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The Old Mills on the Broadkiln River, aka Broadkill Creek

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NOTICE: THE MONTHLY "RUNNING OF THE MILL" SCHEDULED FOR SATURDAY AUG. 21 AT ABBOTTS MILL HAS BEEN CANCELLED. THERE ARE PROBLEMS WITH THE POND SPILLWAY THAT HAS CAUSED THE POND WATER LEVEL TO DROP ENOUGH THAT WE CAN'T RUN THE MILL.

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First, a look at the branches of the Broadkill River. A big thank you to:

MILTON CHAMBER CLIPPER

"BRANCHES OF THE BROADKILL AND THEIR MILLS"

by William Wagamon & Wanda Clendaniel King


Broadkill River branch locations

COOLSPRING BRANCH

The Coolspring Branch begins two to thee hundred feet up the Broadkill River at it's junction with the Delaware Bay . On this branch was the Red Mill , a grist mill owned by Samuel Paynter around 1750. Grist is grain, and a grist mill grinds it into meal or flour. Farther up the branch or creek as they were often called, was a Carding Mill and a 'tannery' which located it's tanning or soaking vats on the banks. Carding is a textile process that disentangles, cleans and intermixes fibers and produces a continuous web, thread or sliver for additional processing. Tanning was the process of producing leather from animal hides. A tennyard was one of the early businesses of America and had its own odors. Both of these mills were property of Hermanius Wiltbanck at one time.


BEAVER DAM BRANCH

Beaver Dam Branch or Creek if you wish, is the creek off the Broadkill just a bit west of the Delaware route one Broadkill River Highway Bridge, what was once known as 'Drawbridge' which was a village with it's own post office. Mill Creek, aka today as Old Mill Creek is a branch of this creek and was known to have several early owners. The predominant owner's were the Holland family and the stream was then known as Holland Mill Pond Stream and/or Hollands Old Mill Stream. At the junction of Beaver Dam Creek and the Broadkill River there was a ship building yard owned and operated by Babtist Lay near the small village of ‘Drawbridge'. This 'boat yard is said to be the first along the Broadkiln. Westward was Holland Mill Pond and there James Hunter and Major William Perry erected a dam and build a timber saw mill.


ROUND POLE BRANCH

Where did that name come from? John Conwell once owned the land bordering Round Pole Branch where there was a timber saw mill owned by Ben Benson, David Hazzard and Sam Wright around 1701 and furnished building materials at an early time. Perhaps the first supplier. Upstream of this saw mill was located a iron furnace that was owned by Robert Shankland which furnished the iron used in the ship building trade of the Broadkill River.

Traveling east out of downtown Milton on Front Street, beyond the town sewer works you will note the waters of Round Pole Creek or Branch, whatever you wish, on each side of the road, sometimes going under and sometimes going over the road., depending on the tide and rainfall.


LONG BRIDGE BRANCH

Three or four miles eastward, on Cave Neck Road, is Long Bridge Branch. In 1733, the Osbourne Brothers, Henry and Thomas, reserved eight acres for a mill and John Meir erected a grist mill here that was destroyed by fire in 1825. Later on Gideon Waples build a causeway and dam 'downstream' where there was a 'bark mill' and a timber saw mill owned by Governor Dr. Joseph Maull in 1815.

A bark mill was used to grinding the roots, branches, bark or other timber trash of a special species tree [oak] into a powder called tanbark, for the tanning industry process. There was a pond above the mill named Saw Mill Pond until early 1900.

Upstream of Maulls was the Joseph Tour Mill in 1809 later owned by Ben McIlvain which supplied water to the mills and in early 1900 to a electric generator that gave lights to the town of Milton. Upstream of Tours Pond and dam , in 1807, was a saw mill of Zodoc James and later Aaron Marshall in 1838 which was destroyed by fire.


PEMBERTON BRANCH

Pemberton Branch is on the far north fork of Broadkill, west of the town of Milton, on which in 1809 Isaac Clowes had a grist mill at Lavinia Crossing. There is evidence of this crossing to be seen from the current Levinia Street. The land around Pemberton Creek was part of a grant to Captain Henry Pemberton, became lands of Thomas Carlisle in 1717. A powder mill was planned by John Clowes but never erected, somewhere in here there was a cotton mill, and the Pemberton mills were sold 1809 to Arthur Melby. The cotton mill as abandoned in 1864 and the grist mill sold to J. G. Betts.


OTHER MILLS

In Milton was Fergus Bridge Dam over the Broadkill where a grist mill was built later known as Wagamon's Mill.


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And now a posting by Phil Martin from his well researched blog, http://broadkillblogger.org, in which he writes about the history of the greater Milton area. Thank you, Phil



A Pond By Many A Name April 20, 2016 Phil Martin


Wagamon’s Pond, a scenic pool on the west side of Mulberry Street, has gone by several names in the past two hundred years of its existence. A little explanation of the origins of the pond will help shed light on these names have come into use.

The four-story grist mill completed in 1901 by the Wagamon Brothers; the tree-lined street on the left is present-day Mulberry Street (courtesy of Fred Pepper)


A number of articles by the local press in the last few years have made the point that Wagamon’s Pond is not a natural pool; it was man-made, back in 1815, specifically to power a grist mill on what is today Mulberry Street.


Editor's note: This is true of ALL ponds and lakes in Delaware, with the exception of a couple of reservoirs in New Castle county, which store fresh drinking water.


The dam and spillway we see today were built in 1815 (photo by Phil Martin)


The dam spillway that is visible today on the west side of Mulberry Street, on the Mulberry Street bridge over the river, is the same one that was built in 1815 as part of the mill project. The business partners who obtained the controversial charter from the state legislature – William W. and John S. Conwell, and Dr. Joseph Maull – inundated 52+ acres of white oak forest, nearly all of which they already owned, to form the “lake” we now call Wagamon’s Pond. There was considerable opposition to the granting of the charter from owners of existing mills nearby and other property owners. One argument was that the 52 acres to be inundated were white oak forest, which provided a material that was prized by ship builders. Another argument was that there were already eight sawmills and eight grist mills within a four mile radius of the proposed site. Petitions were submitted expressing the fear that the mill pond would create standing water that would produce a foul odor a well. Nevertheless. the charter was approved.

A two-story grist mill was built close by the dam, and operated into the 1890’s. Through 1868, as shown on the map from the Beer’s atlas of that year, the pond was know simply as “Mill Pond,” and did not receive any other official designation. It was also known to locals as “Paynter’s Mill Pond,” after the Paynter family acquired the mill in 1846. However, there is no survey or map that confirms the use of the Paynter name. We may thus consider it a familiar local term for the pond rather than an official geographic designation.


Detail of mill area, Milton, 1868, from Beer’s Atlas.

The Paynter heirs, Edwin R, Rowland C., and Hannah E. Paynter and Emma R. Wright, conveyed the mill property to John T., Hamilton K, and Daniel Wagamon by deed dated September 20, 1901. The Wagamons had been operating the old mill since 1898, but after acquiring the property, which included several tracts of land, tenant houses, the old grist mill and sundry other items for $1,100.00 in 1901, they demolished the old structure. On November 1, 1901, David A. Conner wrote:

Paynter’s old mill, recently purchased of the Wagamon Brothers, has been torn away, and a new one on modern principles will be erected on the old site.

The Wagamon brothers undertook the construction of a massive new four-story mill with modern rolling equipment. In the December 20, 1901 Milton News letter, David A. Conner wrote:

J. H. Davidson, contractor and builder, is building the mill house for the Wagamon Brothers. The frame is raised and it is a heavy one. The building is 36×40 feet, and three and one-half stories high.

J. H. Davidson was the same contractor who would later enlarge the Milton Methodist Protestant Church building (today’s Lydia B. Cannon Museum).

The photograph of the mill shown at the top of this posting is one of the earliest and least damaged pictures of the first mill built by the Wagamon Brothers; it was taken in the 1900’s. From a meticulous list of expenditures kept by Daniel Wagamon, we know the new mill cost approximately $2,000.00 to build, including the milling equipment and turbines; with the cost of the acquisition of the property, the total paid by the Wagamons to get the new mill operational was a little over $3,100. The new mill was assessed at a value of $4,000.00 by 1904. A few years after its completion, Hamilton and his brother William bought out John T.’s shares and became co-owners of the mill.


Hamilton K. Wagamon (1859 – 1935); undated photo, probably around 1900 (courtesy of Fred Pepper)


The Wagamon brothers were astute businessmen. David A. Conner writes, in his Milton News letter of April 18, 1902:

The flour mill of the Wagamon Brothers is now doing its best work. Harry Robinson, under whose charge the work is done, is an adept in the milling business and the pond has a full head of water, and when this fails, a plenty of steam can be raised. All of these facilities and conveniences, combined with a good market and ready sale for all of their manufacture, and plenty of custom work beside, makes this mill a paying one to its owners. The Wagamon Brothers made a decided hit when they built their mill in Milton.


Sometime after the Wagamon brothers acquired the mill property and built the new mill, the pool began to be called “Wagamon’s Pond” interchangeably with “Mill Pond” and “Paynter’s Pond.” As last as 1953, a Sussex County highway map uses the name “Paynter’s Pond” to identify the pond, and all three names appear in news articles and documents throughout the Wagamons’ ownership. The new mill continued to be a commercial success until it burned down in 1943. It was replaced by the Diamond State Roller Mills plant, which operated from 1946 to 1958. At that time, the mill changed ownership and continued to do so through the 1960’s. By 1972, the structure was a safety hazard. and the local fire department demolished it by burning it down.

Of the original three Wagamon brother who established the business in 1901, we have one portrait: that of Hamilton K. Wagamon, familiarly known as “Kirt,” who married David A. Conner’s daughter Hettie.

1953 Sussex County road map showing mill pond labeled as Paynter’s Pond (courtesy Harrison Howeth)

Diamond State Roller Mills Ca. 1950 (courtesy of Fred Pepper)


There is yet another name that appears in connection with the pond: “Lake Fanganzyki.” That name appears in only one context – David A. Conner’s Milton News letter in the Milford Chronicle, during his years as correspondent for that newspaper. There is no record of any such name in any deeds, land transfers, or other official documents or maps of the time. In fact, there is no reference to any person or place, real or imagined, anywhere with that name. Hancock and McCabe, authors of Milton’s First Century, believe that Conner is likely to have invented that name, just as he invented other honorifics and place names for Milton and Miltonians to suit his own sardonic style. I have no choice but to agree.

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We have one more Milton mill to take a quick look at:


The Royal Packing Company and a subsidiary, the Edge Water Roller Process Flour Mill of Milton were incorporated in March of 1907 and work was quickly begun on the large grist mill building. The foundation was laid within six weeks and the 28 ft. by 14 ft., three story flour mill was enclosed by early June. Work was then begun on the 59 ft. by 79 ft. Royal Packing Co. foundation. [The Royal Packing Co. was a cannery, of which there were several in Milton and many more around the county.]

Around 1910 Nathaniel Wallace White bought a share in the Royal Packing Co. and he quickly saw a new opportunity to lower the operating costs of the cannery and sell a new kind of commodity to the town of Milton: electric power. The town was having problems with the Georgetown utility supplying electricity for the town’s street lights. On 1/25/1911, the Wilmington Morning News reported that the utility had to curtail supplying electricity to Milton’s movie house in order to keep the street lights on. White convinced his son-in-law Oscar Betts, R. Frank Walls, and John Robbins to join in a venture with him; they raised $20,000 in capital to start the Milton Light, Power and Water Company, which would produce electricity for the milling operation next door to the cannery and sell the surplus power to Milton customers. The hydroelectric power facility was set up at Ingram’s Mill, about 3 miles southwest of Milton.

The Royal Packing Co. cannery, ca. 1907, photographed by Dr. William Douglas. These structures were destroyed by the fire of 1909 and quickly rebuilt (courtesy of Milton Historical Society).


On September 9, 1912, the Wilmington Morning News reported that due to insufficient water flow on the Broadkill, the Ingram facility could not produce sufficient voltage to supply the current required to light Milton’s streets, even after addition of another water turbine, and operations were suspended. It was clear to many that the suspension was permanent. The plant continued to supply electricity for Edge Water Roller Mills, but by 1917 the utility was several years in arrears with the State of Delaware for taxes. It quietly folded.

Somehow, even with the failure of the power generation venture, White convinced his son-in-law Oscar Betts and John M. Robbins to buy out the remaining shares of the Royal Packing Co. and Edge Water Mills, in 1917. One could reasonably think that the investment decision was motivated by the U. S. entry into WWI, and the anticipation of a huge demand for canned goods. This would prove to be a fateful decision for John M. Robbins.

In 1918, while the U. S. was sending troops in large numbers to fight in France, an acute shortage of tin cans developed. Newspapers of the day reported that the problem was logistical: there weren’t enough railroad freight cars during wartime prioritization that were available to transport tin plate from Pittsburgh to the seven can factories in Maryland—the only suppliers of cans to Delaware canneries. Production faltered for a time in the Delaware canneries. Then, in 1919, the supply of tomatoes available to canneries in the region was cut drastically when growers would not enter into futures contracts until their unrealistically high price demands were met. Production of canned tomatoes fell more than 80% in the region that year.


Finally, the U. S. was hit with a protracted wave of strikes by industrial and railroad workers from 1919 to 1921 that also impacted the canneries’ supply chain. It was an extraordinary run of bad luck that doomed the cannery and the mill, however good the investment appeared initially.

We could theorize that Robbins was simply throwing good money after bad, trying to keep the business afloat, but by 1921 the Royal Packing Co. closed its doors and was acquired by Delaware Trust Co., probably as a seizure for default on a loan or loans. The bank turned around and sold the factories to Hazzard and Wilson, who re-opened them after a few months’ time.

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Sources: The Mansion Farm Inn B & B https://www.mansionfarminn.com

http://broadkillblogger.org, a blog by Phil Martin

Wilmington Morning News:

February 24, 1917; March 29, 1921; July 13, 1921; June 25, 1924; The Canner, October 4, 1919 The History of Mansion Farm (author unknown) Milton Historical Society collections


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