James Church Road just off of Milltown Road. He then was enrolled in a private school taught by Miss Walker at Mermaid. This was either in the Mermaid Tavern itself, or above the wheelwright's shop across the road. When he was older, Heisler attended the Rugby Academy, another private institution in Wilmington. He graduated from there in 1879, then went on to Delaware College (University of Delaware). He received his degree in three years (I don't know if that was normal at the time, or if he graduated early).

The boy from Milltown had apparently always planned on becoming a doctor, so while attending college he also studied medicine under Dr. Swithin Chandler, whose practice was centered around Brandywine Springs. In the fall of 1882, Ball enrolled in the medical school of the University of Pennsylvania, and graduated with honors in 1885. Upon graduation he returned to Milltown and immediately set up practice as a physician and surgeon. He no doubt worked in concert with his mentor Dr. Chandler, but sadly not for long.

The Chandler-Ball House

About a year and a half after Ball's return, Swithin Chandler died suddenly. L. Heisler Ball took over Chandler's Brandywine Springs practice, which was presumably based out of his home. To make things easier, Ball also took over his home (at the northwest corner of Newport Gap Pike and Faulkland Road, seen above). Oddly, Runk (writing in 1899) notes that Ball moved to Brandywine Springs in 1888, but also says that he purchased Chandler's house "recently". I'm not sure if this is an error, if he only later actually bought the house, or if there's something I'm missing. In 1898, Heisler brought his brother John into his practice. Five years previous to that, he had married Catherine Springer Justis, daughter of Robert Clay Justis (the son of Justa Justis, builder of the original Brandywine Springs Hotel).

In addition to his practice and his house, I think there is one other thing that Lewis Heisler Ball may have gotten from Swithin Chandler -- the desire to serve in public office. It's interesting that with everything Runk has to say about him, Ball's political life was only getting started in the late 1890's, and warrants only a brief mention at the end of his bio. Dr. Ball began by being active within the Republican Party in New Castle County in the 1890's, working his way up to county chairman in 1894, a post he would hold for almost thirty years. In 1898 he was elected to his first public post, as State Treasurer of Delaware. This, though, was only the beginning.

Although Dr. Ball did continue to practice medicine in the area (in fact, Anna Mae Hedrick, relater of Marshallton tales, was delivered by him in 1916), the next few decades would see him become ever more involved in the political world. In 1900, Ball was elected to Congress as Delaware's lone Representative. Around this same time, he became intimately involved in the scandal involving J. Edward Addicks and his attempt to have himself named as a U.S. Senator from Delaware. The whole Addicks affair is too deep to go into properly, but the gist is that Addicks was a wealthy industrialist, who, although he owned a home in Claymont, was generally seen as an outsider in Delaware Republican politics. He used his vast wealth in numerous quasi-legal ways to try to get himself named as Senator, but succeeded only in stopping anyone from being seated for several years. (Remember, this was prior to the 17th Amendment, when Senators were still appointed by the state legislatures. This was actually one of the cases that lead to the changing of that and to the direct election of Senators.)

Sen. Ball in DC

As a temporary stop-gap measure, Ball was named as Senator in 1903, filling the remaining two years of a seat that had been vacant for four. After serving the two years, he left the Senate for the next fourteen years. During that time, Dr. Ball had plenty to keep himself busy. He remained the NCC chairman for the Republicans, and carried on his medical practice. In the 1890's, he also became involved in the venture where I first ran across him -- the Brandywine Springs Amusement Park. Ball was for many years involved in the management of the park as well as the Peoples Railway trolley line. In the social scene, Heisler had membership in numerous fraternal organizations, including the Masons, Odd Fellows, Knights of Pythias, and the A.O.U.W.

After almost a decade and a half outside of Washington, L. Heisler Ball again ran for the U.S. Senate in 1918, winning by a narrow margin. While serving his full six year term, one of the things Sen. Ball became involved with was debate at the time over high rental prices. He was responsible for the Ball Rent Act, which worked to control rent costs in the District of Columbia. It was not exactly popular in some circles (notably, landlords). At least one person was so disturbed by it that he took a shot at Ball's car in 1921! The bullet went through the car door and "penetrated the Senator's clothing, but did not cut the flesh".

Sen. Ball seems to have served the rest of his term relatively uneventfully, afterwards retiring to his home in MCH. In October 1933, Ball caught a cold, which soon developed into pneumonia. On October 18, 1933, the 72 year Lewis Heisler Ball died at his home. [His obituary can be found here. Interestingly, the obituary of J. Howard Mitchell, owner of Woodside Farm, is on the same page.] He was buried along with many of his family members at St. James Episcopal Church. The Ball family has been a presence in Mill Creek Hundred since the early 1700's, but nowhere has their goodness, industriousness, and sense of community been better personified than with Lewis Heisler Ball.


  1. I remember a Miss Bal an elderly lady, who came to visit us in one of the area schools and spoke to us about local history, especially Brandywine Springs park. This must have been around 1966....Perhaps the gentleman's daughter?

    1. That was probably Ruth A. Ball (1909-1990). She was the daughter of George K. Ball, Heisler's younger brother. I think she lived in a since-demolished house on the northeast corner of NGP and Faulkland Road. She was involved in getting the state to buy the parkland in the 1950's. I've also heard of other people talking to her about the Brandywine Springs area before her death.

    2. Ruth Ball also lived at 2808 Duncan Road in the 1970's and 1980's. My brother and I spent some time at other teenager's house that was just behind Ms. Ball's house and used the same driveway. She also owned that house. If you look at a Google map satellite view of that area now they have jammed new houses all around. Those two houses used to be the only two you saw from Duncan Road. The house just sold in Jan. 2013 and the info. stated it was built in 1850. Might be some good history surrounding the house !
      This was a great article on Dr. Ball and the Chandler-Ball House.

  2. I have been told by numerous sources (all verbal) that the name of the creek that runs through Arundel (behind Duvall Ct., under Elderon Dr. by the playground and then on to the Mill Creek) is "Dublin Creek". What is the origin of that name? Whatever it is, it is beautiful! Erin go Bragh!!