Friday, June 23, 2017

Green Bank Park

In the most recent post about the Capital Trail Garage, I wrote of the thrill of learning about a site or topic of which I had been previously unaware. I now present another entry in that category, located in the same corner of southeastern Mill Creek Hundred. The subject is Green Bank Park, but not the one you know, located on the former site of the county workhouse. This Green Bank Park predated even the workhouse by nearly twenty years, and appears to have operated for about two decades. Full credit for bringing this lost site to my attention goes to the wonderful Red Clay Valley History Talk Series Facebook page.

When I first saw the Facebook post featuring the park, I initially had doubts as to whether it really was what it appeared to be. My own first entryway into local history was the nearby Brandywine Springs Park more than 15 years ago. In all that time I can't recall ever hearing about a 19th Century Green Bank Park, or any other Victorian Era excursion park in the area. But sure enough, after a little research I found that it really did exist and was an early competitor to Brandywine Springs. The ending date for Green Bank is still not clear, but it seems obvious that it was a victim of the Springs' success in the early years of the new century.

Green Bank Park first opened in June 1883, and the ad above (from June 26 of that year) is one of the earliest that I've found mentioning it. Interestingly, this ad shared the front page with another coming, and related, story that affected the area -- the announcement of the route of the soon-to-be-built B&O line through Delaware. The "D.W. railroad" referenced in the ad is the Delaware Western Railroad, which is what the Wilmington & Western reorganized itself as in 1877. The B&O had actually purchased the Delaware Western in 1881 to help facilitate its own expansion, but it would continue to operate under the DW name until after the new B&O line was completed in 1886. The park was intimately linked with the railroad, as it was the main means of access for most park patrons. Green Bank Park was also located directly next to the railroad line. (Incidentally, the park's name seems to be evenly split between the "Green Bank" and "Greenbank" spellings. I use "Green Bank" for the park to help differentiate it from the adjacent mill as well as the modern Greenbank Park.)

A ride along the railroad, November 1887

While the exact location of the park, to the best of my knowledge, is not known, we do have a couple clues that bring us tantalizingly close. The first is simply that it's along the DWRR and called Green Bank Park, which strongly implies that it was in the vicinity of the Greenbank Mill. An even better clue comes to us from a newspaper article appearing November 16, 1887, which gives an account of riding the Landenburg branch of the Baltimore & Philadelphia Railroad (the B&P was the B&O's subsidiary in the area). From this account, we can determine that the park was between the Marshallton Iron Works and the Greenbank Mill, on the west side of the tracks and presumably between the tracks and the creek.

Earliest mention of the park, June 7, 1883

The only real question seems to be whether the park was located north of Newport Gap Pike (which would put it where the Wilmington & Western's Greenbank Station is now) or south of the pike (meaning roughly the area between Kirkwood Highway and Newport Gap Pike). I didn't find the ad above until I was writing the post, but its wording seems to imply that the park (not even called by name yet) was by the station. Although, "at Greenbank Station" could still mean near it, but across the road. The Greenbank Station at the time stood between the road and the present location of the water tower.

Nowhere have I found a description of the approximate size of the park, but some of the ads through the years give an idea of what was located in it. The early ad shown at the top of the page lists as amenities, "Splendid water, fishing, boating, croquet, swings and other amusements." It also says, "Steam yacht Republic, Jr. leaves the park landing every 15 minutes." I assume this was a small steamship replica they sailed on Red Clay Creek.

Green Bank Park ad, May 5, 1884

In the ad above from the park's second season, run on May 5, 1884, you'll notice the addition of a "handsome and commodious covered Pavilion". An ad from the following year mentions roller skating, presumably done in the pavilion. It also states that the "large pavilion" has a "stage and dressing rooms attached". Many blurbs, especially those announcing the beginning of the season, mention brass bands or orchestras performing, probably on that stage. All in all, it sounds like a very nice picnic excursion park, much like what Brandywine Springs was in its early years, before it grew into a larger amusement park.

One article from the early period of the park, August 1884 to be exact, includes a very intriguing phrase. Since this piece of information doesn't appear to show up anywhere else, it may be no more than a misprint or a misunderstanding from the reporter. However, in a very sad article detailing the drowning death of an eight year old boy near the park, it notes that the boy's body was recovered by "James Clark, the proprietor of the hotel at that place." Another account of the same incident actually calls it the Greenbank Hotel. Nowhere else have I seen mention of a hotel, so the reporters may have just meant the park. However, I thought I'd mention this anyway.

James Clark's handiwork, October 1881

So who was this James Clark, the man who seems to have been behind Green Bank Park? Born in Pennsylvania in 1850, Clark was primarily a worker in mills most of his life. He worked in a grist mill as a young man and seems to have been employed at the Delaware Iron Works at Wooddale by 1880. He must have been something more than just a "common worker", as the blurb above shows. He also must have moved from Wooddale to Marshallton about that time, because in 1881 he received a patent for an attachment used in the iron working process. It was only a year and a half later that he first leased the grove at Greenbank, so perhaps he made a little money from his invention. In any case, he must have been at least somewhat financially comfortable, because a few years later he made another purchase.

In 1888, along with his brother Ellis, James Clark purchased the Greenbank Mill from the Phillips family. About a year later James bought out Ellis' half, then soon after sold the entire mill back to his brother. Ellis didn't operate the mill for long (if at all), because it was bought a few years later by Harmon McDonald. Several newspaper accounts specifically note that McDonald had to restore the mill, as it had fallen into disrepair.

How all this relates to Green Bank Park is unclear. From 1883 to 1886, there are steady mentions of the park, either in advertisement form or notes of the park's opening for the season. The 1887 article makes clear it was there then. After that, however.....nothing. No more mentions that I can find of the park through the rest of the 19th Century. It's possible that Clark gave up running the park for his (seemingly) ill-fated mill venture. In fact, the only other mention of Green Bank Park that I could find is the one below, noting a Labor Day outing for machinists from the Harlan and Hollingsworth shipyard.

Last mention of the park, September 2, 1901

If the park had continued to operate as a low-key picnic grove, perhaps run by the railroad, the other Greenbank story happening in 1901 could have sealed its fate. In addition to the fact that Brandywine Springs had continued to grow, and would do so to a greater degree over the next few years due to the completion of the Peoples Trolley line, 1901 saw the construction of the County Workhouse next door. And while some people may have been interested to see the massive structure under construction (I know I would have been), I'm not sure how many would want to go to a park next to a prison. From the lack of evidence, I have to assume that the park was not used after this point. However, for a few years at least, it sounds like Green Bank Park would have been a delightful place to spend a Victorian afternoon.


  1. Very interesting Scott...

  2. Great work Scott. The part about the steamer operating on the Red Clay has me fascinated. Raymond and I checked out the creek extensively and the best we can come up with is it must have operated between the Newport Gap Pike bridge and the dam for the Marshallton Iron Works. The name Republic Jr. was probably named in honor of, and perhaps, to draw some business because of the very popular Republic that operated on the Delaware to Cape May.

    1. I thought that was the oddest part, too. I agree it was named for the Republic, built by Harlan & Hollingsworth and first run from Philly to Cape May. It later went to New York, was renamed Dreamland, and ferried patrons from Manhattan to Coney Island. I thought at first that it might have been a naptha launch like Brandywine Springs would later have, but they didn't come about until the late 80's into the 90's. So I guess it probably was steam.

  3. Interesting to look at Clark's patent (244,978 - Rolling Mill Coupling - August 2, 1881) and see that he listed Wooddale, Delaware as his residence. Wonder if Clark worked for the Woods at any time? Alan Wood and company owned the site from 1844 until 1890. Clark's patent is 1881 the same year Alan Wood died having retired years before. Wood's offspring kept Wooddale going so I wonder if Clark saw little opportunity at Wooddale and went to Marshallton since they were still a growing concern.

    1. Good catch, Robert. I went back and rechecked the 1880 Census, and it does appear that he's in Wooddale. Probably because of the patent article and because there are two other names (McCullen and Bennett) that I know to be Marshallton names, I assumed he was there. Now, in part because of info you've supplied elsewhere about the quarry, I see that Joseph Leach is listed four households down from Clark. So yeah, it looks like he was at Wooddale. My guess would be that he lived and worked at Wooddale while he was developing his invention, so that's what's listed on the patent. He then moved to Marshallton between June 18, 1880 (date of his census entry) and the October 1881 article. Thanks for keeping me on my toes!!

    2. Forgot to mention that I edited the post to reflect this. Doesn't change the story any, unless more info comes to light about the beginnings of the park.