Monday, April 29, 2019

The Real Story of the Huston-Springer Houses

The James Springer House
Author's Note: I apologize for this post running a bit longer than most. However, I felt that these two houses needed to be dealt with together, as their histories are inextricably linked. This is one of those cases where you really can't understand one property without understanding the other, and I didn't see any good place to divide it up into two posts.

There are many reasons why I enjoy researching and writing these posts (the pay not being one of them). Obviously I enjoy the history -- uncovering and giving voice to stories that have either never been told or which have been largely forgotten. I like trying to better understand the past and the people who inhabited it. But there is also the mystery and informational "treasure hunt" aspect to it. I really like starting with just a bare bones amount of information, and seeing how much of the story I can end up filling in. But as with any investigation, my ability to reconstruct the story is limited by the resources I have and the amount of data I can collect. Luckily, sometimes those limits expand over time. With more resources comes more information, and sometimes with more information comes different conclusions.

Yes, this is all going somewhere. A little more than six years ago, I did two posts about the Springers of Northern Mill Creek Hundred. It wasn't until halfway through the second post that I finally got to the two houses I had originally set out to explore. These were what I had called the Stephen Springer, Sr. and Stephen Springer, Jr. Houses, both located in Mendenhall Village, on the south side of Mendenhall Mill Road. At the time, all I had to go on was a misleading passage from Runk, some not-so-helpful censuses, and the usual maps.

From all that, I surmised that Stephen Springer moved sometime in the 1820's from his family's home in Hockessin to the westernmost of the two Mendenhall-area houses, the one off of Village Drive. I stated that this house later went to his son James, while Stephen, Jr. built the eastern house (near Pump House Circle) in 1843, after being given a portion of the family farm. I had no information on what became of either property after the ownerships of Stephen, Jr. and James.

Recently, though, I received an email from the current owners of the western home, which I had labeled the Stephen Springer, Sr. House. After looking back to see how little information I had about it the last time, I decided to take another look, this time armed with, among other things, access to historic deeds and land transfers. And wow, I'm glad I did. It turns out, some of what I wrote was correct, some of it was sort of correct, and some of it was just flat out wrong. I'm here now to correct the record, as best as I can. It's still not crystal clear, but I'll lay out the situation as I now understand it.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

The Bellew-Cain Lot and the Yarnall Survey Map

The 1850 Yarnall Survey Map
This story all started when Marshallton-area historian Denis Hehman posted an image of an old survey map that he has in his collection. To be honest, he'd shown it to me before, but I never really looked at it very closely or did any research on it before. That was a regrettable error, because when I saw it this time, this little hand-drawn map kicked off a very fun and surprisingly in-depth investigation. And to top it all off, thanks to the wonders of social media it even connected to several descendants of players in the story, something that would never have happened with just an email between friends.

Everything starts with the map. It's very simple, but tricky to understand without any context, of which it gives very little. As its title says, it's a "Draught of Jacob Yarnall's Lots, Surveyed Oct 19, 1850 by I. Lobb." Once I took a good look at it, I knew about where Yarnall's lot was, but I was curious to see if I could determine exactly where it was/is. The biggest clues as to its whereabouts are the roads and watercourses shown. Red Clay Creek is at the bottom, with Ham Run coming down the middle of the map and the west edge of the lot. The road heading off to the right labeled as New Port Road is what we know as Duncan Road today, while the Stanton Road at the bottom is our Greenbank Road. Since Ham Rum does not extend very far, this places our lot somewhere on the left hand side of Duncan Road, if you're driving up the hill from Marshallton to Kirkwood Highway.

The next thing I did was to consult the New Castle County Parcel Search website to see if I could find any properties that might still look like this today. The fascinating thing I've found over the years doing this is that you can often find traces of property lines hundreds of years old still evident on the map today. And when I looked at the current parcels, I couldn't help but notice the highlighted one below, about halfway up Duncan Road between Greenbank and Kirkwood Highway. When I measured the area of the now three lots, they totaled just over 2½ acres -- the same as Jacob Yarnall's lot from 1850. A quick glance at the old maps showed the same name there in 1868, 1881, and 1893, but not Jacob Yarnall's. These were enough clues, however, to get me started in telling the complete history of this lot.

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

The Foote-Pyle House

The Foote-Pyle House today
In the last post, we focused on the portion of John Huey's 1725 tract that became the Mendenhall-Pierson farm. Its early 18th Century house (the county lists it as 1734) still stands on the south side of Graves Road. But just north of the Mendenhall-Pierson House, part way up Sawin Lane, is a house that the county says was built in 1729. This is the smaller of the two homes, but it could very well be the older of the two. And, as best as I can tell, it was part of the same tract purchased by John Huey in 1725. One possible explanation for the two homes is that this northern one was built first, by John, Sr., and the southern one a few years later either by or for his son.

I've done my best to trace the land under this northern house, to varying degrees of success. It may have been part of land that John Wat bought in 1762, or it might not have been. Bolstering that idea is the fact that there is a connection to John McBeath, the man who ultimately inherited Wat's land. In 1810, McBeath's son Robert sold 107½ acres to William Foote, who in 1840 sold it to his son William. The next place I lose track of it is where it intersects with the land of another family mentioned in the Mendenhall-Pierson post-- the Pyles.

In 1861, William Foote, Jr. sold 30 acres (that may or may not be the same tract we'll follow) to Cyrus Pyle. Cyrus Pyle was a leather manufacturer from Wilmington, and the son of Isaac Pyle, who owned land directly north of where we're talking about. Cyrus was also the brother of William Pyle, who was the father of artists Howard and Katherine (Katherine was the mother of Ellen Pyle Lawrence, previously mentioned as a later owner of the Mendenhall-Pierson House). In 1868, Cyrus Pyle sold 77 acres to James C. Jackson, the owner of the Dixon-Jackson House in Hockessin. The main takeaway from this is that I don't believe any of these men lived in the old, small house. The tract was almost certainly leased to a tenant farmer.