Friday, June 10, 2016

Filling in the Gaps at the Robinson-Harlan-Chandler Mill

It all started with Wedgebury
As I've said a few times lately, one of the things I'd like to do with the new resources available to me is to go back and fill in the holes in the histories of certain sites. As it turns out, I've been able to do a decent job of just that with one of the very first sites I covered here on the blog. I actually started out piecing together the history of a neighboring site (which will be the topic of an upcoming post), but since the two were originally part of the same tract it became very easy for me to jump tracks.

The site in question here is the Harlan-Chandler Mill Complex, located on the southwest corner of Limestone Road and Milltown Road. The original post dealt mostly with the 19th Century history of the site, covering the ownerships of the Harlan brothers and the Chandler family. Only brief mention was made of its earlier history, noting that it was originally the Robinson Mill and at some point Caleb Harlan took over. (Most of the recent attention has been on the burnt and being-rebuilt Chandler House, which is about a century newer than the time-frame we'll look at now.)

The story begins in the early days of English-controlled MCH, when in 1684 William Guest received a patent for a 700+ acre tract known as Wedgebury. The 1682 survey for the tract, seen above, shows that it lay between Mill Creek and Calf Run. As Walt Chiquoine noted in his post about Guest, the survey seems to show a homestead near what's now Milltown. Walt surmises it was probably built by an earlier settler, Charles Rumsey, but that Guest may have lived there for several years. In the late 1680's Guest acquired land further south near Stanton, and divided and sold his Wedgebury tract. The northwest portion was sold to Richard Mankin in 1688, and the remainder to Ann Robinson in 1691. Hopefully the diagram below (courtesy of Walt) will help you place Wedgebury in today's world.

Wedgebury today
I'm unclear as to why the one portion was sold to Ann Robinson, as her husband George did not pass away until 1694. However, it's really their son James who interests us. He inherited the Robinson portion of Wedgebury, and at some point in the first decade or two of the 18th Century erected a mill along Mill Creek, very near Charles Rumsey's original homestead. He probably operated it almost until his death in 1726, but it seems that none of his children were interested in continuing the enterprise. Robinson's property was divided among his family, with the mill lot split between the eight Robinson children.

There were numerous other transactions between the Robinsons and others regarding the rest of the tract, but it seems clear that the mill sat idle for at least 15 years. We know this because in 1741, with several kids already married and looking to the future, the siblings made an agreement with two of the boys (Joseph and John) to fix up the mill. The first part of the deed below (from 1748) mentions this agreement. If you have trouble reading it, the text states in part:
Whereas John Robinson [...] became intitled to one eighth part of his father James Robinson Esq.'s real estate of which the mill and mill lot commonly called Robinson's Mills are part [...] and Whereas after the decease of the aforesaid James Robinson the aforesaid mills were very much out of repair, And for the putting said mill in good order again so that the heirs of the said James Robinson might be thereby benefited, The guardians for the younger children made an agreement with Joseph Robinson and the said John Robinson to repair said mill...
Taken from a 1748 indenture

So, after watching Dad's old mill fall apart for 15 or 20 years, the kids decided they needed to fix it up. Whether they initially planned on operating it or selling it is not known, but it did get back into service in the 1740's. I was originally going to try to map out the entire progression of the ownership of the mill during this time-frame, but with eighth, quarter, and half shares going back and forth between family members I've decided it's not necessary (that, and my head hurt).

Suffice it to say that the main drivers in the Robinson family seemed to be John and David, and I think each of them did actually run the mill. By the end of the decade, however, shares of the mill began to go outside of the family. David sold a 1/4 share to William Roe in 1748, who turned around and sold it to James Guthery (deed above). John sold a 1/2 share to Alexander Montgomery in 1747, and Montgomery sold in 1750 to John Gillis.

Gillis, though, was only a land dealer, not a miller. The miller then was the aforesaid James Guthery. By about 1750 Guthery had consolidated the mill lot, and since he was listed as a miller on the deeds I think it's safe to say he was actually operating it. Guthery remained in Milltown, running the newly-refurbished mill, for a period of about twenty years. [I should also mention that there were other transactions going on surrounding this with some of the same people, with various tracts of 10, 60-some, 80-some acres and others. These were mostly part of the original Robinson tract and were homesites and small farms. For clarity and the sake of what's left of my sanity, I've decided to just focus on the 20 acre mill lot.]

It wasn't until 1771 that the next cast of characters entered the Milltown scene. On February 20 of that year, James Guthery sold the mill to Joseph Pennock, a member of a prominent Chester County family. Three months later Pennock sold a half share of the mill to Caleb Harlan. This was not Pennock and Harlan's only business venture at the time, and they obviously knew each other well. Around this same time, the two also co-owned a mill down by Stanton, across from Telegraph Road, behind the Walgreens and near the bus lot. (To be clear, neither the Walgreens nor the bus lot was present in 1773.)

Pennock and Harlan were out of Stanton by 1773, having sold to Wilmington millers James and William Marshall. The Marshalls then sold in 1774 to Stephen Stapler and Samuel Smith. Meanwhile back up in Milltown, Pennock and Harlan co-ran the old Robinson mill together for only about two years. In March 1773, Pennock sold his half of the mill to the same Marshall brothers, James and William. These Marshalls, incidentally, were the same ones who attempted to build the first mill on the north side of the Brandywine in the Brandywine Village area. James built the Lea-Derickson House at 1801 North Market Street. The Marshalls ran into financial difficulty around the same time the MCH deals were happening, so it's not surprising that in May 1777 they sold their half of the Robinson mill to Caleb Harlan.

Caleb Harlan's 1815 sale of the mill to his sons

So finally we have the answer to my main original question -- when did Caleb Harlan come to own the Milltown mill site? The answer is that he bought half in 1771 and consolidated control in 1777. Unfortunately, several of these original documents seem to be missing, but a slightly later one is invaluable in mapping out much of the story. In 1815, with his own death coming soon, Caleb Harlan sold his mill (that he had been running for almost 45 years) to his sons Caleb, John, and Joshua. The indenture (seen above) relates the entire history of the mill ownership beginning with Harlan's purchase from Pennock. Pennock's sale to the Marshalls details his ownership and purchase from Guthery. This is a great example of how only one or two documents can fill in lots of holes.

The 1815 sale was a transition time for the mill property, as the Harlan sons were either in the process of or getting ready to tear down the old, approximately 100 year old Robinson mill, and erect their new mill that still stands today. They would later sell to Abram Chandler (who built the brick house). In 1905, Pusey Pennock bought the mill from Chandler's estate (through Edward Cranston). Pusey was the great-great-great nephew of Joseph Pennock, who had owned the site 130+ years earlier.

There may still be a few holes that could be plugged, but I think this central and important MCH site finally has had its somewhat convoluted full history laid bare.

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