Friday, January 22, 2016

The Trinder and Higgins Farms

Recently a question was posed by a commenter on another post, asking about a couple of properties in the area around St. Marks High School, in southern central Mill Creek Hundred. Unfortunately the original houses are gone from both of these sites, but both have found new life. I was unable to find too much information about one of the locations, but I do have some stuff to share about one of the long-time owners of the second.

The first property in question was located on the north side of Pike Creek Road, about halfway between Upper Pike Creek Road to the west and All Saints Cemetery (and the entrance to St. Marks) to the east. It appears that the house was located on the west side of what's now Calan Drive, in the new development of Milltown Village. The barn is (or was, I've not been over there lately) across the street on the other side.

At this point I've been able to find precious little about this property, save the identity of its owner for the second half of the 19th Century. All of the maps from 1849 to 1893 show the owner as Joseph Trinder, an English immigrant born about 1815. His wife, Jane, two years older than he, was also born in England. This makes me think they probably met and were married there, then emigrated in the later 1830s. A Joseph Trinder is listed in the 1840 Census in Birmingham Township, Chester County (just above Painter's Crossing), so they may have lived there before moving to MCH.

The Trinder Farm barn, as of a few years ago

I've yet to find a death date for either of the Trinders, but I can't find them in the 1900 Census, either. That seems to imply that they passed sometime between 1893 and 1900, but I'll be sure to update this if more information comes in. Fortunately, however, we do have more information about the other property, on which St. Marks High School now sits. And although I don't currently have a photograph of the old house (I'm really hoping that someone does), I'm sure that any Spartan alumni out there are very familiar with it.

The house in question stood until about 2007, when it was razed to make room for an athletic field. As the illustration at the top of the page shows, it was located at the southeast corner of the school's parking lot. At first, all I had to go on was the name shown on the 1868 map (below), Thomas Higgins. Luckily, a good biography of Higgins is included in J.M. Runk's 1899 Biographical and Genealogical History of the State of Delaware. What's more, an easily-overlooked item in the write-up gives us the key to the earlier history of the property, if you look closely.

The St. Marks region, 1868

Thomas Higgins was born on May 20, 1818, the son of Joseph and Margaret (Wright) Higgins. Thomas grew up in New Castle Hundred (very possibly in the area of Overview Gardens, near the Wilmington DMV office off of Route 13). After his schooling, Higgins worked on a number of farms, first as a laborer, then as a tenant. By 1840 he had saved up enough money to buy his own farm, this one in Mill Creek Hundred. The 130 acre farm he purchased had belonged to Robert McFarland, and was located on the east side of Polly Drummond Hill Road, across from Ebenezer Methodist Church. Higgins' farm can be seen in the upper left of the map section below.

The relevant properties, 1849

The Polly Drummond Hill Road farm remained as Higgins' primary residence for the rest of his life, which lasted until 1899. In 1852, Thomas married Elizabeth Kelley, the daughter of William and Catherine (Morrison) Kelley. If you look closely at the 1849 map above, you'll notice that the farm at St. Marks that's listed as Thomas Higgins' in 1868 is here labeled "W. Kelly". In the Runk biography of Higgins it only says that, "Later he purchased what was known as the Kelly Farm, of 130 acres, on Pike Creek." It fails to mention that it was his father-in-law's property -- where his wife spent many of her childhood years -- that he bought. Since William Kelley died in 1854, it's logical to think that Higgins acquired the property upon Kelley's passing.

Since Runk states that Higgins had "given nearly all of his time to the cultivation" of his main farm, it's fair to assume that he initially leased the old Kelley farm to a tenant. At some point, though, probably around 1890, Thomas'  youngest son, John Higgins (1867-1938), took over the farm. (Older son Joseph was working the home farm.) John didn't remain on his father's and mother's family's land for long, however. Beginning with the 1900 Census, John and his family are listed in Cecil County, Maryland, so my best guess would be that they sold the property soon after Thomas' death in 1899 (not to mention the publication of the Runk biography the same year).

Aerial view showing the Higgins House in 2002

I don't know what became of the property between 1900 and the building of the high school in 1966, but thanks to the link to the Kelley family, we can trace its history back a bit. Fortunately for us, Runk also contains a biography of Elizabeth Kelley Higgins' nephew, George Kelley. While his story per se is not relevant to us now, his write-up does give some of the history of the Kelley family in MCH. However, it doesn't end up giving us as much background on this particular property as I had first thought.

William's father, Samuel Kelley, emigrated from Scotland to Mill Creek Hundred in the mid-1700's. According to 18th Century MCH property expert Walt Chiquoine, Samuel Kelley's home was in the northwest corner of the hundred, above Milford Crossroads. Samuel died in about 1796, and I have a feeling that William, his only son, sold the family farm soon after. In the 1810, 1820, and 1830 Censuses, William Kelley is listed in White Clay Creek Hundred (as best as I can tell) in the vicinity of Ogletown. However, in 1840 and 1850, he's in MCH. This fits with the information that Walt provided, which is that William purchased that farm on which the high school now stands in 1832, from John Ball.

As a partial aside, I have to mention that in this case the history provided by Runk and the documentary evidence seem to be at odds. In Runk, it's stated that William purchased a part of his father's land, and lived on it and cultivated it for the rest of his life. From what I see, though, it looks as if William actually lived in at least three different places in his lifetime, the last of which is the farm then purchased by his son-in-law Thomas Higgins. Don't believe everything you read, especially in old histories, especially when they're compiled from information provided by family stories.

Unfortunately, the 2002 aerial photo seen above is the best shot I have of the house at this time. (If anyone has a better picture of it, even if, say, it's in the background of a photo taken at the school, please let me know!) Without seeing the house, I can't determine how old it actually was. It may have been built in the 1830's after William Kelley moved in, or it may have been a later replacement built by one of the Higginses. It's not clear yet if there was a house on the property when Kelley moved in, but if so, it's even possible it could date to the Ball ownership. Whatever the case, this property and the one down the hill each have their own unique stories to be told.


  1. Thank you very much for researching and spending time writing this post about my question! I'm sure someone will come through with a picture. I can picture the house clear as day in my head as I spent a lot of time around that area.

  2. Also, just realized that Old Milltown road is in 3 separate places currently, which I'm assuming all connected at one point. That part of the road that dead ends at the schools property, another portion on the other side of the cemetery, then a portion over by Limestone road by the Harlan-Chandler Mill. Interesting

  3. Scott, Joseph Trinder's will was proved 9 AUG 1892. Donna P.

  4. Scott, I just found that Trinder's property was sold by his executors on 26 FEB 1896 to Alpheus Pennock. Donna P.

    1. Thanks Donna!!! That opened up a whole web of connections, which I'm trying to write up now. May not get it straightened out today, but hopefully have an update for you all tomorrow.

  5. I have a relative that grew up in the earlier section of Heritage park @ 1960 at the start of the decimation of the Pike Creek area and he remembers walking on the old section of Old Milltown road that cut through All Saints cemetery. It was a dirt road. The cemetery was just being laid out at that time. The lower part of Heritage Park down towards the cemetery seems to have been an orchard of some sorts before construction. At least that is what it appears to be on the old aerial shots. And there is a road named Orchard Ave. just off of Wollaston road. He does remember an abandoned farm house that was one of the Wollaston farm houses I presume. Have you touched on the Wollaston's before?

    1. That's really cool. I would have loved to see what the area looked like then. You're right -- it looks like there were several orchards in that area, even up through the early 60's. In fact, if you look closely at a map, you'll see that there's another piece of Orchard Ave on the east side of Harrison Ave, the road that leads into DE Park. The road connected before that section of Kirkwood Highway was built.

      And yes, I see the Wollaston house. It was just a few yards east of what I assume is the administrative building for the cemetery. The road that went past it all the way up to the Kelley-Higgins farm is visible as late as the 1968 photo, as St. Marks is being built.

      The Wollastons have popped up in a few posts, but I don't believe I've done one yet just on them. I know they go all the way back to the Swedish era in MCH, and the house here belonged to Joseph Wollaston for much of the 1800's. I'm sure they'll get their due eventually.