Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Ward-Dudkewitz House

The Ward-Dudkewitz House
couple posts back we were introduced to the fascinating little 1857 newspaper article relating the story of how General George Washington held a "council of war" in a house in Milltown, just prior to the Battle of Brandywine in September 1777. In that post I mentioned that the article raised two separate issues, and that I was at the time dealing only with the question of whether such an event actually took place as claimed. (We decided that there's no real proof either way, but for various reasons the story is very plausible.) Now it's time to tackle the other issue -- just a throw-away line in the article -- which turned out to be every bit as interesting as the Washington angle.

Instead of reprinting the entire article again, I'll refer you back to the original post if you're interested in the whole thing. Right now, we're essentially only concerned with part of one sentence. After mentioning that the house where Washington met was "the old Harlan property, now belonging to Mr. Allen Ward", it tantalizingly notes that "...the present owner has erected a substantial brick dwelling adjoining...". So I started thinking -- Harlan property in Milltown, brick house built in the 1850' must be the recently fire-ravished Abram Chandler House! It's usually given a build date closer to 1870, but there's a fair bit of ambiguity about the property in that time period. My second thought was, "Who the crap is Allen Ward?" We'll get to that second, elegantly phrased question in a moment.

But first, the house. In trying to determine for sure exactly which house was being talked about in the article, I was forced to face a question that, frankly, I had conveniently skipped over before. Way back in the early days of the blog, when I did posts about the Harlan-Chandler Mill Complex (Part I, Part II), I talked about the old Harlan Mill and the "newer" (by at least 1868) Chandler House. What I never mentioned was where the Harlan House was. The Harlans lived there and ran the mill for close to 80 years -- the must have lived somewhere. The clue to where is sitting in plain sight on the 1849 map, but deciphering it takes an understanding of just how the Milltown intersection has changed since then.

Milltown in 1849

In 1849, the Harlans still owned the mill, which is the stone building down the hill from Limestone Road, next to the charred Chandler House. It's represented by the x on the map above. The Harlan residence is shown across the intersection from it, on the northwest corner of McKennans Church Road and Milltown Road. This, it reasons, is the house which Washington visited in 1777. The article says that the then-owner built a brick house "adjoining" the old log Harlan House. So what does adjoining mean? Does it mean "on the adjoining property"? Does it mean "across the street"? Because if it doesn't mean those things, and instead means the real definition of "being in contact at some point or line; located next to another; bordering; contiguous", then the brick house built by Mr. Ward cannot be the Abram Chandler House. It's not in the right place.

The next step seemed to be attempting to understand the property in question a bit better. The 1849 map clearly showed that the Harlans owned land on what was essentially the north and south sides of the Limestone-Milltown intersection. However, by the 1868 map (and on the 1881 and 1893 maps) the Harlan mill site was in Chandler hands, while the old Harlan house was owned by Jacob Rubencame. The property was obviously split up, and the logical point for that to have happened was around the time that Abram Chandler purchased the mill, in 1852. Since I had a question about property ownership, I naturally reached out to Walt Chiquoine. Just as naturally, he didn't disappoint.

Walt was able to determine that the property was, in fact, split up in the early 1850's, or at least sold out of the family separately. The "J.&J. Harlan" shown on the map were brothers John and Joshua, sons of the Caleb Harlan (1728-1815) who would have been Washington's host in 1777. I have a suspicion that they may have already owned separate parts of the original property, due to the timing of events. John Harlan died on Christmas Eve 1851, at the age of 78. The mill property was sold to Abram Chandler in 1852. Joshua Harlan died in February 1854, and the northern tract containing the house was sold to Allen Ward later that year.

Milltown, with 19th Century properties
 labeled over 1954 photograph

The diagram above (courtesy of Walt) shows the approximate extent of the properties in the 1850's. The photo is from 1954, but it probably looks much the same as it would have a century before. So we now have the northern portion (above Limestone Road) broken off, and sold out of the Harlan family to Allen Ward. I admit that I was confused when I first saw that name in the original article, as I couldn't recall having ever come across it before. As it turns out, that was because Mr. Ward was a newcomer to the area, and only resided here for less than a decade.

Allen F. Ward

Allen Fleetwood Ward was born in Chester County, PA in 1786, and became a tailor. Not only was he a tailor, though, he was also an innovator. In 1821, he patented the Protractor System of Garment Cutting, which seems to have been a pretty revolutionary idea. From what I understand, it has to do with making possible the idea of regular patterns and measurements for clothing manufacturing, moving away from the system of every tailor kind of doing his own thing. Three years later he began publishing a quarterly magazine titled "Philadelphia Fashions and Tailors' Archetypes", which promoted his system. It appears Ward was successful in his career, and in 1839 he retired, succeeded in his business by two of his sons.

Ward presumably continued to reside in Philadelphia after his retirement, so what made him decide to buy the old Harlan property, with its at least 80 year old log house, is still a bit of a mystery. His first wife, whom he divorced around 1813, was born in Wilmington, so perhaps he was familiar with the area from her. Or maybe he had business connections with some of the textile mills in New Castle County. Whatever the case, he did purchase the 12 1/2 acre tract in 1854 (from John's son Dr. Caleb Harlan, who may have been the only child of either brother).

As the 1857 article tells us, Ward quickly got to work having a new, brick house constructed for himself. It must have been the pride of the neighborhood, and just the sort of retirement home you'd expect from a successful businessman. In the 1860 Census, Ward's property is valued at $20,000, more than twice as much as anyone else's in the area. It's not clear exactly what the positioning of it was, as compared to the older Harlan House. It was common at the time to build a newer section of a house directly attached to an older wing, as we've seen in numerous local homes. The article states that the log house was in good shape, so my guess is that this was the case.

We had gotten to this point in the investigation, determining that the house sat near the corner of McKennan's Church Road and Milltown Road, and realizing that it had been razed at some point in the last 100 years. We assumed that this was the end, and that we'd never get the chance to see Allen Ward's home, and the approximate site of Washington's meeting. Then, even though none of this was public yet, and pertaining to another issue, I got a comment on the blog's Facebook page from a local native named Bob Wilhelm. He said his mother had grown up in Milltown in the 1930's and 40's, and the blogger got very excited. Sometimes the History Gods smile down upon you.

In emailing Bob, he said his mother's house was torn down when Milltown Road was rerouted in the early 1960's. We quickly figured out that yes, his grandparents owned Allen Ward's house for its final twenty-some years...and they had pictures!! The house did indeed sit near the corner, although the immediate area was quite different than it is now.

The diagram above (sketched out by Bob) should help give a better idea of what the road configuration was pre-1960, as compared to now. Once you orient yourself on the map (Limestone Road in yellow, Milltown going lower left to upper right), the layout of 19th Century Milltown is easy to see. Many people may not even realize that large chunks of the old, rerouted roads are still there, as either a side access road (Milltown to the east) or as small residential streets (Old Milltown Road and Old Limestone Road). If you just focus on Limestone Road in blue, Milltown Road in purple, and McKennans Church Road in orange, you can see what the intersection looked like when Allen Ward built his new home in the 1850's.

The location of that home, as shown by the yellow rectangle, was just about in the middle of the current-day intersection of Limestone and Milltown Roads. The retired Allen Ward didn't get to enjoy his Milltown estate for very long, though, as he passed away in February 1862. The fact that he died in Philadelphia leads me to believe that this may have been a second home, or maybe a summer home, for him. In either case, the property soon ended up in the hands of Jacob Rubencame, whose family would hold it for over 70 years.

Rubencame was no newcomer to the area, as his home was about a half mile south, standing about where Rocco Automotive is now. (This house would later pass by marriage into the Woodward family.) Taking into account the fact that Rubencame's home farm was over 100 acres, this new property was about 11, and Jacob was around 50 when he bought it, I think he probably used it either as a retirement home for himself or as a rental property. Jacob's son Charles would eventually inherit the home farm to the south as well as the Milltown house.

It's unclear who lived in Allen Ward's old house after Jacob Rubencame's death in 1887, but at some point it did become a tenant farm. In March 1938, only three months after Charles Rubencame's death, his estate (represented by daughter Mary and by daughter Breata and her husband Eugene Woodward) sold the property to William B. Dudkewitz. Dudkewitz was a 40 year old immigrant from southeastern Poland, who along with his wife, two daughters, and four sons, moved to Milltown from the Richardson Park area. Although he had bought a small (by then, 15 acres) farm, William was himself not a farmer. Instead, he worked for the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, and can actually be seen in a large photograph displayed in the Wilmington & Western's Greenbank Station.

Ward-Dudkewtiz House, looking west

The Dudkewitz family occupied the house until it was razed in the early 1960's, when, during several rounds of road widening and realignment, the state purchased chunks of the property including where the house stood. Specifically, the state bought a strip of land in 1960 for the rerouting of Milltown Road, necessitating the removal of the 100+ year old house. When Limestone Road, too, was rerouted about two years later, it ended up intersecting Milltown right about where the house had stood. For purposes of keeping this post shorter (relatively speaking) and to give the story its full due, a more complete picture of the changing face of the Milltown intersection will come in an upcoming post.

As a final note on the house itself, the Dudkewitz family does not recall there being any trace of the old, original log Harlan house during their tenure. It seems likely that it was removed at some point during the ownership of the Rubencames. And though it doesn't necessarily look like it in the photos, I was assured that the house was indeed brick underneath the exterior coating. So, if you've actually made it this far through the story, think about these houses and the people who lived and visited there the next time you're driving through the big Limestone Road-Milltown Road intersection. There's a surprising amount of history there.


  1. Dear Mr. Palmer. I have had the Boggs History in my Family Tree for a few years now. I just stumbled across your Blog and all your Work. I can say I'm truly impressed and astounded on the work you have done. I have
    James Boggs
    Your 7th great grandfather
    Birth 1667 in Londonderry, Londonderry, , Ireland,
    Death 9 Feb 1737 in White Clay Creek, New Castle, Delaware, United States

    in my Family Tree. I wanted to know if I have correctly added him right.....

    after William and James. I can't figure out how and what Line I'm coming through. I have DNA tested with all 3 Companies. I'm also on GEDMatch. I don't know if that will help any? Please get back to me at your earliest convenience. I appreciate you taking time and I love your Blog. Such Rich History.

    1. Thanks for the kind words, and I'm glad you enjoy the blog. I may not have time until next week, but I'll check back through my notes and refamiliarize myself with the family. I'll let you know.

  2. Hi Scott,

    Great post, as always. I believe the house you mentioned just south of the Ward-Dudkewitz house (the one that sat where Rocco Automotive is now, was the home of my GGGG Grandfather and grandmother, Joseph Woodward and Mary Klair. Not sure where I got this note, which is attached to my ancestry listing for these two.. but this is what I have on that house...

    "The J.Woodward listed on the right hand side of the 1849 and 1868 Rea and Price property maps (near Price and Flinn) was Joseph Woodward who married Mary Klair. They paid $6200 for 150 acres in 1834. Their 10th child Edward purchased it in 1876. Joseph and Mary originally owned a large farm in Mill Creek Hundred that was situated in the area of Limestone Rd. and Kirkwood Highway, which, of course, was not yet built. According to a newspaper article written in 1962, their house on a hill overlooked present day Howard Johnson's restaurant, and their barn sat on the exact location of Grant's store. Both are buried at Hockessin Friends."

    1. Don -- Yes, I think that's all the same property. I know someone else who has family connections there and he gave me info about the family once, but I've never gotten around to writing about it. With the link here, it may be time to find what I can and finally get to it.

    2. Some tidbits from my files regarding Joseph and Mary Klair Woodward. "After their marriage they commenced farming the property now owned by Jacob Reubencame, near Milltown, Mill Creek Hundred Del.; this was in March, 1826, and there they lived eight years and their first four children were born." Written 1879.

      "They commenced farming the property now containing Mill Creek Shopping Center - Midway Shopping Center - Limestone Acres Addition and Sheridan Square". Published in early 1960's.

      About the Woodward-Rubencame house itself. "The brick homestead, a fast disappearing symbol of the past; stands like a lonely sentinel on a knoll behind the Howard Johnson Restaurant, visible from the busy crossroads in every direction." 1962 News article.
      Ironically, Joseph Woodward's grandson, Eugene, would later marry Breata, the granddaughter of Jacob Rubencame.

    3. Scott, Another twist. A direct descendent of the Woodward/Klair union is married to Bob Wilhelm's brother. Donna P.

  3. Allen F. Ward was the brother of Philip Ward, (born1781) who was my great-great grandfather. If anyone is interested in Allen and his family (and their ancestors), I would be happy to visit with them. I would like to know more of their ancestry. I may be contacted at