Thursday, May 7, 2015

Diamond State Kaolin Company

We all know that Mill Creek Hundred never had any sort of densely populated area like a city or even a large town. There were numerous small mill towns and crossroad hamlets, places like Milltown, Loveville, Corner Ketch, Milford Crossroads, and Wooddale. There were, however, only three locales that I would elevate even to Village status, each having its heyday at a different point in MCH's history.

First there was the milling and shipping center of Stanton (or Cuckoldstown for you oldtimers), prominent in the late 18th and early 19th Centuries. Then, as it started into decline, the manufacturing village of Marshallton (along with nearby Kiamensi) rose for a time in the mid to late 1800's. Finally, although it had been around in some form since the early 1700's, the northern MCH village of Hockessin became the "place to be" in the later 19th Century. Two of the biggest reasons for this Hockessin Golden Age had to do with the land, namely what was under it and what was built across it -- kaolin clay and the railroad. Recently I ran across a photo of an artifact that sits squarely in the intersection of the two. (Thanks go to Bob Wilhelm for identifying the background of the company involved.)

Kaolin clay (used in the manufacture of bricks and pottery) was first mined just over the border in Chester County in the 1830's, but really got going as an industry in the 1850's. It was at about that time that the first kaolin mine in Hockessin opened, started by Abner Marshall on a property east of the village, between Yorklyn and Sharpless Roads. Marshall initially molded his clay into bricks for sale, but later expanded his operation by opening a pottery. He ran his business for a little more than ten years, when in 1866 he sold it and the properties he had acquired to Charles Parker and John and Thomas Trucks. It is the names of these gentlemen from Trenton, New Jersey that appear on the 1868 map.

Portion of the 1868 Beers map, showing Trucks & Parker
Fire Brick Works, former Marshall property

Trucks & Parker made only a few changes to the operation when they took over, adding another processing facility but closing the pottery. Although they did still ship out clay, presumably they're listed as they are on the map because fire bricks were the only products they now produced on site. The site, though, proved problematic for the New Jersey firm. According to Joseph Lake in his book Hockessin: A Pictorial History, the property which Trucks & Parker had purchased from Abner Marshall was relatively small, and the kaolin vein was situated under the far western edge of the tract. By 1871 the shaft had become too deep for the mules to pull out the clay-laden carts. The owners were forced to shut down operations for three months in order to install an inclined railway.

With the new railway in place, the mine continued to produce clay productively for another four years. By 1875, however, it was starting to "play out". The clay was becoming more difficult to extract, and some of the buildings were in need of repair. Trucks & Parker decided to sell the property, and it's at this point that we get to A) a little bit of confusion, and B) the point of this whole post.

Lake states that Trucks & Parker was made an offer on the land by Hamilton Graham, a competitor in the local kaolin business. (The entire story of the kaolin industry in and around Hockessin is a full story in and of itself, and one I've only touched a small part of here.) Either Graham didn't actually purchase the property, or he quickly turned around and sold it, because Lake later states that the Trucks & Parker property and facility was bought by.....(and here we are, finally) the Diamond State Kaolin Company.

Diamond State Kaolin paid $300,000 for the interests of Trucks & Parker in 1875, but in retrospect perhaps they should have haggled a bit. As mentioned earlier, one of the reasons it was for sale was that the mine was seen to be nearly exhausted. Some time was obviously spent in working out the deal as the Diamond State Kaolin Company had been incorporated two years earlier, in February 1873. Perhaps they thought there was still more clay to be mined, or maybe they had some other plan in mind. One factor in the decision may have been the recent completion of the Wilmington & Western Railroad, which opened only four months before the incorporation and whose tracks ran directly along the property.

Somehow, Diamond State Kaolin stayed afloat for over a decade, but by the mid-1880's they were in trouble. The company went bankrupt, its land and assets were seized, then they were sold for a fraction of what had been paid the decade before. They were purchased by Golding and Company, which by that time was the preeminent kaolin company in Hockessin, and owners of the land just to the west of the old Marshall/Trucks & Parker/Diamond State property. Golding didn't mine their newest acquisition, but instead repurposed several of the buildings and used the old mine as a dumping area for the tailings pile from their own, larger clay pit. Golding continued to mine kaolin well into the 1930's, but had ceased operations by the time their refinery was destroyed in a spectacular fire in 1943. It's the old Golding pit that is now a lake near the intersection of Old Wilmington Road and Yorklyn Road.

The Diamond State/Goldings location in 1937 (top)
and today (bottom)

And now, assuming you're still awake after all that background, we'll circle all the way back around to the impetus behind this whole investigation -- the porcelain pitcher at the top of the page. The picture comes from the Delaware Historical Society's website, as the pitcher resides in their collection. It's 8-1/4 inches high, made of porcelain, and has "Diamond State Kaolin" printed on both sides. It was most likely some sort of advertising piece, and my guess is that it's made from kaolin clay mined in Hockessin. There's no date on it, but we know we can date it to roughly 1875-1885. It's a neat little artifact, and a fragile window into one of Hockessin and Mill Creek Hundred's more lucrative eras.


  1. I have a question, and its not exactly pertaining to this, but somewhat close. The old railroad that runs through hockessin currently, it runs behind the old nvf factory then heads into hockessin and slowly disapears, you can somewhat trace it by the baseball fields. Does anyone know where that lead to? It seems to have gone in the direction of pike creek but I do not know of any railroad that went through that area. Would love to know if anyone has an ideas!

    1. That is the Wilmington & Western. The line originally ran from Wilmington to Landenburg, PA. The line was shortenend to Southwood (just west of Hockessin) in the early 1940's, then to Hockessin in the late 50s. It's now a tourist railroad that runs from Greenbank Station to Mt. Cuba, and sometimes to Hockessin.