Thursday, May 22, 2014

The Knowles Family

Harry Knowles, brother of Cpt. Thomas Knowles
Aside from researching and writing these posts, there are a few little projects I've always wanted to do but have never had the time to get to. One of them was to go through the censuses (1850 and later) and look for odd and unusual occupations. Maybe even try to calculate how many people were engaged in something other than farming or mill/factory work. There will be a fair number of expected "others", things like carpenters, doctors, teachers, cobblers, coopers and the like. I also assume that there will be a few that I either have to look up or that will take me completely by surprise. This is the story of one of the later. Would you be surprised to know that in 1880, in Mill Creek Hundred, there lived a lighthouse keeper?

There was, and his name was William H. C. Knowles. He came from a family of sea men and probably only lived in MCH for a few years, but his family has an interesting story. I was turned on to the Knowles family a few weeks back by an email from a descendant of the family, Cindy Cunningham. She knew a little about this part of the family, and I did some research and came up with a little more. Our hope is that someday someone with even more information about the Knowles family will help fill in some of the gaps.

Friday, May 16, 2014

The Delcastle Water Troughs

See Update at bottom...

In the last post about the early history of the Delcastle Golf Course property, I mentioned that in addition to the few historic sites there I was aware of, George Williamson had also brought up a few things I had not known about before. One of the most interesting is the existence of five stone water troughs, like the one seen here. Each one has a different year carved into it. The years are 1902, 1903, 1905, and 1912.

To the best of our knowledge, no one knows anything about these troughs, who made them, or why. The significance of the dates is a mystery. By my thinking, there are three possibilities for who made the troughs. If they were placed in or near the years carved on them, then the most likely suspects would be the Greggs, assuming they still owned the farm. If they did sell it in the interim between 1900 and 1915, then whoever that owner was could have made them. Finally, if the troughs were placed after the fact, and the dates commemorated something in the past, then the county could have commissioned them during the workhouse farm era.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

The Wells-Gregg Farm, AKA The Delcastle Farm

Date stone in the ruins of the Delcastle barn
Several years ago I did a post about the Delcastle Farm, the farm manned by prisoners from the New Castle County Workhouse at Greenbank. It was located along McKennans Church Road on the site which has been home to the Delcastle Golf Course since soon after the farm's closing a little more than 40 years ago. Although I'd wager most people (aside from readers of this blog, of course) are unaware of the history there, signs of the past still abound at the site. Several of the buildings, including the clubhouse and barn, date back to the prison farm era. However, the history of the property (of course) didn't begin with the county's purchase of it about 1915.

In addition to the workhouse farm era buildings, there are a number of other structures dotting the golf course that date to an earlier, and in some cases much earlier, time. I had been aware of some of these for a while (thanks to Mark Julian a few years back), and I've always been interested in the earlier history of the property. Recently, though, I was emailed by Buddy Williamson, who is also curious about the subject, and he even turned me on to a few things I didn't know before. He asked if I knew any more about the older history of the farm and sent me the photo above. Well, funny story.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

The Newport-Gap Road That Never Was

Page 1 of the 1804 Road Survey
As noted in several previous posts, the first few decades of the 19th Century were busy time of road building in the early Republic. The tumultuous years of the fight for independence and the somewhat chaotic period of sorting out the new country and its war-ravaged finances was drawing to a close. The country was growing, and so was its economy. With more people and merchandise on the move, everyone realized that the existing road system at the time was inadequate for the new nation. New thoroughfares needed to be constructed, whether by blazing new trails or improving old roads, many of which were no more than mildly glorified cow paths.

Then, as now, there were two different ways to go about funding something as ambitious as building a new road -- publicly or privately. In New Castle County, the task of publicly funding things like roads and bridges was given to the Levy Court. The newly-developed method of private funding for roads was the turnpike company, a corporation licensed by the state to build a road and allowed to collect tolls to pay for the maintenance of the road. As we've seen, the way history played out the Gap and Newport Turnpike Company was incorporated in 1808 in the State of Delaware, to extend southward a planned road leading from Gap, PA to the DE-PA state line. This is what we now call (in Delaware) Newport Gap Pike.

However, 210 years ago there was another plan floating around, prior to the forming of the turnpike company. And while it's obviously important to know what actually occurred in the past, it's also fun to think about the what ifs. The could have beens. The almosts. And to try to think how this alternate history would have differed from our own. In this case we're contemplating a road that never was, and thanks to the work of Walt Chiquoine, we can see exactly where this road would have been.