In 1769, John Draper and Luke Walton petitioned the Sussex County Court to erect a gristmill on the north fork of Cedar Creek. John was a cousin of the Alexander Draper that had already established a mill just ¾ mile downstream, where Swigget’s Pond is now. In 1770, landowner John Cornwell sold a 300-acre tract, including the future Cubbage Mill site, to miller Peter Parker, who sold it to John Draper five years later. Draper built his mill between 1776 and 1784, however fifteen years later a devastating flood washed through Cedar Creek causing the dam to fail and demolishing the original mill. Draper rebuilt the mill circa 1800 using hand-hewn Atlantic cedar beams laid with lap joints in the corners.
Archaeological evidence indicates that Draper may have hurried construction, probably in an attempt to get his mill in operation before the other two mills on Cedar Creek, which were also damaged by the 1799 flood. The mill resumed operations in 1802 with an undershot waterwheel about 7 ½ feet wide and about 18 feet in diameter. Draper petitioned the courts for a road to his mill to provide access for farmers and their wagonloads of grain.
After John Draper died in 1784, his estate was divided between his widow Elizabeth and his sons William and John. Although perhaps not as wealthy as his cousin Alexander Draper, John Draper died owning 13 slaves, which clearly placed him in the upper class of Sussex County landed society. Among his personal effects were furniture, silver, glassware, mirrors, books, candlesticks, linens, and a carriage. At his mill were bushels of wheat, buckwheat, rye, and oats, and 224 bushels of corn, as well as lumber and empty barrels. The probate inventory also listed items directly connected with the mill operation, such as a grindstone, a flax brake, a set of weighing scales, bolting cloth, and mill picks
In 1785, Elizabeth married John Walton, brother of his former business partner Luke Walton. In 1792, William Draper came of age and bought out his brother John’s share of the mill and real estate. He agreed to pay his mother rent for her 1/3 interest and continued to run the mill along with his stepfather John Walton.
A long court battle took place between William Draper and his new stepfather John Robinson, who had married the former Elizabeth Draper Walton in 1797. The dispute was over who should pay for the1799 flood repairs. Many witnesses were called to assess the mill’s economic and structural condition, including millwright John Spencer who ran Draper’s Mill between 1804 and 1806 and kept records of the tolls collected from farmers during those years. In 1804, the mill took in 320 bushels of corn and 45 bushels of wheat; in 1805, it collected 290 bushels of corn and 41 ½ bushels of wheat; and in 1806, the mill took in 286 ½ bushels of corn and 34 ½ bushels of wheat, along with 3 additional bushels of rye. Although he was called as a witness by Robinson, Spencer admitted that the mill’s rents and profits had not “cleared the expenses in repairing said Mill” and that the Mill was “not worth more than 150 bushels of corn and 20 bushels of wheat” in profits.
Wm. Draper died without a will in 1808, leaving the Orphan’s Court to divide the property between his six children. (The Orphans' Court was responsible, among other things, for partitioning the real estate of a person who died without a will.) It took 13 long years, but after several transactions with his siblings, in 1821 Samuel acquired ownership of the 134-acre property and gristmill.
Neighbor Lemuel B. Shockley bought the mill in 1825 and reportedly made improvements. He sold it in 1833 to his brother-in-law John Campbell Davis, who struggled to earn a living from the mill for ten years. When he died in 1843 his son Mark H. Davis acquired ownership. Between 1825 and 1863 the waterwheel pit was rebuilt and the waterwheel replaced with a slightly smaller one measuring approximately 8 feet wide and no more than 15 feet in diameter. Mark Davis and his wife sold the mill and 36 acres to Hiram Barber for $2,500 in 1863. Barber ran a successful operation during his three years of ownership and sold it to Charles Miles for $4,200 in 1866. Since Barber had a background in sawmill work, it is possible that the increased valuation is the result of adding a sawmill component at the site
Millwright Charles Miles purchased the mill in 1866 and invested heavily in mill renovations during his fourteen-year ownership. An 1868 insurance policy describes the mill complex as a two-story frame building measuring 24x40 feet with a 10x20-foot addition with two sets of millstones, two circular saws, and two turning lathes. He also added a miller’s house and a large barn. Striving to improve mill business and increase economic returns, Charles Miles is the owner most likely responsible for replacing the waterwheel with a turbine and converting the wheel pit to a turbine chamber, likely using the same penstock and tailrace. Charles Miles was not an owner-operator; rather, the sawmill and grist mill were operated by two hired hands who resided at the miller’s house. As a millwright, Miles likely purchased Cubbage Mill as an investment property, however deed research indicates that that Miles sold the mill to John DuBois in 1880 for $2000, $2,200 less than he paid for it, and moved to Minnesota. The loss in value may have been the result of flood or fire damage—common events experienced by Cubbage Mill owners.
The 1880 Manufacturing Census indicates that the John DuBois sawmill employed two hired hands who cut approximately 100,000 board-feet of lumber that year (1879), although the sawmill probably only operated about 75 days that year. (Note: A board-foot is a piece of wood one inch thick and twelve inches square, or the equivalent 144 cubic inches.) Sometime in the 1880s, a fire apparently damaged the mill and prompted interior restorations, and it is also possible that sawmill operations were abandoned at this time and the building modified. By the turn of the 20th century, the mill concentrated singularly on meal production.
The mill was sold twice in 1881, ending up in the hands of Mark Davis and his business partner, Bevins Cain. In 1885 metal roller mills were installed and it was advertised as “Mark L. Davis & Son, Flouring Mills” and had a capacity of one and a half-barrels of flour per hour.
Mark Davis sold the mill to his son Frank in 1892 for $6,000, reflecting a profitable business and/or major improvements to the mill. Frank and specialized in grinding corn for cattle and poultry feed.
In 1900, the concrete culvert and concrete turbine pad were installed, marking a significant improvement over the wooden penstocks and wood-lined (turbine) chamber that characterized the site for the past century. A concrete floor covering the interior of the mill, and part of the east mill addition were also added during this period. Available records indicate a significant decline in agricultural production during the first few decades of the 20th century.
Despite the realities and dour economic forecast, Samuel Cubbage—a miller who had also tried farming—bought the mill in 1908 and worked the gristmill under the name of “Oakland Roller Mills” until 1921. The Pond still bares his name 100 years later.
Edgar Waples, a blacksmith from Georgetown, purchased the mill in 1921 for $4,500, a decrease in value between 1892 and 1921 of $1,500. Waples built and operated a general store and blacksmith shop on the property, and rented small cottages to tourists to supplement family income. He produced flour and cornmeal (feed), while also owning a blacksmith shop and providing produce, fishing supplies, and general merchandise to Cubbage Pond tourists and vacationers. He also rented row-boats to visitors at the rate $1 a day.
In September 1928, Edgar Waples sold the mill property for $2,000 to Theodore Jones, who had married his daughter Mary Waples in 1926. Jones reputedly ran into financial difficulties soon afterward and deserted his family and his milling business. Operation of the mill was taken over by Theodore Jones’ brother (George W.) Mitch Jones. On 10 April 1930, Joseph and Nancy Brittingham bought the former Cubbage Mill property at a sheriff’s sale for $2,800. Nancy Brittingham was Mitch Jones’ sister and they hired Mitch Jones to operate the mill.
Cubbage Mill was transferred through final sale in 1954. Records suggest that the new owners razed what remained of the abandoned mill, which had become a fire and safety hazard.
Summary: Although there were mills on Cubbage Pond for roughly 150 years, they were never really profitably and most mill owners struggled to break even. When they finally gave up, many of them sold the mill at a loss. Why, when two other nearby mills prospered?
First, Cubbage Mill was built on marshy ground in an area very prone to flooding, which led to constant repairs and upgrades.
Second, and perhaps more important, Cubbage Mill only had about 36 inches of head, which is the distance from the level of the water in the millpond down to the level of the water in the tailrace. Compare this with over six feet of head at Clendaniel’s Mill above Cubbage Mill and seven feet of head at Swiggetts Mill below Cubbage Mill. Because of this, Cubbage Mill had to rely on an undershot waterwheel, which is the least efficient of the three different types, the others being a breastshot waterwheel and an overshot waterwheel, the most efficient.
In the 1860s the waterwheel was removed and replaced with a turbine. A turbine produces more power with more water pressure. More water pressure comes from a higher head of water, so, although the turbine probably worked better than the undershot waterwheel, with only 3 feet of head it could only do so much.
(Editor’s Note: I have relied heavily on an Archeological Report done in 1997-98 for DelDOT prior to the replacement of the bridges on the dam at Cubbage Pond. For a more thorough understanding, please read the full reports online. The addresses are below)
History of Delaware, John Thomas Scharf - 1888
Industries of Delaware, Historical and Descriptive Review - 1880
Dave Kenton - Milford Museum