Thursday, March 15, 2018

The Edward Cranston House

The Cranstons and their new home, c.1890
A little while back in the last post I wrote (about the Ferguson-Worth Farm), I noted that there had been several recent occasions where someone had inquired about a particular property, instigating an interesting investigation. This post is about another one of these situations, except with a slight twist -- the house I'm writing about is not the one I was asked about. I was originally asked about another nearby house, but as I started researching the larger property it was on I soon realized the significance of this particular home. I also realized that it fit into another story I knew a little bit about and a family I knew quite a bit about.

The house in question stands on Old Capital Trail near the western end of Marshallton. When it was built it may have been the "last house out", certainly on its side (north side) of the street. The land it sits on, like a lot of the area in the 19th Century, was owned by the Cranston family. Where we want to start, though, is with Joseph Cranston (1799-1872). Joseph, a son of family patriarch Simon Cranston, originally settled on a farm on the west side of Limestone Road above Stanton, about where Mannette Heights and Stanton Middle School are now. It was land acquired by the family through Joseph's mother, Mary Marshall Cranston, which she had inherited from her father William Marshall. After Joseph's older brother William died with no adult heirs, Joseph took over his farm. William's tract was on the east side of Limestone Road, just south of Kirkwood Highway. However, Joseph held on to his original farm.

Joseph Cranston and his wife Hannah had eight children, among them Edward and Elizabeth. Elizabeth would marry Egbert Klair in 1859, and the couple would ultimately inherit the northern farm. This is the property that included the Cranston-Klair House, and upon which Klair Estates would be built. Older brother Edward (1835-1922) started out helping on the family farm, but at age 28 leased the 52 acre southern property -- his father's original farm.

Edward and Anna Maria Cranston

Also in 1863, Edward married Anna Maria Lynam of Newport. The couple raised two children in their home, Lewis Harvey and Clara Emma. In one of those situations that could seem a bit odd to us now but seems to have been not so odd then, these siblings ended up marrying siblings. Lewis married Mary Etta Ball, while Clara wed Irvin Ball. They were the children of Rueben and Sarah Ball of Milltown. Edward Cranston continued to work his farm until 1889, when he went into a sort of semi-retirement. He left the Stanton farm to his son Lewis and bought a smaller property on the outskirts of Marshallton.

The Edward Cranston House, probably in the mid-1940's

Edward purchased 12 acres of land west of Marshallton from his cousin Edwin, who had inherited the property from his father, James Cranston (also a son of Simon, and brother of Joseph). Of Edward, Runks says, "...he removed to Marshallton and erected a fine dwelling house." The house he built is the one pictured at the top of the page (and just above). The cool thing (to me, at least) is that the 12 acre lot that Edward bought is still very apparent on the property map today. Only today, Edward's farm is divided into 49 lots with 46 houses. And within walking distance of a Starbucks! Progress! Also interesting is that the deed states that the western edge adjoins the land of Egbert Klair. If you recall, this was Edward's father's property, and shows how far over that tract extended.

Edward Cranston's farm is the trapezoidal area circled

And when measured, it comes out to 12 acres

Edward and Anna probably moved into their new home in 1890, and he still did some light farming. He's still listed as a farmer in the 1900 Census, but apparently not all of his 12 acres were cultivated. Another item about the couple mentioned by Runk is that they were heavily involved in the temperance movement. In fact, almost every year from 1892 to 1902, the Stanton and Marshallton Women's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) held their harvest home celebration in Edward Cranston's grove. Since I don't know of any other property he held, I assume this was somewhere behind his house.

Notice of the 1901 Harvest Home

The couple resided in their Marshallton home until Anna's death in 1905. This must have really gotten Edward thinking about retirement, because two years later he sold his farm to his son-in-law and daughter, Irvin and Clara Ball. Irvin sold his own farm (along with his stock and implements), which was near Old Capitol Trail and Wollaston Road, across from where the Kirkwood Highway Library and All Saints Cemetery are now. Much later, Kirkwood Highway would cut directly through what had been Irvin's farm. The Balls moved to Marshallton, with Edward staying with them in the house. The next mystery, however, is for how long?

Edward Cranston died in February 1922, at the age of 85. His obituaries mostly don't say specifically, although one does state that he died at his home. However, his death certificate states that he died at the Delaware State Hospital at Farnhurst. Interestingly, if I'm reading it right, the certificate also states that he resided there for 6 years, 11 months, and 19 days. That would have had him as an "inmate" (as he's listed in the 1920 Census) in the state psychiatric hospital since early 1915. Not surprisingly, I can't find any mention about his being committed. The only possible clue I've found is a mention in the paper in November 1914 that says, "Edward Cranston is spending some time with Mr. and Mrs. Harvey Cranston." That would be his son over in Stanton, and only a few months before his commitment to Farnhurst. I wonder if Irvin and Clara were having trouble with him, and Harvey decided to give it a try. Perhaps it was soon too much for him, and they had to send Edward to Farnhurst.

Irvin and Clara (Cranston) Ball

In any case, I think it's fair to say that after 1907 the real "Man of the House" was Irvin Ball. Since he had sold all of his farming implements and livestock before moving to Marshallton, I don't think he did any large-scale farming here. One thing he apparently did do here was raise pigeons. It even says so on the 1910 Census. A later article about Marshallton also gives his name as one of the several Marshallton residents who were in the squab business. Aside from that, Irvin also dabbled in politics, being very active in the local Republican Party. He even ran several times for lower-end offices (Recorder of Deeds, Prothonotory), but I don't believe he ever won.

Soon after Edward's death in 1922 (I don't know if this is coincidental or not), the Balls began dividing up lots and selling off their property. Sale of lots in Marshallton Addition began as early as 1923. Three streets were named: Gilbert, Lorraine, and, originally, Cranston Avenues. Lorraine was Irvin's middle name. Gilbert was their daughter Edna's married name, as she had wed Bonnie Gilbert in 1922. Cranston Avenue was later renamed Gary Avenue, after Edna and Bonnie's grandson. (In 1929 the Gilberts bought a double lot across Cranston (Gary) Avenue from her parents and built their own home.) On June 20, 1925 a "Big Auction Sale" was held by Ball and auctioneer J.W. Hamilton. The ad below is for that auction. They must have had at least some success, as an article a few days later states that lots sold from $250 for a single to $1000 for a double lot. And in case you're wondering, the Chest of Silver was won by William Bodenstedt of Wilmington, while Horace B. Null of Newport came away with the cow. He didn't go far with it, however, as he sold the cow because he lived in an apartment.

From the Newark Post, June 17, 1925

Sales of lots in Marshallton Addition continued for years, well into the 1950's. After the passing of Irvin Ball in 1933, it was Clara who was the sole seller. She resided in the house for the rest of her life, which came to an end in November 1950. As the notice below states, she was survived by her two daughters -- Edna Gilbert, who we already met, and Alice. It seems that after Clara's death the old home passed to the girls. There are numerous notices in the mid-to-late 50's of meetings of the Marshallton Home Demonstration Club, held at the home of its President, Mrs. Edna Ball Gilbert. It's hard to tell, but I think Alice lived with the Gilberts. Or perhaps she moved in to help console her sister after Mr. Bonnie Gilbert tragically took his own life in the house in 1958.

News of Clara Balls death on November 17, 1950

The house remained in the family after Alice's passing in 1971, and Edna's in 1975. After Edna's death, Edward Cranston's old home went to Edna and Bonnie's son, Durward Gilbert. He passed away in late 1984, and early the next year the house was finally sold out of the family. It has gone through several hands since then, but appears to still be in excellent shape. As it rapidly approaches 130 years of age, the handsome old house stands as a tangible link to several of early Mill Creek Hundred's most prominent families.

The Edward Cranston House as it looks today

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