The Marshall Bros.’ Paper Mill
Updated: Nov 28, 2022
If you read last weeks post about the Garrett Snuff Mill, then you remember that the first paper mill at this site on the upper Red Clay Creek was begun by John Garrett II about 1730.
To review what I posted last week, John Garrett and several others had formed a partnership on November 16th 1730 to build a grist mill. A half mile above a horseshoe bend in the Red Clay Creek they constructed a fieldstone dam, just inside the 12-mile arc that forms the Delaware-Pennsylvania state line and they hand-dug a 2,500-foot millrace to connect the dam with their mill. The mill opened about 1731, making it one of the earliest mills built on the Red Clay Creek. The mill proved profitable, which allowed John Garrett to eventually buy out his partners.
When John died on August 27, 1757, the mill was passed on to his son, John Garrett II. After serving as a captain in the 6th Delaware Militia in the Revolutionary War, John Garrett II returned and started building a nearby snuff mill. In 1803 his sons, Levi and Horatio took over the business. Horatio Gates Garrett converted the grist mill to a paper mill because he couldn’t compete with the Brandywine grist mills.
Between 1809 and 1812 H. G. Garrett borrowed heavily, with the mill as collateral, in an attempt to keep the mill operating. Finally, unable to pay off the loans, the court ordered the sale of the mill in 1813 and it was eventually purchased by Thomas Lea for $14,450. Lea converted the mill to spin cotton and it became known as "Endeavor Mill." He installed his sister’s son, Jacob Pusey as the operator and by 1826 Pusey was able to purchase the mill, and it was listed on maps as: “J. Pusey and Son Cotton Factory”.
Jacob Pusey’s first wife, Hannah Nichols, his third cousin, died in 1814 at Auburn, two days after giving birth to their son Samuel. Jacob then married another third cousin, Hannah Mendenhall, who died in 1835, also at Auburn. Jacob next married another third cousin, Louisa Webster. All three women were first cousins to each other.
In 1832 Jacob filled out the “Treasury’s Survey of Manufacturing in the United States.” It was published in 1833 and indicated that he began the cotton spinning operations in 1814 (probably in his uncle’s mill.) He initially invested $30,000 in capital for “ground, and buildings, and water power, and machinery.” He described his economic performance as follows: “The first seven years sunk all the capital invested, and the last ten years have recovered about two-thirds of it; though some of the last ten years of loss; my books will not distinguish between the two kinds of capital” (borrowed vs. non-borrowed). He described the circumstances he had faced: “Frequently by competition in the home market the profits are reduced to cost and charges; sometimes (when the business would not have been affected by home competition) the profits are reduced to nothing, by over importation of other descriptions of goods causing such a press for money in seaports as to put down the price of yarn when the stock in market was not greater than ordinary; and vice versa for increased profits.” He had manufactured between 70,000 and 100,000 lbs. of cotton yarn per year; price varying from 64 cents in 1814 to a low of 18 cents in 1830-31. In 1832 the mill employed six men, earning $6 per week; 12 women, earning $2 per week; and 25 children, earning $1.25 per week. Work lasted 11 hours per day.
On March 24th, 1866, Jacob Pusey sold the mill to William and James Clark and they converted it from a cotton mill to a woolen mill. The building burned about 1869 and remained vacant until the late 1880s. The “Wilmington & Western Railroad made its way to Auburn Mills in 1872 and the station is named Yorklyn.
Before I continue and to help avoid too much confusion over which mill is being
referred to, readers need to know that they are all in or near Yorklyn, Delaware on
Red Clay Creek.
The “Homestead Mill” refers to the Marshall Bros. first mill in Kennett Township, Pennsylvania, only about a mile upstream from Yorklyn.
The original mill site in Yorklyn, that dated back to the 1730s, is interchangeably
known as the “Auburn Mill,” or the “Marshall Brothers Mill.”
The “Yorklyn Mill” or “Yorklyn Plant” almost always refers to the larger NVF vulcanized fibre plant located approximately 350 yards east of the Auburn Mill.
The Wooddale Mill, about 6 miles down-stream, is also referred to as the "Marshall & Mitchell Mill."
The vulcanized fiber process was invented by Englishman Thomas Taylor in 1859, and was later manufactured in the Yorklyn paper mills. (From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia: Vulcanized fibre is a laminated plastic composed of only cellulose [plant fiber}. The material is a tough, resilient, hornlike material that is lighter than aluminium, tougher than leather, and stiffer than most thermoplastics.) It was made from recycled cotton rags and (it has mostly been used as washers, gaskets, and a variety of shims or packing pieces. Until the development of modern plastics from the 1930s, fibre was the standard electrical insulating material for many small components. (Don't you think that Vulcanized fiber sounds like something that Spock may have been familiar with?)
The Vulcanized Fibre Company was incorporated in Wilmington in 1875 and the company’s offices moved to Wilmington from New York City. Israel & Elwood Marshall, who have a growing industrial rag paper operation at Marshall's Bridge, Kennett Township, PA likely supplied rag paper to the company for conversion into vulcanized fibre.
Israel W. Marshall was issued patent #356,367 for the manufacture of water-proof building paper in 1887. The product was used under roofing and siding and had the advantage of not cracking under extreme heat or cold. The Marshalls could produce fourteen combined tons of their different paper products a week by 1887.
James Clark died in 1888, and his funeral, on a very rainy December day, was an event not soon forgotten. (See the clipping, below.}
In 1890 James Clark's' brother, William sold the mill to Israel W. and T. Elwood Marshall, along with Franklin Ewart, and called the company Marshall Bros. and Ewart. The trio reconstructed the mill to produce paper, as it had done eighty years before. The Marshall brothers bought our Ewart's interest a few years later and changed the name to the Marshall Brothers Company. This time state-of-the-art equipment was installed and by 1891 rag paper was once again being produced at the site and was sold for the making of vulcanized fibre. The Marshalls paid the mortgage off completely by the mid-1890s.
The Marshalls also bought the Delaware (iron) Rolling Mill (former Alan Wood mill) in Wooddale, about 6 miles downstream, to supply rag paper The Marshalls and Dr. Mitchell spend approximately $30,000 to make the Marshall & Mitchell Mill operational.
In 1897 Israel Marshall and his family moved out of the stone, Georgian style miller’s house they had been living in for six years and into their newly-built Victorian mansion, on the hill overlooking the Auburn Mill. Surprisingly, it was not a custom design, it came out of a catalog book called "Shoppell’s Modern Houses." It was the most expensive house in the book and cost him $11,500 in 1896 dollars.
The Marshall & Mitchell Wooddale Paper Mill would eventually begin turning out rag and wood pulp paper products in 1891. By 1905 the Wooddale operation was producing 3,000 pounds of Manila paper per day on a 62-inch Fourdrinier machine; more than what their Homestead Mill was capable of. The Wooddale Mill would eventually turn to making rag paper in the 1900s for the Marshalls to convert to fiber at the Yorklyn fiber plant.
In 1900 they built the stone Insulite mill across the street form the paper mill, which Israel managed. It was built to manually-produce vulcanized fibre, like the plants in Wilmington, Newport and Stanton. On the closed second floor, he clandestinely developed the Endless Fibre Machine for converting their paper into vulcanized fibre. The output of this mill went to their Specialty Manufacturing Company in Kennett Square that turned the fiber into totes, trash cans, and other container-type products. In 1901 the US Patent & Trademark Office accepted Marshall Brother's trademark application for "Insulite" as a brand of insulating materials for electrical purposes.
Once Israel knew his machine was successful, they bought the Ferre property and built the #1 Fiber Mill building. They installed the new equipment, and started producing vulcanized fibre in rolled format, forming the National Fiber & Insulation Co..
The Wooddale mill supplied the rag paper to NF&I, and the Marshall Brothers mill was supplying all the companies making fiber in Wilmington, Newport, Stanton and Newark. In 1922 the Marshalls bought American Vulcanized Fibre, which had consolidated all the local fibre companies under one name, added in their NF&I, and created National Vulcanized Fiber.
The Marshall & Mitchell mill was capable of producing 4,000 pounds per day of rag paper when the plant was destroyed by fire on October 2nd, 1918. The Marshall & Mitchell Mill declared a $40,000 total loss including 6,050 tons of rag paper and it was never rebuilt.
By 1922 the Marshalls had bought up nearly all their vulcanized fibre competitors and they consolidated them to form the National Vulcanized Fiber Co. (NVF).
T. Clarence Marshall and James L. McClellan are awarded Patent 1,506,317 in 1924,for "Method of Making Rubberized Parchment Paper and the Product Thereof" which was a unique rubberized vulcanized fibre paper material.
National Vulcanized Fibre begins trading on the NY Stock Exchange as NVF in 1946. The company begins a campaign to modernize the facilities at Auburn Mill. In the early 1952, the Marshall Paper Mill is purchased by NVF and the future of the Yorklyn company looked rosy.
In the mid-1950s NVF began what was to become a sixty-year-long campaign to clean-up their long polluted site on the Red Clay Creek at Yorklyn.
The future still looked bright back in 1977...
...but the rosy future of NVF it didn't last long...
...Not long at all.
Every effort was made to put out a good public image.
After all the doom and gloom newspaper articles about NVF, I couldn't find a single one that mentioned their final bankruptcy in 2008.
The state of Delaware soon began purchasing the site.
...and the clean-up continued.
At last, the future really did look bright for the former NVF site, but this is not how it was imagined in the mid-20th century.
And finally, in November of 2018, Gov. John Carney signed a bill that turned the 366 acre Auburn Heights Preserve into Auburn Valley State Park, Delaware’s 17th state park.
I urge you to plan a visit to the new Auburn Valley State Park, and you can start here, on their Facebook page---> https://destateparks.com/history/auburnvalley
My thanks go to Bob Wilhelm for his suggestions of sources for the history of the Marshall Brothers Paper Mill
Black & White photos from the Hagley Museum's Digital file.