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Mills in Broad Creek and Nanticoke Hundreds

Updated: Nov 16

Broad Creek Hundred Mills

Ed. note: Today I was given copies of three pictures of Walter Hearn's Concord Grist Mill. I have no idea when the pictures were taken, but I think a good guess would be sometime in the '20s or '30s. The mill was located in downtown Concord at the east end of Water Street. Pictures are just below map - courtesy of Mr. Russ Little

To see a clearer image of any of the 35 Delaware Hundreds maps, just search for "Delaware 1868 Hundreds Maps" or go to https://www.dgs.udel.edu/delaware-1868-hundreds-maps.


Concord is East of Seaford/Blades and less than two miles east of Rt. 13 on Rt. 20.

As I describe where to look for mills, if you would like to follow along with me on Google Earth, just search for “Concord, Sussex, Delaware.” and we'll start there.


Concord Grist Mill - young Ned Hearn in doorway

Concord Grist mill and Walter M Hearn, miller

Hearn family children, Grist Mill center back, Concord Pond back ground right

There was a Saw Mill just south of Concord where the Bethel-Concord Road crosses Cool Branch. There was another Saw Mill about where Rt. 487 crosses Gum Branch.

A third Saw Mill was on Elliott Branch about where Rt. 466 crosses and there was yet another Saw Mill on Chipman Pond near where the Christ Evangelical Church is now.

A Saw Mill and a Grist Mill were on James Branch just south of Rt. 24 near where the Laurel American Legion Hall is now. Another Saw and Grist Mill were about where Rt. 24 crosses Pepper Branch, east of Jestice Farm Road.

There was a Saw Mill on what is now Trussum Pond and and another on Trap Pond and another up-stream on Raccoon Pond.


Nanticoke Hundred Mills


In Nanticoke Hundred, just north of Broad Creek Hundred, if we follow up Deep Creek we find a Saw Mill and a Grist Mill in downtown Concord. Up-stream about a mile and a half was another Saw Mill and Grist mill and farther upstream on Tyndall Branch were two more Saw Mills roughly a mile apart.

Deep Creek heads north from Tyndall Branch, and up-stream, where Old Furnace Road Crosses, there was a Grist Mill, a Saw Mill and a Store in the small community of “Old Furnace”. Farther upstream there was a Saw Mill above where Rt. 404 crosses.


If we follow up the Nanticoke River from the southwest corner of Nanticoke Hundred we quickly come to Middleford where, over the years, there were a number of mills, which are detailed below*. Above Middleford, Gravely Branch heads Northeast and there was a Grist Mill and a Saw Mill where Collins Pond is now, where Rt. 404 crosses.

Collins Pond from the Rt 404 bridge

Several miles up-stream was another Grist Mill and Saw Mill just above Redden Road.


Back on the Nanticoke River, the head waters of which are actually a bit north of Staytonville, there was a Saw Mill and a Grist Mill where Greens Pond is, on the north side of Rt. 404, just east of Cannon Road (Rt. 18).

Green's Pond from the Rt 404 bridge

A bit upstream the branch forks, with Gum Branch on the right. Almost two miles up Gum Branch was a Saw Mill where Sharps Pond is, just above Sunnyside Road. The Nanticoke river and Gum Branch have both been straighten and cleared from just below Sunnyside Road, all the way up to their headwaters.

The Nanticoke branches off to the left, and there was another Grist Mill about where Fawn Road crosses, near where AMH Bulk Transport is now.


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The following three paragraphs are from Thomas Scharf's 1888"History of Delaware"


Middleford

The lands in this vicinity were taken up on a warrant in 1764, as "Brothers' Agreement," "Venture" and "Company's Lot," by Jonathan Vaughan and Co., who built the "Nanticoke Forge," on the west side of Northwest Fork of the Nanticoke, at the head of tide water. A store, grist and saw-mills were also built at this place and were in active operation before 1770. The forge was abandoned early in the Revolutionary War, and, being a part of the Nanticoke Furnace property, the lands were divided by act of the Assembly, passed in 1802 and sold in 1805 to William Huffington, Thomas Townsend and James Huffington. The place was at that time already known as Middleford, the mills, store and other interests having been carried on after the first forge had been abandoned. A new dam was built three hundred yards below the old one, by the above firm, and a forge for making blooms was again placed in operation and worked on until 1825. Be-fore this time the property had passed to Thomas Townsend, and in 1825 he rebuilt the mills so that they could be operated on a very extensive scale. From him these improvements passed to his son, Barclay, and were next owned by Robert Houston, William and Michael Stewart. Soon after Townsend built the new mill at Middleford, in 1825, he invented a process of kiln-drying corn meal so that it could be sent abroad, and ground and dried large quantities. He shipped it to the West Indies from the mill, and had a very large trade. Eight coopers were employed making puncheons and barrels. A distillery was also at this place before 1825, but it was abandoned after the extensive milling business was established.


About 1840 the property came into possession of Lott Rawlins, and the mill was destroyed by fire in 1846. It was not rebuilt by him, but the property passed to his sons, John M. and James Rawlins, who, in 1857, built the present grist and saw-mill. In 1859 a carding-mill was built, and since 1864 a small planing mill has been operated, these interests remaining the property of the Rawlins Bros.

Stores have been carried on at Middleford since the place was opened for settlement, usually by the mill owners. But after 1830 this was one of the most active trading places in the county. At one time there were stores kept by William and Michael Stewart, Lott Rawlins, William Twiford, George Hall, John Windsor and James and Joseph Copes. All did a good business. After the large mill was burned down the place began to decline, but William and John M. Rawlins and the Stewarts remained in trade a few years longer. In 1887 there was but one small store, which was kept by Edward Owens, the post-master.


The village being off from the main lines of travel has steadily dwindled since the building of the railroad, and the dozen or more buildings remaining show signs of decay, a number being unoccupied. At this place were located as physicians. Dr. Edward Huffington and Dr. Joseph Copes, in 1882, and a few years later, Dr. William Stewart was located a short time after 1840, and was the last practitioner residing at Middleford.

J. Thomas Scharf, Philadelphia, 1888.



Sometime shortly before 2001 DelDOT needed to replace Bridge 238 on Old Furnace Road over the Gravely Branch of the Nanticoke River in Middleford. In preparation for the work, Parsons Engineering Science was hired to do a field survey and historical research.


View looking North - Google Earth

View looking South - Google Earth

The following is a very interesting review of their findings and includes details about the makeup of the mills:


*The Archaeology of Waterpower:

Reconstructing the Historical Landscape of Milling at Middleford Mills,

Sussex County Delaware


The Middleford Mills, in operation from ca. 1764 to 1900, at various times included a forge, sawmill, planing mill, gristmill, and carding mill. Historical research and field survey conducted by Parsons Engineering Science for the Delaware Department of Transportation mapped the various elements of the complex. Data recovery excavations associated with a bridge replacement project exposed timber foundations of waste gates used to control water levels in the millpond. Historical, archaeological, stream flow, and other geographical data were then combined using GIS analysis to reconstruct the hydrology and operating parameters of the mill complex. The paper explores how results show the complex was rebuilt and reconfigured several times over the course of its more than 100-year existence in response to periodic disasters, changes in the market, and changes in the technology of mills and hydrological science.


HISTORY OF MIDDLEFORD MILLS

Archival research concentrating on Sussex County deeds, warrants and surveys,

and court records (available at the Delaware State Archives in Dover) produced a series

of maps and documents illustrating development of the Middleford Mills area and the

Bridge 238 location.



View of Gravely Branch looking downstream from Bridge 238

The first documented development to the area occurred in the 1760s, when Joseph Vaughan and Company constructed the “Nanticoke Forge” “on the west side of Northwest Fork of the Nanticoke, at the head of the tide water.” The same company owned the “Deep Creek Furnace,” approximately four miles to the east on Deep Creek. Although the precise location of the original “Nanticoke Forge” is not known, it likely was situated on or near an 18th-century dam constructed across the Nanticoke River, upstream from Bridge 238. An 1807 survey map shows the location of the old dam (Kent County Warrants and Surveys B9#177).


Historical research and field survey conducted by Parsons Engineering Science for the Delaware Department of Transportation mapped the various elements of the complex. Data recovery excavations associated with a bridge replacement project exposed timber foundations of waste gates used to control water levels in the millpond. Historical, archaeological, stream flow, and other geographical data were then combined using GIS analysis to reconstruct the hydrology and operating parameters of the mill complex. The paper explores how results show the complex was rebuilt and reconfigured several times over the course of its more than 100-year existence in response to periodic disasters, changes in the market, and changes in the technology of mills and hydrological science.

The first documented development to the area occurred in the 1760s, when Joseph Vaughan and Company constructed the “Nanticoke Forge” “on the west side of Northwest Fork of the Nanticoke, at the head of the tide water.” The same company owned the “Deep Creek Furnace,” approximately four miles to the east on Deep Creek. Although the precise location of the original “Nanticoke Forge” is not known, it likely was situated on or near an 18th-century dam constructed across the Nanticoke River, upstream from Bridge 238 (Old Furnace Road.)


The forge operated at least until the Revolutionary War, and possibly as late as the 1790s. The Vaughn Company land was partitioned in 1802, and the tract of land including the Bridge 238 property was sold to William Huffington, Jr. and Thomas Townsend in 1805. Huffington constructed a new dam approximately 300 yards below the first dam (Scharf 1888). This dam, which is also shown on the 1807 map, now carries Bridge 238. William Huffington and his brother James constructed a new forge after 1805, as well as “2 sets of waste gates,” a sawmill and a grist mill. The 1807 map shows the location of the saw mill and the grist mill on the west side of the dam, and a waste gate or mill race on the east side of the dam, where Bridge 238 now stands. The location of the forge is not shown. It is unclear whether the actual race was reused from the original 18th-century dam, or was constructed in 1805 as part of the new dam.


By at least 1826, Huffington’s ca. 1805 forge was no longer standing. The “Nanticoke Forge” had been torn down some time previously, and in a court case from that year none of the people who testified could remember where the old forge was located, although all agreed the ruins were still visible (Sussex County Chancery Court Case Files H81). In 1825, the Middleford Mills complex was rebuilt, but a fire in 1846 caused extensive damage. In 1857, a new grist mill and saw mill were built on the east side of the dam. A survey made in 1860 illustrates the two mills, the town of Middleford, the mill pond, and the waste gates for the pond (Sussex County Orphans Court Vol. AA-28). By this time, four millraces were operating. The Bridge 238 location is over a race with a feature labeled as “waste gates”. Another map of the Middleford Mills area was made in 1900, when William W. Rawlins sold the property to Robert C. Purvis (Sussex County Deeds 135:85). On this plot, the Bridge 238 location is shown over a race called “Forge Run” and “Forge Race.” This suggests the possibility that the post 1805 forge may have been located in the vicinity of Bridge 238. The current USGS map shows that the mill pond is now completely gone, and evidence for the races exist as parallel channels of the Nanticoke River.

View of the Gravely Branch of the Nanticoke River, looking downstream from Bridge 238

EXCAVATION OF THE MIDDLEFORD MILLS


Historical research and field survey conducted by Parsons Engineering Science for the Delaware Department of Transportation mapped the various elements of the complex. Data recovery excavations associated with a bridge replacement project exposed timber foundations of waste gates used to control water levels in the millpond. Historical, archaeological, stream flow, and other geographical data were then combined using GIS analysis to reconstruct the hydrology and operating parameters of the mill complex. The paper explores how results show the complex was rebuilt and reconfigured several times over the course of its more than 100-year existence in response to periodic disasters, changes in the market, and changes in the technology of mills and hydrological science.


Based on historical documents and the USGS 7.5 minute topographic map, the height of the 19th-century mill dam appears to have been more than 10 feet amsl [above mean sea level]. This dam was approximately 1,200 feet long. The industrial census for 1880 describes the fall in feet for the Grist and Carding mills as 6 feet, and 7 feet for the Saw and Planing mills. The water below the dam would have ranged in elevation from 2.52 feet amsl at high tide, to -0.48 feet amsl at low tide, with the normal water level being 1.02 ft amsl (DelDot 1998). Since the average elevation of the stream below the mills is approximately 1 foot, this means the top of the pond was 7 to 8 feet above sea level.


Using ArcView GIS software, a mill pond was reconstructed following an 8 foot contour line upstream from the dam. The shape of a pond at 8 to 10 feet amsl agrees well with 19th-century maps depicting the pond. This millpond covered approximately 215 acres, and would have held approximately 388 million gallons of water. Thus, [Huffington] moving the dam downstream [ca-1805-1807], lengthening it, and raising it by 5 to 6 feet produced a pond with nearly 6 times as much water as the earlier pond. Although the 1807 dam would have been more expensive to build and maintain, the higher dam would have allowed a higher head, and thus more power for the wheels. The larger pond would have allowed the mills the run longer during dry months.


Conclusions


The data suggest several reasons why the early dam was relocated after 1805. Moving the dam downstream, and making the dam higher created a pond with a higher head loss, greater capacity, and a longer dam that may have had a higher discharge capacity. The Middleford Mills were rebuilt at a time when mill engineers were gaining an improved understanding of mill hydraulics. The greater power potential of a higher dam may have been made attractive by the innovations developed by Oliver Evans. Evans’ design placed milling operations on multiple floors and was more efficient than previous designs, but required more power.


[Ed. note: To learn more about Delaware's Oliver Evans scroll down to my post from Jan. 17th; "Who was Oliver Evans?"]


Sources:

The Archaeology of Waterpower: Reconstructing the Historical Landscape of Milling at Middleford Mills, Sussex County Delaware.

By Brian Crane, Ph.D. - Cultural Resources Department, Parsons Engineering

Science, 10521 Rosehaven Street Fairfax, Virginia, 22030

Pomeroy and Beers Atlas of 1868, maps of Delaware's Hundreds

Google Earth

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


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