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Grist Mills in Lower, Lower Delaware

In the southeast corner of Sussex County there were so few mills that this week I'm going to review four of the most southern Hundreds of Delaware; Georgetown Hundred, Baltimore Hundred, Gumboro Hundred and Little Creek Hundred.


Why were there not many mills down in this part of Delaware? If you read my post on the week of July 23 you know what the Chesapeake-Delaware Peninsular Divide is and how it effects milling. If you're new to this blog, I'll briefly review.

The Chesapeake-Delaware Peninsular Divide separates the water that flows to the Chesapeake Bay from the water that flows into the Delaware Bay. Typically, the streams in this area are too small to support a mill. This invisible, natural divide goes down through Ellendale and Georgetown, just west of Dagsboro and crosses the state line near Selbyville.


Most of Baltimore Hundred, east of the divide, is low and flat, perfect for farming but not so much for a water powered mill. The only mill of significance that I could find reference to was the William Derrickson Mill on what was then called Assawoman Creek, now known as Dirickson Creek. It had been abandoned by 1847.

Dirickson Creek and Assawoman Bay - Google Maps

Little Creek Hundred, west of the divide, did have several mills, especially along Broad Creek on the northern border with, what else, Broad Creek Hundred.

Here's what J. Thomas Scharf (1888) and Henry C. Conrad (1908) had to say about the mills and industries in these hundreds at those times:

Georgetown Hundred Industries

The Sussex Manufacturing Company was incorporated April 10, 1886, and organized to begin business in 1886. Of this company C. H. Treat was elected president; N. B. Huxford, secretary; and Henry Treat, treasurer. An eligible location was secured at the intersection of the railroads, in the eastern part of the town, where a large manufactory has been erected. The main building is a two-story frame, thirty by one hundred and twenty feet, with two wings, thirty by forty feet, in which have been placed machinery for manufacturing baskets, barrels, casks, builders' lumber and scroll and jig-sawing. A large force of men is employed, not only in the factory, but in various parts of the State to furnish the material for the consumption of the establishment, whose business has already become a pronounced success.

Dr. Robinson had a mill for grinding bark for dyeing purposes.

Source: History of Delaware, 1609-1888, Volume I, by J. Thomas Scharf, L. J. Richards & Company, Philadelphia, 1888.


Baltimore Hundred Mills

Industries

January 24th an act was passed by the Legislature to enable William Derrickson, Richard Clark, Ebe Walter and James Fassett to erect a mill dam across Assawoman Creek, near "Sleep Point" at the head of the creek. For this purpose two acres on the north side and two on the south side were condemned. They erected a grist and saw-mill, which passed from them to William Derrickson and was operated by the latter until 1847, when it was abandoned.

A steam saw-mill is now operated by Jacob Wilgus, who built it in 1855. The daily capacity is nine thousand feet

Source: History of Delaware, 1609-1888, Volume I, by J. Thomas Scharf, Philadelphia, 1888.

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Selbyville is a thriving little town located near the line dividing Delaware from Maryland. The business interests of the place are its milling industries. It is here that the "Selbyville Steam Saw and Planing Mill" is in successful operation and doing a large amount of business. The steam flour-mill of W. S. McCabe & Son is another important factor in the prosperity of the place. Its citizens are active and energetic business men, and the aggregate business of the place is increasing yearly.

Source: History of the State of Delaware, vol. II, by Henry C. Conrad, 1908



Selbyville was founded in January 1778 by Benjamin Long, Arthur McCabe, John Murray, Reuben Stevens and Elijah Campbell. They purchased a 250-acre tract known as Sandy Branch which was located at the head of Saint Martin’s River. This site contained a gristmill and sawmill.

Early Selbyville Millpond Site

SELBYVILLE FIRE

DESTROYS BIG MILL

Spark From Smokestack Said to

be Cause – Two Cars of

Foodstuff Burn

DOVER, Del., May 2 [1916] -- Fire, supposed to have started from a spark from the smokestack of the Delaware Lumber Company at Selbyville, Del., totally destroyed the mill and contents this evening. The fire started between 6 and 7 o’clock and continued burning until nearly 10 o’clock.

The loss is estimated at fully $14,000 with no insurance. The only thing saved from the plant was a small quantity of lumber.

Two loaded cars of foodstuff standing on the railroad tracks opposite the burning building also caught fire and were totally destroyed. This loss is estimated at more than $5,000 dollars.

This is the second disastrous fire in Selbyville this year, as the town has no adequate water facilities other than a bucket brigade, the effort to extinguish the fire was a difficult task.

W.R. Tubbs, of Selbyville is president of the Delaware Lumber Company.

The other fire was on February 13 last, when many buildings were destroyed.

source: The Morning News, Wilmington, DE

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Gumboro Hundred Mills

Industries

The people of the hundred are mostly devoted to agricultural pursuits, and but little other improvements have been made... A brandy distillery was operated by Samuel Short in 1816, and the next year a steam saw-mill was built on the land of George Hearn by a Mr. Young, of Philadelphia. It was in operation until 1867, when an explosion occurred at the place, and it was abandoned. Four persons were killed. The mill was afterwards moved to the present site.

Source: History of Delaware, 1609-1888, Volume I, by J. Thomas Scharf, L. J. Richards & Company, Philadelphia, 1888






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Little Creek Hundred (Sussex Co.)


Mills in down-town Laurel, Del.


Grist and Saw Mills were plentiful in Little Creek hundred on the early days with as many as thirty within eight miles of Laurel.

1890 Lumber Surfacer (planer)

By 1886 Henry Bacon had two planing mills in the area and Selby Lowe had another that was supplying framing lumber for area houses. Thomas Bacon built another planing mill on his wharf below the railroad bridge. Planing mills took raw sawmill lumber and ran it through a planer, or surfacer, to produce smooth dimensioned lumber.


A tract of land in Little Creek Hundred known as "Liberty Plain," and containing two hundred and ninety-three acres, was granted to Forman... It was situated on the west side of Tusseky Branch, and included a saw-mill and other improvements. The mill was on the site of a mill last operated about twenty years ago by James Ellis, and stood on land now owned by Mrs. Zedekiah Goslee.

Source: History of Delaware, 1609-1888, Volume I, by J. Thomas Scharf, L. J. Richards & Company, Philadelphia, 1888

(Ed. note: "Tussocky" Branch is on the south side of Broad Creek, just downstream from Bethel)

RECORD'S MILL


Records Mill, Laurel, Delaware - Delaware Public Archives

In October of 1905 Records's grist mill, reported to be one of the largest water mills in the state, stopped suddenly. When the water wheel under the mill was inspected it was found to be clogged with a mass of eels, several hundred of which were over three feet long.

Source: The Morning News, Wilmington, Del.


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LAUREL LAKE DRY, MILL DAM BREAKS

Believe Undermining Due to Muskrats;

Damage Probably $20,000.


LAUREL, Del., Oct. 19. [1928] – The residents of Laurel awoke yesterday morning to find the beautiful spot of Laurel, Laurel Lake, more familiarly known as Record’s Pond or Mill dam, was only a mass of mud and stumps. Sometime between 3 and 6 Tuesday morning, the dam gave way and the water rushed through and down into Broad Creek river. The roadway and dam which measured about 25 feet in thickness was washed out over a width of nearly 30 feet, taking a large part of the concrete work with it.


This lake has been in existence for more than 50 years. It furnished all the power for the mill owned by W. T. Records and Son. In addition to its value as water power, it was well known to fishermen all over the country and was well known to bathers in this part of the county.

The present dam was put in 17 years ago and aside from a few minor repairs had never caused any trouble. This break came without any warning of any kind to the owners. It is a privately owned affair, being owned and kept up by the W.T. Records and Son Company. The loss is variously estimated at from $5,000 to $20,000. Mr. Records, the manager, states that he will have contractors on the job within 24 hours to make estimates on the cost of rebuilding the dam.

In the meantime the mill will be compelled to suspend operation as its only source of power came from the water. The only water to be seen in what was a once beautiful lake, nearly a half mile in width and more than a mile in length, is a narrow stream of water in the channel. Hundreds of people from various parts of the county have visited the scene during the past twenty-four hours, to witness the damage done, and to see how the lake looks without water. Source: The Morning News, Wilmington, Del.


LAUREL, Del., June 18. [1929] – The work of rebuilding to dam at Record’s Lake in this town is about completed and within another week it is expected the water will fill the basin again. Since last October when the dam broke, the lake has been entirely dry except for a narrow stream. The concrete work is all completed and the filling to make the road across the wash-out is also well underway. As soon as the gates are completed to check the flow of water, the basin will be filled. The water at the present time has been diverted and is running through the new gate… Source: The Morning News, Wilmington, Del.


LAUREL, Del., July 15. [1929] – After being empty since last October, Record’s lake is once more a reality. The dam which had been in use for many years broke last fall, permitting all the water to drain out of the lake. The water furnished the power for Record’s mill and since that date the mill has been without power and unable to do any grinding which was one of their principal lines of business.

The new concrete dam was completed last week and the gates were closed on Saturday. The contractor in charge of the concrete construction work was W. M. Newton of dover. Three or four days have been required to fill the lake to the top of the gates. The cost of rebuilding the dam, including the breakwater and the refilling, will reach nearly $12,000… Source: The Morning News, Wilmington, Del.


Records Mill Dam - Delaware Public Archives

OLD FLOUR MILL CHANGES HANDS

Building, Lake at Laurel

Dating Back 125 Years

Sold by Records Family

--------------------------

Dam Originally Built For Operation

Of Tannery: Structure Burned, Rebuilt in 1878


LAUREL. Dec. 4. (1934) The old Records flour mill and lake changed hands this week after being owned and operated by the Records family for the past 32 years. The mill was purchased by J. Clark Abbott and his son Lawrence, from the firm of W. T. Records and Son, of which company Victor C. Records and J. Clark Abbott were partners.

The history of this old mill and lake date back approximately 125 years, when a dam was made at this point for the operation of a tannery. A small grist mill was started about that time at the site of the present mill.

The mill property was originally owned by David Moore and Thomas B. Giles, uncles of Victor C. Records. The mill was sold by them to Lewis Brothers, and during the brief time it was owned by this latter concern, the dam washed out and the ownership reverted to Moore and Giles. Just previous to 1870 the property was purchased by Theodore Risdon and I. John Adams, and the first flour mill was started under their direction between 1870 and 1875. The mill was destroyed by fire in 1878, but was rebuilt.

The mill and other property was purchased by W. T. Records and his son Victor C. Records in 1902. In 1917 the partnership was dissolved when Victor C. bought out his father’s interest, but the business continued under the same name. In 1926 Victor C. Records took J. Clark Abbott into partnership with him, which continued until December 1, when Mr. Abbott and his son took over the business. The new company is known as the Laurel Flour Mills.

Source: The Morning News, Wilmington, Del. 05 Dec. 1934


Laurel Flour Mills - Delaware Public Archives

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FEED MILL AT LAUREL WILL CLOSE

LAUREL (1963) – One of Delaware’s oldest businesses will close this week after more than a century of service.

The operation of the Laurel Flour and Feed Mill, owned by Rep. Harrison W. Phillips, D-Laurel, will cease at the close of the work week, although the farm equipment and tire portion of the business will continue.

Phillips said increasing overhead and dwindling demand resulted in his decision to shut down the mill, a local landmark.

The mill is the second Laurel business to lock its doors in recent months. The Matthews Poultry Processing Co. halted operations earlier this summer, putting dozens of workers out of work.

Phillips said the mill staff of three or four persons have been or will be relocated to other jobs.

The delivery of flour orders on hand will continue next week, he said.

The mill, at one time owned by Col. Victor Records, lent the owner's name to large Records Pond at which it is located and from which it drew its power.

Production of the firm was rated at about 60 or 70 barrels a day, Phillips said.

Source: The News Journal, Wilmington, Del. 28 Aug. 1963


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In Laurel, arson has been blamed for fire at the old flour mill.

Prior to the house-fire call Monday night, Laurel firemen responded to an alarm at the Laurel Flour Mill near Records Pond. Assistant Chief Edward Calloway said the fire caused minor damage to the floor of the abandoned mill and was set. The fire marshal’s office has been called to investigate, Calloway said.

Source: The Morning News, Wilmington, Del. 5 May 1971


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Fire Ravages Century Old Flour Mill


LAUREL – The century old Laurel Flour and Feed Mills building at Records Pond was ravaged by fire last night. Town residences lined the streets to witness the spectacular blaze.

The four-story frame building, estimated to be about 100 years old by its owner, former State Rep. W. Harrison Phillips, was fully engulfed in flame when units of the Laurel Fire company arrived about 5:50 P.M., according to a fire company spokesman.

Under control by about 8:30, the rubble flared up again shortly after firemen left the scene and had to be wetted down.

Phillips, who said the flour mill ceased operation about 5 years ago, said he would get together with Deputy State Fire Marshall G. Edward Wyatt today to try to determine the loss. Phillips added that the building was in the process of being torn down.

Wyatt said today that the fire was of suspicious origin and it is under investigation. The fire official said no loss estimate is available.

Wyatt said the fire is the fourth to hit the mill in the past year and the second in a period of two months.

FIREMEN said a neighbor discovered the fire and turned in the alarm. They said smoke from the burning bill blackened several nearby homes, but the flames were confined to the Phillips structure.

“We had a nice audience,” one firemen said, noting that spectators watched the flames in a light rain.

No injuries were reported.

Source: The News Journal, Wilmington, Del. 15 June 1971


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Back in the day, most water-powered mills used a wooden waterwheel of one kind or another. The four most common types were: 1. A Pitch Back Wheel, 2. An Overshot Wheel, 3. A Breastshot Wheel. 4. An Undershot Wheel.

However, wooden water wheels have to be replaced occasionally, usually after about 20 years, depending on how well they were built and what kind of wood they were made from. Eventually metal wheels became available and in the late 1800s cast iron turbines entered the milling scene.

Apparently there was some doubt that turbines would work as well as they were advertised. I came across this little blurb from the Daily Republican in Wilmington, dated 13 July 1880:

Why is the running of the new turbine water wheel like the Democrats in Wilmington? Because it is full of promises...

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