Wednesday, July 12, 2017

The Thomas Little House and the Old Hollingsworth Plantation

There are, thankfully, a number of historic homes still in use in and around Hockessin. Few of them, however, touch as many of the major area families as one that's celebrating its bicentennial this year -- the Thomas Little House. And luckily for us -- partially due to my research, but in large part due to an older work -- the history of the house and of the property it anchored can be related in detail, dating back to the earliest days of English habitation in the Hockessin Valley.

Located on the northeast corner of Old Wilmington Road and Meeting House Road (across from the Hockessin Friends Meeting), the Thomas Little House sits in a beautiful, shaded, quiet part of Hockessin, far enough removed from the hustle and bustle of nearby Lancaster Pike. The gorgeous four-bay, partially stuccoed field stone house sits facing south, but for most of its history the property it commanded was to the northeast, up along the Old Public Road. And that tract can be easily traced back to its original warrant from William Penn's daughter almost three centuries ago.

Long before this tract halfway between Hockessin and Yorklyn was the Little farm, it was the Old Hollingsworth Plantation, as named by historian C.A. Weslager in his 1961 work of the same name. In March 1725, Letitia Penn's agents warranted 225 acres to Thomas Hollingsworth, son of Brandywine Hundred resident Valentine Hollingsworth. (It was Valentine who hosted the first Friends meetings in Delaware, and who donated the land for the first meeting house, off of Baynard Boulevard between Marsh Road and Shipley Road.) It seems likely that Thomas had his own son in mind the whole time, because on June 23, 1726, the tract was sold to 22 year old Jacob Hollingsworth.

Approximate borders of the original Hollingsworth Plantation

Jacob married Elizabeth Chandler three years later, and likely soon thereafter built a home for his new family. The diagram above gives the approximate location of the original tract, as well as the locations of Jacob's home and the Thomas Little House. Jacob lived on his farm until his death sometime prior to 1766. In early 1767, David Hollingsworth bought out his siblings' shares to become sole owner of their late father's property. It's thanks to a 1787 re-survey of the property (which boosted the acreage to 250) done by David that we know his house (and presumably his father's) was located along what's now Springhouse Lane off of Yorklyn Road -- likely where the upper of the two current homes is now.

However, I'm sure you've noticed that none of these people are named Little, and that the Thomas Little House isn't even within the boundaries of the Old Hollingsworth Plantation. Well, we're almost there. David Hollingsworth sold the entire 250 acres to Charles Wharton in 1787. Wharton in turn sold the tract in 1796 to Samuel Little (1750-1814). Little presumably moved into the old Hollingsworth House and resided there until his death in 1814. Samuel had quite a few holdings by the time of his death, and in his will gave each of his sons a property. John and William were bequeathed the 155 and 225 acre farms on which they resided. Oldest son Thomas Little (1788-1858) was given the home farm -- the largest.

It wasn't, however, the largest for long. Thomas soon divided the old Hollingsworth Plantation into two separate farms -- one of 158 acres and the other of 92. The larger part, which included what was presumably still the old Hollingsworth House, Thomas kept for himself. It's not clear exactly when Thomas divided his property, but the smaller portion seems to have included the western and southern part. During the 1820's, Little made several purchases that boosted this second parcel up to about 115 acres.

The new additions seem to be primarily to the south and west, and may have had two purposes. The first being to gain access to Old Wilmington Road. The second purpose has to do specifically with the deal made on March 24, 1829, between Little and Henry Heald and David Wilson, executors of the will of the late Samuel Heald. For the sum of $2615, Thomas Little purchased 6-1/4 acres of land that happened to also include a 12 year old stone house. It was with this transaction that the Thomas Little House came into the possession of the Little family.

The name, however, is somewhat of a misnomer on two counts. First, the house was built not by Little, but by the aforementioned Samuel Heald. Secondly, Thomas likely didn't live in it very long, if at all. It's not clear whether he purchased the house initially for his own use, although that's certainly possible. It was relatively new, while his other home could have been pushing 100 by that point. But we do know that at some point, probably about ten years later, Thomas' son William Little (1821-1892) moved in and took over the 115 acre farm. William would live in the house for about a half century, and oversee the next major change in the ownership of part of the Old Hollingsworth Plantation.

When Thomas Little died in 1858, he willed both of his farms to his two children, William and Mary Elizabeth. Within a year, Mary Elizabeth (who was married to Isaac Flynn, owner of the farm just up Meeting House Road) had sold her half of the 115 acre farm to her brother. The two of them sold the 158 acre tract (with the old house) to Samuel Sharpless, finally breaking up the Old Hollingsworth Plantation after more than 130 years.

As for William Little's home by the meeting house, not much is known of its early history. It has a date stone inscribed 1817, so owner Samuel Heald would have been about 63 at the time of construction. Even his youngest son was almost thirty, so my guess is that he built it as sort of a retirement home for himself. He purchased the land in 1795 from the estate of John Way, who purchased it in 1758 from Simon Dixon, whose father Thomas purchased from the Penns. Since all of Samuel Heald's children were established by then, it's not surprising that they would sell his house after his death.

It does appear that William Little and his wife Sarah resided in Samuel Heald's stone house, there raising five children -- Mary, Sarah Ann, Amanda, William H., and James Calvin. While his sisters Sarah and Amanda and brother never married, William H. Little did, in 1886, to the former Elizabeth (Lizzie) Lamborn. There is an interesting piece of information in a book about the Lamborn family, relating to William H. and Lizzie. Speaking of William H., it says, "He was a carpenter by trade, and carried on an extensive business as a contractor and builder. [...] Before his marriage, William H. Little purchased a piece of land from his father directly opposite the Hockessin Meeting house, and here built himself a comfortable residence to which he took his bride, and where they have resided since."

William H. Little's 1886 home

And sure enough, on June 4, 1886, he did purchase just over a half of an acre from his father. From the description, I believe the house that William H. Little built is the one pictured above, just north of his father's on Meeting House Road. Then, in August 1900, William and James (sometimes going by Calvin) sold about an acre to their sisters Sarah and Amanda. I can't quite tell from the deed, but I believe this may have been for the lot for them to build the next house up, seen below. All three houses are within the bounds of the original six acre purchase from 1829, which can still be seen in the property lines today. I would assume that William H. Little would have also built this beautiful home for his sisters, although it could have been James, who also worked as a carpenter. A 1904 topographic map (with information from a 1901 survey) clearly shows all three houses.

Annie and Amanda Little's c.1900 home

The biggest mystery to me at the moment is exactly who lived where when. For several decades there are two Little households and three houses. Sarah Ann (Annie), Amanda, and James (Calvin) are all listed together in the 1900, 1910, and 1920 Censuses. Mother Sarah resided with them until her death in 1910. They likely lived in their beautiful home until their own deaths in the 1920's. The current owner of this house has done some excellent research into it, and she believes it probably does date to about 1900. The style seems slightly older than that, but this could be explained by the fact that it would have been built for two approximately 50 year old unmarried sisters. They may have just desired a simple home in an older style. And with their brother(s) doing the building, they could have had a great deal of input into the design. After the siblings' deaths, ownership went to William.

I assume that William H. (or, Uncle Billy of Yorklyn, as he was apparently known) and family continued to reside in his 1886 frame house until his passing in 1933. In 1937, Lizzie and her children sold the entire property to Samuel Stovall. It was, in large part, Stovall who sold off the land for housing lots. Annie and Amanda's property had been sold in 1933 to William Neide.

The final question is, who lived in the old stone house? My guess is that the family rented it out to whoever was farming the land. The Littles at that point weren't really farmers. I could try to guess who was in the house by looking at the censuses, but it would only be a guess. And since all three properties formed what amounted to a family compound, it's not out of the question that some members may have moved a few times. With only vague census data, it's frankly hard to tell.

What I can say for certain (and with joy) is that all three properties are currently in the hands of caring owners who appreciate their history. I also know that they are always interested to learn more about these historic homes (as am I). If anyone knows anything more about them (or if you are or know a descendant of the Little family), let me know and I can forward the information to the owners.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks so much! My family used to live in this area in the 70s and it's so surprising to see the Little Family connection. My mom's great grandfather was David Little. Although not part of this immediate family, they might have been related back in Ireland. Cool!