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If you appreciate the work done on this blog, please consider making a small donation. Thank you!

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

The Story of the Newark China Clay Company...Live!

I've already mentioned this on the Facebook page, but I wanted to post it here as well. If you're looking for
something to do this weekend, on Sunday, September 26, 2021 at 1:00 PM I'll be doing my first in-person talk in what seems like forever. The topic of the presentation is the Newark China Clay Company, which mined and processed kaolin clay from 1912 until 1942, on what's now the northeastern edge of White Clay Creek State Park (near the corner of Corner Ketch Road and Paper Mill Road). I did write a post a little while back about Newark China Clay, but I've come up with some new information since then, plus...it's live!

The talk will take place at the Chambers House Nature Center at White Clay Creek State Park (on Creek Road just off of Hopkins Bridge Road). The presentation will begin at 1:00 PM, and due to Covid protocols the current plan is for it to take place outside, on the front porch of the house. Looks like it's going to be a beautiful day (weather, please don't make me have to come back and edit out this part), so come out and join us. Space is limited, so you must call the park at 302-368-6900 to register. Hope to see you there!!!

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Behemoth in White Clay Creek: Chambers Rock and Its Complex Legacy

Sign at the corner of Chambers Rock
 Road and New London Road, 1972 
I'm thrilled and proud to be able to share with you another Guest Post by John Whiteclay Chambers II, retired professor and former chair of the History Department at Rutgers University, New Brunswick, New Jersey. John, a descendant of the Chambers Family of the western Mill Creek/northern White Clay Creek Hundred area, shared with us recently a post on Restoring the Chambers Family Farm in the 20th Century. In this latest article he tells us about the origins of the names "Chambers Rock" and "Chambers' Rocks", how they are actually referring to different things, and how one of the names was used for a wonderful piece of 19th Century history that I had been completely unaware of. I hope you enjoy it, and tremendous thanks go to John for writing and sharing this with us! And note, the extensive and extremely informative footnotes are located at the end of the post.

Behemoth in White Clay Creek:

 Chambers Rock and Its Complex Legacy

By John Whiteclay Chambers II

Excerpt from John Whiteclay Chambers II, “The Chambers Family of Hilltop,” Copyright © 2021.   Do not replicate without written permission from the author. 

* John Whiteclay Chambers II retired from Rutgers University in 2017 as Distinguished Professor Emeritus of History and a former Chair of the History Department. He welcomes comments on the subject of this article. <john.chambers@rutgers.edu.>

“People say where is Chambers Rock?” says Kathleen Sullivan, naturalist at White Clay Creek State Park in Delaware. “They disagree over whether there is one rock, or if that is the name of the farm because there were so many rocks around it.”¹  She was referring to a former farm owned for generations by the Chambers family, a small part of which is now a development called “Chambers Rock Farm.”² 

People also know of the rock from “Chambers Rock Road,” a country road that runs through the old farm located on the state line between Delaware and Pennsylvania. Is there a “Chambers Rock”? There is, but to many people, its name and the name’s complex and varied history remain a mystery. 

The derivation of the name seems forgotten—except by some of those who lived nearby. “It was common knowledge among people who lived on Chambers Rock Road that there was a Rock and there had been a picnic ground years ago,” said Anne Murray, who lived on “Pennview” farm on that road from 1957 to 2000. Growing up nearby in the 1950s and 1960s in a house on Thompson Station Road that is now the Delaware Park’s headquarters, Joe Allmond also recalled it. “I remember the name,” he said, “and I remember hearing, ‘Oh, it’s called Chambers Rock Farm because of the Rock.’”³ 

Friday, July 23, 2021

The Marshalls and National Vulcanized Fibre

National Fibre & Insulation Mills, c.1912
I'll begin this post with a bit of a confession -- While we all know that there have been lots of mills and factories that have operated in MCH over the past few hundred years, there are only a few that stayed around long enough that there are people in the workforce today who were employed by them (Haveg/Ametek in Marshallton and Curtis Paper, for examples). One of the big sites, though, had had me so confused and intimidated that I avoided digging into it for the first decade of doing this blog (yes, I've been around that long). That site is the National Vulcanized Fibre Company in Yorklyn, and my hope is that if you're as confused by it now as I was, by the end of this post you'll have a pretty good idea of what was there, where it was, who built it, and what they did there.

The story really starts in England in 1856 with inventor Thomas Taylor and the creation of a new material – vulcanized fibre. Originally know as "indurated paper" and considered to be one of the first plastics, it had the misfortune of coming about at the same time as another material, celluloid. Celluloid was seen as the more useful of the two, and Taylor's creation was largely ignored in his native England. Eventually he made his way to the United States, and in 1871 patented his invention here. With its strength, flexibility, and thinness, vulcanized fibre soon caught on. And with its machinability, resistance to solvents and oils, and ability to be made in colors, many uses were soon fund for the material.

Through the 1870's and 1880's Wilmington became a hub for the manufacture of vulcanized fibre, and it's with this that we get our first connection to the Marshall family. If you'd like a full refresher (or lesson) on the Marshalls, I strongly suggest checking out Robert Wilhelm's two earlier posts about them. (To be found here and here.) And incidentally, much of the information for this post came from his excellently-researched Marshall Timeline, found on the Friends of Auburn Heights website. For our purposes, know that in 1856 Robert Marshall's youngest son, Thomas S. Marshall, was allowed to convert the family's grist mill at Marshall's Bridge (on the Red Clay just north of Yorklyn) into a paper mill.

Wednesday, July 7, 2021

Oversee Farm and Shangri-La

I'm proud to present another guest post, this time from Robert Wilhelm. It's about two properties -- Oversee Farm, (mostly) in Christiana Hundred and now part of Auburn Valley State Park, and Shangri-La in New Garden Township, Chester County. It's a fascinating look at a property that will hopefully become more well-known, and I thank Bob for his work.

Oversee Farm property in 2020 with trails indicated
Note the meadows in 1937 (below) now wooded
--Written by Robert E. Wilhelm, Jr.

Israel Way Marshall and his brother Ellwood would never have guessed their rag papermaking business expansion in 1890 would eventually create the world’s largest vulcanized fibre manufacturer producing more than 75% of the world’s fibre during much of the 20th century. They might have thought it improbable that in the 21st century, the then 19th century burned-out Auburn Factory, and hundreds of acres of property surrounding the soon-to-become paper mill, would be donated by Israel’s great-grandchildren forming the core of a 600+ acre Delaware state park.

Throughout much of the 18th and 19th centuries, what would eventually become the 121.8-acre Oversee Farm property was owned by generations of the Chandler, Green, and Sharpless families. The earliest tax and planning maps of the area, dated 1849, show Samuel M. Green as owner. Handed down through generations, the Ellwood Green property would eventually be purchased by Henry Doud while the nearby Sharpless farm transferred to the Kane family. These properties would further be subdivided into smaller parcels to be owned by the Cloud, Cross, Davis, Mullin, Murray, and Wilkinson families among others. In 1927 Urey W. Conway began purchasing those smaller land parcels belonging to Chandler, Doud, and other families in the acreage bounded by Ashland-Clinton School, Center Mill, Snuff Mill, and Creek roads. By 1939 Conway had purchased fourteen land parcels totaling approximately 175-acres. Four additional parcels were added over the ensuing years bringing Conway’s total ownership to more than 200 acres.

When Urey W. Conway passed away on July 1, 1951 (born 1890), his last will and testament decreed his collection of contiguous Yorklyn properties go to his cousin, Adele Conway Mills of Tulsa, Oklahoma with Wilmington Trust Company serving as executor. Eleanor Annette Marshall (January 8, 1924 – August 25, 1999) was well acquainted with Urey’s property. Urey’s property was located on the opposite bank of the Red Clay Creek which was a common border with J. Warren Marshall’s (1881-1953) Woodcrest property; her father’s home where she grew up. Preferring the name Bonnie, Marshall bought the 206.48-acre property at auction for $80,000 on May 29, 1952 with financial assistance from her mother, Bertha T. Lamborn Marshall (1883-1962). Bonnie’s intent was to see the untouched stretches of forest, freshwater marshes, open fields, a free-flowing Red Clay tributary, and scenic views of Red Clay Creek preserved for future generations’ enjoyment. Bonnie moved into the former Greene family stone farmhouse that Conway once occupied. Bonnie promptly named her large property ‘Oversee Farm’.

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

The Greenwalt Quarry

Notable sites in the Greenwalt area
In the 19th Century, most of the US population lived in rural areas, and most of them were engaged in farming. However, it was always a difficult life and farming alone rarely made anyone comfortably wealthy. For that reason, farmers were always looking for other ways to supplement their income. It might have been doing handyman-type work, carpentry, helping out on neighboring farms, or pretty much anything that someone would pay them for. They also might look around and try to utilize whatever resources they had available to them. This is a both a story about such a situation, and about how it took a few strokes of luck to uncover it.

In the course of my research over the past decade, I've come to appreciate how fluid it is and how often one investigation flows naturally into the next. In no small part, this is because in an area like MCH the lives of the residents are so interconnected that it's almost impossible (and in my mind, undesirable) to separate them and try to fully understand anything cordoned off and in a vacuum. The chain of events that lead to this particular story began a few posts ago, with the Italian community at Roseville. In trying to understand that tale better I ended up with the story of the first trip along the B&O line, and how they stopped to admire the new bridge over White Clay Creek and its stonework.

This in turn led Newark-based historical researcher Jim Jones to take a trip to the bridge himself, just to see what the area was like today. While there, his keen eye detected what appeared to him to be an old quarry, just a couple hundred feet southwest of the bridge. There was a sheer rockface wall that looked very much like it had been quarried. The questions then became...Who created this, when, and for what reason? With the close proximity of the railroad, my first thought was that it might have been a B&O operation, perhaps quarrying stone for use as ballast along the tracks. That would have dated it back as far as the 1880's.

Thursday, June 3, 2021

Fair Field on Polly Drummond's Hill

North side of the Fair Field barn
Although farms in the 18th and 19th Centuries were awash in all kinds of structures, both large and small, the two most important were the dwelling house and the barn, just not always in that order. In fact, it was not unusual for a family settling on a new piece of ground to first build a small log home while they worked on the larger, permanent barn, then only several years later replace their home with a larger, more permanent stone or frame house. For while the family could make due with a smaller home for a while, they still needed a place for their livestock and equipment, without which they'd be looking at some very hard times.

As the 19th Century gave way to the 20th and the landscape of MCH changed, many of these farms ceased operating. Some were abandoned, leaving all the buildings to fall into ruins. On a lucky few, both the house and the barn were saved, either because some farming was still done or the families worked to save the barn. But because they are large and require a lot of upkeep, most times the barn was left to fall into disrepair or be torn down, even if its accompanying farmhouse was still in use. On most MCH properties where a historic home still stands, either the barn is completely gone or at best, a few walls stand in testament to its existence.

There are very few instances, however, where circumstances allowed for a barn to survive where the house did not (I should mention that the house and barn were usually built very near each other, no more than a quick walk apart). In one such instance, an old fieldstone barn is now in the hands of  a non-profit organization that, while having nothing to do with history, is nonetheless working to upkeep and continue to utilize the historic structure. The group is the Drummond Hill Pool, and the beautiful barn is the last remnant of the estate once known as Fair Field.

Thursday, May 13, 2021

Restoring the Chambers Family Farm in the 20th Century

Mary Jane Chambers and her sons (L-R):
Samuel Kemble, George R., Richard
McCausland, Charles, John Jay
I am proud and honored to present another Guest Post to the blog, this one written by someone who not only has done a great deal of research on the subject, but who also has a unique insight into it. John Whiteclay Chambers II is a retired professor and former chair of the History Department at Rutgers University, New Brunswick, New Jersey. He also, as his name would suggest, is a member of the Chambers family that has had a presence in northwestern MCH and northern White Clay Creek Hundred for over 300 years. Much of their former land is now part of White Clay Creek State Park (DE) and White Clay Creek Preserve (PA), and if you've ever driven along Chambers Rock Road you've gone right through the middle of Chambers land. My great thanks goes out to John for sharing this with us, and for allowing me to share it. (The words are his, only the photo captions are mine.) I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

Restoring the Chambers Family Farm in the 20th Century

By John Whiteclay Chambers II

Copyright © John Whiteclay Chambers II, 2021; excerpt from the author’s manuscript, The History of the Chambers Family of Hilltop.
Do not reprint without permission of the author.

EDITORIAL NOTE: The author, a member of the Chambers family, who retired from the History
Faculty at Rutgers University in 2017, welcomes corrections and additional relevant material on the subjects covered. john.chambers@rutgers.edu.

After nearly two hundred years of farming the rich land along White Clay 
Creek near the Delaware-Pennsylvania boundary, the Chambers family faced a crisis when the matriarch died at age 89 in 1906. For the past forty years, after the death of her husband, strong-willed and able Mary Jane Kemble Chambers had managed the Chambers farm.¹ Now with her demise, would the farmstead continue? It had begun in 1715, when English Quakers John and Deborah Chambers and their four children started farming there. Five years later, they officially bought 664 acres from William Penn’s family in 1720.²

The death of the matriarch threatened an end to the Chambers family farm. The property was down to 168 acres with the manor house “Hilltop.” None of the five surviving children of Mary Jane and John W. Chambers wanted to be farmers. Still she left the farm to them.³ After helping to work the farm summers between school, each of these five young men had left for the booming towns and cities of industrializing, late nineteenth century Pennsylvania. They had done well. Despite the sons’ aversion to farm work, three of them, Samuel, John J., and Charles, decided, after their mother’s death, to reacquire the land that had been sold over the previous two centuries: The Thompson and Evans farms on Chambers Rock Road and the Pyle farm on Creek Road. Within a decade, together their late mother’s 168 acres at Hilltop, they had reassembled 508 acres of Chambers farms, and hired tenants to work them.

Thursday, April 15, 2021

The Italian Community at Roseville and the Bloody Section

A while back we looked at the "Italian Colony" that grew up near Wooddale, on the very eastern edge
of Mill Creek Hundred. It was comprised of Italian immigrant workers (and some of their families) employed at the stone quarry there. They were doing dangerous manual labor -- the kind often offered to immigrants. There was another kind of dangerous work common in the 19th Century, and when it came rumbling through New Castle County in the 1880's it gave rise to another Italian enclave on the other end of Mill Creek Hundred. This one was in some ways similar and in other ways different than the Wooddale community. Sadly, it also shows that the way immigrants are treated in this country has not changed much over the past 140 years.

Without question, one of the great engineering feats of the 19th Century was the construction of the railroad system. Being difficult, dangerous, mobile work, the building of the railroads was often given to immigrant workers, often Chinese in the western states and European (such as Irish) in the east. There were two major railroad lines that came through New Castle County in the 19th Century. The first was the Philadelphia, Wilmington, & Baltimore, constructed in the 1830's (this line is now used by Amtrak). That was it for the next 50 years or so (with the exception of the smaller more local lines like the Wilmington & Western and the Wilmington & Northern), until the Baltimore & Ohio decided it wanted a northeastern route to compete with the Pennsylvania Railroad.

When the B&O came building their line through NCC in 1883/84, it seems that their workforce was primarily Italian. It's kind of funny -- I don't know about you, but when I think of railroads being built by teams of workers, I really only picture it in very remote places. Like through the prairie, or across mountains, or through forests miles from nowhere. I never really thought about a large cohort of men traveling slowly, working through a populated area like White Clay and Mill Creek Hundreds. Where would they stay while they did their work in an area?