Friday, March 25, 2016

A Boat in a Race

In this post we'll be examining the photograph seen here, which comes to us from the collection owned by the Boulden family. When I first saw this picture, I thought, "OK, nice, it's three people standing in a rowboat." My biggest reaction was to think how brave they were to be standing on a rickety little boat in such nice clothes. However, the more I looked at it, the more it caught my interest.

I decided that I needed to figure out where the picture was taken, if I could. As it turns out, I'm sure that I do know where they are, and you'd never know it today. I can't say the location makes this photograph unique, but I'd be willing to wager that there aren't too many others like it.

To start with, given the context I was sure the shot had to be from the Stanton area. One of the males is almost certainly Harry "Dutch" Boulden, and regardless of which one it would place the date somewhere in the period of 1910-1915. Besides the people and the boat, the most interesting and potentially useful item in the shot is the house in the background. This, it turns out, was really all we needed. With the context of the area and the distinctive three chimneys visible, the backdrop is definitely the Hale-Byrnes House. Here are pictures for comparison, one of the front and one from the same angle as the old photograph.

The historic Hale-Byrnes House

And from the same angle as the historic photo
The next step is to determine what waterway the subjects are on, and where exactly they are standing. Since the Hale-Byrnes House is located on the banks of White Clay Creek, a natural guess would be that they are on the White Clay. However, there are two problems with that. First, White Clay is fairly wide as it goes by the house, much wider than the waterway in the photo appears to be. Secondly, we can use the angle of the house to judge the direction in which the picture is taken. The picture had to have been taken somewhere along this line, and no further, judging from the distance and the absence of railroad tracks.

Red line indicating the direction of the photograph
The problem seems evident -- they were nowhere near the creek, and no waterway exists anywhere along the line. That may be true now, but it was not a century ago. Our line of sight here intersects, right about at the treeline, the mill race that ran southeast across the bend in the White Clay. There were several textile mills located here along the creek, and the race that supplied their power ran approximately along the highlighted route shown in the pictures below. A detailed look at these mills will have to wait for another day, but later in the 19th Century they were part of the Kiamensi Woolen Company, along with the mill on Red Clay Creek south of Marshallton.

A map from 1881 (Hale-Byrnes House indicated by arrow)

Aerial photo from 1937

Current look
In the pictures above, the red circle indicates about where the people and boat are in the old photograph. As you can see, the treeline today runs right about where the mill race was previously. I don't know when it was filled in, but it's clearly visible in the 1937 photo. Nor do I know at this point when the mills stopped operating or when the race was discontinued from use. It seems fairly wide in the picture, but if it was supplying several mills, a larger size would make sense. It seems that even after it stopped powering production, the mill race provided entertainment for the local residents. I don't know if this is the only photograph out there of people in a boat on a mill race, but I can't imagine that there are too many others like it.


  1. Great photo Scott, Thanks for posting. If I am not mistaking the dam for that race was removed from the White Clay in the last few years?....Thanks

  2. At the rate that area floods, you wouldn't think they removed it..

  3. Yes, Denis, it was the dam for this race. It was removed in December 2014.

  4. Great story, I think this mill race and old Kiamensi mill race interesting stuff. Kiamensi mill race still very visible today, but this one appears long gone. I used to fish at place we called little falls off old Ogletown road, we had to quickly cross Amtrak line to get there. I think they recently removed this waterfall, but looking at map it looks as though those falls were built at the head of this mill race, never knew that all the years fished there. Wonder if any old pictures survive of the Kiamensi mill race, which ran quite a long way.

    1. Yes, it sounds like your waterfall was the old Byrnes Mill dam. It was removed in December 2014. I'm sure there are lots of people who have come into contact with old sites without knowing exactly what they were.

      You're right about the Kiamensi race, if you mean the one that started near Kiamensi and ran down to Stanton. I've walked along it in the woods behind Powell Ford Park. I can't say I've ever seen any old photos that show any part of it, but I don't think that's odd. Why would you take a picture (when it wasn't easy to do so) of something so mundane and boring as a mill race? That's why I think this picture is so cool.