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"All in the Family", The Old Mills on the Mispillion River, part I

The upper Mispillion River watershed

This week we will start at the headwaters of the Mispillion River and beginning with Blair's Pond, we'll take a trip downstream, visiting the old mill sites along the way. Get comfortable, because the journey will take us several weeks and we'll make a few side trips to other nearby mills.

There are seven ponds and/or lakes in the Mispillion River watershed. In Delaware, and probably in all of Delmarva, there are no natural ponds or lakes. All but Hoopes Reservoir in New Castle county were created to provide water for a mill, or in many cases two or even three mills.

The Mills at Blair's Pond

Blair's Pond - May 2021 (Steve Childers)

Blair's pond is the farthest pond built upstream on the Mispillion River and was at the junction of Goldsmith Branch to the south and the upper Mispillion River to the west. As is common in the area, both names have since changed, Goldsmith to Tantrough Branch and the upper Mispillion is now referred to as Beaverdam Branch.

The first mill on this pond was built in 1747-48 by William Manlove, who already owned the land on the south side of the river. He needed two acres on the northside for that end of the dam and for the mill to sit on, but the owners of the property to the north were absent. Manlove petitioned the court for an “act to encourage the Building of Good Mills and to build a Grist Mill on the main branch of Mispillion Creek in the County foresaid.” It was granted and by this means Manlove paid 11 pounds ten shillings and now owned property on both sides of the Mispillion. He built his mill, but in 1755-56 he sold it to William Tharp and went on to build the Tub Mill. (More on that in another post)

Ten years later, in 1765, Wm. Tharp sold Manlove’s Mill to Thomas and Rebekah Hall. Joseph Mason then bought it in 1772 for 20 pounds, married William Manlove’s daughter and eventually inherited the Tub Mill.

When Joseph Mason died in 1786 Manlove’s Mill was inherited by Mason’s daughter Susan and her husband William Lofland. The Loflands operated the mill for twenty-five years and sold it for $2000 in 1811 to David Riggs, who already owned Rigg’s Mill on the pond just downstream. The two mills them became known as “Riggs Upper Mill” and “Rigg’s Lower Mill.”

Rigg's Upper Mill at Blair's Pond (Courtesy of Hazel Dickerson and Milford Museum)

When Riggs died in 1836 the mills and almost 1700 acres of land became the property of his widow. Their daughter Sarah, now married to William Griffith, inherited the property and it eventually passed on to their son David R. Griffith, who owned it until 1884. Other owners were John B. Wilson and it next passed on to his son Sharp L. Wilson and his wife Adella H.

David Riggs home has sat on the Williamsville Road opposite the Blair's Pond dam for 210 years

In 1915 Oscar Blair bought the upper mill property consisting of “mill sites, mill dam, mill seat and lands” and operated the mill for 30 years under the trade name of “Oak Grove Feed Mills”. In 1945 Oscar and Laura Blair sold the mill to the Sussex Poultry Co., Inc. and the mill never ran again. In 1968 it burned to the ground.

The Mills at Griffith’s Lake

Griffith's Lake - May 2021 (Steve Childers)

There has been a mill on what is now called Griffith’s Lake since before 1790. In 1803 Ezekiel Riggs purchased 248 acres of the original “Golden Mine” tract and built the second mill on the site, which was inherited by his sons David and Joshua.

The third mill was built in 1858 for William Griffith, whose wife Sarah inherited the land from her father David Riggs and the pond then became known as the “Sarah A. Griffith Pond”. It was left to her son Daniel T. Griffith, who was the owner in 1888, and the pond has been known simply as “Griffith’s Pond” ever since. The mill, however, was then known as “Riggs Lower Mill” and was operated by William Edington doing mostly custom grinding. In 1890 Daniel T. & Mollie P. Griffith sold it to James F. & Sarah G. Anderson, who owned it for ten years. In 1900 they sold it to Benjamin F. & Sally R. Abbott. They must not have been good business partners because four years later the mill went up for Sheriff’s Sale and James Anderson bought it back for $480.00. He promptly sold it to Charles H. & Annie L. Fitzgerald, who owned it for about 12 years. In 1916 Charles S. & Emma D. Cooke bought the property, but sold it to Charles C. Windsor in 1925. Three months later he sold it to Peter Zodorsney and in 1942 Mr. Zodorsney gave it to his daughter Anne Zodorsney Sparklin.

This week we will start at the headwaters of the Mispillion River and beginning at Blair's Pone, we'll take a trip downstream, visiting the old mill sites along the way. Get comfortable, because the journey will take us several weeks and we will make a few side trips to other nearby mills.ips to other nearby to other nearby mills.s to other nearby mills. to other nearby other nearby mills.Pone

This week we will start at the

waters of the Mispillion River and beginning at Blair's Ponde, we'll take a trip downstream, visiting the old mill sites along the way. Get comfortable, because the journey will take us several weeks and we will make a few side trips to other nearby mills.

“By this time [1942] the pond had all but vanished, lost to a hurricane like storm in August 1935 [the Great Labor Day Hurricane of 1935] which not only took out the dam but took the wooden bridge with it. Needless to say, the onrushing water eventually reached Milford partially flooding it. At Draper’s canning factory all cans and boxes were hurriedly conveyed to higher, safer levels.”

For the next nineteen years the pond bottom reverted back to forest-like growth of dense, tall trees, scrub trees, brambles, honeysuckle and Cherokee roses, with only the original body of water, the Mispillion Creek, meandering through it.”

Then in April 1954 my husband William Lee Sparklin and I deeded the pond bottom and a plot of land (to be used as park land) to the State of Delaware for the purpose of restoring the pond.“

Immediately work began on clearing the pond bottom of its accumulative growth and incredible as it may seem (for only four men worked at the task, their only tools – axes and machete-like implements) the job was completed in just three months, and the construction of the new dam began at once on August 17th, 1954. It was finished on December 1, 1954, the concrete allowed to “season” for a couple of months. In March 1955 the boards (for draining the pond if necessary) were put in place and the pond filled with water.”

It was now named Griffith’s Lake by the Game and Fish Commission.” (Anne Zodorsney Sparklin, about 1980.)

The Mills on Haven Lake

Haven Lake, May 2021 (Steve Childers)

The dam that created Haven Lake, and the resulting Grist Mill, were built between 1765 and 1768 by Levin Crapper, and this was the second dam on the Mispillion River after Wm. Manlove’s dam that had created what is now called Blair’s Pond. Before that the river was navigable up into Copper Branch, that now flows into Haven Lake next to the Blue Hen VFW Post 6483. The King’s Highway from Lewes to Dover crossed the Mispillion just upstream of this point, but of course, the site is now on the bottom of Haven Lake.

For many years Mr. William Cullen had a boat landing at the site and there was a small community called Cullen Town on the north side of the river near where Agway is now. The town died out when boats could no longer reach Cullen’s Wharf. At least into the late 1700s the pond was known as Crapper’s Pond.

Levin Crapper (1710-1775) at one time owned all of the land in South Milford and was considered the wealthiest man in Sussex county. In 1763 he built a large two-story brick home on his 500-acre plantation, which is now the oldest house in South Milford.

Mr. Crapper’s miller, or miller’s assistant, was a black slave named Harry who had a wife and two children. In 1767 Harry ran away and Levin placed the following ad in the Pennsylvania Chronicle in Philadelphia:

Sussex County, on Delaware, Three Run Mills, September 22, 1767.

Ten pounds reward. Run away from the subscriber, on the 13th instant, a mulatto slave, named Harry, about 40 years of age, 5 feet 6 inches high, and well-set: Had on when he went away, a brown cloth coat, white linen jacket, and brown breeches; he was bred a miller, and understands very well how to manufacture flour, and can invoice the same; is much given to strong drink, and playing on the violin; understands the carpenter's and millwright’s business

middling well; was removed from East-New-Jersey in the year 1762, by one Nicholas Veight, who lived at Rocky-Hill, and kept a mill; and the said fellow has a free Mulatto wife, named Peg, and two children.--I expect they will endeavor

to get together (thought they did not run away at one time) -- it is expected they will endeavour to get to the Province of East-New-Jersey; it is imagined said mulatto has a pass.

Any person or persons that takes up and secures the said mulatto, and delivers him to Charles Wharton, merchant, in Philadelphia, or to the subscriber, shall have the above reward of ten pounds, if taken in the province of New-Jersey, and six pounds if in the province of Pennsylvania, paid by [signed] Levin Crapper.

N.B. The said mulatto woman named Peg, has run away from her bail, at Lewis Court, in Sussex county.

When Levin died in 1775 his 27 year old son Molton inherited his mill property and Daniel Rogers was appointed the administrator of the very large estate. However two years later Molton also died and the "Haven Mills" passed to Levin's 25 year old son Zadock. In the long process of settling Levin Crapper's estate, Daniel Rogers fell in love with Molton's widow Esther and they were married in 1778. A couple of years later Rogers moved into the Crapper mansion with Esther and Zadock and Rogers soon purchased the Haven Mills.

Daniel Rogers was elected to the State House of Representatives in 1791 and then served twice as speaker. When Governor Bedford died on September 30, 1797, Rogers ascended to the office and served for about 15 months. That same year Rogers purchased the Crapper mansion from Zadock.

In 1807 Zadock had a debt of 516 pounds that he was unable to pay and the mill along with 240 acres was put up for Sheriff's Sale. It changed hands several more times and in 1819 the mill and 120 acres of land was purchased by Edward Stapleford for $8500.

Wealthy merchant Peter F. Causey purchased the “Haven Flouring Mills” in the 1820s. In 1850 he purchased the former Crapper Mansion and extensively remodeled it. Four years later he was elected Governor of Delaware and served one four-year term.

What is now known as the Causey Mansion sits at the intersection of Causey Ave. and Walnut Street, directly in front of the Milford Museum.

Causey Mansion, Milford (Delaware Public Archives)

In 1868 Peter F. Causey Jr. built a woolen mill on the Haven Lake dam site, but it burned four years later. It was rebuilt and was operated by Hoffecker & Bros., employed about 30 people and produced about 5000 yards of cloth a week. In 1882 it too burned to the ground.

About 1850 the Orcutt Brothers built a Husk Factory that baled thousands of tons of corn husks and shipped them off to mattress manufacturers.

There was also a Bark Mill operated by R.H. Williams where Black Oak bark was ground into a fine powder, called quercitron, that was used in the tanning and dyeing of animal hides. By the late 1880s it had gone out of business and Mr. Williams had taken over operation of the husk factory.

R. H. William's Bark Mill, Haven Lake (Milford Museum)

George S. Grier, recently immigrated from England, built an extensive foundry and forge at Haven Mills in 1851. An inventor, he helped design and build fruit-drying machinery and corn shellers, as well as making repairs to steam engines.

In 1918 William A. Pearce came down from Latrope, Pennsylvania and established the Pearce Woolen Mills on Haven Lake, a wool garnetting operation that recycled waste woolen fibers. It was first powered by a waterwheel that was later replace by an electric motor. After Mr. Pearce died, his son Joseph bought the plant from the estate and operated it until 1957. This was the last mill on Haven Lake.

Haven Lake Dam, unknown date, but likely Sept. 1935 after the Great Labor Day Hurricane. (Milford Museum)


History of Delaware, John Thomas Scharf - 1888

Images of America - Milford by Dave Kenton

Memories of the late M. Catherine Downing

Memories of the late Anne Zodorsney Sparklin

A special thanks to Claudia Leister at the Milford Museum for her research help.


Next week Paul tells us about the Pink Moccasin, Delaware's showiest native orchid.

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