Thursday, September 22, 2016

Lamborn, Guest, and the Bunco Steerers

The location of Chandler Lamborn's farm
In the last post we saw two articles telling tales of attempted swindling aimed at MCH resident David E. Eastburn. These occurred in July and November of 1888, with the earlier article referencing another successful ploy targeting a different MCH farmer. Since the bunco steerers (gosh I love that term) failed with Eastburn, it was unclear as to what exactly their plan was. But now, thanks to the research ability of Donna Peters (contributor of the first articles), we not only have a detailed account of the heretofore briefly mentioned incident, we have another story that appears to involve the same con artists. And although the new incident didn't take place in Mill Creek Hundred, it does end up having connections both to Mill Creek Hundred and (sort of) myself.

We'll get to the new story in a moment, but first let's catch up and find out exactly what happened to Chandler Lamborn. All we knew from the Eastburn article was that three days after failing with him, the swindlers succeeded in taking $500 from Lamborn. They left the area soon thereafter. The article below gives a detailed account of just what went down that day. It appeared the same day as the Eastburn article, July 14,1888, but in a different paper, the Wilmington Every Evening. It was all a complex scheme to get the 71 year old Lamborn to gather a substantial amount of money together so that they could steal it, literally, right out of his hands.

Unless I miss my guess, I'd say there's one small detail omitted from the story. What makes more sense, and is similar to things today like the Nigerian scam, is that "Powell" probably offered Lamborn a cut of the winnings for putting up the $500. From what I can tell from inflation calculators, that $500 would be equivalent to over $12,000 today. Not bad for a day's work. Except for the fact that it's immoral, illegal, and reprehensible. A pretty complicated scheme just to get the victim to gather up cash, and in principle similar to what they did again a few months later. This article appeared in the October 25th edition of the Evening Journal. (Reminder that you can click on the image for a larger version and easier reading.)

I realize this article was a bit longer, so if you didn't read the whole thing, here's essentially what happened. Three men, at least one of whom was likely "Mr. Powell" from the Lamborn robbery, approached Brandywine Hundred farmer James Henry Guest about purchasing a piece of his land in order to build a summer home. Guest's farm sat on the east side of Philadelphia Pike, just north of Bellefonte (which would spring up twenty-some years later), on what's now Guest Lane. For those who know the area, his house was (and maybe still is) just above the Brandywine Boulevard-Duncan Road intersection, near Mount Pleasant Elementary School.

The strangers offered to pay an excellent price for the land, and Guest agreed to the sale. The shady buyers stated that they had some of the agreed-upon price with them, but had to retrieve the rest. They thought it wasn't fair that they should put up money while Guest put up none, so they asked that he match their $3000 to assure that he wouldn't sell the land to someone else in the meantime. I find this a little weird since there's no indication that Guest was even looking to sell the land prior to their arrival, but he agreed to their terms.

Since Guest didn't have that much cash on hand, he needed to go to the bank in Wilmington to withdraw the amount. He and "Powell" drove to the Union Bank in town, withdrew the cash and headed home. They met met the other two cons along the pike, probably somewhere near where Washington Street Extension and, ironically, State Police Troop 1 is today. Long story short, the bunco steerers snatched Guest's money and escaped. That $3000 would be worth about $75,000 today. Ouch. Now for the MCH connection.

Right after the robbery, a neighboring farmer came by and helped Guest, accompanying him to the police station in Wilmington. This farmer was none other than John W. Banks, who happened to have grown up just outside of Stanton. His brother Jabez later operated the hotel at the Brandywine Springs Amusement Park, and both were featured in an earlier post about some old family invitations. In fact, the last invitation was for an Evening Party at John's house at Riverside in November 1884. And as for the person connection I mentioned, Guest's house is about a two minute drive from where I now live.  I also have a family member who lives on what was the Guest farm, literally (if you have a good arm) a stone's throw from the house.

So it seems that either we just happened to come across these incidents, or 1888 was a good year for "sharpers" in New Castle County. And next time you get a suspicious phone call or email, remember that there have always been people looking to make a quick buck by separating hard-working folks from their money.


  1. Hello, here is a random question for you. In Mill Creek, around Duncan road, do you know why a few of the streets are named after Ivy league colleges? (Cornell, Yale, Dartmouth, Harvard.) Also, on Duncan Rd right across from Dartmouth Rd, there is a very old house, not facing Duncan Road like the others, but facing towards Kirkwood Highway. Do you happen to know anything about it, was this part of the Hersey-Duncan property?

    1. Good questions. As far as the roads go, I don't know for sure but I would assume they were named by the developer. Sometimes they like a theme for the roads in a development -- this one seems to be the Ivy League. Ok, the Ivies plus Lehigh. Not sure how that one got mixed in.

      I can give you a bit of a better answer about the house, though. It was built just over 200 years ago by Justa Justis. He was a builder himself, and probably built it with help from relative Thomas Justis, whose house is on Milltown Rd just west of St John the Beloved. Justa was the lead builder of the original Brandywine Springs resort hotel in the 1820's. He and the house are mentioned in Part 2 of the posts a few years back about the Justis family.

    2. Thank you! Very interesting, that particular area of Mill Creek seems to have a lot of history.

      One other question if you don't mind. on Newport Gap Pike at Belvedere, there are 2 things I've always wondered about.
      If your are leaving Prices Corner and heading towards Newport, immediately after you pass the first set of train tracks, on your right is a small roadway which leads to some electrical plant. But at the foot of the driveway are 2 stone arches, as if it was once a nice property or house at one time. Any idea?

      Also, about 100 feet up from there on Newport Gap Pike, closer towards Newport, on the left is Star of Bethlehem Aump Church. If you pass the Boxwood road intersection, their cemetery is on the left in a small grassy lot bordering 141. Assuming this was just separated from the church when 141 and the Boxwood overpass was built.. Is this an old church/cemetery?

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  2. Wow!! What a discovery. Found this post because I was researching the historic Stanton Station and found your blog – I used to live in the building that is currently there now across from Shones Lumber. Anyways I found this article on here about Chandler Lamborn and turns out he is on my ancestry tree as my 3rd great uncle!! What a story about those crooks!!! Excellent work, keep up this great history about DE.