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Exactly who was Ainsworth Abbott?


The last owner/operator of Abbott's Mill, Ainsworth (nmi) Abbott, who operated it for over four decades, was born on June 22, 1885 in Ellendale, Sussex County, Delaware. His parents were John T. and Clara (Warren) Abbott and they had just married the previous year. When his father died when Ainsworth was less than two years old, leaving no will, his mother, Clara, petitioned the Delaware Orphans Court to settle his accounts. His 47 acres of property in the Cedar Creek Hundred were eventually sold to the highest bidder, a William S. Fisher, for $600 (equal to about 18,000 in 2023). Of this Clara received: $182.56 (equal to $6,100 today) and two-year-old Ainsworth received: $89.84 ($3,000 today). (The Orphans' Court was also responsible for partitioning the real estate of a person who died without a will.)

His mother eventually remarried and in 1900 15 year old Ainsworth was living with his mother and his step-father, David Lofland. Ainsworth married 19-year-old Linda W. Donovan (b: 1885) on Oct. 30, 1904, the wedding performed by E. B. Taylor in Ellendale. Linda's father was James H. Donovan, but her mother was deceased. In 1909 Ainsworth and Linda had a son and in 1910 Ainsworth was working as a carpenter, doing odd jobs. By 1918, when Ainsworth registered for the WWI Selective Service, he lived in Ellendale and said his nearest relative was his mother, Clara Lofland, so he and Linda must have separated by then. In the 1920 census, Linda and Nelson were living alone and by 1930 Linda had married Isaac Clendaniel, a team driver.


Ainsworth reported in his 1918 Selective Service registration that he was a Miller, and he is said to have built and operated a grist mill near Ellendale, but it burned to the ground on Sunday evening, March 4, 1919. He also lost his home and his large barn.

The Morning News - March 5th, 1919

Shortly thereafter, on June 5, 1919, Ainsworth Abbott and Joseph J. Smith bought the old "Johnson's Mill", at that time known as “Lakeview Mills,” from W. Shockley Dougherty. This included the dam, the land with the pond and ten acres of ground north of the dam, which made 113 acres altogether.


It appears that his mother lent him the money and two years after that Clara Lofland bought out Joseph Smith's share. The mill must have been doing well because within a year Ainsworth was able to repay his mother and he owned and operated the mill for the next forty-one years. There is no evidence that Abbott ever referred to his mill as "Lakeview Roller Mills" and, being a frugal man, he usually ordered plain paper bags for his local sales.

Mary and Ainsworth Abbott - circa late 1930s - (notice his 1931 Ford Panel Truck in front of the mill)

On March 27, 1923 38-year-old Ainsworth married Mary Williams, aged 33, of Greenwood, Del. This was her first marriage and she and Ainsworth never had children of their own. Ainsworth later reported on his 1942 selective service papers, when he was 57 years old, that he was 5 foot 2 inches tall, 159 lbs. had brown eyes and black hair. The 1940 U.S. Census states that the highest grade he completed in school was the 5th and for his wife, Mary, the 4th grade. However, the couple successfully operated the milling business by themselves for forty years. Their only employee was someone to make their weekly deliveries in their panel truck.

During the first five years that he owned the mill. Ainsworth learned that there were times when Johnson's Branch couldn't supply enough water to run the flour roller mills properly. This may have been why the mill had recently changed hands so many times. Although Ainsworth was a frugal man, he apparently didn’t mind spending the money necessary for mill improvements. In June of 1925 he bought a used Fairbanks Morse Type Y 20 H.P. semi-diesel engine from the Farmers Supply Company in Arbovale, West Virginia and had it shipped from Cass, W.Va. via the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad. Including shipping it cost him $550, equal to about $9000 today. He then installed it outside, just to the north of the mill and knocked out part of the brick wall in the basement so that a long, 8-inch-wide, belt could reach the main drive shaft.


This allowed him to operate the roller mills at the optimal speed to produce a quality flour product, very important because milling in this part of the state was a very competitive business. Within just a few miles of Abbott’s Mill there were three other operating grist mills, (on Griffith Lake, Blair's Pond and Silver Lake) so if customers were not able to get their crop ground at Ainsworth Abbott's mill, they didn’t have far to go to get it done somewhere else. Abbott's Mill was known to produce a very high grade of flour, buckwheat and corn meal. He also installed a drive shaft through the west wall of the mill so that he could power outside equipment, such as a cordwood saw or even a thrashing machine.

In May of 1927 he bought $338.45 worth of lumber ($4,635 today), windows and doors from the I.D. Short Co. in nearby Houston, and built a two-and-a-half story addition to the mill to house the engine. This wing has protected it for almost one hundred years.


On April 11, 1938 Ainsworth traded in his wife’s old kitchen range and bought her a new 9000 Series Ivory Quickmeal Kerosene Range & Reservoir from Wilson & Gerow, in Frederica, Del. He paid $95 for it, a goodly sum that would be equal to about $1,700 today! (He did manage to get $20 credit for their used range). It was probably not a coincidence that this was just two weeks after their 15th wedding anniversary.




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Mr. Abbott's vehicles, first a 1929 Chevy and later a 1931 Ford, were involved in at least three different accidents in the 11 year period between 1935 and 1946. One of them, in 1940, involved the fender on a 1937 Cadillac belonging to a Washington D.C. lawyer named Claude Branner.

1937 Cadillac Fleetwood

Editors Note: 1427 Eye St is next to Franklin Square and only a couple

of blocks from the White House.


Text of a letter from Mr. Branner to Mr. Abbott:

Claude E. Branner, Lawyer, 1427 Eye Street, N.W., Washington, D. C. Feb. 26, 1940

Dear Mr. Abbott,

I stopped at Wright Brothers Garage on my way home, and was advised that they would fix the fender for $7.00, but that it would necessitate my 1937 Cadillac staying over in Milford for a full day, which I was not in a position to do. I therefore took the car to Imirie's Garage when I returned home and was advised by them that they would make a charge of $10.00 to do the same work. The charges here are generally higher than in a small country town, which accounts for the difference in price. I feel that you are legally obligated to pay the charges made here, however, if you feel that the $7.00 price from Wright Brothers is all you should pay, you may send your check in this amount to Imirie's Garage , Bethesda, Maryland, or to myself, and I will pay the difference.

I would appricate your taking care of this immediately, as the car is at this time being repaired.

Yours respectfully, C. E. Branner

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Enclosed invoice:

G. W. Imirie's Garage, Bethesda, Maryland, February 24, 1940

Straightening and refinishing right rear fender of 1937 Cadillac. $10.00


Mr. Abbott promptly sent a seven-dollar money order to Imirie's Garage!


* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *


The horizonal gear has hardwood cogs, the vertical gear is solid cast iron.

Dec. 11, 1942 – Mr. Abbott ordered 52 wooden-gear cogs for his millstone drive gear from the B.F.GUMP Co. The B.F.Gump Company in Chicago, Ill. has been in the flour milling business since 1872 and is still in the business today.



* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

On 21 Sept. 1948 and again on 25 October 1951 Ainsworth and Mary Abbott signed Right of Way agreements with the Delaware Electric Cooperative so that the Coop. could install 3 poles, wire, etc. through his 12 acres of land. No clearing was to be done on the dam without the permission of Mr. and Mrs. Abbott and trees were not to be cut lower than 20 feet from ground.

Even though electric power was now available, the Abbotts chose not to use it. As long as they owned the property, the only electricity on the premises was an automotive generator in the mill that was belted off of one of the mill shafts and was used to charge his vehicle batteries. It's still there.


* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Besides operating his mill, Mr. Abbott had a little side business going on, renting boats to fishermen at a dollar a day. ($1 in 1956 equals about $9.00 today)


MARCH 17, 1956

PLEASE RESERVE BOATS FOR THE FOLLOWING DATES

1 BOAT-THURSDAY-MAY 31ST 2 BOATS-FRIDAY-JUNE 1ST

2 BOATS-SATURDAY-JUNE 2ND

FIND FIVE DOLLARS ENCLOSED TO COVER COST OF SAME

YOURS TRULY, CASEY JONES, R.D.#3, WIL. DEL.

R to L - The mill, the miller's house, the boat house and the rental house. - unknown date.

The boathouse, on the left, was across the road from the miller's house (not shown here). The rental cabin is on the right

In the mid-1950s, when the du Pont Company was setting up the Hagley Museum of Industrial History, they needed their millstones dressed and Ainsworth Abbott was hired for the job.

These pictures, below, were obviously staged, but they are the best close-ups we have of Mr. Abbott and I suspect, while working for the du Pont Company, that this may have been the only time he ever had to wear safety glasses.


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In 1959 Mr. Abbott somehow broke his left wrist. I have no idea how it happened, but it required him to stay overnight in the Milford hospital.

Invoice:

7/9/59 Total amount due for reduction of fracture and application of cast, left arm [wrist]. David N. Sills, Jr., M.D. $75.00 Anesthesia services: W. P. Portz, M. D. $10 Milford Memorial Hospital overnight stay 7-9 to 7-10, x-ray meds, etc. $41.50 Total: $126.50 (Ainsworth was 74 years old)

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Ainsworth's wife Mary passed away on January 17 1963 at the age of 78 and Ainsworth sold his property ten months later (October 22nd), to Howard and Frances Killen for $16,500. The next week the state of Delaware bought the house for $6,000 and then bought the mill for $10.00 in 1964. They acquired the pond in 1965 for another $10.00.

During this process these pictures were taken by the state:

After selling his mill, Ainsworth Abbott lived with his granddaughter in Magnolia for the next six years, until his death on February 20, 1969 at the age of 84. He and Mary are buried together, reportedly in the Odd Fellows Cemetery on Rehoboth Blvd. in Milford.



Next week we'll delve into exactly how Ainsworth Abbott's mill works. What first happened to the corn when it was brought to the mill? There were at least six steps needed to produce a quality cornmeal and we'll examine what they are and why each step is necessary. Then in the following weeks we'll explore the convoluted process that produces a "pure, white flour."

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