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Mills in the Lewes - Rehoboth area

This old photo of the Goslee Mill is courtesy of Hazel Brittingham and colored by Deny Howeth.

by Harrison_Howeth April 9, 2019

HISTORY OF CAPE HENLOPEN AND BEYOND "GOSLEE MILL POND" Scharf's History of Delaware gives the first history of Goslee Mill Pond. On page 1218 he writes “On the 4th of March, 1695, the court at Lewes was petitioned by Jonathan Bailey to grant him part of the branch formerly called Bundick's on which to build a water mill. The court granted the request, on condition that he would ‘build the mill within fifteen months, and to attend and mind the same and grind the grain well and in due course as it is brought thither without respect of persons, at the eight-part toll for wheat and sixth part toll for Indian corn.” The only mill successfully operated in the hundred in 1887, was the small grist mill of Benjamin Burton at the head of Love Creek, where a mill had been maintained for more than a century and a half.”

It is recorded in the Hall of Records in Dover that Benjamin Burton owned two mills, known as the upper mill and the lower mill, the lower mill probably being the one in Angola. For several years the upper mill, (our mill) was operated for Mr. Burton by a man named Goslee, and so, it gradually became known as Goslee's Mill, probably to differentiate between the two mills. Sometimes it has been called Gosling's Mill. This mill was purchased from the Burton heirs by my father, James H. Hurley, of Georgetown m Delaware, who operated the business from 1904 until around 1920 when it became unprofitable. In 1905 he had married Maude Coverdale, who was born and raised on a nearby farm (now the Mahlon Graves Farm). I can remember that she learned to operate the mill when it was necessary. The building was demolished in 1934 because it was run down, falling apart and unsightly.

After father discontinued operation of the mill he started a small grocery store near the mill site. After his death in 1929, mother operated the store until 1968 when she was 88 years old. She had remarried in 1932 to Stephen H. Warrington of Georgetown, Delaware and continued with the store even after his death in 1950. Mother passed away on February 8, 1978, at 9 years of age.

The mill site and pond area continue to be a peaceful and unspoiled spot. It is, I think unpolluted, and I would like to see it preserved in its natural state as a wildlife refuge for future generations to observe. Clarence Wall, born and raised on the farm next to the mill can remember how the mill operated and is working on plans for a replica.

The location site is on the old Lewes to Millsboro Road known as Robinsonville Road which crosses the head of love Creek, the steam that separates Lewes-Rehoboth Hundred and Indian River Hundred. Where the Bundick and Love Creek branches merged, a dirt dam about 300 feet in length was constructed. The labor was furnished by men using oxen and carts to haul dirt from a site nearby, spoken of in my deed as the 'dirt hole'. This excavation can still be seen. The dam is still intact although the spillway has broken out and there is no way to keep the water level high.

In the early 1900s, Gypsies came during the fall to camp at the 'dirt hole' for about a month or three weeks and so the area became known as “Gypsies Landing”. There they had fresh water from the pond, protection from the winds in the lee of the day hour and shelter with the trees. They came by horse and wagon, perhaps a dozen or more, with extra horses. A jolly and happy band of people, they dressed in right colorful clothing, sang and danced at night by firelight. They made a living by telling fortunes and trading, even horses. The Gypsies made their annual visits in the area until probably around 1915. Parallel with the bridge was an auxiliary crossing through the water which was used to water horse teams and to swell the wooden wagon wheels to make them fit more securely to their iron rims.

The general area is now beginning to be known as Rabbits Ferry, that name being traced back to the two schoolhouses known by that name , one building serving as the white children's school and another for the colored children The white childcare’s school, was a one room building, #89, built one mile southwest of Bundicks Branch, head water to Goslee Pond on a road now known as Beaver Dam Road, at an intersection with Kendele Road. The school was painted red and called Rabbits Ferry Little Red School.

Many people have asked about the origin of the name Rabbits Ferry and this is the story I was told; “The school being built by community residents, volunteering their time and skill, as the building was going up, wives came to bring dinner, they would spread a cloth on the ground, and while they were eating, a rabbit ran out of the wood nearby, straight across their picnic meal. Causing much confusion and laughter, they yelled out, 'a rabbit has ferried across our dinner'! Hence the name Rabbits Ferry School.

The Rabbit's Ferry white school was bought by Lacey Johnson, who was born and raised in the area, moved and renovated into his present home. The colored school building was bought by George and Rosie Johnson, also natives of the area moved and renovated into their home.

Source: The previous story came from the late Harrison Howeth's excellent blog called:

In his words; "I’m Harrison and this is a blog about ‘local’ history. I research topics through many means but mostly I find local newspaper articles from Sometimes they are relative to something that is happening now. Sometimes it is just interesting and worth sharing."

Beers History of Delaware 1868
Benjamin Burton's Mill (labeled Goslee Mill Pond here)


Wilmington News Journal, Friday September 25, 1931



The interior equipment, a grain grinding apparatus at least 130 years old, of a grist mill of Burton's Pond near Angola and Love Creek, has been purchased by an agent of Henry Ford and is being shipped to Detroit to be erected at a Dearborn museum of the auto manufacturer. The mill known as Burton's Mill had been in operation continuously for more than 130 years until three years ago. While there is no name given as to the buyer it is reported that the mill equipment has been purchased “for a prominent resident of Detroit who intends to set it up in a Dearborn Museum “. The agent bought it as is, with no practical value and it's useful only as an interesting museum piece.

As of this date, Friday, September 25, 1931, the mill has been dismantled and is being cased and shipped by railroad from Sussex county to Detroit. Some state residents are said to be highly indignant at the removal of the historical article, however, there is no museum in Delaware of adequate size to accommodate it.

Persons who have examined the equipment, told it was water driven and never modernized, there are two separate grinders, one for coarse grinding and one for fine grinding. They say the equipment was constructed between 1790 and 1800 and has at last three buildings, the first of which was all log built. Today the road to it had grown over and only a small foot path led to it.


EVERY EVENING, Wilmington, Delaware Saturday, October 3, 1931


The announcement that Henry ford has purchased the machinery and flour making

contrivances of an old mill in lower Sussex county, and will place them on exhibition in his Dearborn, Mich., museum assures our state of permanent representation in that wonderful collection of antiques. Burton’s Mill dates back to the early years of the last century and ground the grists of farmers in the Rehoboth section almost 130 years but stopped short in 1928 of 1929. Evidently it was not like the “One Hoss Shay” which ran good and strong, and so thorough in all its joints and parts, that it all gave out simultaneously and the vehicle crashed into wreckage in an instant.

American writer Oliver Wendell Holmes memorialized the shay in his satirical poem "The Deacon's Masterpiece or The Wonderful One-Hoss Shay". In the poem, a fictional deacon crafts the titular wonderful one-hoss shay in such a logical way that it could not break down. The shay is constructed from the very best of materials so that each part is as strong as every other part. In Holmes' humorous, yet "logical", twist, the shay endures for a hundred years (amazingly to the precise moment of the 100th anniversary of the Lisbon earthquake shock) then it "went to pieces all at once, and nothing first, — just as bubbles do when they burst". It was built in such a "logical way" that it ran for exactly one hundred years to the day. [From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia]

The modern methods of transforming wheat into flour and corn into meal have halted the water wheels that used to motivate grist mills of the earlier days, until at the moment both have become museum curiosities. Cumbrous was the ancient machinery with revolving burrs such as were employed to crush the grain in the old Brandywine milling plants, one of which, exhibited at Naamans, is regarded with much curious interest. There were bolting cloths and screens and a variety of equipment that have given way to speedier devices for making flour.

There are perhaps less than a score of mills our little state still carrying on, and their operations have declined until we suspect the continuance of some of them may be based on sentiment, or other similar impulse.

Perhaps the Burton mill was the oldest in continuous operation in this state, though, of course, it is conjecture, but we may conclude that some of its equipment, bought by Mr. Ford, had served throughout the life of the plant. It demonstrates how well and strongly the mechanics of a century and a quarter ago built whatever they turned their hand to, and perhaps it might further illustrate that the early principals of milling were adapted to the production of the best wheat or buck wheat flour and meal, for epicures are coming to demand such commodities as were ground on the old time burrs driven by water wheels.

Editor's note: The old time burrs referred to above are the millstones. defines it thus: burrstone [buhrstone]- A tough, silicified limestone formerly used to make millstones. It is typified by the presence of multiple cavities that originally housed fossilized shells.

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