Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Billion Gallon Border: Part II - The Old Mill Stream

In the last post, guest writer Robert Wilhelm began telling us the story of Hoopes Reservoir by first relating the tale of the Red Clay Creek reservoir that never was. In this post, he tells us of the background and construction of the reservoir that was created, and a bit of what once stood where the water now is.

-- Researched and written by Robert E. Wilhelm, Jr

Hoopes Reservoir, 1933
An alternate reservoir location involved Old Mill Stream, a tributary of the Red Clay Creek in Christiana Hundred and the location of the present day Hoopes Reservoir and Dam. A dam constructed across the Old Mill Stream valley could contain water at a higher level (~ 225’ water surface elevation above sea level) than a dam associated with the Red Clay Creek Valley (~180’ water surface elevation above sea level if a reservoir was to remain inside Delaware; 150-160 feet if not impacting Yorklyn). Holding 2-billion gallons of water, an Old Mill Stream reservoir offered greater water depth at the dam with equivalent storage capacity and less surface area as compared to a Red Clay water pool.

There was little infrastructure present in the Old Mill Stream valley which was not the case for the Red Clay Creek Valley. Within most of the 480-acre footprint of the proposed ‘Old Mill Stream Reservoir’ was the former mill property and farmland belonging to T. Coleman du Pont including Dupont’s summer home. Once an operating water-powered stone mill constructed in 1732, du Pont personally converted the idle mill into a mansion. A smaller stone mill constructed in the 1850s on the property was in ruins and would remain to succumb to the reservoir’s rising waters, while du Pont’s home would be demolished leaving only the stone walls behind.

Thomas Coleman du Pont and his wife Alice Elsie du Pont (his cousin) bought the property in 1906. By 1910 they had converted the original mill building to a rural weekend home to complement their home at 808 Broom Street in Wilmington. Called ‘Old Mill’ the original mill’s stone, quarried on the property, contained quartz, mica, and garnet speckles that the du Ponts left exposed on inside walls. The first floor, below grade and adjacent to the mill pond and millrace, contained the mill home’s water wheel powered electrical generating system. There was central heat with fireplaces in each of the major rooms. The second floor was assigned to the caretaker and family. The du Pont’s occupied the upper two floors with the third floor being open architecture for use as a living space or ballroom. Bedrooms and baths were on the fourth floor.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Billion Gallon Border: Part I - The Red Clay Creek Proposal

I'm excited and proud to present here another Guest Post from Robert Wilhelm. Bob has done some great research into the origins and construction of Hoopes Reservoir, and in this post and the next relates to us the story of how it came about. But first, this post tells the story of the reservoir that wasn't -- the proposed Red Clay Creek reservoir. I think you'll agree they ended up making the right call.

-- Researched and written by Robert E. Wilhelm, Jr

Hoopes Reservoir today
The centerline of the Red Clay Creek serves as the border between Mill Creek Hundred and
Christiana Hundred. During most days, the creek is only a few tens of feet wide. In the late 1920s, a proposal was seriously considered that would have changed the Red Clay Creek’s width to hundreds of feet for nearly a third of the creek’s length within Delaware. The City of Wilmington, needing another potable water reservoir to support a growing population and industry, studied flooding much of the Red Clay Creek Valley north of Wooddale for a reservoir that spanned both Mill Creek and Christiana Hundreds.

By the early 1900s, it was apparent to Wilmington Council members that any number of events might place the city’s reliance on the Brandywine Creek for potable water in jeopardy. While the city had reservoirs, they were proving inadequate. A study, commissioned in 1919, recommended an additional reservoir of at least a billion gallons be added to the city’s water systems for use during drought, Brandywine Creek contamination, or for emergency use.

In 1924, Wilmington commissioned a study as the first step for a project to eventually construct a large reservoir outside of city limits to store water for augmenting the Brandywine’s supply. Wilmington Water Department engineers considered multiple natural landscape locations associated with the Brandywine, White Clay, Christina, Pike, Red Clay, and Mill Creeks where land might be purchased for a new reservoir. Northern New Castle County’s Piedmont stream valleys are rich in spring-fed tributaries feeding creeks. This combination results in ideal natural opportunities for the creation of water storage lakes and reservoirs.

Thursday, May 9, 2019

The History of the David Eastburn Farm

David Eastburn
When I first started writing this blog nearly a decade ago, I basically just went around and wrote about whatever seemed interesting to me in the moment. I had to think about and decide what my next topic would be. Nowadays, though, it's much more common to have the topics come to me, often stemming from contacts with readers. This particular subject, like the previous one (The Huston-Springer Houses), started with an email from the current owners of the home. In this case, it's the beautiful Italianate-style David Eastburn House on Corner Ketch Road between Paper Mill Road and Doe Run Road. I did a post about it back in 2011 wherein a gave a rough outline of the history of the property and David Eastburn himself, as best as I could determine at the time.

Well, as I stated in the Huston-Springer post, I have a lot more data at my disposal now. Prompted by the contact from the owner, I went back and was able to come up with a much more detailed history of the property, both before, during, and after David Eastburn's tenure there. So much detail, in fact, that I hardly know where to start. So let's start with David, almost certainly the builder of the house but not the first resident of the land. When I asked the current owner what he had heard of the house's history (always a crapshoot because you never know what kind of information has been kept and passed down with a property), he said he'd been told that it was originally owned by several siblings. I'm glad to say that in this case at least, the information seems to be correct.

In the original post, I make no mention of the property and only passingly state that the house was built in the 1850's, possibly around the time of David's wedding in 1857. The reality is so much more complicated than that, but I'll try to keep it as concise as I can. The first thing to understand is that the farm David Eastburn owned at his death in 1899 was acquired in four separate tracts, going from west to east. The four parcels (which I'll call Tracts 1-4) can be seen in the diagram below. My lines may not be accurate down to the foot, but they're pretty close. The house is denoted with a star and is located in Tract 1, the largest of the tracts and the first one acquired by the Eastburn family. And to circle back, it was acquired by the family.