Friday, August 7, 2015

The Kiamensi Garage and Inspector's Dwelling

The Delaware State Highway Department's
Kiamensi Truck Storage Shed, in 1941
One of the things I have to consciously keep in mind as I do my research (which, due to my time constraints is primarily computer-based) is that after all this time, we are still in the early days of the Digital Age. Although documents have been digitized and posted on the internet for more than 20 years now, what's available is still only a small fraction of what's out there. The good news, though, is that more is being added every day. This makes it important to occasionally go back and revisit sites and online collections to see what's been added lately. In looking for something else, I recently checked out the Delaware Archives website for the first time in a while, and saw that they had some new stuff posted.

Amongst this new stuff were a few really cool pictures that I had never seen before, and that in a few cases raise more questions. On the plus side, at least one lingering question has been (mostly) answered and one site I'd only kind of known about is shown in great detail. These pictures all come from insurance evaluations done in 1941 for government-owned facilities, like schools, armories, medical facilities and such. I'll roll out some of these over the next couple weeks, but we'll start here with two related photographs, one of which I'd seen something similar to before and one of which was new to me.

Although the photograph at the top of the page was taken in 1941, I'm sure the building looks familiar to many of you. It's the truck storage shed (or garage) that stood on the east side of Stanton Road, between the B&O (now CSX) tracks and Kiamensi Road. It was built by the State Highway Department in 1936 for about $3200, and remained standing and in service until about 10 years ago. In case you're wondering, in 1941 it was valued at $4949.51, with the accompanying outhouse valued at $15. DelDOT still maintains a facility at the site, albeit with larger and newer garages (and indoor plumbing).

I had never seen this particular picture of the shed, although I had seen a similar one taken soon after it was built. If you look in the background of this shot, you can see (in addition to some cool, period cars) the railroad tracks, Stanton Road heading up to its crest, and what I'm fairly sure is the Springer-Cranston House. Another interesting fact is how high the tracks appear on the right (east) side of the picture. The current DelDOT yard extends much farther in that direction, and there must have been a good amount of leveling done at some point.

The shed picture is nice, but now we get to the good stuff. Below is another picture attached to another valuation in Kiamensi. This was a new photograph to me, and I'm still not sure exactly what it is.

The Kiamensi Inspector's Dwelling, 1941

This house was also owned by the State Highway Department in Kiamensi, and is listed as "Inspector's Dwelling". As you can see, it appears to be an old house, probably 19th Century, with what looks to me like an addition on the right side. It was certainly not built by the state in the 1930's, but probably purchased when the truck yard was built. It was valued at only $2759, slightly more than half of the truck shed. It doesn't appear that it was in particularly good shape at the time.

I don't know who the Inspector was who would have lived there, what exactly he did for the department, or what the relationship was with the garage. From the fact that it's listed as Kiamensi and was owned by the Highway Department, I have to assume it was located near the truck shed. However, I really don't know what house this was or where it stood. The picture makes it look as if the house stood on top of a bit of a hill, which confuses me even more. Since it's definitely not the Springer-Cranston House, if it was nearby then it is not longer standing. If that's the case, then where was it?

If we're staying in the very near vicinity, then there are two possibilities, neither of which can I yet prove to be right. The old maps show two other houses near the shed location: one owned (in 1881) by C. Derrickson and the other by Benjamin Cranston. Derrickson's house was on the same side of Stanton Road, between the shed location and Kiamensi Road. It certainly has the possibility of being as old as the house in the picture seems to be, as a dwelling is shown in this location as far back as the 1849 map. The historic aerial photos are tricky to judge, but there does seem to be something in this spot in 1937, and possibly into the 1960's. The location appears to be right about on the southern edge of the current DelDOT property. Even today there is a bit of a rise from the road in that area, so although I can't be sure, this one is a possibility.

[The above paragraph has been edited from its original form to reflect the fact that I now realize the Derrickson house was south of the tracks, not north in the Tracy Court vicinity as I first thought. Sorry for any confusion.]

The other closeby house was a tenant home owned by Benjamin Cranston, and located on the west side of the road. It stood about where Joseph Frederick and Sons is now. The problem there is that I don't see where there could have been the kind of topography that the photograph seems to show. So I'm stumped. It's definitely a picture of an old house that we've never seen before, but I don't know which one! Anyone else have any ideas or thoughts?


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    1. The house that stood where Frederick and Sons is now located was on a hill and after the house was torn down the lot was leveled. Mill Creek Fire Co. first burnt the house for training and demolition.
      I don't believe there was ever a house where Tracy Court is now located.
      The Historic Aerials photos do not show a house.

    2. Thanks for the information about the Cranston house. It's always hard to tell what the old topography was like. It's at least plausible that it's the one, but your other comment has led me in another direction.

      In looking again, you're absolutely right about there not being a house near Tracy Court. Upon further review, I now see that the other house was north of Kiamensi Road, but south of the tracks. Seems to have been about on the southern edge of the current DelDOT property. Makes more sense for them to have bought the closer house, and this one goes back to at least 1849 whereas the other does not. I'm now leaning towards the Derrickson house as being the one, if I had to put money down. Thanks, Dirk!

      I also edited the post a bit to reflect this.

    3. In the photo above, it looks like I can barely make out another structure towards the right hand side in the photo. Could this possibly be the older house sitting across from the entrance to Powell Ford Park?....The one being for sale for what seems like forever!

    4. I saw that, too, Denis. If I'm right about the location now, then that would be looking in the right direction. Seems like too far back, though. I thought maybe the garage, but it seems too tall. So, not sure.

      And by the way, have you been over to that house recently? I haven't been down that way in a while, but a very reliable source (my Mom) says that house has been torn down. If so, it's sad but not at all surprising.

    5. Scott....i did see that house has been torn down. I don't recall if the for sale sign was there or not. You are right, it doesn't surprise me.

  2. I'm not sure that the Inspector's Dwelling does not still exist. I am a long time resident of the area and my family all grew up in the Stanton, Marshallton area. I have found that Google Earth is a tremendous tool for locating old dwellings in a given area. When the newer developments were constructed the blocks usually ended up cut in square chunks. The new houses lined up all in a row. Every once in a while you can pick out a bigger house that is not lined up with the streets.When you zoom in enough to see chimney's at both ends it's usually a much old dwelling than the community it sits in. When you try it a few times you start to recognize these places right away.
    There is a house at the corner of Stanton Road and Rt. 4. It is just behind the Stanton liquor store and the driveway is in the liquor store parking lot. The house is very hard to see even from the liquor store parking lot. It is completely surrounded by trees. The front has a stone face now which the original picture does not show. But if you go into the neighborhood behind this house the sides and back are white. The windows all seem to be in the same arrangement along with the doors and there is a big chimney on each end. The house is definitely over a hundred years old and until last year I never even noticed it. Would love to know your thoughts.

    1. Yes, you're absolutely right about using Google Earth (or Bing Maps) for finding old houses. I've used that technique a lot. Often they have trees and shrubs around them that the newer houses don't, too. In fact, doing that guided by the 1868 map is pretty much how I got started in researching the area. I was surprised by how many old houses like that -- stuck in the middle of a newer development -- there were. Unless you look for them (or live in the developments) you'd never know they were there.

      As for the house, I think I know which one you mean. It's Ten Maples, aka the Simon Cranston House. There's a a picture of it on the post (here: look up Simon Cranston), taken from the liquor store parking lot. (Can't recall why I would have been there.) I don't think it ever had anything to do with the highway department, plus I would assume the Inspector's Dwelling would have been closer to the garage. However, a good example of one of the hidden old houses.