Friday, April 22, 2016

Abel Jeanes Wants a Road

Whenever I'm researching history (or even just watching a show or reading about it for fun), one of the truisms I try to keep in mind is the reality and humanity of the people who populated that past. They weren't just one-dimensional characters, they were real people, the same kind of people we have now. There were good people and bad people, generous people and greedy people, quiet people and outspoken people. And just like today, everything that they did they did for a reason. Sometimes those reasons were kind and magnanimous, sometimes they were petty and self-serving.

All this came to mind recently when I was looking back over an old newspaper article forwarded to me a while ago by Donna Peters. It originally appeared in the March 1, 1825 edition of the Wilmington paper the American Watchman, and was really more of a letter to the editor than an article. The piece, written by "A Citizen of White Clay Creek Hundred", dealt with the county's Levy Court's reconsideration and approval of an earlier denied request for a road located in western Mill Creek/northwestern White Clay Creek Hundred. The writer seems less than thrilled with the idea of the county footing the bill for the road in question.

Under normal circumstances, the Levy Court's consideration of whether or not to fund a public road would not be all that exciting or noteworthy -- it was one of its regular functions. However, in this case the story is more pertinent to us due to the identity of the petitioner for the road -- Abel Jeanes. As we've seen in several previous posts, Jeanes, co-founder with brother-in-law Joseph Eastburn of the Eastburn-Jeanes Lime Kilns, was quite a forceful personality. He was undoubtedly a good businessman, but he didn't seem to be all that concerned with being a well-liked businessman.

In addition to the decision itself, the author takes issue with the manner in which the decision was made. It seems that two years earlier, Jeanes had made a similar request which was initially approved. However, the opposition complained that they had not had a chance to make their case in front of the court. The matter was reopened, the opposing party given a hearing, and then the request was denied. Now, two years later, Jeanes applied for the same road and was approved with again no hearing for the opposition. The author pleads with the court to re-re-rerule on the request and deny it again.

Aside from the process itself, the two arguments made against the road are that, A) the only beneficiary of the road is Abel Jeanes, and B) the road travels through rough terrain and will be expensive to maintain. In order to analyze either of these complaints, we must first determine exactly where this road was located. From the clues given in the column, I believe I have done just that.

The location of the road given in the article is the following: "...leading from a School House near Samuel and Wm. Meeteer's Brick House, lately occupied as a Store, and from thence by James Crawford's Mill to the Road leading from Newark to New London Crossroads." When I first read this, the first part of it nearly threw me off. Samuel and William Meeteer were the owners of the paper mill later owned by the Curtis family. That made me think that the brick house of theirs mentioned must be down near the mill somewhere. However, I'm confident that the road Abel Jeanes wanted actually began about a mile or so up the hill from there.

Probable road in question, 1849

The biggest and most unequivocal clue is the mention that it ran past James Crawford's Mill. In 1803, James Crawford purchased a grist, bark, and saw mill that stood along White Clay Creek. It was built by Thomas and Joseph Rankin, and sold again by Crawford in 1841 to William McClelland. John Tweed purchased the mill from McClelland in 1855.

Knowing that the road went past the Crawford/McClelland/Tweed mill pretty much places it alone. On the White Clay Creek Hundred side it's said to end at the "Road leading from Newark to New London Crossroads." This is today's Route 896, which is still called New London Road. This WCCH section of Abel Jeanes' road is now called Wedgewood Road, and runs through a part of White Clay Creek State Park (this either was or still is Carpenter State Park).

On the eastern, Mill Creek Hundred end, the road began at a school house near the Meeteers' brick house, which had recently been used as a store. Well, right where the road highlighted in the map above begins stood (until about 10 years ago) the Milford Crossroads #37 School. I haven't yet been able to definitively prove that the Meeteers owned a house at Milford Crossroads, but I think they did. It wasn't until 1816 that they purchased the tract along Kirkwood Highway, and didn't build the large frame house that still stands there until after 1822. It's possible that this brick house was their prior residence, which was then used as a store after the Meeteer Brothers moved out.

In my mind, this pretty much proves the location of Abel Jeanes' road. An 1820 map shows no road at that location. An interestingly, although the MCH side of the road has been long-abandoned and was engulfed when Dupont built their Louviers site in the 1950s, traces of it can still be seen behind the office complex today. Although the MCH side seems fairly flat, I can tell you from personal experience having run up and down Wedgewood Road, it's pretty steep with visible rock cuts along it. I don't doubt that this side would have required more maintenance than the eastern side.

The second point made by the letter writer is a bit harder to evaluate. Would Able Jeanes have been the only beneficiary of the new road? Possibly, or maybe the writer just didn't like him all that much (admittedly, it's not an either/or). My best guess for Jeanes' desire for the road was for a shortcut across to New London Road, and access to Chester County. Coming from his lime pits, this road would save him from having to go all the way down through Newark and back up. If he had a fair-sized market for his products in Chester County, this would certainly save him time, and therefore, money. For what it's worth, the 1820 map doesn't show either Chambers Rock or Hopkins Bridge Roads, which now cross White Clay Creek north of this location.

From what we've seen of Abel Jeanes before, he was not a shy man. If he thought this road would benefit him, I have no doubt that he would fight for it through whatever opposition there might be. On the other hand, with his personality and visibility in the community, I don't doubt that that opposition would not hesitate to stand up to him. It's possible that Jeanes was fighting for his own self-interest over the good of the community. It's possible that at least part of the opposition to the road was personal against Jeanes. But in the end, the road was built. It was in use for at least the better part of a century, and since Abel Jeanes moved away from the area in the 1840's I'm sure others benefited from its existence. 

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