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Thursday, January 24, 2019

New Updates on Harrison Smith, W. L. Edison, and E-Mail

One of the most fun aspects of the investigations I do here is the fact that none of them are ever really
done. For better or worse, there are always more questions to answer and more mysteries to ponder. A regular part of the process involves sometimes going back and adding new information or some additional thoughts, whether it be a few days later or six years later. Here we've got a little of each, plus a technical addition that may or may not be of interest. Either way, I wanted to make sure you were aware of it all.

The first addition was to a very recent post, the one about the Benevolent Order of the Sons and Daughters of Harrison Smith. About a day or so after posting this story, some new information about Harrison Smith was brought to my attention that got me thinking a bit more about him, and his relationship to the group or groups. I also thought a little more about the timing of various events. These musings can be found at the end of the original post, which can be found here. If you read the post when it was first published, go back and check out the additional thoughts I added on.

Sometimes updates happen pretty quickly, and sometimes they don't. The next update was made this week, to a post originally published over six years ago. The story was about William L. Edison, the son of inventor Thomas Edison. I had found newspaper ads stating that the younger Edison had lived near Greenbank and had operated a car dealership, either there or someplace else. There wasn't a whole lot more info, and I didn't even know exactly where near Greenbank Edison had lived. Well, after going back and looking some more (with more access now), I think I've determined where Edison resided for a short time in 1907. The post has more information at the end, but the short answer is a property on the west side of Greenbank Road, just below Newport Gap Pike. The house there now may or may not be the same one standing in 1907, I'm not sure. I'm also pretty sure that his business office was in the city, in a building you may be familiar with today. You can find the original post, with the new information (and maps!), here.

The final update concerns a new box you may or may not have noticed over to the right. At a reader's request, I have added a field to enter your email address if you'd like to be notified of new posts. I tried this out on myself first and, yes, it does send one email if there is a new post. To be honest, the email actually includes the full post. It does not send anything on days when there are no new posts, which of course is most days. So, your inbox won't be inundated with emails. I do plan on posting more regularly this year than last, so maybe this will help you keep up.

Friday, January 18, 2019

More B&O Pictures Around Delaware Park

Old lights along the platform
Last Fall I posted some beautiful pictures taken by Ray Albanese of the former B&O railroad tracks
and related items located near Delaware Park. These seemingly simple photographs ended up being pretty exciting, as they resurrected the knowledge of the existence of track pans (a pretty rare item) along the line near the park. Ray also provided us with shots related to the former passenger platforms that serviced the park from the 1930's until the early 1970's. He also promised us that once the foliage retreated for the season he'd get back out there and take some more pictures. Well, he has delivered.

Ray recently sent me another batch of railroad-themed pictures from the Delaware Park area, and I think they are just as interesting as the first. In true fashion around here, they also raised another mystery. And if that weren't enough, in an email he managed to bring up a whole 'nother set of questions. But first, to the photos...

These shots can be neatly divided into two groups, the first of which shows remnants from the passenger platform used by riders of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad for almost 40 years. It was (and remains of it are) on the north side of the racetrack, between the track and the Kirkwood Lot. The picture above and the two below show the lights that once lit the platform, as well as some of the rolling gates. Ray says there are about six of these light poles still standing. I know it's private property, but I'm a little surprised that they are still there.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

The Benevolent Order of the Sons and Daughters of Harrison Smith

From the Wilmington paper, February 21, 1889
This story is a little different than most here, because it doesn't really involve Mill Creek Hundred or any specific site elsewhere. It's the story of an investigation I joined in at the request of someone a half a country away, but which may have helped uncover a forgotten piece of African-American Delaware history. Like many great adventures, it all began with a book.

One day out of the blue I received an email from a former attorney and current antiquarian bookseller in Texas named Adam Schachter. The owner of Langdon Manor Books in Houston, Adam contacted me hoping for some assistance with a 19th Century ledger he had acquired. It had belonged to a group called the Benevolent Order of the Sons and Daughters of Harrison Smith (hereafter called, "the group"), and mostly covered the years from 1871-1874. Never heard of them? Neither had I. The only reason Adam found me was that one of the few clues available was that the group had connections to an Ebenezer Church. He found my post about the Ebenezer Methodist Church on Polly Drummond Hill Road, but we both quickly realized it was not the same one. I initially searched, but could not find another Ebenezer Church that fit the criteria.

Although I didn't have access to the whole book, I was told that it specifically mentioned New Castle County, and possibly St. Georges. The only other thing Adam had found at that point was a reference to the group being incorporated by the state in 1889. This is what the article above is detailing. Mr. Maull (Charles H. Maull of Lewes) introduced the bill, and the group was named for Harrison Smith, "a well-known colored man". It was an African-American group organized for the purpose of caring for the sick of their community and burying their dead. Many groups like this from all communities popped up in the later half of the 19th Century, in the days before both health and life insurance were common.

Friday, January 4, 2019

The Peoples Farm

Peoples House and Barn (courtesy Dick Joyce)
Considering the number of years I've been at this and the relatively small size of Mill Creek Hundred, you'd be forgiven for thinking that I would have had time to get to just about every corner of the hundred by now. It turns out that there are still areas with deep histories that I've yet to delve into. One such area was brought to my attention a while back by an email from a gentleman named Dick Joyce, who lived there for much of his younger years. (It'd be impolite for me to reveal his age, but let's just say that at the time much of the country Liked Ike.) The area in question lies along Graves Road just west of Newport Gap Pike. In the 19th Century, there were three distinct properties lying along the road, all within a half mile or so of the turnpike. All three farms are long gone, of course, but two houses still remain, both of which date back well into the 18th Century.

We'll take a look at all three properties eventually, but we'll start with the one that sat closest to Newport Gap Pike -- the Peoples farm. No, this wasn't some sort of Hippie commune (not that there's anything wrong with that). It was owned for over 150 years by the Peoples family, from 1854 until 1995. The main part of the former farm is now occupied by the neighborhood of Wyndom. Although of course the history of the land goes back further than 1854, we'll start with the Peoples family, since I know there are folks around who still remember them.

Their introduction into the story of Mill Creek Hundred took place on April 10, 1854, when William Peoples (1811-1868) purchased a little more than 64 acres of land from William Strode (we'll get back to Strode in a bit). William Peoples was born in Ireland, the son of Hugh and Mary Peoples. Although his father later resided (and died) in Tyler County, (West) Virginia, since several other of his siblings lived in Delaware I would assume the family came here first. At some point prior to 1838, William met and married Mary Ann Morrison. The couple lived in Wilmington, eventually increasing their family to include six children. The 1850 Census listed William as a carter, which meant that he drove a cart (two-wheeled as opposed to a four-wheeled wagon).