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Killen's Pond and Burnite's Mill

Killen’s Pond

Killen's Pond, from near the boat ramp.

John Craig, a Maryland farmer, may have been among the earliest European settlers in the Killens Pond area. It is not certain when Craig acquired land along the upper Murderkill River, but John and Moses Craig purchased land in Kent County as early as 1727. At some point, however, he acquired 150 acres at the eastern end of the Fromelseworth tract, in what is now Killens Pond State Park. When he died, a dam had been built and a mill established, but it is not clear whether Craig himself was responsible.

On the eve of the Revolution, farms and mills were scattered across the landscape of Kent County. Although the people of the county were by no means united in supporting independence, one of their leaders was later to declare: . . .on this occasion there was none of them that adopted this measure [arming] with more alacrity, spirit and decision than the people of Kent on Delaware (quoted in Hancock 1976:13). Supporters of independence were sometimes violent in their opposition to those who were loyal to England. Both troops and grain were contributed to the Continental Army. For the most part, however, people living in the county were not directly affected by military action.


In the area around Killens Pond, this period marks an intensification of settlement and industrial development. Following John Craig's death, his mill and land were sold at a sheriff's sale in 1776 to satisfy his debts. The purchasers were prominent residents of Kent County, who probably considered the property an investment. In 1785, Jacob Broom, a prominent Brandywine Village miller and merchant, purchased the mill site and the associated 150 acres of land. Eight years later, in 1793, Broom petitioned the General Assembly to condemn two acres of land on the south side of the Murderkill River so that he could raise the dam and rebuild the mill. In 1801, Broom sold the mill and other land to Joshua and Samuel Stroud. Joshua Stroud is described as a merchant of Philadelphia in a later deed, but Samuel Stroud was living on the property in 1805, when he purchased three acres of meadow from neighboring landowners Edward and Margaret Polk. In the same year, the Strouds sold the mill and more than 44 acres of land to John Jordan. Jordan held the mill property until 1810, when he sold it to Levi Jester. Jester is described in this deed as a miller, and he may already have been operating the mill for Jordon, who is described as a gentleman from New Castle County. Very little is known about other residents of the area during this period.


In the deed from Joshua and Samuel Stroud to John Jordan, there is reference to a previous sale of more than 100 acres of land to Charles Tilton, identified as "Negro". Tilton is listed in the 1800 census, with nine free persons in his household. Unfortunately, the census of this period does not give the sex and ages of the people in African American households. Tilton was not found in the 1810 census, and no reference for a sale of this property has been found. To a large degree, the area around Killens Pond remained agricultural in character, with mixed grains and livestock predominating. As in much of the rest of the state, agricultural productivity declined as poor agricultural practices depleted soils and promoted erosion. At least three residences appear to have been established by the end of this time period, one on the north side of the Murderkill associated with the mill and occupied by Samuel Stroud in 1805, one occupied by Charles Tilton and his household, and a third on the south side of the Murderkill on the two-acre tract acquired by Jacob Broom under the 1793 condemnation order. These dwellings, like most of those elsewhere in Kent County, were probably frame constructed and had little potential to survive.


Industrialization and Early Urbanization (1830-1880):


Kent County remained largely agricultural through the end of the 19th century, with cattle and grain crops predominating, although peaches and other market crops were grown in increasing quantities as transportation to markets improved toward the end of the period. Canneries and packing plants were established to process these crops. Railroad towns such as Felton and Harrington, to the west of Killens Pond, became the centers of new development. Self-sufficient family farms and family-managed water-powered mills remained the primary occupations in the central farm region of the county. Brick houses were rare, especially in rural areas, but a few of the frame houses from this period survive. Prior to the Civil War, marked stratification of wealth and property occurred as tenant farms increased to half the total number of farms in the Upper Peninsula. Tenancy was a means to form capital on large, more productive landholdings which had access to farm equipment. Agricultural tenancy rates for African-Americans, however, declined during this period from 21% in 1822 to 8% in 1860, Although land- holdings in some parts of Delaware saw significant decreases in size during this time period as a result of repeated division among heirs, most landholdings within the present boundaries of Killens Pond State Park remained comparatively large. All of the land on the south side of Killens Pond was part of one or two large landholdings, and there is no evidence of any residences from this time period in this part of the park. The 1868 Beers Atlas map of South Murderkill Hundred does not show the house site. The artifacts recovered from these sites indicate that they may have been abandoned before the end of this period. On the north side of the pond, the Beers Atlas map of South Murderkill Hundred shows a mill complex (then owned by J. H. Boon) and three residences.


Killen's and Coursey's Ponds are along the bottom edge of this map:

1868 Beer's Atlas Map of North and South Murderkill Hundreds.

For a much clearer view of Delaware's Hundreds, visit the source:

https://www.dgs.udel.edu/delaware-1868-hundreds-maps


Two of these residences, owned by William Case and George W. Killen, were built on a tract of land purchased by Case from William T. Roe in 1838. Neither of these farmstead sites have been identified. The western boundary of this 297 acre tract corresponds to the western boundary of Killens Pond State Park as it existed in 1983. By the end of this period, Killen had acquired (through purchase and inheritance) the Case tract. William Creadick owned the land west of the Case farm, but no residences are shown on the [1868] Beer's Atlas map of South Murderkill Hundred on the parts of the Creadick farm which later became part of the park.


Around Killens Pond, large, family-owned farms remained the rule. The Killen family acquired the mill, as well as land on both sides of the pond east of a now abandoned county road that crossed the [west] end of the pond. The Creadick family continued to farm the land on the north side of the Murderkill River and west of this road. Additional residences were built, both for family members and for tenants. Few are still standing. One of these, on the Killen farm, burned about the time the property was acquired by the State Parks Commission, and was rebuilt as the park manager's residence. This house site was identified as the Case residence in a 1980 CRS survey form. It is now clear, however, that the Case site was located near the western boundary of the property. The location of a residence on the south side of the pond near the campground entrance can still be identified by the trees. A frame, "four-square" style house on the Creadick farm, acquired in 1990, is used to house the assistant manager.


Source: An Updated Cultural Resources Management Plan for Killens Pond State Park

By Cara Lee Blume, Cherie A. Clark, and Michael D. Scholl

Cultural and Recreational Services Section, Division of Parks and Recreation

Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control

89 Kings Highway, Dover, Delaware 19903

Submitted To:

Delaware State Historic Preservation Office, Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs

1993

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1914 disagreement

The Evening Journal - 7 Sept. 1914

The Morning News - November 15, 1915

COURSEY AND KILLENS DAMS WASH OUT

The Evening Journal - 3 March 1920
The Morning News - 8 July 1920
The Evening Journal - 8 Sept. 1920

Kent county's first State Park

The News Journal - 6 January 1936


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The Killen's Pond State Park was opened in 1965. Named for its centerpiece, the 66-acre Killens Pond, this state park features a waterpark, various watercraft rentals and the popular 2.6-mile Pondside Loop Trail. The Lenape people once lived here, and the pond was created when the Murderkill River was dammed to power grist and sawmills. It is now home to a variety of fish, including bass, crappie and sunfish. The new state-of-the art elevated boardwalk allows pedestrians and bikers a safe passage along Killens Pond Road while benches and bump outs allow for wildlife watching and fishing. Kayakers and boaters can launch from the boat launch at the far end of the walkway. The waterpark features four tall slides, a main pool and baby pool, and a tot lot. The campground provides a reprieve in the woods and Delaware’s State tree, the American Holly, is plentiful. Visitors to the park’s nature center can see live animal exhibits that feature native reptiles and amphibians. The Pileated Woodpecker, Prothonotary Warbler and Barred Owl can often be heard in the woods at the park.

Source: https://destateparks.com/PondsRivers/KillensPond


KENT COUNTY'S FIRST STATE PARK

The News Journal - July 15, 1965

Killen's Pond State Park from the air.

The straight trail on the left indicates where the abandoned county road once was.
The building symbol on the right indicates about where the mill once was. The straight trail on the left is on an abandoned county road.

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Burnite Mill, Felton


The following paragraph is from Thomas Scharf’s 1888 “History of Delaware.”

Felton

About two miles west-southwest [of Felton], on the road to Whiteleysburg, is a small hamlet consisting of six dwelling, a steam saw-mill and a population of about thirty inhabitants, called "Burnite's Mill" formerly "Reynolds Corners" The people are chiefly engaged in the employ of Wilbur H. Burnite, who runs a steam saw-mill in the manufacture of ship timber, etc.

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James K. Burnite entered the lumber business about 1850 at Potters Landing, on the Choptank River near Denton, Md. He then moved to the Felton area where he built a steam powered sawmill west of town, where Hopkin's Cemetery Road now crosses Rt-12. The mill property was on the north-west corner of the intersection and Mr. Burnite's house was where Hopkin's Cemetery is now. J. K. Burnite ran the mill in partnership with his son, Wilbur H. Burnite, primarily producing white oak ship's timbers, which were shipped by rail to Wilmington and Philadelphia. When his father died in 1880, Wilbur continued the business and also ran the farm and the fruit orchard. In 1891 "Colonel" W. H. Burnite was elected Delaware State treasurer, a post that he served until 1895. W. H. Burnite died in 1918.


The Delaware Gazette - 31 March 1880

Wilbur F. Burnite - photo taken while he was a student at Dickinson College

Wilbur Burnite elected as the Delaware State treasurer in 1891:

Delaware Gazette - 22 January 1891

The Evening Journal - Oct. 21, 1893

Ed. note: I assume that Wilbur Burnite rebuilt his large sawmill, but I could find no record of it. If anyone can add to the Burnite Mill history, please let me know. snchilders3@gmail.com

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George Woldman had a large Saw Mill & Basket Mill in the Felton area, but it burned to the ground on the afternoon of March 5th, 1901. The fire was reportedly started by sparks from the steam engine that powered the mill.

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It's a real shame that no public pictures exist of the mill that was once at Killen's Pond, or for that matter many other mills, such as Thomas Coursey's mill and the mill that was once below McColley's Pond. If anyone reading this has additional information or pictures, I would be happy to share them.


In my next post, in two weeks, we will explore the mills that were once on Andrew's Lake and McGinnis Pond. We'll also see what we can find out about a nearby water-powered sawmill.

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