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Pencader Hundred I - Cooch-Dayett Mills

Updated: Aug 21, 2022

Beers Atlas of Pencader Hundred - 1868

What we now refer to as Cooch-Dayett Mills, is located in the SW corner of the intersection of Rt. 72 and Old Baltimore Pike, next to the 1777 Cooch’s Bridge Battlefield.

In 1722, former Governor of Delaware Sir William Keith purchased 666 acres of land located south and east of Iron Hill. He operated an iron works for a short time, but it failed and in 1726 he sold the property to John England. (More on John England in a few weeks.) John England had been an iron forge manager in Staffordshire, England, and he owned property in Christiana and Mill Creek Hundreds, as well as Pencader Hundred. Another Englishman, a miller named William Cooch, purchased John England’s Pencader land in 1746.

A number of mills were built in the general area where the Cooch-Dayett Mill is now located. Just a mile south of the present mill, on Muddy Run, was the Valley Mill, operated for 35 years by Adam Dayett. The mill pond is now called Sunset Lake.

East of Sunset Lake was Batten's Mill, on Belltown Run, previously known as Sample Run. That mill pond is now a popular New Castle County fishing spot called Beck's Pond. More about Valley Mill and Batten's Mill in my next post.

Another mill, in front of the Cooch House, was burned by the British in September of 1777, and was never rebuilt.

Eventually, the present "Cooch-Dayett Mill" was built by William Cooch, Jr. in 1838. In the late 1880s a steam engine was added in the mill to supply power when the water flow in the Christina River ran too low to power the turbine. The mill remained in the Cooch family for 55 years, until being sold to in 1893 to John W. Dayett, the son of Adam Dayett.

6 October 1893 - The News Journal
"J. W. DAYETT, FANCY FLOUR" - ca. 1910
The back side of Dayett Mills - ca. 1910

John W. Dayett had learned the milling trade while working for his father at the nearby Valley Mill. After his retirement his son J. (Jonathan) Irwin Dayett took control of the mill and when J. W. Dayett died on May 4th, 1916, his wife sold the mill to their son.

A devastating fire gutted the building in the early morning of October 6th, 1916, also destroying 13,000 bushels of wheat, alone worth about $20,000 (That would be over half a million dollars in today's money).

6 October 1916 - The Evening Journal

The mill was quickly rebuilt and was back in full operation in less than a year with a daily capacity of 100 barrels of flour. The mill even had it’s own railroad siding to better facilitate the shipping of it's products.

26 October 1917 - The Evening Journal

On the evening of June 12th, 1933, lightening started another fire that once again gutted the mill, with losses estimated by Mr. Dayett at the time of $25,000. This time the mill was fully insured and was quickly rebuilt and in full operation only 5 months later. Amazing!

13 June 1933 - The Morning News
13 June 1933 - The Morning News
5 August 1933 - The Morning News
20 November 1933 - The Morning News

J. Irwin Dayett continued to operate the mill until he retired in 1945. When he died at in 1955 he had also been a director of the Newark Trust Company since 1916 and had been it’s president for the past 10 years. The mill was purchased by William Johnson and Charles H. Golt in 1948.

Pencader Heritage Museum - ca. 2000 - Notice the different roof line after the 1933 re-build.

Cooch-Dayett Mills had been a commercial mill, at least during the period that the Dayett's owned it. It operated into the 1980s and was then sold to the State of Delaware. The square, three and a half story brick building measures fifty feet on each side and was was powered by a water turbine, supplied by a head-race that is about ¾ of a mile long. The small dam on the Christina River is located next to the SE corner of the I-95/Rt. 896 interchange.

ca. 1970s or 80s - Notice the boxcar being loaded and also the mills head-race full of water (on the left)
Cooch-Dayett Mill indicated by arrow - Blue line shows approximate route of the 3/4 mile long head-race.


Next time we'll explore the four other mills that I've found in Pencader Hundred, the McCanaughey Mill, the Woodward Mills, the Valley Mill and Batten's Mill.

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