top of page

Pencader Hundred II - Grist and Saw Mills

After learning about the Cooch-Dayett Mill in my last post, we're now going to the northern end of Pencader Hundred and we'll travel south as we explore the other old mills along the way.

Beers Atlas of Pancader Hundred - 1868


William McConaughey came from Chester County, Pennsylvania and purchased 400 acres of property on upper Christiana Creek, near the present-day Christina Parkway. In 1841 he built a large saw-mill on the property, but he passed away on September 24th, 1842, leaving the family deeply in debt. His wife's father, Jonathan Bee, put up the money to prevent a Sheriff's Sale and Mr. McConaughey's eldest sons, David and Jonathan, took over the business. About 1846 the brothers bought the mill and 200 acres, on the advice of their grandfather, Jonathan Bee. About 1854 they bought 400 or 500 acres of land in Sussex County and built another saw-mill that Jonathan took charge of. David remained at home and, in 1860, rented his land to his brother.

The mill was of timber-frame construction measuring 18 by 90 feet and had a capacity of 2,000 feet of lumber per day. It was a “merchant mill” that employed 8 men and shipped out large quantities of lumber for about 40 years. However, by the mid-1880s timber of size was becoming scarce in the area and the mill then began to produce only custom-sawn lumber. It was apparently owned by Wm. McConaughey, Jr. into the late 1880s.

As the following article, dated June 29th, 1875, puts into great detail, the McConaughey family had to deal with many personal problems over the years:

June 29, 1875 - Wilmington Daily Commercial



[The property was] sold by the sheriff January 4, 1768, to Andrew Fisher (Miller). The land on which the furnace was situated is now owned by William McConaughey. A part of the old wall and a heap of cinders on land now owned by Cooch Bros, marks the site of the old forge.

A short time after purchasing this property Fisher erected thereon a grist-mill and a saw-mill. This, after his death in 1804, passed into the hands of his sons, John and Samuel. The mill property and 45 acres of land was sold August 19, 1808, to Thomas Bradley, and May 23, 1810, to Alexander Forester. In both of these cases the property came back to the grantors, and in 1815 vested solely in John Fisher. On the 11th of April of the same year he conveyed this estate to Jacob Tyson. Since that period the mills have been successively owned by William Shakespeare, Azariah Smith, Thomas Bradley and Joel P. Woodward. In 1863 the overshot wheel was replaced with iron wheel 4 and the old saw-mill torn down and a department for sawing arranged in the space formerly occupied by the overshot wheel. The grist-mill was a two-and-a-half-story building, forty by sixty feet, with a capacity of twenty-five barrels per day. The capacity of the saw-mill was 200,000 feet of lumber per year. In July, 1883, the mill was burned and it has never been rebuilt.

Source: History of Delaware, 1609-1888, by J. Thomas Scharf, 1888

On January 4, 1768 a miller named Andrew Fisher bought property along the Christiana River, near where the present entrance to Rittenhouse Park is on West Chestnut Hill Road. A short time later Fisher built a grist-mill and a saw-mill. After his death in 1804, the property passed to his sons, John and Samuel. The mill and 45 acres, was sold to Thomas Bradley on August 19, 1808, and then to Alexander Forester on May 23, 1810. In both cases the property reverted to the Fishers, and in 1815, solely to John Fisher.

John Fisher conveyed his property to Jacob Tyson on April 11, 1815. It was owned for a while by William Shakespeare (Not THAT William Shakespeare), who sold it in 1854 and bought the Dover Mill. Over a short period of time the mills were owned, in turn, by Azariah Smith, Thomas Bradley and Joel P. Woodward.

In 1863 the overshot waterwheel was replaced with an iron turbine and the separate saw mill was removed. A space for a sawing operation was made where the waterwheel had previously been. The grist mill measured 40 by 60 feet and was a two and a half story building. The capacity of the grist mill was 25 barrels a day and the saw mill produced 200,000 feet of lumber a year. The mill burned in July of 1883 and was never replaced.

August 2nd, 1883 - Delaware State Journal

Dayett's "VALLEY MILL"

Alexander Porter bought a tract of land along Muddy Run from Hugh Muldrach in May 18th, 1760. Upon his death, his will, dated December 15, 1769, gave the property to his sons, David and Samuel and it then included a grist-mill. On May 3, 1781, they sold 82 acres of land and the mill to Hugh Bolton and Jacob Wirt, Jr. On July 31, 1789, Wirt sold his share to Bolton, who sold the property to Morgan Jones and Robert Shields. When Shields died his half was sold by his executors to Isaac Hersey on August 28, 1793. Hersey sold it to Morgan Jones on September 11, 1794.

In 1799 the property was purchased by Samuel Eccles, who owned it for the next 35 years. On March 21, 1834 it was bought by Joseph S. Gilbert, who quickly sold it to Jonathan Shakespeare. The next year Shakespeare sold it to Jesse Gilbert, who retained it for the next ten years, when he sold it to William McNamee on April 2, 1845. Upon his death his heirs sold the mill and property to Adam Dayett on March 24, 1853.

Dayett had the building remodeled in 1880, and in 1886 he had it completely re-fitted with roller mills. It was a two and a half story timber-frame building measuring 28 by 54 feet that employed three men. The mill had a capacity of 36 barrels of flour and feed a day, sold mostly locally and also included a cider-mill with a capacity of 40 barrels a day.

In 1893 Adam Dayett's son John bought the nearby Cooch Mill. Adam continued to own the Valley Mill, but due to his age (84 in 1893) and poor health, he rented it out to other millers, first to Solomon E. Poole.

March 10th, 1899 - the Daily Republican
March 8th, 1894 - The Daily Republican

By of 1896 Solomon had apparently had enough of milling and he left Dayett's Mill to work the nearby Batten farm. Bart Dickerson then took over the milling operation.

July 8th, 1896 - The Evening Journal

Adam Dayett had been in declining health for years and was living in Wilmington with his daughter and son-in-law for at least the past five years. He died on February 15th, 1900 at 91, only two weeks after they were forced to leave the Wilmington house and move back to their old home by the mill.

February 16th, 1900 - The Morning News

Only two months after Adam Dayett died, his wife also passed away. This was just seven months after the couple had celebrated their 68th wedding anniversary. Then, two weeks later their son-in-law, Rev. William T. Tull, accidently drowned in the mill pond. The new 20th Century was not kind to the greater Dayett family.

April 25th, 1900 - The Morning News

After Adam's death the mill sat idle for about 18 months. It was then sold at Sheriff's Sale in October of 1901, as was often done when there was no will. Philip Churchman paid only $3,500 for it.

October 16th, 1901 - The Wilmington Daily Republican

By the 1920s the mill was no longer being used and the property had been purchased by the newly-formed Newark Anglers Association. They set to work getting the dam rebuilt, and by the middle of August, 1923 it was beginning to fill with water. It filled by January and the association opened the lake for ice skating but a leak soon drained the entire pond.

January 12th, 1924 - The News Journal

In 1932 the Sunset Lake Association was incorporated as an exclusive club, "established to preserve and maintain the lake as a source of recreation as well as a scenic asset for the area. Membership of the Sunset Lake Association is limited to 150 families who have been approved by a majority vote of the Board of Trustees." Source:



The first authentic information obtained in regard to Batten's Mills is contained in a deed from John Janvier to William B. and George McCrone, dated March 5, 1839. In the recital of the title of the tract of land containing one hundred and twenty-nine and a half acres, with a grist-mill and a saw-mill thereon, it is mentioned as the same premises and mills that were conveyed by Kensey Johns to John and Thomas Janvier, April 5, 1812, and that afterwards Thomas Janvier conveyed his portion to John Janvier. These latter conveyances are not recorded. On the assessment roll of 1798, John Porter is mentioned as the owner of a mill. On the measures used in the mill is the brand-mark J. P., and as Kensey Johns purchased land of John Porter in 1799, it is fair to conclude that the mills were one and the same. The mills were next owned respectively by James A. Kendal, Edward Tatnall and William Kyle, the present owner. The mills derived their name from the Batten family, who have operated them for many years. The saw-mill was torn down in 1865. The grist-mill is a two-story building, fifty by twenty-five feet. The grinding is all done by stones and no flour is manufactured.

Source: History of Delaware, 1609-1888, by J. Thomas Scharf, 1888.

Kelsey Jones purchased property in Pencader Hundred containing a mill from John Porter in 1799. On April 5, 1812, Kelsey Jones sold 129 ½ acres of land in Pencader Hundred, containing a grist-mill and a saw-mill, to John and Thomas Janvier. Soon afterwards Thomas sold his portion to John. On March 5, 1839 John Janvier sold it to William B. and George McCrone. The mills were then owned, successively, by James A. Kendal in 1868, as shown on the Beers map of that year. It then was sold to Edward Tatnall, who sold it to William Kyle on June 18th, 1885. Mahlon Batten purchased Kyle’s mill and 129 ½ acres of land on March 27, 1888 for $4,100.00, but died 20 months later, on November 16th, 1889.

The grist-mill was a two-story building measuring 25 by 50 feet and contained only mill-stones, no roller mills. Scharf reported in 1888 that “no flour is manufactured”, which I take to mean that it produced only animal feed at that time.

Mahlon’s children, James. H. Batten, George L. Batten, and Helen J. Batten inherited the approximately 126-acre farm/plantation, as well as the debts that came along with it. The three parcels of property were sold together at Sheriff's Sale to Theodore Gale in March of 1895 , but no mention was made of a grist mill. Nor was a grist mill ever mentioned over the years in subsequent sales of the farm, so I take that to mean that the mill must have ceased to exist sometime between 1888 and 1895. However, I could find no mention of a mill fire, or any other disaster in the newspapers. If anyone knows different, please leave me a message.

July 5th, 1892 - The Evening Journal


Sources: History of Delaware, by J. Thomas Scharf, 1888.

47 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All

The Jolly Miller

The Jolly Miller There was a jolly miller once lived on the river Dee; He danced and sang from morn till night, no lark so blithe as he; And this the burden of his song forever used to be "I care for

No title...

I've said before that Mary Oliver is one of my favorite "outdoorsey" poets. Here's another of hers that I like. Apparently it has no title. · I know, you never intended to be in this world. But yo


Post: Blog2_Post
bottom of page