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Halloween Special - Delaware's Haunted Mills

Updated: Oct 30, 2022

Delaware's Haunted Mills and some true, but gory, stories.

The few historic mills that remain in Delaware are, for the most part, unoccupied by mortal beings. But what about specters and spirits? This writer (I know, some may have a problem with that title) belongs to SPOOM, the Society for the Preservation Of Old Mills, and neither I, nor any of the other members I've talked to, has ever mentioned the presents of ghosts in their mills. But I'm open minded and I think the possibility may exist, even if I haven't experienced it. So, here are a couple of 'tales' that others have related, plus a few true stories that you may want to skip.


“The Fence Rail Dog.”

The Bonwell House - National Register of Historic Places photo

The legend of The Fence Rail Dog is about "Old Quaker Bonwell,” who once really did live in this brick house at Andrews Lake. There were many different types of mills in Delaware, grist (flour) mills, saw mills and bark mills, to name just three. A bark mill would grind up tree bark, usually oak, into a fine powder that was then used in the hide tanning process. Many mills were combinations of different kinds of mills, such as a grist mill and a bark mill. This was the case of the mill at Andrews Lake.

It is believed that the hot-headed Quaker Bonwell once got mad at a ‘negro’ boy working in his bark mill and, in a fit of anger, beat him to death and then ground his body up in the bark mill. A bark mill would do a fine job of this.

Barkmill - Pintrest

Apparently it was no secret, but nothing was ever done about it by whatever authorities there were at the time. According to the legend, Bonwell was soooo cruel, that when he died his white neighbors refused to have anything to do with the body, they wouldn’t even lift a finger to bury the man. But the blacks in that district, in order to make doubly sure that the restless spirit of old Bonwell wouldn’t roam the countryside, gave him a Christian burial.

Even at that, the story goes, the ghost of old Bonwell still haunts the Mid-State Road area, just west of Frederica, in the form of a dog as tall and long as a fence rail, with flaming red eyes the size of dinner plates and a great bushy tail arched over his back.

Have YOU ever seen the Fence-Rail Dog?


The Ghost of Mordington Mansion

In 1785 James Douglass bought fourteen and a half acres of wet lands on Brown's Branch, a tributary of the Murderkill River. The Douglass family built mills at the location that apparently were quite prosperous. The river below the McColley Pond dam is tidal, flowing into the Delaware Bay at Bowers Beach. This means that products ground in the Douglass' mill could be easily shipped off to market in Philadelphia. By 1822 James’ son Walter had increased the families holdings there to more than five hundred acres. It is believed that Walter built the beautiful brick home that still stands today.

Mordington Mansion -

Legend has it that a slave girl that worked for the family, known as "Tom's Daughter,” refused the many advances of her owner, which cause him to lock her in the attic. While trying to escape out the three-and-a-half story window, she fell the 30 feet or so to her death, letting out a blood-curdling scream. Tom’s Daughter's spirit has been glimpsed in the mansion’s dining room, always wearing a black dress and a white bonnet and she reportedly haunts the banks of McColley's Pond, just across Canterbury Road from the mansion. Many people report that they have heard her piercing scream in the night.

McColley Pond - Google Earth


Gruesome, yet true, accidents in mills

Spoiler Alert! Newspaper accounts more than 100 years ago were often quite graphic!

The Garrison's Lake mill, just north of Dover, was bought about 1910 by Levin Casson, who was from the Dover and Camden area. Less than two years later Levin Casson’s 37-year-old wife Edith died, on October 26, 1911, leaving him with five young children to care for. Three years later, on October 8th 1914, their 13-year-old daughter Mary became entangled in the third-floor mill shaft and died instantly from her horrible injuries. Her pall-bearers were six of her young girlfriends.

Warning: Very graphic content

October 8th, 1914 - The Evening Journal
October 12th, 1914 - The Evening Journal

Accidents in mills of all kinds were not uncommon but, as you might imagine, saw mills were especially hazardous:

May 8th, 1913 - The Morning News

February 16th, 1929 - The News Journal

May 8th, 1909 - The Morning News

March 1st, 1928 - The Evening Journal, Wilmington

These were just a tame sampling of the many, many terrible mill accidents.

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Oct 28, 2022

It would be great to have the sources of the last few newspaper articles, please. Thanks! Love the ghost stories for the season.

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