The Old Red Mill
It seems as if every state has at least one “Old Red Mill”, but size-challenged Delaware once had at least three of them. One of them, also known as John England’s Grist Mill, still exists on Red Mill Road (of course) in New Castle County not far from Christiana Hospital. I believe it is now a residence. The huge mill that was once on Silver Lake in Milford was known locally as the Old Red Mill, even though “MILFORD MILLS” was painted in large white letters high on the side of the building.
I think a lot of you remember seeing the Old Red Mill that we’re interested in on the east side of Rt. 1, the Coastal Highway, just north of Nassau. The waterway that feeds Red Mill Pond was once called Cool Spring Branch for its entire length, but now only the part west of the dam goes by that name and the part downstream of the dam is now known as Old Mill Creek. It joins the Broadkill River near the southern end of Broadkill Beach.
Samuel Paynter bought Broadkiln Hundred property in 1732 and owned the first mill on Cool Spring Branch somewhere around 1750. His grandson, also Samuel Paynter, once served as Delaware Governor (1824-1827.) The mill was first a wool carding mill operated by Peter Parker and also had a leather tankard, probably owned by Helmanus Wiltbank. The mill was sold to Elijah Register, timberman and ship owner, and then to Robert Hammond, who is said to have owned it when it burned in 1885.
On January 28, 1905 The News Journal reported:
"Edward T. Veasey, who recently acquired possession of the old Red Mill property, near Nassau, has moved there from Lewes. He proposes to erect a grist and saw mill."
The venture must not have been successful because in December 1908 the mill was up for sheriff's sale. The town of Lewes was interested in the property to furnish power for their street lights.
Arthur B. Sharp purchased the mill in early January, 1927. Less than two minths later, on the morning of February 26th, 1927, a fire destroyed the mill. Damage was estimated to be about $15,000, but insurance only covered about $10,000. The fire was reported by Mr. Sharp but by the time the Lewes Fire Co. arrived it was too late to save the mill. The fire company did save three nearby homes, including that of Mr. Sharp.
On January 29th, 1928, Arthur Sharp was arrested and charged with paying a mill employee, George Moseley, to burn the mill down so that Sharp could collect the $10,300 insurance. Moseley was also charged with actually carrying out the plan. Another mill employee, Irving Sanders, who boarded with the Sharps, was a star witness against both men. He alleged that he overheard Sharp offer Moseley $150 to torch the building and that he was given $1 to purchase kerosene with which to start the fire. Saunders alleged that Moseley saturated approximately 8 sacks with some kind of crude oil which were to be placed in the grain elevators throughout the mill. It was also the job of Moseley, according to Saunders, to pour kerosene down the elevators. Both Sharp and Mosely denied any knowledge of the origin of the fire. Sharp, it is said, claims that it would not have been of material benefit to him to have the mill fired, because he barely had enough to clear up the indebtedness.
Editors note: Sorry, but I could not find a record of how this case was resolved. If anyone knows, please leave me a message.
Sometime in the 1930s Daniel Stauffer bought the property and rebuilt the mill from the foundation up. He bought two used turbines from Hearns in Seaford and reportedly ran the mill as a hobby.
Albert Dorman and his wife Mae Ritter Dorman were said to be the last to operate the mill.
In 1958 the "Cool Spring Power & Water" planned to acquire a number of ponds, including Red Mill Pond, for their future use as a water supply. John S Thatcher was principal owner and became known as 'The Water King” because he was said to own more water than the state.
In 1965 a carpenter named John McVerry signed a two-year lease with the Cool Spring Power & Water Co. that would allow him to harness the mills power to operate woodworking machinery. He built a 2,500 lb. undershot waterwheel and hitched it to his equipment and began turning out dog houses and doing furniture repair. He was in the process of connecting a burr stone so that he could grind corn into meal that he planned to sell on the local market, but in January of 1969 he slipped on ice on the platform around the waterwheel and fell into the mill tailrace. The result was a gash in the head that required 14 stitches to close and a fractured hip. The injuries prevented Mr. McVerry from completing the work and he eventually lost his lease.
In 1974 Joseph Hudson and Stanley Thompson of New Dimensions Inc., a Lewes realty agency, had an almost half million-dollar option to buy the 150-acre Red Mill Pond, plus three ponds in Milton, Wagamon's, Diamond and Lavinia, and Millsboro Pond. This option expired April 12 and Thatcher said if the ponds weren’t sold; “I will drain the ponds at high noon on April 13th, then I will plant wild rice, harvest it at $8 per pound." Thatcher felt the 16-foot-deep soil beneath the waters of the ponds was richer than the bottom of the Nile. Hudson & Thompson said they intended to buy the ponds and sell water rights to property owners near the ponds. Joseph Hudson and Stanley Thompson ended up buying all five ponds for a little over $200,000. Their intention was to protect the homeowners in their Overbrook Shores development on Red Mill Pond. After securing the water rights, the next year all the ponds were again for sale, at very bargain prices.
More recently, in the October 27, 2008 edition of the Wilmington News Journal Molly Murray wrote: “Lewes Man Hopes to Rebuild Red Mill and Its History”. Craig Hudson, a Lewes area businessman, and Joseph Hudson’s son, had plans to rebuild the old mill on property his family owned, but during the deconstruction he found out that he needed a variance because the property was so close to Rt. 1.
Hudson said that at least one part of the foundation appeared to be original to the oldest mill, but the rest was not as old. “It really is in a bad state of repair,” he said, “I want to try to restore it, my great grandfather ran it. Somehow we're going to try to get the thing replicated as best we can.” Regrettably, Mr. Hudson died before his dream could be realized.
Sources: B&W photo - Milford Museum
The Evening Journal / News Journal, Wilmington, De
Color photo - Delaware Public Archives