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The Old Mills in Mispillion Hundred

1868 map of Mispillion Hundred
1868 map of Harrington

Here's what J. Thomas Scharf had to say back in 1888 about the mills in the Mispillion Hundred :


The largest and by far the most important manufacturing interest in the town of Harrington is that of E. Fleming. In 1872 Mr. Fleming started a large saw-mill with a capacity of six thousand feet of lumber a day. Since that time he has added a spoke factory, in which he manufactures white-oak wagon-spokes, which have achieved a reputation in the large cities for their excellence. A grist-mill and wagon- works were next added. A capital of eighteen thousand dollars is invested in the business and constant employment is given to sixty men.


The saw-mill of J. B. Simmons was started in 1877. Seven thousand feet of lumber are cut a day, and employment given to sixteen men.

Masten’s Corners

Thistlewood's Mill -This mill was originally built by John Thistlewood about 1780. It was rebuilt in 1825 by Hicks Dellner. It has since been conducted by John Booth, Thomas Thistlewood, David Dorman and now by Beniah Tharp, who runs it as a grist-mill.

There is also in the hundred the saw-mill of McNatt & Brother, six miles from Harrington, in District 83, which has been in operation since 1880.

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

Ed. Note: J. Thomas Scharf seldom visited the places that he wrote about, but rather, he relied on information from others, information that was occasionally misunderstood or was inaccurate. Thistlewood’s Mill was actually not located at Masten's corner, it was four and a half miles away on Brown’s Branch, just northeast of Harrington. Jackson Ditch Road crosses Brown’s Branch twice and the millpond was in the area between the crossings.

Ezekiel Fleming reportedly began a business of furnishing wooden ties to the railroad co. He continued buying and selling lumber and ties until 1872, when he bought an interest in a steam sawmill, which was destroyed by fire in 1875. He had contracted for large quantities of lumber and had to employ other mills to do the sawing. Mr. Fleming purchased the "McCleary Mill," at Farmington, Del. in 1875 and in 1876 he erected a steam sawmill at Felton. After the contiguous lumber was cut, he moved it to Harrington. In 1878 Mr. Fleming build a steam grist and custom mill in Harrington that was running four sets of millstones and turned out a large quantity of flour and meal, etc.

Source -

Source - Greater Harrington Historical Society
Ezekiel Fleming's Steam-driven Saw Mill - Greater Harrington Historical Society

E. Fleming's Saw Mill had a capacity of 6,000 feet of lumber per day.

Ezekiel Fleming's Spoke and Fittings Factory - Greater Harrington Historical Society

1922 photo of the Harrington Milling Company founded by Ezekiel Fleming. - Greater Harrington Historical Society

Ezekiel Fleming was a man with a keen mind for business. Born in 1836, he quickly became one of [Harrington's] wealthiest business leaders. At his zenith, he owned six mills producing flour, wagon wheels, lumber, and other goods of the day. Locals also called him a very generous man who paid his workers $1 per day, which at the time was above the average wage for this work.

His mills employed over 50 men at their peak of production. Fleming was also known to extend company store credit to his employees at the various merchants in town. They could purchase goods and have their debt paid out of their next paycheck. One of Fleming’s mills was located just yards away from his home [across Rt. 14 from where Taylor & Messick is now.]

Worried that his daughters would get their dresses dirty walking to and from the businesses, he constructed a wooden planked sidewalk just for them.

Source: Poore, Doug. "Fleming Mansion." Clio: Your Guide to History. July 1, 2019.

The Fleming Girls in front of their home - Greater Harrington Historical Society

Ezekiel Fleming's mills were spread all over the Mid-Atlantic region and his lumber was sent far and wide. Some examples from newspaper articles of the time:

After operating a sawmill near Frederica he bought 120 acres of timberland near Milford and moved the mill there. Much of the white oak timber was destined for the Baldwin Locomotive Works in Philadelphia.

He shipped a large numbers of pine pilings from Harrington and points along the Junction and Breakwater Railroad to W. V. Case of Wilmington.

On another occasion he shipped a large lot of white oak piling timber to Philadelphia and also to New York, via New Castle, to be used for piers.

In 1897 Fleming supplied the poles for the original telephone line between Harrington and Milford. which reportedly "put Harrington in communication with all the important towns in the lower part of the state."

In 1900 he purchased 1100 acres of timber land in Dinwiddie County, Virginia for use in his manufacturing enterprises in Harrington.

He also had the "Big Mill" (someone else had the "Little Mill"} on the Chicamicomico River in Dorchester County, Maryland. Both dams washed out during a flood.

He had a sawmill near Ellicott City, Maryland (just west of Baltimore) that caught fire and burned on a Sunday night in December of 1901, along with an estimated $5,000 worth of lumber, equal to more than $164,000 today.

The News Journal, Wilmington - Jan. 9, 1911
The Evening Journal, Wilmington - 4 March 1911
The Morning News, Wilmington - March 28, 1911

One of Ezekiel Fleming's grandsons, Frank Fleming, went on to found the Harrington Journal

The Ezekiel Fleming Flour Mills and Saw Mills were bought by Charles D. Murphy and Hayes after Mr. Flemings death in 1911. Upon Mr. Hayes' death, C. .D. Murphy purchased the entire company. Charles Murphy was elected to the state senate in 1917 and held that post until 1924. In 1919 he was instrumental in starting the Kent Sussex County fair, which has eventually become the Delaware State fair.

In June of 1927 he picked up a couple of horsemen at the railroad depot in Harrington and absent mindedly drove across the tracks into the path of the train.

And just a year later , July 27, 1928, he died in a fall down the stairs in his home.

After Senator Murphy's 1928 death the board elected Horace E. Quillen as the president of the company and it then became known as Murphy and Hayes Co. and Quillen Bros.


Thistlewood's Mill, aka Tharp's Mill

John Thistlewood built a mill on Brown's Branch in the late 1700s, only about a mile east of the present-day intersection of Rt-13 and Carpenter's Bridge Road. It was later owned by Hicks Dellner, then by John Booth, Thomas Thistlewood & David Dorman and finally by Beniah Tharp. I had difficulty finding out detailed information about the mill but I did find newspaper references to the pond:

Harrington - June 18, 1889 - The Evening News, Wilmington

In between 1889 and 1900 there were two near-drownings at Tharp's Pond, both involving boys falling through the ice in winter,

Harrington - 10 March 1898 - The News Journal

Harrington - 31 January 1901 - Delaware Gazette and State Journal

The above article from almost 121 years ago was the last I could find about his Harrington mill, so perhaps after his dam washed out Mr. Tharp cut his losses and and shut-down the mill. He also had a very large mill down in Georgetown.

Georgetown - 26 March 1897 - The News Journal

Sources: The News Journal, The Morning News, et al.

I am indebted to Doug Poore, curator of the Greater Harrington Historical Society. He gave me access to all his files that had anything to do with milling. If you have any interest at all in the history of the Harrington area, I urge you to stop by, you won't be disappointed. Open Noon to 5 P.M. on Sundays at 108 Fleming St. Ph-302-398-3698


In my next post, in two weeks, I will cover the old mills that were in the Milford Hundred, which includes the mills on and near McColley's Pond.

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