Friday, March 20, 2015

Stoney Batter Road

See? No name. Ugh.
Due to the nature of the history in Mill Creek Hundred, and of the information available about it, almost never in these posts do we ever get all the facts or the whole story about any given topic. However, I'm usually able to cobble together a good framework of facts, even if some of the details are still a bit fuzzy. The one type of story that seems to consistently buck this trend, though, is the origin of some local place and road names. We've seen this before with places like Stanton (Cuckoldstown), Hockessin, and Corner Ketch. There's one other road name (smaller in stature, admittedly, than these others) that so far has eluded any attempt by me to pin down its origin -- Stoney Batter Road. --(h/t to Keith Orr for bringing this up)

This uniquely-named thoroughfare is located near the center of Mill Creek Hundred, running from Limestone Road at the Mermaid Tavern, eastward down to Mill Creek Road. Or to put it in more modern terms, it's on the north side of Goldey-Beacom College. It's also known as Mermaid-Stoney Batter Road. I'm sure many of you are as familiar with this road as I am, and I'm equally as sure that you've wondered just were the heck the name came from. I wish I had a good, definitive answer for you, but as of now I don't. Maybe someone out there has information pertaining to the naming of the road, but I've looked around and I can't find it. What I do have are at least three separate, inconclusive theories.

The first theory is the one I've seen repeated the most (like here, for instance), and is the one that seems to make the most sense to most people. I'm not most people. This idea states that when the road was first paved in the early 20th Century, the concrete used on it had a large amount of pebbles in it. When it was poured onto the roadbed, it looked to those present like a "stoney batter". You know, like cake batter with stones in it. While I suppose it's possible that this explanation is historically accurate, it sounds more like a false (or folk) etymology to me. Like well after the fact, someone came up with a cute little story to explain the name.

What would really help here would be to find historical references to the road name. If, for example, an 1880 letter or deed mentioned the name Stoney Batter, then we could throw out the pavement mix theory. Unfortunately, though, I have not been able to find such a reference. If we did, however, it would necessitate an older origin for the moniker. I have two ideas as to how the name could have originated at a date earlier than the 20th Century.

One possibility is that it could have been named after a place that someone knew from somewhere else. There are several Stoney Batters in England and Ireland, and Stony Batter is the name of President James Buchanan's birthplace in south-central Pennsylvania. Perhaps one of the farmers in the area knew the name or was a big Buchanan fan (there must have been some, he did get elected). This also plays into one of the other things about the road I'm unsure about -- Is "Mermaid-Stoney Batter Road" a newer or older name?

I've always known it without the "Mermaid" part, and at first I assumed this was a new addition. But if it's not, by normal naming conventions, this would imply that the road ran from the Mermaid to Stoney Batter (like Newport-Gap Pike or Wilmington-Christiana Turnpike). This in turn would imply that Stoney Batter was the name of one of the farms at the base of the road. Frustratingly, I've had as little success in finding proof of that as I've had in finding any old reference to the road name.

The last theory I have to float out there took a little more research to come up with. OK, not so much "research" as much as "scrolling down a bit on Dictionary.com". One of the lesser-known definitions of the word batter comes from the realm of architecture, and is "the slope of the face of a wall that recedes gradually backwards and upwards". Bearing in mind that much of the road in question is a fairly steep hill climbing from Mill Creek to the high ground of Limestone Road, it got me to thinking of what might have been present at some point in the past. Perhaps one of the farms had a large wall with a batter, built into the hill. Or maybe the entire hill reminded someone of a batter. If the word was more common in the past, either is possible. A stretch, sure, but in my mind not much more than "Lumpy Cake Mix Road".

As I said earlier, what would be tremendously helpful would be to find mentions of the road name 75, 100, or 150 years ago. Or even to find evidence of the concrete story from close to when it was done. Or better yet, find an instance of the name "Stoney Batter" being used separate from the road name. I'll keep my eye out for this, and if anyone else has or sees anything useful, please pass it along to us. Until then, we'll just have to keep wondering about where this odd name came from.

Update: Here's a follow-up post with a little more information and another possible theory.

13 comments:

  1. Thanks for posting Scott. I'm looking forward to the answer.

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  2. Scott- I am not sure about this.. (I was a child so my memory is vague) I feel like there was a road realignment in the 80s when there was development in that area - of the shopping center across from Goldey Beacom. It brought 2 roads together - Stoney Batter and Mermaid Run (or something Mermaid)- that is where it became Mermaid Stoney Batter. But as I said, this is a vague memory from when I was a child. Not sure if it is true.. good luck! Thanks for the posts!

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  3. Scott, any info on the E. Gregg house that use to be on the hill right before the bend going up Stoney Batter? I remember this was here in the 90's and taken down. I heard a doctor owned it and ended up giving the land to the county as a park...not sure how much of this is true.

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    1. Short answer -- it's somewhat covered in the "Walkers of the Mermaid Area" post from a while back. But, in looking that up, I came up with something else that I'm putting together now in a short post. Stay tuned...

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  4. I remember two roads as well. They both came off of Limestone Road not far from one another.. They met just above the old spring house on the left heading down the hill towards the creek.
    Both were paved and both had street signs, Stoney Batter Road and Mermaid (possibly Run, I don't remember) Road.

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  6. Been using this road since 1977. At that time it was marked Mermaid-Stoney Batter Road. The road T'ed into Limestone Road a quarter mile or so from where it does now. In the 80's when they started developing Limestone Hills, the road was rerouted south to connect directly into Skyline Drive. The Mermaid was dropped from the name. Joe K

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    1. You're right, Joe, it was slightly rerouted. The whole "Mermaid-Stoney Batter" thing still makes me think that Stoney Batter was a place, presumably at the other end of the road from the Mermaid. That should put it at or near the bottom of the hill. Still haven't found concrete proof of it yet, though.

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    2. i agree with you scott,that fits in with how a lot of roads in the area were named.i have absolutely no proof,butjust behind the house on the right as you turn right onto mill creek from stoney batter,you can see what appears to be a small quarry.purely speculative,but maybe this has some bearing on the name. pat g.

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  7. Just looking at google maps and see that the section of road on the north edge of M&T Bank is currently labeled Old Mermaid Stoney Batter Road. This was where the road used to connect to Limestone Road before it was rerouted to line up with Skyline Drive.

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    1. Yes, that's correct. The name makes a little more sense when you realize that it originally came up almost directly across from the Mermaid Tavern. I'm still working on figuring out exactly what Stoney Batter was. I've got a few more clues and some cool item to share soon, but no definitive answer yet. Stay tuned.

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  8. (Sorry if I'm duplicating info already pointed out...) Just came across this interesting DELDOT history of the "Mermaid Intersection".

    https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&source=web&rct=j&url=https://www.deldot.gov/archaeology/sr7/pdf/series110/series110_hist_cont.pdf&ved=0ahUKEwiq_MWKg6zSAhUCKCYKHZ2WDPsQFgg1MAU&usg=AFQjCNFWJwpczDybWPjHDR0I3YMCzKhJQA&sig2=JUjUGjVldlGzGZPE1qwdIg

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    1. Thanks, Joe. You're right, that is a very cool paper. I've used parts of it for several posts now, but I can't recall if I ever linked to it. Thanks!

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