Thursday, August 14, 2014

More About Water Troughs!

Water Trough at Canby Park
No, when I started writing this blog I had no clue that one day I'd end up writing multiple posts about stone water troughs, but here we are. What started out as a side note discovered while investigating the early history of the Delcastle Farm has turned into an interesting little mystery. Now, new information has widened the scope of the story even further.

To briefly recap the story, go read the post. To slightly less briefly recap, there are five stone water troughs sitting in two locations at the Delcastle Golf Course -- formerly a prison farm associated with the New Castle County Workhouse at Greenbank -- on McKennans Church Road. The troughs have dates carved into them, ranging from 1902 to 1912. One has an M carved on the reverse side.

As to the origin of these lithic enigmas (by the way, "Lithic Enigmas" would be a great rock band name), the best lead we've had so far is a second-hand second-hand account that says they were made by inmates at the Workhouse. The dates line up pretty well, so the story sounds at least plausible to me. I even put forth a theory that the carved M could have been in honor of the first Warden at Greenbank.

We know that Greenbank was truly a Workhouse in more than just name -- the prisoners were expected to work. There was a quarry right across the street, so we know at least some of them were used to working with stone (I'm not implying that the stone for the troughs came from here). It sounds reasonable to believe that some of the prisoners could have had enough talent as stone masons to create troughs such as these. The next logical question is this: Did they specially make only these five, or were more troughs of a similar nature produced and perhaps sold to local farmers?

Thanks to the memory and camera of Tom Gears, we just might have an answer. After coming across the troughs' post, Tom (who also studies and collects relics of local history) recalled seeing what he thought might have been a similar water trough. As a boy, Tom remembered seeing, and even drinking out of, a stone trough tucked back in the woods of Canby Park, on the western outskirts of Wilmington. When he went back to find it, it was still there, although the frogs and tadpoles swimming in it convinced him to find his liquid refreshment elsewhere this time. Here is the Canby Park one on top, compared to one of the Delcastle troughs below:


As you can see, they're not identical, but they are very similar. I haven't measured it, but they appear to be roughly the same size. They also both have a rougher finish through the body of the trough, topped by a smoother, finished lip. The carved date (1908) not only is similar in style, but of course also fits into the date range of the others. In my mind, these similarities indicate one of several possibilities.

One possibility is that the dates are a coincidence, the style was common at the time, and the Canby Park trough is in no way related to those at Delcastle. Another possibility is that they are related, and both were purchased from the same craftsman or manufacturer.

The third, and most intriguing, scenario is that both the troughs at Delcastle and the one in the woods in Canby Park were crafted by inmates at the Workhouse at Greenbank. If this is the case, it suggests that those guests of the county may have produced more of these for sale around the area. If so, then there may be more of them still sitting around, buried in woods or stuffed into barns. Some may even have been passed down in families and put into service as flower beds or decorative planters. Maybe someday someone will come along with more evidence as to the origin of these artifacts. Until then, keep your eyes open!


  1. Does anyone have any information on what used to be located on the site of canby park? I've seen the youtube video of the old stone structure thats in the woods behind the baseball field. And the video by the same guy about the indian carving(is that real?) If anyone knows anything about what used to be there please share!

    1. Afraid I'm not too much help on this right now, outside of pretty general information. The Richardsons were in the area, and the Richardson mill was on the western edge of the park area. I don't know where the property boundries were, but they seemed to be primarly west of the park. There's also an N. Cleland (as in Cleland Heights) on the north side of MD Ave. Don't know much more than that. Anyone else?

  2. I suspect there were many of these troughs located around town during the horse and buggy era. My first full time job was at Beaver Valley Nurseries on Concord Pike about where Trader Joe's is now. We had a trough that looked like these on the grounds of the nursery behind the shop as a landscape feature. It came from somewhere in Wilmington, but now that the landscape nursery is gone, who knows where it went. If Ron Smith, one of the nursery owners is still around, perhaps he knows - or maybe Rod Gross who worked there as a landscape architect.

    Ken Shelin

    1. Interesting, Ken. My gut feeling is that you're right, and that there were lots of them. The questions then are -- are any others still around, and where did they come from?