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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?

Friday, March 12, 2021

Oak Hill Farm, aka Breidablik

Oak Hill Farm, 1927
One of the aspects of history I find interesting is how many different "lives" a given property can have over the years, even if some of it is just different variations on a theme. A tract can go from virgin woodland, to family farm, to tenant farm, and back again. It can be owned locally or by wealthy "outsiders". Then, with the changes brought by the 20th Century, it can have a whole new life. Such is the case with a farm on the western bounds of Christiana Hundred, just a stones throw from Mill Creek Hundred.

On the east side of Centerville Road, just south of Lancaster Pike, sits the office complex known as Little Falls Center. Named for the creek that runs behind it, this building is a product of 1980's development. However, on the property stands a fieldstone house that is considerably older. Although hundreds of American office workers now spend their days there (well, they used to, and will again sometime soon), the history of the property goes back to before there were "Americans", to when deeds here included phrases like, "[…] and in the fourth year of the Reign of our Sovereign Lord George the Third of Great Britain France and Ireland King […]". 

That particular gem appeared in the 1764 transfer of 200 acres from Mounce Justis to Peter Paulson for the sum of 50 Pounds. The tract spread from Little Fall Creek (named as such in the deed) all the way over to Red Clay Creek. Paulson would eventually sell the section west of Centerville Road to his son John. Peter's widow Ann would sell his home farm of 89 acres John Caldwell in 1808. When Caldwell died in the 1830's, he passed the farm to his nephew, also named John Caldwell. This Caldwell held on to the property for about ten more years, until selling it in 1843.

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Hockessin's Disappearing, Reappearing Road

Meeting House Road area today
Over the course of the centuries, it's not unusual for roads to come and go, or for them to change in some way through the years. On the back of the recent post about Benge Road, a question was raised about Meeting House Road, and about Lee Road, which looks like an extension of it north of Auburn Mill Road. When I started looking closer at the old maps of the area, I saw an interesting evolution of the roads in this area, north of Hockessin.

We'll start with the current configuration, seen to the right, and then go back and see the progression through time. As you can see, today Meeting House Road runs up from Old Wilmington Road to Auburn Mill Road, then Lee Road extends as a residential road up to about the state line. Auburn Mill Road comes west from Benge, goes past Meeting House for a short bit, curves north, then sort of peters out.

The two oldest maps we have - Heald's 1820 map and the 1849 Rea & Price - are basically identical to each other in their layouts. (There actually are a few older, Revolutionary War era maps that show roads, but they're not particularly precise and were drawn by people literally passing through the area, so not real helpful to us here.) They both show the Old Public Road (now Old Public Road and Benge Road at the north end) heading to the northeast and Old Wilmington Road continuing to the northwest. Meeting House Road is shown heading north from the Hockessin Friends Meeting House up into Pennsylvania. This makes clear the road's original purpose, which was as a pathway to the Marshall Mill on Red Clay Creek. Although much of this length is long gone, if you look again at the current map above you can see the original end of the road, now part of Marshallvale Lane.

Wednesday, February 3, 2021

The Origins of Benge Road

Location of Benge Road, north of Hockessin
Normally when we think of traces of history around us or historical sites, what comes to mind are things like houses, churches, mills, or battlefields. However, some of the most interesting and instructive artifacts are the things we use every day, but rarely give much thought to – our roads. Most people have at least a vague notion that some roads are new, while others have been in place for a long time. This is certainly true of the roads in and around Hockessin.

Anyone familiar with the roads today would recognize many of the same ones on a map from, say, 1868. Readily visible are most of the main thoroughfares like Limestone Road, Valley Road, Lancaster Pike (although along what’s now Old Lancaster Pike which was actually the Newport and Gap Turnpike), Old Wilmington Road, Meeting House Road, and Yorklyn Road, among others. Some were very old, like Limestone Road, and likely started as Native American paths used by the earliest European settlers in the area. Some were created for a specific purpose, like Yorklyn Road’s path from Old Wilmington Road to the Garrett Snuff Mills, laid out in 1863. Once in a while we’re even lucky enough to have some of the details as to the when, why, and how of a road’s coming to be. Such is the case with Benge Road.

Thursday, January 28, 2021

The Family of William and Mary Eastburn

Without question, one of my favorite things about doing this whole history thing is when people are kind enough to share with us old photographs from their family's collection. We all know that there are lots of these types of pictures sitting in shoe boxes and old photo albums, in attics and basements everywhere. Most people, though, don't think anyone would be interested in their old family pictures, especially when they themselves may not know who some of the people are, or when or where they were taken. But believe me, we're interested!

The amazing picture shown here came from one of my "history friends", Ray Albanese, and it was shared with him by an extended family-member named Lois. Lois' maiden name was Jones, but her mother was from one of the most prolific of MCH families - the Eastburns. This is a picture of her grandfather Herbert S. Eastburn's family.

More accurately, it's the family of William M. and Mary (Baldwin) Eastburn, and their 10 children. They were married in November 1863 (exactly one week after the Gettysburg Address was delivered, FWIW) and had 11 kids over the next 22 years (one died young). This is their family in about 1905. That estimate comes from the fact that one of the sons (William) died in 1907.

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

An Immigrant's Story -- Raffaele Di Guglielmo, a.k.a. Rafael Julian

Pasqualina and Raffaele
di Guglielmo
This should be obvious, but pretty much every local resident ever mentioned on this blog was either an immigrant, or the descendant of immigrants. Almost all of them were products of the so-called First Wave of immigration, arriving anywhere from the 17th Century through the mid-19th Century. In MCH we have 17th Century Swedes, Fins, and English; 18th Century Scotch-Irish and English; and 19th Century Irish, English, Germans and others. These were all from northern and western Europe.

The Second Wave consisted of late 19th and early 20th Century immigrants (think Ellis Island) from more "exotic" locales in eastern and southern Europe -- Poles, Slavs, Eastern European Jews, Greeks, Russians, and, probably most impactful to their new country, Italians. Since most of these Second wave immigrants stayed in cities (often the ones they first arrived in), Mill Creek Hundred did not see very many of these new arrivals. There is, however, one major exception that was noted in the post a few years back about the Abner Hollingsworth case -- the Italian Colony at Wooddale.

The colony was a community of over 100 Italian immigrants, comprised of stoneworkers at the Wooddale Quarry and their families. It seems to have been a fairly self-contained community, and because there were many single men there, a pretty raucous one. Wild Wooddale, as I call it, had an array of illegal saloons, gambling houses, and places catering to other pleasures. I still don't know very much about the community itself, but I have been able to gather information about one of the apparent leaders of the community. He was mentioned briefly in an article from the time about the Hollingsworth case, noting only that he ran a saloon and was accused of having tried to scam one of the local farmboys. Separating fact from fiction about this era can be tough, but I did find at least part of this man's amazing story.

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

The Hand Family of Brandywine Hundred

The Isaac Hand house, shortly before
demolition in 1962. Inset shows a family
 headstone at Newark Union Cemetery
One of the running themes of this blog is the idea that every place and every family has a story, and that they are worthy of being remembered. While I believe that to be true, the reality is that like individual people, some families are more interesting than others. A little while back I was contacted and asked about the Hand family, who owned a couple of farms in Brandywine Hundred, around the Shipley Road/Silverside Road area. Although this is certainly outside of Mill Creek Hundred and might not be as familiar to some, I know that area pretty well. I found the necessary information to determine where the Hand farms were, but it wasn't until I started finding more stories about the people themselves that I realized just how interesting this family was.

The family's story in America seems to have begun with Gilbert Hand, who in 1808 purchased 53 acres on the south side of what would become known as Silverside Road, about a three quarters of a mile east of Concord Pike. Gilbert sold the farm three years later to Alexander Hand (almost certainly his son), who in turn divided the property in 1846 between himself and his oldest son, Isaac. Alexander kept the western 30 acres, while Isaac got the land (at first, 20 acres, then a few years later another 3) on the eastern end. Shipley Road does not seem to have been in existence in 1846, but was built a few years later and positioned along the boundary of the two lots. Alexander's farm was sold out of the family in 1866, a few years after his death. Isaac's property would stay in the family until 1962, when the development of Delwynn was built on it -- but we have a few stories before we get there.