Monday, March 27, 2017

Still More on Stoney Batter

The full extent of Stoney Batter Road
I'll start out by saying that I never intended to write this post. Then, when I did, I wanted it to be more than it turned out to be. In the end this post, at least, is destined to be somewhat unsatisfying. I started out trying to answer one simple question, moved the goalpost a little bit, came closer to answering it (by eliminating some possibilities), but ultimately was unable to arrive at a good, solid answer. And for good measure, a whole new set of questions were opened up. Good times. Good times.

The original question, which we've attempted a few times already, is this -- Where did the name "Stoney Batter" come from in Stoney Batter Road? In the past, I attacked it from an etymological standpoint, trying to determine what the words were supposed to mean. I came up with a few ideas. One could be right, but likely not. However, now after prompting from a few comments, I feel like that mindset might be missing the point. I now think the relevant question is not what was Stoney Batter, but where was Stoney Batter.

As I was reminded, depending on where you look and who you ask, the name of the road is either Stoney Batter or Mermaid-Stoney Batter Road. That second one conceals an important point -- namely, that the road ran from Mermaid (meaning the Mermaid Tavern on Limestone Road) to Stoney Batter. This implies what should have been obvious, that Stoney Batter was a place. Also prompted by the same comments, Donna Peters provided me with a slew of early 20th Century newspaper articles (some interesting, some funny, some downright sad) that really drive home the fact that Stoney Batter was a place. Frustratingly, though, they seem to widen the target area rather than narrow it.

Since, for the most part, I don't have much to add about any particular article, I'll just show you a selection of them here. I'll have a few words about a couple of them afterward.






While there's nothing Earth-shattering in any of these articles, they do help to make our case a bit. The first two make text what was subtext in the name -- that the road went from Mermaid to Stoney Batter (or the other way around). That makes clear that Stoney Batter was, in fact, a place. Add to that the fact that the last article states that the road was still dirt in 1929, and we can dispense with any theory of the name that has to do with it being paved with a "stony batter" of concrete.

Another sort of side note on the road -- I was at first confused when I saw several mentions (up into the 1950's) of "the intersection of Stoney Batter Road and the Newport and Gap Turnpike". I thought, "They don't even come close to intersecting." What I soon realized was that the road was originally considered to run not from Limestone Road down to Mill Creek Road, but from Limestone down and around and back up across McKennans Church Road all the way to Newport Gap Pike. The 1881 map segment at the top of the page may help this make more sense. At that time, Mill Creek Road didn't make the left up the hill and away from its namesake, it continued on along it, down to Limestone Road. An upcoming guest post by Dave Olsen will go into more detail about this lost road.

And speaking of Dave, this last part is thus far setting him up to be the hero of the story. So we've concluded that, A) Stoney Batter was a place, not a description, and B) it was located somewhere at the bottom of the hill near Mill Creek. In my mind, right now, there are two prime candidates. The first, which was always my front-runner, was the woolen mill estate on the west side of the creek, owned by Aquila Derrickson on the 1881 map. However, now thanks to work by done by the aforementioned Dave Olsen, my money is on the farm across the creek from there, labeled on the map as H. S. Stewart. It was owned by an Irish immigrant named Hugh Stewart, and it had on it at least two quarries.

The four quarries of the Stoney Batter area (courtesy, Dave Olsen)
Dave has identified four separate quarries in the immediate vicinity, labeled Q1-Q4 on the above diagram. Q1 and Q2 are on Hugh Stewart's property. Stewart purchased the property in 1866, moving down from London Britain Township in Chester County. Interestingly, in the 1850 Census he's listed as a bricklayer and in 1860 as a quarry man. Can it be a coincidence that a "quarry man" bought a farm that either already had, or was about to have, a quarry on it? I don't think so. Dave believes that the Q3 and Q4 sites may be the older ones. The existing remains of the Plum Grove farm that lie in the nearby woods are built of the same stone quarried from these sites.

There is certainly more to be learned about the history of these quarries. Just about the only other thing I can add right now is that the 1910 Census does show several Italian quarry workers in the area. This means that at least one of the quarries (probably Q2) was a "professional" operation. There are also a few mentions of stone coming from the area for use by the Levy Court on roads. And although these date from a few years after Hugh Stewart's death in February 1896, I now think that he may end up being the key person in the story. I've not yet found any report that specifically states for certain which farm was "Stoney Batter", but my money is on Stewart. If you look at two of the reports of his passing shown below, you get the sense that he was well-known enough that his farm could easily have lent its name to the surrounding area. (And on a side note, I think this 1896 article is the earliest mention of Stoney Batter that I've seen.)


Reports of Hugh Stewart's passing in February 1896

As I noted at the beginning of this post, we still haven't arrived at any sort of conclusive answer to the origins of Stoney Batter. We've even raised more questions with the discovery of the quarries (thanks go to Dave Olsen for this -- no, you're not just a crazy guy walking in the woods). But I'm more confident than ever that the name derived from a specific place, and I think it may very well be the Irish, cock-fighting, quarry man/farmer Hugh Stewart who ends up being at the center of the answer.

10 comments:

  1. You may have hit on an explanation, as Mr. Steward called his farm Stoney Batter and he came from Ireland. There is a neighborhood of north Dublin called Stonybatter, referring to a stony road of ancient origin. In Irish it is called Bohernagloch (Bóthar na gCloch). I would think it likely Mr. Stewart named his farm after a familiar place from home.

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    1. Could very well be. That was the first thing I thought of when I saw that he was Irish. However, it's stated that he was from Londonderry, which is a ways from Dublin. I wasn't sure enough of the connection to include it. On the other hand, Londonderry I believe is a port city, so maybe he just departed from there. Could be a little of both -- there was stone there, he knew the name, decided to use it. Still haven't found the smoking gun yet.

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  2. I have the following in my database for him. Maybe it will provide a clue. Ballymena Parish Records Antrim, Irln. (Kirkinriola) FIlm # 0990408 MARRIAGES
    12 Nov 1831 Hugh STEWART of Ballyclub, to Sarah LAMONT, of Connor

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    1. Ok, I just learned a little more about Ireland. If it is indeed the right people (and the names and dates seem right), Ballyclug and Connor are close to each other, and about 40 miles east of Londonderry. Makes me think again that he only departed from there. Thanks, Donna.

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  3. Scott, The death record for his son Hugh gives his mother's name as Sarah Lamont.

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    1. That's good enough evidence for me. Great work!

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  4. Scott, there could be another explanation for the stoney batter name. If you look at topo and geology maps in the vicinity of Stoney Batter Road you'll see there are a rock outcrops and the road has some rather steep grades. "Batter" was a term often used in the 1500s and 1600s to describe a steep slope. In masonry construction the term "batter" still describes the slope of the face wall made of stone, brick, etc. That road cuts through an area of geological outcrops (some of them mined in the distant past), with highly sloping faces (batter). That road might have been simply named because it traversed a stone batter as it connected Limestone Road (elevation 280') at Mermaid with the Mill Creek (elevation 187') in a short distance. In fact, that 'S' turn the road makes navigating the steepest grade might be what inspired the road's name.

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    1. That's entirely plausible. What would really help would be to find a use of the name earlier in the 1800's or in the 1700's. So far, the earliest I've seen is the 1890's. It's possible, though, that the name had been around for a while in an unofficial capacity, then someone used it for their farm. Or, there was just no need to differentiate it from Mermaid until the population increased. Or someone in particular resurrected the old name. Lot's of possibilities.... Thanks for the idea.

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  5. Great read! This area of MCH is super interesting.
    Two things, close-by Delcastle golf course is super rocky, I know it used to be worked on by the prison workers, but it being really rocky makes sense as one of the above commenters mentioned the area has a ton of rock outcrops.

    Also, do you know anything about the old houses that used to be across from Delcastle mini golf and the softball fields? There is an old stone road, blocked off with a cement barrier and remains of about 4 or 5 old stone houses. When the trees are sparse in the winter they are very visible. Theres another old road on both sides of the road right at the curve past the softball fields too.

    Thanks!

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    1. I think I can give you at least a little info about that property. It looks like it was the Yearsley farm. In 1896, Ferris J. Yearlsey bought Hugh Stewart's farm from his son and administrator, Charles Stewart. Ferris was the son of Samuel Yearsley, who was the brother of McCoy. McCoy Yearsley lived on the home farm on Duncan Road across from the Delcastle tennis courts. In 1942, Ferris J. sold the old Stewart farm to his grandson (through son Malcolm), Ferris Malcolm Yearsley. Ferris M. died in 1987, and the farm was sold to a developer. Nothing was done, and the state bought it in 2006.

      Dave Olsen may be able to weigh in on this, too, but I think the farm buildings were probably built by Yearsley. It looks like Stewart's house was down closer to the corner at the bottom of the hill.

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