Wednesday, February 7, 2018

The Ferguson-Worth Farm on Newport Gap Pike

Area of the Ferguson-Worth Farm, 1881
I've probably said this before (no, even I don't listen to everything I say -- please don't tell my kids), but one of the things I've come to really enjoy about writing this blog is when someone contacts me out of the blue with a simple-sounding question that turns into an in-depth, fascinating investigation. It usual starts with something like, "Do you know anything about such and such an area?" I say, "No, not particularly, but I can look into it." Then I do look into it, and I end up finding a lot more than I thought I would. And if I'm really lucky, I end up finding a few interesting stories along the way which, because it's Mill Creek Hundred, tie into other things I've researched. This has happened to me several times in the past few weeks alone, and I'd like to take the opportunity to tell you now about one of them.

This one started with an email from Beth Golden, who in the 1960's lived in the then fairly new neighborhood of Winterbury, situated on the east side of Newport Gap Pike, between Hercules Road and Loveville Road. Beth told me that she remembered an old, run-down stone barn standing in or near the development at that time. She wondered if I knew anything about the property or any of the families that had owned it. I didn't. My starting point, however, as with many of these investigations, was the old maps. The four 19th Century maps (1849, 1868, 1881, 1893) were evenly split between two names associated with the property. One led me back. The other led me forward.

Area of the Ferguson-Worth Farm, 1868

Since it sounded like Beth was asking more about the later history of the property, I started with the later of the two names -- William H. Worth. It didn't take long to find him in the census lists, or in the property transfer records. In April 1877, Worth purchased approximately 69 acres from Robert H. Barr, a Wilmington businessman who had bought the property only three months before. Since I didn't think Barr was really connected to the land, and I didn't readily recognize the name he purchased from, I decided to follow the trail forward with the Worths, for now.

April 3, 1894

William and Louisa (PetitDeMange) Worth had been married about eight years when they moved onto this MCH farm. They had two children, Bessie and Frank, which undoubtedly led to William's involvement with the local school district. The clipping below states that he was re-elected commissioner of the District #33 Brandywine Springs school in 1895. The 1894 article above relates the story of a barn fire, which obviously didn't do too much damage to the structure itself. Obviously well-entrenched in the community, the Worths owned the property for over thirty years, before selling it in 1909. When they moved, they didn't move far. For their retirement, the Worths bought a house just down Newport Gap Pike in the Cedars.

William Worth's 1895 school commissoner re-election

After being under one owner for 32 years (and pretty stable before that, as we'll see shortly), the farm on the pike went through several owners over the next few decades. William H. Worth sold the property to Thomas E. Hoopes, who four years later sold to Lloyd Regester. Regester, in turn, sold to David S. Klair (of the line residing near Centerville) in 1915. After Klair's death in 1921, his heirs sold most of the property to Cecil and Lillie Preston. (The Klairs, did, however, hold on to a 17 acre tract directly west of the Newport Gap - McKennans Church/Loveville Road intersection. They built a house there and sold it in 1931 to John and May Hartman.)

In October 1927, the Prestons sold the farm to John and Dorothy Goodwin, of Christiana Hundred. The tract at that time measured about 45-6/10 acres, with one small and interesting exception noted. Back in 1905, William Worth had sold a strip of his land to the West Chester, Kennett, and Wilmington Electric Railway Company. This was for a right-of-way for the "Kennett Trolley", which ran from Kennett Square down to Brandywine Springs Amusement Park (the rest of the name was a bit of an overreach -- it got to Wilmington only by connecting to the Peoples Trolley, and never got anywhere near West Chester). This exception was noted in every subsequent deed.

The Goodwins owned the property for over 11 years, until they sold the farm in early 1939 to Charles H. Darrah of Wilmington. (It should be noted that it was Darrah who finally purchased the long-since abandoned trolley right-of-way and made the tract whole again.) Dr. Darrah was a dentist who lived (and worked) at 1332 N. Market Street in Wilmington. He was certainly not a farmer, and presumably bought the property as a country, get-away home outside the city. The Darrahs definitely lived on the old Worth farm at least part time, even as he kept his Market Street home and office up to his death in 1953. In fact, the Darrahs are listed in MCH in the 1940 Census.

The Worth-Darrah House on Newport Gap Pike

This does, however, fit nicely with one of the two pieces of information that Beth gave us about the barn -- namely, that it was run down. If it hadn't been actively used since at least the late '30s, then it makes sense that it would be in less-than-ideal condition 25 years later. I'm unable to access land records after the early 1950's, but I think it's safe to assume that it was the Darrah family, sometime after Dr. Darrah's death, who began selling off the property for development. Houses in Winterbury began going up in the late '50s behind the barn, which stood close to the pike and near the old house. Sometime between 1965 and 1968, however, the old barn was torn down.

The other tidbit Beth gave us about the barn -- that it was made of stone -- helps lead us back and may hint as to the builders of both the barn and the house. The use of stone as a building material had declined by the mid to later 19th Century, leading me to believe it predated the Worths' ownership. So, who did own the property prior to Worth? As noted before, Worth bought from Robert H. Barr, but he was really just more of a broker. The real previous owner was Joseph T. Brown. Since he only owned the farm for about 8 years, and I wasn't familiar with him, I had a feeling there was more to the story. There was.

Area of the Ferguson Farm, 1849

Joseph Brown's wife was the former Mary Jane Ferguson, daughter of Charles and Elizabeth Ferguson. Charles Ferguson owned the property for about 55 years, up to his death in 1869. They had three children: Mary Jane, Elizabeth, and Charles, Jr. Elizabeth had died, leaving only Mary Jane and Charles, Jr. He had since moved to Indiana, which explains why he sold his half of the farm to sister Mary Jane and Joseph Ferguson in 1869. Incidentally, Charles, Sr.'s second wife, Margaret, outlived him by several decades and moved to a house on Faulkland Road, opposite Brandywine Springs.

1815 Marriage Certificate for
Elizabeth Crossan and Charles Ferguson

One of the things I'm very thankful for in doing this kind of research is how many of the old deeds included an explanation of how the current seller obtained ownership of the property (thank you, guys who had to write all that boring crap out by hand 150 years ago!). In this case, the 1869 transfer from Charles Ferguson, Jr. to Joseph T. Brown includes the fact that Ferguson's mother was born Elizabeth Crossan. When her father, John Crossan, died in 1813, his land was divided between several of his children. (How he got this tract is not completely clear to me, but it was definitely in his family.) The survey map below is from 1796, and shows the entire Crossan tract. The two portions given to Elizabeth (and Charles) are highlighted. The northwest lot is the one previously mentioned that was held on to longer by the Klairs in the 1920's.

John Crossan's land, surveyed 1796
Elizabeth's portions highlighted

And to help make it more clear where we're talking about, below is the Crossan tract (crudely, sorry) outlined over a current aerial photo. Again, I find it fascinating how many of the well-over two hundred year old property lines are evident today. Also keep in mind that the Newport-Gap Turnpike was not in existence in 1796, and that the "Great Road" on the survey is today's McKennans Church/Loveville Road.

John Crossan's land in today's world
I'm not sure if the eastern "appendage" of land that ended up as the Fergusons' was always a part of the the larger tract or was added later. In either case, my hunch is that it wasn't settled until their arrival around 1815. I think, therefore, that it's reasonable to believe that the stone barn was erected by Charles Ferguson sometime in that era. It may well have been enlarged over time, but a stone barn would fit nicely into that time period. The house, in my estimation, is another story.

In looking at the house that stands facing Newport Gap Pike today, it doesn't look at all like an early 19th Century home. Judging by my admittedly amateur eye and keeping in mind ownership, I think a better candidate is William H. Worth. Stylistically, the house could easily be from the late 1870's. The earlier maps show the Ferguson house in about the same place, so, Worth may have torn down the older house to build his new one. This is, however, my own hypothesis.

Whatever the exact origin of the house and barn on the Ferguson-Worth Farm, if nothing else it helps prove an important and interesting point. In an area like Mill Creek Hundred, which has been occupied for over three hundred years (not even including Native occupation), every acre has a story to tell. Not every site has Great Historical Importance, but over time each tract has had a succession of families who have lived, worked, and died on it. I personally think they're worth telling, and I love when a seemingly simple question like Beth's leads to one of these stories coming to light.

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