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.

The original properties of Bryan McDonald, Sr.

In McDonald's 1707 will, his land was split in two, with the northern part going to son Bryan, Junior. By the 1730's and 1740's, however, many of the McDonalds were leaving the area. Around 1746, Bryan McDonald, Jr. sold 286 acres to Jeremiah Wollaston. Wollaston would later split his land, first selling the northern 147 acres to George Robinson in 1757. This is the tract that would later include the Henry Clark Woolen Mill and Sunnybrook Cottage, as well as the Emily Bissell Hospital.

In 1761, Wollaston sold the southern 147 acres to a man whose family would be prominent in the area for several generations -- Ephraim Yarnall. Yarnall greatly expanded his holdings in 1783, when he purchased an additional 256 acres to the south of his original 147. His lands now extended south to Hyde Run, and down to today's Sherwood Park (the 200 acre tract warranted to McDonald in 1703, in the diagram above). Yarnall subsequently sold the southern-most portion of his land, but at the time of his death in 1793 he owned about 227 acres. His property was divided between his sons Nathan and Holton, and his widow Sarah (whose land later went to son Ephraim). Holton's tract later included the Conestoga Wheel (Yarnall) Tavern, as well as Brandywine Springs.

The divided property of Ephraim Yarnall, 1793

Nathan Yarnall was given a tract on the north side of Faulkland Road, more or less between what would later be the Fell property and Newport Gap Pike. He held the property until 1817, when he sold it to Robert Pierson. There must have been some intermediate swapping/selling of land, because the lot that Pierson bought measured just over 63 acres, being a trapezoidal tract keeping the same northern and eastern boundaries, having the turnpike as its western edge, and a line on the south about even with Bristol Drive, the middle street in Brandywine Springs Manor. Pierson (or Pearson) also purchased another nine acres between this tract and Faulkland Road from Ephraim Yarnall in 1831. (Ephraim had gotten it from Holton's estate.)

There were a couple of transactions between Pierson and a Wilmington butcher and land dealer named Joseph Gould in 1836, but I think this may have just been a mortgage sort of situation. The next transfer of the property is a little unclear. It looks like Robert and his wife Jemima Pearson continued to live on the farm until Robert's death. I've seen this listed as being in 1852, but I think it was actually closer to 1840. It seems very likely that sometime between 1840 and 1849, Jemima Pearson sold the property to the next owner, David Graves. Graves was definitely in place by 1849, as he's shown on the Rea and Price map from that year.

David and Mary (Lindsey) Graves were married in 1833, and would eventually have six children in their Brandywine Springs-area home -- five daughters and one son (poor William was the youngest). And speaking of the home, it's probably time we talked about it. David Graves' large, field stone house is still standing, tucked in near the back of Brandywine Springs Manor. It's currently under new and very caring ownership. Like many of these old houses seem to be, it's comprised of several different sections, presumably built at different times. As of now, who built what sections is open for debate.

The house sits on a high ground within Bryan McDonald's original tract. I don't know that any part of the current house is that old, but the original McDonald homestead could have been in the same area. I don't think it's out of the question that the oldest part of the house could date to the Yarnall ownership, or even back to Jeremiah Wollaston. The main sections of the home look very much like the style of the 1810-1840 period, when field stone houses began to replace the older log and frame structures. This would seem to place its construction around the time of Robert Pierson, but for now this is all speculation.

David Graves lived the rest of his life in his beautiful stone home, farming and raising his family. He had a few interesting episodes, like the burglary in 1877 and the remarkable cow the next year. In 1876 he lost a close race for MCH Inspector. Of his children, Anna, Margaret, and William died young and/or unmarried. Sarah married Bennett Klair, while Mary married Joseph W. Derickson (the son of Aquilla Derickson). Eldest daughter Elizabeth married William H. Cornbrooks in 1856, and had four children before passing away at the young age of 27, in 1865. William remarried (to another Elizabeth...must have been his "thing") and as of the 1870 Census, had the oldest two children with him, at his home in Wilmington. However, youngest son David A. Cornbrooks lived at Brandywine Springs with his grandparents. It's not surprising, then, to learn that David Graves bequeathed his home to his namesake grandson after his death in 1885.

David A. Cornbrooks was married in 1886 to Mary Emma Derickson, the daughter of William Derickson. (William first owned the Thomas Justis House on Milltown Road, then inherited his family's farm on McKennans Church Road.) Cornbrooks seems to have been a pretty interesting guy. He was active in the Stanton Methodist Church, the Prohibition Party, and was a commissioner of the #33 Brandywine Springs School District. He fought at one point against the Brandywine Sanatorium's building of a sewer system because he claimed it emptied into Hyde Run, from which his cows drank. But on the other hand, another article specifically mentions him by name as carrying mail to the hospital during a snowstorm.

Likely the David A. Cornbrooks family in front of their house, c.1899

David and Emma raised three daughters in their Brandywine Springs home -- Helen, Clara, and Lillian. Emma passed away in 1927, while David lived until 1942. At the time of his death, Clara was married, Lillian was divorced, and Helen was unmarried and residing with her father. The property was likely passed down to all three girls, but Helen may have stayed at the house a while longer. I've found record of the three selling off land along Newport Gap Pike in 1943, but not the house. I only have access to land records up until the early 1950's, so my hunch is that they sold it off after that point.

It's unclear to me if there were any intermediate owners, but the next ones I know of may help to explain why this particular house is still standing, and in such good shape. At some point the house was bought by Taleasin Hadyn Davies, Jr. and his wife Marie. Taleasin's father was a prominent area doctor and former superintendent of the Ferris Industrial School. That, however, was not the couple's only source of wealth. Mrs. Davies was the former Marie Delphine duPont, daughter of Francis I. duPont, and the great-great granddaughter of the company founder Eleuthere Irenee duPont. She grew up at the duPont estate known as Upper Louviers, or Black Gates.

Taleasin passed away in 1967, by which time the couple resided at the house, now on Carillon Drive. Marie survived until 2009, passing at the age of 92. Her obituary seems to imply that she still owned the house at the time of her death. It has since seen two owners, and I can personally attest is wonderful shape. Whether the house is 160, 190, or closer to 250 years old, it's a fabulous piece of early American architecture and a direct link the early days of Mill Creek Hundred.


  1. Hello, I have a question about an unrelated MCH property. Inside the Winding Bridge neighborhood on Limestone Road, across from the Carousel Park equestrian entrance, there sits a latge old stone house directly in the middle surrounded by the newer houses. Do you have any info about this house? It’s the typical MCH newer neighborhood built around an old house. And any idea where the name Winding Bridge comes from? A wild guess, would be a reference to an old bridge over the creek by arundel on Limestone? Thanks.

    1. Great question, thanks!! At first I had no idea what house you were talking about, because I didn't think there were any other old houses in that area that I didn't know of. Then I looked at the aerial and saw what you meant, and I thought, "Crap, how did I not know about this?!?" But after rechecking the old maps, there still wasn't anything on them near that. The county's Parcel Search site gives it a build date of 1936, which may not be far off. On the 1937 aerial, it doesn't look like it's there, but the drive going up to it might be. It's definitely there in 1951. I don't have any more concrete info right now, but from the timing, design, and location, my first guess would be a duPont family house. Maybe connected to the Carousel Farm across the road.

  2. I am a direct descendent of Holton Yarnall (the Civil War Veteran). His father was Ephraim...whos father was Holton...whos father was Ephraim. Holton's daughter Gertrude Yarnall Carey, was my GrGrandmother.