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Wednesday, May 30, 2018

The David Graves House

The David Graves House
Longtime readers of this blog may know that something I find fascinating is the phenomenon of historic houses hidden back in the midst of newer, suburban subdivisions. As the farms of the 18th and 19th Centuries were sold off to make way for the housing developments of the 20th, the fates of the old farmhouses were really up in the air. Many were torn down to make way for the new, but some, if they were in good enough shape (and/or still owned by the farming family), were spared the wrecking ball. I'm grateful to the owners and developers who kept these old homes around, because many have rich histories and connections to the founding families of Mill Creek Hundred.

One such house can be found on Carillon Drive in Brandywine Springs Manor, off of Faulkland Road across from Brandywine Springs Park. This is the David Graves House, and it and its surrounding property have stories that trace back to the earliest days of Mill Creek Hundred, with some interesting personalities along the way. The field stone house that stands today certainly dates back to at least the mid-1800's, and there's reason to believe that part of it may be much older than that. Thanks in large part to the tireless work of Walt Chiquoine, the history of the ownership of the property is pretty well-understood. It certainly sits in an interesting corner of MCH.

The first European settler on what would become the Graves farm was a Scots-Irish immigrant named Bryan McDonald. In 1689, he was given a warrant for 239 acres by William Penn, followed in 1703 by two more for 154 and 200 acres. All three properties were surveyed in 1705 and a patent issued in 1706 for a total of 593 acres. As the figure below shows, the tracts were centered around what's now the Faulkland Road/Newport Gap Pike intersection. As you can also see, the site of the Graves House is located in McDonald's original 1689 parcel. Considering that the house sits along a ridge of high ground overlooking the surrounding area, there's good reason to think that McDonald's original homestead site may have been very close to the current house.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

The Denney-Morrison Farm -- Part II

In the last post we were introduced to the Denney-Morrison Farm, which was located along Old Capital Trail across from the entrance to Delaware Park. We first entered the story in the 1890's, when it was owned by Irvin L. and Clara Emma Ball. We traced its history backwards, going through the ownerships of the Morrisons, the Denneys, the Conners, and ultimately, back to the Balls. And while the property dates back to the early 1700's, I surmised that the house itself may have been built sometime in the the 1820's. The stately home survived until well into the 1900's, but its function (as well as its surroundings) had to adapt to the American Century.

It's fitting that our starting point for this farm was the Irvin L. Ball tenure, because it was at the close of his ownership that the property ended one chapter in its life and began another. On March 20, 1907, for the price of $5600, the Balls sold their 101 acre farm to Joseph Calvin Eastburn. Joseph was, of course, from the same Eastburn family that has been prominent in the area for over 200 years. He was a grandson of the family's patriarch David's eldest son, also named Joseph. Joseph C. grew up on his father's farm in White Clay Creek Hundred. As best as I can tell, it was situated along Salem Church Road, about where Christiana High School is now. I also think they later moved to Red Mill.

There is every indication that Joseph C. (or Calvin, as he also went by) bought the property as a farm, and used it as such for close to 20 years. By the early 1920's though, it looks like he was looking to move away from the farming life. In April 1924, Eastburn sold much of his farming equipment. This was fine, because that same year he began dividing up and selling off his land. The new development was called Eastburn Heights, and Joseph was busy in 1924 selling lots to those looking for a suburban setting. (Not, though, to everyone looking for such a place. In what I'd like to think is more a reflection of the times than the man, all Eastburn Heights deeds had the following restriction -- "No part of the said property shall be subject to the occupation or ownership of any person or persons of African birth or descent." And to be fair, there were also restrictions regarding building porches, houses, and having a business on the lot.) Eastburn held on to the farmhouse for a few more years, carving out about five acres for it on Lot #103 of Eastburn Heights.

Friday, May 4, 2018

The Denney-Morrison Farm -- Part I

The Denney-Morrison House in 1897
We are definitely fortunate to have in Mill Creek Hundred a good number of historic homes still standing and in productive use. That being said, it's also true that the vast majority of structures raised in the 18th and 19th Centuries have since been razed. If we're lucky, some of those few that have been demolished in "recent" times (say, the past 30 years or so) might have had the chance to be documented before their fall. However, countless old homes in MCH and beyond have been torn down with little or no permanent record of their existence, aside from their possible inclusion on one or more of the old maps.

Once in a while, though, we get lucky enough to come across a photograph of one of these long-gone houses. As you can imagine, the difficulty can come in verifying that the house in the photo is indeed the one you think it is, when you have no current structure to compare it with (Don Prather's Armstrong Tract posts are a great example of this). What can really help is another rare event -- finding someone who actually lived in it (or whose family did). In this particular case we do have both -- an old photo of a historic, lost home and confirmation of it from someone with a direct connection to it.

The investigation into the Denney-Morrison House (my name for it -- don't bother trying to look it up) began with an unidentified picture included in a cache originating from Gary Gilbert (and passed along to me by Denis Hehman). Gary is a descendant of the Gilbert/Ball/Cranston family featured in the post about the Edward Cranston House. I had actually had this photo for several years, but I had no idea where it was taken. Being included where it was, I sort of assumed it was in the Marshallton area. But, the more I looked at it the less it looked like any house in Marshallton I knew of. The faces are a bit blurry, but what I could see sure looked like Irvin and Clara Emma Ball. Plus, they did have daughters, and the kids in the photo definitely look like girls.