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The Old Mills in Northwest Fork and Seaford Hundreds, Sussex County, Delaware

Hearn and Rawlins Mill - pen & ink by Ellen Rice

The Old Mills in Northwest and Seaford Hundreds

Business Interests [1888]

In the early history of this section the mill-seats were well improved, and were important factors in the development of the country. In the north-eastern part of the hundred, on the tract called "Shankland's Discovery" Unity Forge was in operation about 1771, and was worked quite extensively soon after, having double fires. In 1815, John and Shadrack Elliott owned the property, consisting of three hundred acres of land, a forge and mill, the latter being in Nanticoke Hundred. Later, Jonas Walker became the owner of part of the property, and a mill was afterwards built on the Seaford side, which became widely known as Walker's. The present mill was built in 1885, by Cotteral, Trout & Green, and is a three-story frame. Its machinery is first-class, there being a Victor wheel and eight sets of rolls, making it one of the best mills in this part of the country.

The mills on the other streams are small, the one on Herring Creek, below Clear Brook, having had many owners, and being known as Ross's, Cannon's, and by other names. In 1879 it was rebuilt, and was in 1887 the property of Marcellus Hearn.

In 1868 a planing-mill, sash and door factory was established in the Nanticoke part of the town by Manners, Fisher & Co., who carried on a heavy business until 1877, when it was discontinued, and the machinery was removed from town. They were also extensive builders, and employed from fifty to sixty hands.

The basket factory and planing-mill of W. H. Coulbourn, above Market Street, near the river, was established in the spring of 1887. It has capacity for the employment of fifty hands, the motor being steam from a forty horse-power engine.

On Chapel Brook [Branch] was the old Jackson mill, which was abandoned about fifty years ago, and on the same stream the Flowers, later Dulaney mill, is still operated on custom work. Other small mills on this stream have passed away. On Harris Brook, Edward Harris had a saw-mill which was later owned by Thomas H. Brown, and is now the property of William F. Hastings. Though of small capacity, the mill has done good service, and when the store nearby was carried on, this was an important business point. Besides some of the mill owners, Robert Frame, Jacob Bounds and Thomas Short were also here in trade. Near Woodlands, on Mud Brook. W. W. Wright and others operated small mills for brief periods.

In the southwestern part of the hundred, the old Wallace saw-mill passed into the hands of Gillis S. and William Ellis, about 1850, and has since been owned by the Ellis family. In 1887 it was the property of William and E. J. Ellis. The latter was also a vessel owner.

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

Hearn's Pond and the Hearn and Rawlins Mill

This body of water was created in 1816, when a grist mill was established on Clear Brook Branch at this location by Nathaniel Ross. Known by various names, most notably those of two early owners, William Cannon and William Ross, the mill was destroyed by fire in 1879. The Cannon and Ross Mill became known as Hearn's Mill when Marcellus Hearn bought the property in 1885. The Corn Stone from the original mill was saved from the fire and installed in the new mill which was erected in its place. Hearn later installed rollers for grinding grain to replace the traditional wheel turned stones, making the mill more efficient for flour production. George H. Hearn and Mary Rawlins, Marcellus' son and daughter, took over the mill following his death in 1916. The Hearn and Rawlins Flour Mill continued in the possession of the family members until 1999, when it was purchased by the United Nation of Islam. The mill structure was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1978. Hearn's Pond is now the property of the State of Delaware. Source: State Historical Marker SC-223 Text

In 1930 six new Monarch Roller Mills were installed in the mill and were capable of producing 300 pounds of flour an hour, or about 1 ½ barrels. George C. Hearn died after an automobile accident in 1930 and Mary Rawlins’ son Jacob C. Moore took over mill operations. When Jacob passed in 1988 his son, Edward Earl Moore, became the owner. The Monarch Roller Mills still ground the flour and the original millstones still produced the cornmeal, which was used locally by the scrapple industries and sold as “White Water Ground Table Corn Meal.”

The flour was packaged as " Clearbrook Roller Mills, White Dove Wheat Flour.”

The mill was put on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978 and in 1989 the family sold Hearn’s Pond to the State of Delaware, but they retained ownership of their mill, along with the exclusive water rights.

The United Nation of Islam bought the mill in 1999 so they would have a place to grind the grain they were growing on farms on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. They wanted to make flour without preservatives to use in their bakery in Kansas City, Kansas. The United Nation of Islam operated the mill for about 10 years and it was acquired soon afterwards by Delaware’s Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs.

Inside the Hearn and Rawlings Mill - The three sets of roller mills are on the left and the flour packer is on the right Photo from The News Journal

Twice in the past 20 years the Hearns Pond dam has flooded, once in 2001 and again in 2006. After the last event the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) spent over $4,000,000 to repair the dam, which included widening the spillway from 12 feet to 125 feet.

The Hearns Pond overtopping in 2006. - Hearn and Rawlings Mill in the background - Photo from The News Journal

Hearn and Rawlins Mill - watercolor courtesy of Ellen Rice

"Back of the bread is the snowy flour,

And back of the flour is the mill;

And back of the mill is the wheat, and shower

And the sun, and the Father's will."

This poem hung over the scale where Hearn and Rawlings famous White Dove Flour was weighed, bagged and hand-tied. It had been there as long as anyone could remember.

Source - Jane Brooks - The News Journal - 26 Sept. 1994

Poem: "Back of the Bread" by Maltbie D. Babcock - 1900


Seaford Milling Company

August 2, 1818, Captain Solomon Boston platted an addition of ten lots, extending along Front and North Streets.

Drawing courtesy Jim Bowden

On the mill site on Herring Creek, at Seaford, Solomon Boston put up saw and grist-mills, which be operated until his death, when they passed into the hands of the Williams family. In 1862 the saw-mill was burned, but was rebuilt by Jacob Williams. In 1882 the grist-mill was supplied with roller machinery, but was destroyed by fire soon after. In 1883 steam-power was added [at an expense of $5,000] by Lott & Seibert, who owned the property at that time. The present mill was built in 1884, by Oliver Obier, who has since operated the mills. Source: History of Delaware, 1609-1888, Volume I, by J. Thomas Scharf, 1888. Source – The Morning News – 23 June 1883

Oliver Obier, a member of one of the biggest flour manufacturing firms in Sussex county, Del., died at his home in Laurel. His death was caused by an attack of the grip [influenza], which developed into pneumonia. Source – the Philadelphia Inquirer – 2 Feb. 1892

Owing to a scarcity of water the Seaford Milling Company has been compelled to quit grinding and is buying flour in the city to supply its trade.

Source - The Morning News – 2 Sept. 1914

SEAFORD, Feb. 13 - As a result of the thaw all the small streams and the river are swollen in this section of the county. The water is so high at the Williams’ Pond, where the Seaford Milling Company is situated, that a night watchman stationed to watch the gates to prevent the overflow of the dam. This is the case at all the other lakes that have been dammed for water power. Source – the Morning News – 14 Feb. 1918

Seaford Milling Company -unknown date- photo courtesy Jim Bowden

In the early 1920s Frederick Lingo was manager of The Seaford Milling Company and Henry Swiggett was a miller.

The Seaford Milling Company’s property in East Seaford, one of the oldest mill properties in this section, will be sold at public sale Saturday, November 29. Source – The Morning News – 15 Nov. 1924

New water race [waste] gates have been placed at the old mill dam in East Seaford on the road leading to the farm of Dr. Jacob O.[Ollie] Williams and the gates at the mill of the Seaford Milling Company have been repaired. City council have also improved the roadway leading from the east end of Poplar street to the old mill dam, a distance of about 350 feet. Source – The Evening Journal, Wilmington – 15 Nov. 1927

During 1928 owner L. Spencer LeCates continued making extensive improvements to his Seaford mill. Up to this point the mill had been powered by a gasoline engine, but he had a penstock installed measuring 18 x 20 feet and 7 ½ feet deep to supply water to a turbine. He also had a new floor laid on the old bridge spanning Herring Creek, leading from East High street to the mill. Other improvements included tearing away the old wooden waste gate structure and replacing it with concrete.

Williams Pond, Seaford - Wooden Waste Gates - photo courtesy of Jim Bowden

Flooding during the great Chesapeake–Potomac hurricane is likely what caused the Williams Pond dam to overtop in 1933 and wash out. Public Works Administration (PWA) engineers, part of President Roosevelt’s New Deal, surveyed the dam in 1936, it was repaired and the pond was re-filled after being nearly empty for three years.

Source – The News Journal – 28 Aug 1936


The Enterprise Milling Company

Enterprise Milling Company, Seaford, Del. - Source - Delaware Public Archives

The Enterprise Milling Company, located on the Stine Highway in Seaford just west of the railroad tracks, had been completed and was ready for operation on Feb. 6, 1899.

Joseph Milligan and J. Frank Willey acquired the Mill somewhere around 1901, but ten years later Mr. Milligan sold his interest in the mill to Mr. Willey. When Mr. Willey died on Sept 24th, 1919, during the Spanish flu pandemic, he was still the sole owner.

Leroy W. Allen and brother Howard F. Allen acquired the mill from J. Frank Willey’s heirs and operated the it together until Leroy died at 29 in 27 Feb. 1922. He had been electrocuted while attempting to repair a lamp at home.

Howard Allen was the owner of the mill for another 18 years, with Emory M. Messick was his foreman and miller for many of those years. In October 1940 Howard Allen sold the Enterprise Milling Company to Joseph Sigrist of Westover, Maryland. Mr. Sigrist reopened the mill in January of 1941, with Emory M. Messick continuing on as his foreman and miller.


Southern States Seaford Feed Mill

In December of 1954 the Southern States Coop. opened a modern new $2,000,000 feed mill, with a total capacity of 140,000 tons of feed a year. The mill employed about 40 people and had a total storage capacity of 530,000 bushels of grain. All feed was mixed by automatic mixing equipment requiring less than half the labor of older mills of the same capacity.

It was located along the Nanticoke River in Seaford, just west of the railroad tracks.

Sources: My thanks go to Ellen Rice for graciously permitting me to use her pen & ink drawing and watercolor of the Hearn and Rawlins Mill - The drawing was originally done for a cover of "Peninsula Pacemaker," published by Ann Nesbit.

Thanks also to local historian Jim Bowden for his photos and plethora of mill information.


Next time, December 10th, after spending nine months exploring the old mills in Sussex County, I will move north to Kent County and explore the old mills in and around Harrington in the Mispillion Hundred.

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