Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Richard H. Williams -- Mill Creek Hundred's First Mail Carrier

(Wilmington) Morning News, September 3, 1898
I won't lie to you and say that this has been a burning question I've spent years trying to answer, but the subject of mail delivery has popped into my head now and again. As most of you probably know, rural mail delivery was next to non-existent in the early days, when you had to go to the nearest town or city (of which there were none in MCH) to send or receive mail. A bit later, as populations increased and travel became slightly easier, a few non-urban post offices began to spring up. In our area, Stanton's post office opened in 1825 and the one in Loveville along the Lancaster Turnpike opened in about 1831.

Through the remainder of the 19th Century, post offices spread to the furthest reaches of our hundred. With the introduction of the railroads, post offices began to be placed at or near stations, to aid in the ease of transport by rail. However, even up to almost the dawn of the 20th Century, if you lived in MCH and want to send or receive mail, you either had to go to the nearest post office to do so or pay for delivery by a private carrier. However, by the late 1880's many people began advocating for the implementation of a Rural Free Delivery (RFD) system to be run by the US Post Office. Although there was some opposition to it at first, the idea was ultimately adopted. And lest you think that the idea of those in power pushing for things that would benefit them personally is a new thing (it's not, although the concept may be reaching new heights these days), the Postmaster General who fought the hardest for RFD was John Wanamaker. The guy who just so happened to own a store that offered mail order items.

Nevertheless RFD finally made its way to Delaware in late 1898. And thanks to a fascinating article I recently stumbled across, I can finally answer the age-old question (just go with me on it, ok?) -- Who was Mill Creek Hundred's first mailman? The answer, it turns out, is Richard H. Williams of Marshallton. And also thanks to the same article, we know exactly when he started and even what route he took. To flesh out the story some more, I did a little digging into Mr. Williams and found that he was a pretty interesting and active man.

The article, which appeared in the Wilmington Morning News on September 3, 1898, states that Williams has been appointed carrier for the route which will cover 18 miles, over 100 families, and will cover an area of about twenty square miles. He was to begin the route on September 15 and spend about 4-1/2 hours a day (excepting Sundays and holidays) out on his rounds. While out, in addition to delivering and picking up letters and packages, the carrier could sell stamps, post cards and wrappers. He could deliver registered letters and packages, but was not able to accept outgoing ones. The entire article, seen below, is well worth the read.

In what I think is the most fascinating part of the piece, Williams' entire route is listed in as much detail as the day would allow. The mail itself would arrive via the Baltimore and Ohio line at the Kiamensi Station, located where the DelDOT yard is today on Stanton Road. It would then be taken to the Marshallton Post Office, as it would have been before. The post office at that time almost certainly was located at George Spicer's store, located on Newport Road across from where Old Capital Trail dead-ended (or, technically, turned right to go over the bridge). This is the same store that a few years later would be purchased by John H. Foard.

Marshallton Post Office

The route that Richard H. Williams would then take pretty much loops around all of southeast Mill Creek Hundred. As described in the article, he would "[...] cross the bridge, take the road to Greenbank, to Brandywine Springs, to Yearsley's Corner and Mecannon's church, thence westward across Mill Creek to the Mermaid, south to the first road leading to Pike's creek, south along that stream to Pike Creek village, east to the Newark turnpike, northeast to Milltown, and thence southeast to Marshallton." Using today's road names, the route would be this: across the bridge, right on Greenbank Road, left on Newport Gap Pike, left on Mill Creek Road*, left on Stoney Batter Road, left on Limestone Road, right on Old Linden Hill Road, left on Upper Pike Creek Road, left on Pike Creek Road, left on Kirkwood Highway, left on Wollaston Road, bend right onto Old Milltown Road, left on Milltown Road, right on Limestone Road, left on Kirkwood Highway, keep right onto Old Capital Trail, left on Greenbank Road, right on Newport Road, across the bridge and back to the post office. A few of the roads have made slight changes in nearly 120 years, but most are pretty much the same. If you'll excuse its crudeness, below is a map of the route.

[Edit: For what it's worth, in rereading the route I think one part might be slightly different than I  had originally guessed. After going north on Newport Gap Pike to Brandywine Springs, he might have turned left on Faulkland Road, right on Duncan Road, right on McKennans Church Road, then left on Mill Creek Road. Minor change, but I wanted to mention it.]

Map of Richard H. Williams' 1898 RFD route

So just who was this man, entrusted with delivering mail to these hundred-plus families? Richard H. Williams was born in October 1842 in Pencader Hundred, the son of an English immigrant stone mason. He apparently enlisted in Company B, 4th Infantry Regiment during the Civil War, but I don't have any details about his service during the conflict. He married Mary Baxter in Philadelphia in 1868, and by 1870 was residing in Mill Creek Hundred. He worked in a saw mill, and by his placement in the census it seems obvious that he worked at the Greenbank Mill for the Phillips family. He was active in the Methodist Church and was one of three men listed as trustees on the 1886 deed whereby Edwin J. Cranston sold 1/4 acre of land for the construction of the Marshallton Methodist Church.

In the 1900 and 1910 Censuses, Williams' occupation was listed as US Mail carrier. In the 1920 Census he was listed as an attendant in the court building. However, I think he had had more than one job all along. In several directories (1901,1902,1903) his occupation was shown as that of a bailiff in the Federal Building. While working these jobs, it seems like Williams lived in the same house from 1884 until his death in January 1922. And unless I'm very much mistaken, there's a bit of fitting irony in where he resided.

In 1884, Richard H. Williams purchased one acre of land from Daniel Green, along "the public road leading past Kiamensi station". When you realize that the Wilmington & Western's Marshallton Station (located near their current yards) was originally called "Kiamensi Station", you'll see that Williams' house was on Old Capital Trail. In fact, I believe that his home may have been the house that still stands beside the former Hollingsworth building to one side and the current Hentkowski location on the other. The house was stuccoed and painted not long ago to match the old Hollingsworth building. If his was not his house, it was next door. In either case, Carrier Richard H. Williams' home is now about 150 yards from....the Marshallton Post Office.

As a parting shot, I have one potential bone to pick with the United States Postal Service. You see, in the histories I've seen and on an official page hosted by the USPS, they have the first RFD route in Delaware listed as being Harrington, on October 3, 1898. They list Marshallton as beginning on November 1, 1898. Unless the article on this page is wrong, or unless something happened in the intervening two weeks that prevented Williams from starting his route on September 15 as planned, this one should be recognized as the first RFD route in Delaware. Assuming, of course, that the other routes listed actually began on the dates listed. In the article it states, "It is probable that three or four other districts will be laid out in this state." That sure seems to imply that no others were in operation as of the writing of the article, at least as far as the reporter was aware.

Whether or not the Mill Creek Hundred RFD route of Richard H. Williams was the first in the First State, it seems certain that it was the first in New Castle County. With the rediscovery of this route and the man who carried it out, another piece of MCH history falls into place.


  1. On an unrelated note, today while sitting at the light at Milltown Road and Limestone Road, I looked to my left and up on the bank in the woods was the remains of an old wooden shed or barn. This would sit on property off Old Limestone Road, where it butts up to the corner of Milltown and Limestone road. Across from the Valero. Any idea what this belonged to? Harlon-Chandler property perhaps before they built the new Milltown Road?

    1. Good question. That area that's now sort of stuck between Limestone and Old Limestone Roads was once part of the Ball family's tract, which extended north towards the Arundel area. It was inherited by John Ball, father of the doctor and Senator Lewis Heisler Ball. In 1934 it was acquired by Marvin Klair, and later went to his son Irvin. It was sold a few years back to a developer to be turned into a medical center, I think. Doesn't look like they've done anything yet, so I don't know where that project stands. The replacement of the bridge on Milltown Road was part of the infrastructure upgrades to make it work. On the blog's Facebook page, I put up an aerial picture a couple months ago looking over Lora Little towards Dickinson, and it shows that property before it got overgrown.

  2. Having been back on that properly when Marvin was still alive, that wooden shed was where he had his saw mill.