Thursday, July 23, 2015

Photo of Robert L. Armstrong's Hedgeland

Armstrong House known as Hedgeland
I have here another entry into my continuing quest to try to mine new bits and pieces of Mill Creek
Hundred (and MCH-adjacent) history. This particular item is the photo you see here, sent to me a little while back by a descendant of the family in question (as well as several other families oft-mentioned in the blog), Nancy Lynam. Although the house did not technically stand within the boundaries of Mill Creek Hundred, it was featured in a post detailing the familial holdings of the Armstrong clan, located in western Christiana Hundred. And though the house was lost long ago, it stood in a prominent location, one I'm sure many of you have passed countless times (perhaps some of you on your way in to work every day).

The beautiful five-bay, two and a half story, fieldstone home shown here was the house known as Hedgeland, or The Hedge. It was located on the east side of Centre Road (Rt. 141), just north of Faulkland Road. The segment of the 1881 map below shows the estate. The house itself, as best as I can determine from historical aerial photographs, stood right about where the flag pole is today, at the South 141 entrance to DuPont's Chestnut Run Plaza. This part is even more iffy, but it appears that the house faced south, perpendicular to 141 and facing down towards Faulkland Road. The blue rectangle in the bottom, modern photo indicates approximately where the house stood.

1881 map showing R. L. Armstrong's  Hedgeland

Blue rectangle indicates location of the Hedgeland House

The only clue as to the age of the house comes to us from Runk, in the entry about Robert L. Armstrong.  As an Armstrong estate, The Hedge dates back at least to the time of Robert Armstrong (1743-1821). Known as "The Patriot" for his participation in the Revolutionary War, Robert's home was called "The Hedge" by name. It's unclear, but very possible, that he may have been the second or third generation of his family to live on this particular farm.

After Robert the Patriot, Hedgeland passed to his son, also named Robert (1782-1838). This Robert fought for his country as well, he in the War of 1812. The younger Robert married Elizabeth Mehaffy of Cecil County, MD, with whom he had six children. The youngest child, Robert Louis Armstrong (1834-1909), was born only four years before his father's death. Nothing is really stated specifically about any earlier houses, but it's very possible (if not likely) that Robert L. grew up in a home that dated back to his grandfather's time, if not earlier. It may well have been a log home, although considering the family's stature it probably had been enlarged over the years.

What we do know, though, is that after attending local public schools and spending three years at a boarding school in Wilmington, Robert returned to Hedgeland to take over its operation. Since his father's death, the farm had been overseen by his mother, who is shown on the 1849 map as the owner (as E. Armstrong). By the time Robert took over the property in the mid-1850's, the existing house may have been over 100 years old. As Runk tells us, Robert soon went about making improvements to the property, including a large barn and (more importantly to us right now) "a large stone dwelling house." This is the house we see in the photograph.

Back of the Hedgeland photograph

Now we can move on to the final part of the picture -- the people. To try to guess who might be in the photo, we need to have an idea of when it was taken. The reverse side of the picture, shown above, helps to narrow that down. Anyone interested in historical photography is welcome to look into Pennellographs, but the short version is that it was a method of slightly colorizing photographs of the time. What's more helpful to us right now is that there are dates on the back, up to 1877. This likely places our photo sometime soon after that.

So, if we assume the picture was taken around 1878 or so, who would have been in it? I think it's safe to assume that the man sitting near the center is Robert Louis. The woman sitting to the right of him (his left) appears to me to be an older woman. Assuming the photograph was taken prior to December 1884, this is probably his mother, Elizabeth Armstrong. One of the other women (maybe the one sitting towards the left?) has to be his wife, Rebecca. The 1880 Census shows that Robert's older sisters Ann and Amanda (58 and 50 in 1880, respectively) resided with them, so they are almost certainly two of the other women. Also in the household in 1880 were Elizabeth and R.W. (Roland Ward) Springer, Robert's niece and nephew. Although misidentified in the census (thank you Rich Morrison for clearing that up for me), they were the children of his sister, Rachel and her husband Joseph W. Springer. These two twenty-somethings could be in the picture as well.

We may never know for sure the identities of everyone on the porch that day, but the photograph is a wonderful (and possibly unique) record of a lost piece of local history. Thank you again, Nancy, for sharing it with us.


  1. Elizabeth Sprage and R.W. Sprage are Elizabeth Springer and R.W. Springer. messed up the transcription. R.W. Springer is Rowland Ward Springer 12 Sep 1860 - 28 Jun 1916 son of Joseph Whittaker Springer and Rachael Armstrong – cousins marrying cousins. Elizabeth is Rowland's sister

  2. I kind of forgot about this one for a while, but I did finally correct the part about who Elizabeth and R.W. were. Thanks Rich for clearing it up.