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Wednesday, March 20, 2024

The Rubencame-Woodward Farm

The Rubencame-Woodward House
Very often on this blog, the sites we look at are hidden away on some back road or lightly-populated corner of the hundred, or tucked neatly into the middle of a mid-century, suburban neighborhood. That's mostly because, and I can't stress this enough, I have no control over where they are! However, the farm we'll investigate in this post was located near what's probably (I don't have the exact traffic statistics) the most heavily travelled area in Mill Creek Hundred -- the Kirkwood Highway/Limestone Road intersection. This area is pretty much the epitome of 20th Century commercial suburban sprawl, so much so that's it's almost weird to think of it as having a rural, agricultural past -- but it does. And though they've been gone for more than four and six decades respectively, I'm sure some of you can still recall the house and barn that stood along Limestone Road.

The farm anchored by the house seen above was under the ownership of only one family for more than 150 years (although it might not seem like it from the title of the post), but its history prior to that is rich as well. It gets confusing at times, but does come in contact with some interesting stories and people. I'll do what I can to shed some light on it, without getting too far off track or mired in irrelevant details (admittedly, always a struggle). Much like the nearby and recently featured Reynolds-Brown-Murray Farm (with which it does have a later connection), the acreage of this farm also changed a few times over the years, although not as many times as it might seem.

The earliest deed I have for what would become the Rubencame-Woodward farm is for a sale in 1757 from Duncan Drummond to William Johnson. However, within it, this deed documents another 70+ years of history and sales. The first was dated July 12, 1685, when William Penn's agents granted 110 acres to Aaron Johnson Vandenburg, "near a certain creek known by the name Rum Creek now called Mill Creek". (I think the name may have come from another early area landowner, Charles Rumsey.) In his 1701 will, Vandenburg ultimately left his estate to Rev. Erik Bjorck (spelled differently, but has to be him) and Old Swedes Church. Rev. Bjorck and Vandenburg's widow sold the farm in 1714 to James Robinson, who owned several other tracts in MCH totaling almost 1000 acres. He also built the first mill in what would later become Milltown.

Wednesday, February 28, 2024

The Milford Crossroads School, District #37

The second Milford Crossroads School,
as it looked in the 1920's
It's been a while since we've taken a look at an old schoolhouse, and to the best of my knowledge I've 
covered just about every 19th Century school in Mill Creek Hundred -- except for the one that stood near Milford Crossroads. It was actually one of the oldest schools in the area, and had two different schoolhouses over the years, serving the children of the region. The last school stood until fairly recently and was used as a residence for several decades -- and I wouldn't be at all surprised if some of you had contact with the owners at some point.

The school stood on the east side of Paper Mill Road just below its intersection with Possum Park/Thomson Station Road (aka, Milford Crossroads). The spot is today directly north of the northern entrance into the Shops at Louviers. Designated as District #37, the school was certainly one of the earlier ones established, and appears on the 1849 map. I had assumed that the school and district were likely set up soon after the Free School Act of 1829. However, determining the exact build dates of these older schools can be difficult because there's usually not much in the way of documentation, with the exception of one kind of secondary clue.

I've learned that if you're lucky and know the right names to look up, you might be able to find the deed wherein a farmer sells a small lot to the trustees of a school, for the purpose of erecting a schoolhouse. So, thinking the school was built circa 1830, I tried to figure out who might have owned the surrounding farm at the time and attempted to find the deed, but to no avail. It turns out, I was looking at the wrong timeframe. It wasn't until I attacked it from the other end that I found the answer.

Monday, February 12, 2024

The Brown-Murray Farm, aka The Farmhouse, Part 2 -- The Murrays

The Murray Farm in 1937
In the last post we traced the early history of the farm located due north of Delaware Park, along Old Capitol Trail, where the Murray Manor trailer park and the wedding venue known as The Farmhouse are located today. We saw it go from being part of a large, pre-William Penn era land grant, to an 80 acre mid-18th Century farm, to being incorporated again inside a larger tract, to finally being a 155 acre family farm. It went through numerous families with names like Cann, White, Reynolds, Rice, Brown, and McCallister. Finally, in 1917, it was sold to Levi W. and Kate Murray for $13,000. This was both the beginning of a new era for the Murrays, and the culmination of generations of family work.

Although many of you may know the name only from Murray Manor (Mill Creek Trailer Park until the late 1980's), besides being in that location for more than a century now, the Murray family goes back several more generations and another three quarters of a century in New Castle County. We begin with Levi W. Murray, Jr.'s grandfather, Samuel. Samuel Murray was born about 1809 in Pennsylvania, possibly in Philadelphia. I say that because the first record of him in Delaware is a December 1842 deed in which Samuel, Elizabeth, Ann, John, Levi, and David Murray -- all described as being "of the City of Philadelphia" -- purchase a "Tavern house or tenement and lot of land" in the Village of Glasgow. I've yet to find proof, but I assume that this is Samuel and his five siblings. I don't know why they purchased the tavern, or what their connection was at the time to the area. They only held it for a few months, selling the tavern and lot in March 1843, so it could have just been an investment opportunity. Glasgow was originally known as Aiken's Tavern, named for the colonial-era establishment. The old tavern was torn down in the 1830's and a new one built across the road (where the Arby's is now), and this is presumably what the Murray kids bought.

In any case, if this was Samuel's first introduction to Pencader Hundred, he seems to have taken to the area. He may have even moved down around that time, because a mere two years later, in October 1845, Samuel Murray purchased 17 acres of land, about two miles southwest of Glasgow. In the deed, Murray is described as already being a resident of Pencader Hundred. He obviously knew this farm well, because dated the same day, he sold six acres of it that sat on the south side of the railroad tracks.

Wednesday, February 7, 2024

A (Much Better) History of the Brown-Murray Farm, aka The Farmhouse -- Part I

The Farmhouse today
More than ten years ago I wrote a post about the property on which the event venue known as The 
, on Old Capitol Trail by Murray Manor and Delaware Park, sits. I did the best I could at piecing together the farm's story, with the resources I had available to me at the time. Aside from a lack of details, I did get most of it right, with one notable exception that we'll address shortly. In the intervening years, though, I've gotten access to property records and cultivated a better understanding of the area. After recent outreach from the owners of The Farmhouse (still members of the Murray family, who have owned the home for over a century now), I decided to take another shot at telling the story, now that I can use more actual facts and fewer guesses.

The last time the 155 acres were sold to a new family as a farm was in February 1917, when Levi W. Murray purchased the property from Helen and James McCallister for $13,000. We'll get to Levi and wife Kate in the next post, and see how they got there and what they did after they arrived. But the story of the land goes back much further, although the central mystery of exactly when the original portion of the house was constructed is still unclear. 

The land that would eventually make up the 155 acre farm was originally part of a larger tract of 570 acres laid out and sold in 1676 by Edmund Andros, Governor of New York (this was even before William Penn's arrival). It was sold originally to two men, then consolidated to one in 1679, then parts of it sold of through the late 17th and early 18th Centuries. Ultimately, at least 270 acres of it was consolidated under the ownership of William Cann, who in 1749 sold a square lot (113 perches, or about 1865 feet, on a side) to Moses White. To the best of my ability to decipher, the image below shows where that 80 acre lot was. Old Capitol Trail now runs though the upper corner of it, Kirkwood Highway is to the northwest, and Delaware Park is to the south.

Thursday, January 4, 2024

The Fanning Houses of Marshallton

The Walter Fanning House in 2012,
one day before its demise
One of the over-arching themes I've stumbled into after years of writing this blog is the idea that just about every place, no matter how unassuming it might seem, has a story to tell. This has been borne out again in the history of the Fanning Houses of Marshallton. I initially didn't know there was this much of a story when a commenter recently asked if I knew anything about the house that used to stand at 3419 Old Capitol Trail, in what's now an empty lot fronted by a beautiful stone retaining wall. I knew of it but not about it, but I did recall something from right near its end.

Back in March 2012, when he was still writing his Lower Red Clay Valley blog, Denis Hehman noticed activity at the property and talked to the owner. He learned that the house was about to be torn down (which it was, two days later!), but was able to get some information as well as a few before and after pictures. I thank Denis greatly for that, because that was the starting point for this investigation. The owner (an older woman) told him that her family moved there when her father was four, and that she herself was born in the house. He didn't mention her name, but this was Miss Eleanor B. Fanning, who sadly passed away in February 2022, on her 88th birthday. The Fannings' story, though, starts long before that.

It begins with Henry Fanning, who brought his family to America from Ireland, probably in the 1850's. I can't find them in the 1850 Census, but by 1860 Henry is working as a weaver in the cotton factory on Red Clay Creek, just below Marshallton. It was operated at the time by fellow Irishman John Wright, but in 1864 would be purchased by the Dean Woolen Company, converted from cotton manufacturing to wool, and renamed as the Kiamensi Woolen Company. Henry died in October 1861 at the age of about 50 of "consumption of the lungs" (tuberculosis), but his son George carried on working in the cotton-then-woolen mill.

Friday, December 15, 2023

The Springer-Chandler Farm

The Springer-Chandler farms, 1927
For this story we venture again outside the confines of Mill Creek Hundred, but not by much. In fact, 
the land in question was originally part of a tract that extended into MCH, and ultimately ended up as part of one which was featured in a post not long ago. It's a story that is, on the one hand, fairly simple. Over the course of more than 300 years, it was really only owned by members of four (although, really three) different families. But on the other hand, there are a few details and actions that make the chain of ownership a lot more complicated and confusing when viewed on a closer level. Also, there are actually several tracts in question, which multiple times are split up, only to be later reunited in ownership. Also also, I don't have a strong understanding of the exact boundaries of most of the tracts. 

"Originally", the land in question (which is along Lancaster Pike between Centerville Road and Red Clay Creek) seems to have been on the eastern end of the holdings of the Barker family, who began acquiring much of the area around what would become Wooddale from the Penns as early as the 1680's. There were several members of several generations of Barkers who bought a number of tracts over the years, from Wooddale up to Mt. Cuba. For our purposes here, suffice it to say that in 1764, several grandchildren of Samuel Barker (who had purchased the land in 1685 from William Penn) sold a 200 acre tract in western Christiana Hundred to Charles Springer, son of Jacob Springer. While the exact boundaries are unclear to me (lots of white oaks and hickories and other property lines I don't know), it seems to generally sit now between Lancaster Pike and Barley Mill Road, mostly (or entirely) west of Centerville Road.

Charles presumably settled on the land and lived there for almost 40 years. In his 1802 will, he divided his land between sons Reese (who got the westerly part) and Thomas (who got the rest). Apart from being severed from the other Barker holdings, this is the first of several instances of the property being split up, only to be later reunited. Thomas Springer died in 1824, and in his will gave most of his land to his son Charles, except for about 40 acres that he says he bought from Joseph Robinson in 1809. This portion went to son William Foulk Springer. I was frustrated at first because I could not find any record of that 1809 sale, but I think I finally have a theory as to what happened. 

Monday, November 13, 2023

The Travelling Newport-Gap Pike and Mt. Cuba Bridge

The Newport-Gap Pike bridge
in its original location, 1921
I have to admit that this post is a follow-up that took way, way too long to come about. Like, kids are in middle school now who weren't even born when I wrote the original part of this story. Back in September 2010, I did a post entitled "Marshallton's Travelling Bridge", which I later realized was not completely accurate. In that post I stated that the bridge installed over Red Clay Creek in Marshallton (Newport/Duncan Road) in about 1900 was moved in 1925 to another location across Red Clay Creek. Then, 45 years later, it was moved yet again to the site where it remains to this day.

To be fair, much of that post is correct, with two glaring exceptions -- I had the wrong bridge and an incorrect first move date. I think I realized that fairly early on, but I never got around to actually giving the correct information. However, very recently a commenter (thank you, Larry Davis!) asked about a story he had heard in his younger days, about how the Newport-Gap Pike bridge over Red Clay Creek at Greenbank had been repurposed somewhere else. That immediately rang a bell with me, and here we are. Yes, Larry, you were right.

It turns out that it was not the Marshallton bridge that has travelled around -- it's the Newport-Gap Pike bridge. They are very similar bridges, both being Pratt Pony Truss bridges. The Pratt Truss design was invented in 1844 and was one of the more common designs in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, both for railroad and roadway bridges. The "Pony" designation indicates that the trusses are not connected at the top. I haven't been able to determine when this particular bridge was built, but I did find an 1884 newspaper article about New Castle County bridges that did indicate that there was an iron truss bridge in place at that time. It's quite possible that this is the same bridge.

Monday, October 9, 2023

The Abners Woodward House

The Abner Woodward House 
A little while back there was a post about the Stephen Mitchell House, located on North Star Road, in the community of the same name. Toward the end of that post, we learned that the farm associated with the house was sold as part of a larger tract by Ellen du Pont Wheelwright in 1952. She sold it to a group of Dupont Company employees working at the new, nearby Louviers site, who were providing convenient housing opportunities for themselves and their co-workers. However, while the Mitchell, or North Star, Farm was the largest portion of the newly-created community of North Star, it was not the only part.

On the west side of North Star Road, Mrs. Wheelwright had another property she called Barnstable Farm. Its farmhouse is located along North Star Road, and for 121 years it was owned by three generations of the Woodward family. The house itself may have been built by the first Woodward there, or it may have already been standing when he arrived in 1808 -- that's yet to be determined. However, the history of the farm definitely goes back further than that.

Unfortunately though, much of that earlier history has thus far eluded me. I know that in April 1798, James Short sold a 129 acre plantation to John Heron, "late from the County of Donagall in old Ireland". Frustratingly, the only document I can find is actually the mortgage from Short to Heron, not the actual sale. This means it's written as if Heron is transferring the land to Short (which he would if he doesn't pay the debt), so while it does have a detailed description of the metes and bounds (which are too confusing for me to map out), it does not have any information on how or when Short came into possession of the land (only that Short, "of Mill Creek Hundred", sold to Heron dated the same day).