Friday, January 9, 2015

The Sons of Simon Cranston -- Part II

In a recent post, we looked briefly (and not so briefly) at six of the eight children born to Simon and Mary Cranston of Stanton, Mill Creek Hundred. Covered were William, Joseph, Mary Ann, Eliza, Samuel, Sarah, Sneezy, Grumpy.....wait, I might have gotten a bit off track, but I know the first six were right. In this post we'll look at the final two children, third son James and fifth son Benjamin. These two and their families would arguably have the greatest impact upon the area surrounding their father's Ten Maples estate. And unlike some of the other Cranstons, theirs is an impact that can still be seen today.

James Cranston was born in Stanton in September 1807, and in 1836 married Eleanor Armstrong. Three years before that, Simon Cranston purchased the former home of John Springer along Stanton Road, south of what would become Marshallton. This home, the Springer-Cranston House, was purchased for James so that he could start his own family on his own farm. Although the house is on the east side of the Public (Stanton) Road, the bulk of the property was to the west and north, between Calf and Ham Runs. I don't have access to the deeds, but the estate must have been fairly extensive, since brothers Joseph and Benjamin also received portions of it.

Here in the stone house at the top of the rise, which they called "Delbrook", James and Eleanor raised five children -- Mary, Ella, John, Samuel, and Edwin (along with one or two others who died in early childhood). Mary, the eldest, married Robert Clay Justis, businessman and son of Brandywine Springs Hotel builder Justa Justis. Their daughter Catherine would later marry doctor and politician Lewis Heisler Ball. The second Cranston daughter, Ella, would live to be 96 but never married.

This may sound more philosophical than intended, but to understand the sons we must first understand the father. We've already noted that James' father Simon engaged in several real estate transactions, some as investments and some for his children. James Cranston seems to have gone even more into the business and real estate world than his father ever did. Included in the northern end of James' estate was much of what would soon become Marshallton. Perhaps as early as the 1840's, while the property still technically belonged to Simon Cranston, frame tenant houses were being built along Greenbank Road for the employees of the Marshall brothers' iron mill. The scope of the Cranstons' real estate holdings would only grow from there.

According to the National Register of Historic Places form for the Hickman House (itself a Cranston-built house), Simon Cranston was assessed for three frame tenements in 1854. By 1868 James had built one more, and yet another was added by 1873. This property, however, was only one of James Cranston's holdings. The rest is pieced together primarily from the available maps from the time, but the original documents could flesh it out a bit.

Some of the Cranston holdings, 1849

In addition to Delbrook, the only other property that appears to be attributed to James Cranston on the 1849 map is the farm called Roselawn (near the top of the above map), located on the west side of Newport Gap Pike. This house is still standing, tucked into the neighborhood named for its owners -- Cranston Heights. I don't know for sure, but it appears that this property probably originally extended from the turnpike, west to Red Clay Creek, and (at least) south to Old Capital Trail. James also owned land on the south side of Old Capital Trail, either a part of the same estate or possibly another acquisition. The 1868 and 1881 maps each show three houses on this property, and by the time of the 1893 map it's attributed to daughter Ella.

By 1881, James Cranston also had holdings near Newport, which is not surprising since he also had business dealings there. He started a building supply and machinery company in Newport, which grew into the firm of Cranston, Newbold & Company. James was succeeded in the firm by his son John. Being a prominent member of the Newport business community, it's also not surprising that he was a founding member and director of the Real Estate Bank of Delaware, which later became the Newport National Bank.

Some of the Cranston properties, 1881

While James was acquiring these properties, he continued to reside in the stone house that his father had bought for him in 1833. Sometime in the 1860's or 1870's, however, he moved into another, nearby house. This new home was most likely the recently torn down house on the north side of Old Capital Trail, across the Wilmington & Western tracks from the Hunter's Den Restaurant. This was probably on the same tract that included Roselawn, which ended up with James' son Samuel. (The 1881 map actually calls it "Roseland", but since it now stands next to Roselawn Avenue, I assume that's the correct name.)

I've found one reference that seems to say that James' new estate was called Spring Grove, but I've never seen that name anywhere else. A date of circa 1845 has been attached to this house, which if true would probably mean that the home was not built specifically for James' use. It may have been a nice tenant house that he later decided to use, or it may be a bit newer and been constructed for him as a "retirement" home (although I doubt he ever really slowed down much). This house was only recently torn down, and more photos of it can be found on the Lower Red Clay Valley blog.

Two views of James Cranston's later home

Since James no longer had need of Delbrook (Springer-Cranston House) and was likely looking to sort out his properties amongst his children, he sold the old stone home to son Edwin J. Cranston in 1876. Edwin also got ownership of the other Greenbank Road houses. Over the years, Edwin and his descendants broke up and sold off all their land, save for the house itself. A pretty good amount of what's now Marshallton is on land once owned by these Cranstons.

That leaves us now with only one of Simon's sons to go, and in a way brings us back to where we started. Youngest child Benjamin Cranston was born in August 1814, and may have been the only one of his generation born at Ten Maples. In 1844 (presumably early in the year), Benjamin married Hannah Wilkinson of Chester County. Their first child, Frank Wilkinson (F.W.) was born in October 1844. Their second child, William Benjamin Cranston came along four years later. If you've been paying attention through these Cranston posts (and God bless you if you have), you should be able to guess where it was that Benjamin and Hannah made their home. Of all the properties, houses, farms, and homesteads we've traced, the one we haven't returned to yet is Simon Cranston's home, Ten Maples, located just above Newport Pike (Route 4) at Stanton Road.

Indeed, it was Benjamin who inherited the family homestead after his father's death in 1856. This illustrates an interesting point, and one I'm not sure I've made before. We sometimes tend to think along the lines of the English practice of primogeniture, whereby the eldest son inherits the family property. Sometimes this was the case here, but in many cases the family home ended up in the hands of the youngest, primarily because the older children were already established in their own homes when the time came to pass on the family estate. That seems to be essentially what happened here.

The 1849 map shows Benjamin residing in a house along Stanton Road, about half way up to Kiamensi Road. Since this would have still been on Simon's property, it stands to reason that Benjamin was managing the family farm. Since the other boys were already set up on their own farms, it was probably already decided that he would receive the property upon Simon's death. Interestingly, the 1868 map doesn't make clear in which house Benjamin was actually living, and he may have remained in his own home. By 1881, Ten Maples is shown as being owned by Benjamin, but the residence of his son William. When Benjamin passed away in 1891, the property which had been his father's farm went to William. The 1893 map shows that it extended all the way up to Kiamensi Road, encompassing all of present-day Kiamensi Gardens (but not Kiamensi Heights).

The very last property (and Cranston) we'll look at is really the one that spurred me on to finally tackle this whole mess. Back in October, I wrote a post about a fire in 1914 at a Cranston farm between Stanton and Newport. Although it didn't state exactly which farm it was, I hypothesized  that it was the farm whose house is shown above, most recently the Meyers nursery. This is the property on the south side of Route 4 and east of Red Clay Creek. It first shows up on the 1868 map as being owned by F.W. Cranston. This was only three years after his marriage to Jennie Caldwell, so they may well have moved into it then. The 1881 map lists it as Benjamin's property, so he may have actually owned it while his son lived there. The 1893 map shows the 80 acre property as "Frank Cranston".

So this brings us to the end (for now) of our journey through the family of Simon Cranston and his descendants. I realize the posts may have been a bit disjointed, but it was really only a brief overview of the family and their dealings. I can only imagine that sitting here more than 200 years after his arrival in the area, old Simon would be very proud of the success and the impact that his family had in the region. Without a doubt, the Cranstons were one of the most important families in this area in the 19th Century, and their footprints can still be seen today.


  1. Regarding the Spring Grove name, what about Spring Grove Mill at Millcreek and Stoney Batter Roads?
    Mark J.

    1. I thought of that, too, Mark, but I've never seen anything tying the Cranstons to the mill there. Either it was just a popular, bucolic-sounding name and a coincidence, or maybe the house was named after the mill. No idea.

  2. Scott....I remember seeing a write up about Spring Grove somewhere....just cant put my finger on it. I can remember reading it was a hemp plantaton at one time because I remember thinking....HEMP? I also think there were workers/slaves?... If not mistaking the house was built for Cranston's wife who at the the suggestion of their doctor said her health would benefit in a wooden house vs. stone.


    1. Denis -- It was mentioned on the spreadsheet you had sent me (pretty sure it was you) about Marshallton properties that was done by the group in the early 90's(?). No idea where that info came from, though. Or the date. It did not mention anything about the wife and the doctor. That may have come from somewhere else, or just not put in the spreadsheet.