Friday, July 1, 2016

The Zachariah Derickson House -- The Derickson Farm Through the 19th Century and Beyond

The Derickson House in the 1950's
In the last post, we took a look at the early history of the land surrounding the Zachariah Derickson House, and the families who owned it. We saw that the land goes back to a 17th Century land grant called Wedgebury, which ended up in the Robinson family. The land around Milltown was subsequently broken up, then, after some intermediate transactions, Samuel Montgomery purchased about 200 acres in 1766. The heirs of his son William ultimately sold what was remaining to their sister Martha and her husband, Zachariah Derickson.

Derickson was originally from Christiana Hundred, hailing from the area we now know as Prices Corner. Before leaving, Zachariah even sold a two acre lot to David Price, the man whose name is still evident today in such places as shopping center signs and bowling alley names. The evidence seems to indicate that Zachariah and Martha moved to the house on McKennans Church Road in 1842. Even today, 174 years after Zachariah's purchase and 250 years after their ancestor Samuel Montgomery first bought the land, the Derickson family still owns a small part of that original tract. In between, though, it's passed through numerous generations of Dericksons.

Zachariah (1810-1873) and Martha (1809-1882) had three children when they moved into the house -- William, Joseph, and Sarah. Lewis would follow three years later. But before moving ahead, we should step back and address the one part of the house's history that is still a bit unclear -- when it was built and who lived there prior to the Dericksons. The short answer is, we don't know for sure. The deeds and indentures are no help, as they don't mention the house one way or the other. There's no date stone on the house or other inscription that would help date it. The style, as best as I can tell, is consistent with that late 18th/early 19th Century (the stuccoed stone part on the right is the original part of the house, the frame addition on the left was added later).

The 1842 indenture that officially began the Derickson Era

Derickson family lore states that there were two generations of Montgomerys who lived in the house before Zachariah, and that it dates to around 1800. I can't confirm either of those points, but I can speculate based on the Montgomerys who we know were in the area. If Samuel Montgomery built the house then it would be a good deal older than we think, as he died prior to 1800. Plus, we don't have any reason to think he didn't live closer to Milltown and the William Montgomery House area. It is possible that William himself built it, since his brother James was given the land west of Limestone Road. James then died before 1800 and William eventually built the stone house along (now Old) Limestone Road. I don't know why he would move out of a new house, so it's possible but not likely.

As far as the later Montgomery years go, there is another intriguing possibility. William Montgomery, Jr. (son of William Sr.) died in 1841 at the young age of 21. It was mere months later that the rest of the family sold the property to Derickson. Perhaps young William was supposed to inherit the house, moved in as a young man, then unexpectedly passed. Only a theory now, but a plausible one I think.

Whatever the case, the Dericksons moved into the house in 1842 and remained there until well into my own lifetime. Zachariah lived the rest of his days in the house, passing away in 1873. The following year his widow Martha and three of the other children sold the property (then consisting of tracts of 6 and 117 acres) to second son Joseph Derickson (1836-1914). The reason that William (1834-1915), the eldest son, didn't purchase the family farm is that he already had his own. He didn't go far, though. In 1857 he purchased the Thomas Justis House on Milltown Road. To us today it might seem like the two farms are somewhat far apart, but they were actually adjoining. Until Sherwood Park was built in the 1950's, you could look from the Derickson farm down the fields to the Justis House.

The Derickson Farm, pre-development

William sold the Justis House in 1884, perhaps in response to the death of his mother in 1882. The next time that the home farm changed hands was in 1891, when Joseph sold it to William. William may have already moved back home by that point (the missing 1890 Census would have helped), but I think the real reason it was sold to him was to keep the farm in the family. Joseph Derickson never married, so he had no heirs to pass the house to. William did. In 1900, he did.

The next owner of the Derickson Farm was William's son, Leslie Derickson (1862-1942). By this point, the property was one tract of 126 acres, along both sides of McKennans Church Road. Three years after purchasing the family farm, Les enlarged the now possibly hundred year old house by adding the frame section on the left (west) end of the original stone home. He lived the rest of his life there, only selling it in 1941, a year before his death. As a side note, tracking ownership through the Derickson era is relatively easy, as the the farm was always sold, not inherited. The one exception being when Zachariah died, but even then the farm was sold the following year.

The Derickson barn and some of Jim Sr's Guernsey cows

The last Derickson to purchase the old homestead was James L. Derickson, Sr. (1898-1977). By the time he purchased, only a month prior to America's entry into World War II, Big changes were either underway or on the horizon. Smaller dairy farms such as his were already having trouble competing against larger competitors. Then, in the years following the war, seismic changes would come to the complexion of Mill Creek Hundred. The 1950's and 60's would see many of the old farms sold off to make way for the housing developments that many of us grew up in. That would be the ultimate fate of at least part of the land that Samuel Montgomery bought back in 1766.

In 1957, Jim, Sr. was approached by developer Frank Robino, who had just built nearby Sherwood Park. Reluctantly, Derickson sold 110 acres to Robino for what would become Sherwood Park II. He held on to the family home, though, as well as three acres around it. He lived the rest of his life there, and in 1977 became the final Derickson to both be born and die in the old home. His widow Mildred sold the house the following year, ending the family's tenure there. As I mentioned at the beginning, though, they're not completely gone.

Late 1950's aerial of an almost completed Sherwood Park II

When Sherwood Park II was being laid out, James' son Jim Derickson, Jr. picked out a nice spot in the new community and purchased a house there. He raised his family in his new home and still lives there today, the last Derickson on the old farm. The story is far from over, though, and the future looks bright. The Dericksons are rightfully proud of their family history, and are very knowledgeable about it. As for the Zachariah Derickson House itself, it was sold recently and the new owners are very interested in preserving the history of the home. It was actually a message from them that prompted these posts in the first place. I have no doubt that the house will continue to be a happy home for many years to come.


  1. Very interesting to me as I grew up next door to Jim Derickson Jr and still live here today!

  2. She sure does!

  3. Jean Person AgraJuly 22, 2016 at 4:36 PM

    I grew up on Westlock Drive and our backyard bordered the Derickson property. That acreage was a wonderful place to play in the 60's and old Mr. Derickson was usually very generous about letting us play ball games or have snowball fights with the Highgate "Gang." Many a holiday found me outside with my cousins after dark playing capture the flag in that field. Even though I was long gone from Sherwood Park II, it was a sad day that most of that land was sold and a chainlink fence cut us off from that part of our childhood.