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The Old Barley Mill

Timen Stiddem's Old Barley Mill near Stidham Ford on the Brandywine River, by Robert Shaw.

Anyone that has spent any time at all in New Castle County has heard of Barley Mill. There is a Barley Mill Road, an Old Barley Mill Road, a Barley Mill Drive, a Barley Mill Plaza, a Barley Mill Plaza Road, and Barley Mill Courts. There is even a metamorphic rock called Barley Mill Gneiss; a coarse-grained, foliated tonalite gneiss. Major minerals are biotite, hornblende, plagioclase, and quartz. (Gniss is pronounced like “Nice.”) And there are probably others that I’ve missed, but they don't all relate to the same "Barley Mill." The subject this week is Timen Stiddem's Old Barley Mill, which was on the west side of the Brandywine, across from where the Brandywine Zoo is now.

Dr. Stiddem's house, ca. 1885, shortly before it was razed - Courtesy of the Delaware Historical Society.

But how many of us really know anything about the actual mill? After spending some time researching the Old Barley Mill, I still felt like I didn’t know much about it, but here’s what some others have written about the mill and its builder.

Old Barley Mill, Brandywine River - 1854 Artists: Frederick De Bourg Richards (American, 1822 - 1903), John Betts (American, active 1850s)

“A History of Brandywine Valley Mills” by Roger Morris-2020

The first local miller is believed to have been Timothy Stidham, a Swedish colonist who, in 1679, constructed a mill in Wilmington on the west side of the Brandywine near where Adams Street comes down to the water. It was a time of change. The area was passing from Swedish and (later) Dutch control as it became an English colony under the guidance of William Penn.

Stidham and his sons began by milling barley and producing flour. From that modest start, milling flourished along the Brandywine through the next century. According to H. Clay Reed’s Delaware: A History of the First State, a 1791 report on industrial Wilmington listed 12 flour mills, six sawmills, one paper mill, one barley mill, one slit mill for manufacturing nails, and one snuff mill. In 1804, the du Pont family added gunpowder and blasting powder to that list. Their fiber mills for wool and cotton would come later. Water- driven manufacturing continued through the 1800s.

Old Barley Mill - Henry Price

“History of Delaware 1609 – 1888” by J. Thomas Scharf

The northern part of the Christiana Hundred was embraced in the Manors of the Penns, who after 1684 granted patents for the lands. The following are among the most important: William Gregg, 400 acres in Rockland Manor, and Thomas Hollings worth, 1018 in 1701-3, and 300 more released to him by Samuel Hollingsworth. William Gregg had 200 acres patented to him in 1693. In 1733 Jonathan Strange acquired fifty acres, and in 1744 got a warrant for fifty-one acres of adjoining land, and upon this tract on the Brandywine and a small branch erected a fulling mill, a grist mill, and a sawmill, besides other buildings. A John Smith once owned much land in that part of the Hundred, though the greater portion of the Penn Manor lands along the Brandywine have come into the possession of the Du Ponts, who have greatly improved them. April 15, 1686, Anthony Burgess received a warrant for 300 acres near Newport, called "Cole Harbor," and in 1678 Tyman Stidham one for 100 acres, increased by later conveyances to 268 acres.

Dr. Tyman Stidham, a Swedish immigrant and Wilmington's first doctor, left his land on the south side of the Brandywine to his eight sons. One of Stidham's sons had died, and the land passed to Stidham's grandsons, Timothy and Luloff. Timothy expanded his plot of land by purchasing additional plots from his uncles. One of the Stidhams is believed to have built the first mill on the Brandywine on that site. A mill for cleaning barley was located near the foot of the present-day Adams Street, and some evidence suggests that there was also a flour mill on the site. The mill seats were purchased by Oliver Canby around 1742.

“History of the State of Delaware” by Henry C Conrad, 1908:

The great value of the water-power of the Brandywine was early recognized. The records disclose that two small mills existed as early as 1729, on land that for many years belonged to Dr. Tymen Stidham, and which came later, through one Samuel Kirk, to Oliver Canby. The latter was the first erected a mill of any pretensions on the Brandywine, and he may be called the founder of the Brandywine Mills. The first mill erected by him stood near the present " Bishopstead," and was built in 1742. At the death of Oliver Canby, in 1755, the mill came into the possession of Thomas Shipley, who acquired other mill property, and in 1762 he built a larger mill near the terminus of French street, which was always known as "The Old Shipley Mill."

Barley Millstone - Courtesy of the Delaware Historical Society.

Early Wilmington Settler Arrives On the Kalmar Nyckel in 1638” by Mark Dixon:

Timen Stiddem, a physician and early Wilmington settler crossed the Atlantic four times between 1638 and 1654. The 1649 trip was a doozy. Stiddem’s ship, Kattan, with 70 settlers and 30 crew, hit a reef and sank in the Caribbean. Imprisoned, tortured and robbed by Spanish and French authorities, most died there, including Stiddem’s wife and three young children. “In all, only 19 of the colonists, besides some officers and soldiers, returned to Sweden, 45 or 50 finding their graves on the islands,” wrote historian Amandus Johnson in 1911.

Struggling back to Sweden in 1651, Stiddem sailed again for Delaware three years later. That trip was his last. Considered by Delaware physicians the first of their profession in the state, he remained, remarried and eventually became a wealthy man. At his death, he owned the northern third of what is now downtown Wilmington. Which, all things considered, seems fair.


I was unable to pin down exactly when the Old Barley Mill ceased to exist, but it was some time before 1873, and appears to have been in 1872, However, the following newspaper clipping tells us exactly when the willow tree blew down that is seen in all the above pictures of the mill:

Wilmington Daily Commercial - October 28th, 1872

Another tidbit from that same year.

Can you believe that the ice on the Brandywine ever got almost a foot and a half thick?

The News Journal - February 8th, 1872

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