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The Olde Mills of Appoquinimink Hundred

Noxontown Mill ca. early 1900s - Delaware Public Archives

Early Settlements - [1888]

In 1671 a patent was granted to Abraham Coffin for four hundred acres of land called "Mountain Neck." It was for some reason abandoned, and in 1686 was resurveyed for Johannes De Haes and Ephraim Herman. De Haes was a native of France and the maternal ancestor of the Janvier family; he was a prominent man, a magistrate and a member of the first Legislature of Pennsylvania, held under Penn in 1683. He subsequently became the sole owner of the above tract and also acquired other property in New Castle County. At his death he devised his estate to his son Roelef, who was a member of the first Legislative Assembly in Delaware in 1704. This farm afterwards came into the possession of Thomas Noxon, the founder of Noxontown. A portion of it was conveyed in 1742 by Henry Petersen to Abraham Gooding. In the deed it is mentioned that it is known as "Lucases Neck," but in the original grant was called "Mountain Neck," and near it was "Thomas Noxon's new mill-pond." Brigadier-General Caesar Rodney, with his corps of Delaware militia, encamped for a season on this farm. Noxon purchased other land in this and St. George's Hundreds, He erected two grist-mills in the vicinity of this tract, and on their sites there are now several mills. According to tradition, in early times fairs were held annually at Noxontown for several days, at which were exhibited home products and imports from England. It was a season of great festivity, and the fairs were attended by many persons from a great distance. On Noxon's land, between the Appoquinimink and a branch called Sassafras Branch (Noxontown mill-pond), were a bake-house, a brew-house and a malt-house, and a landing which was used as late as 1855. An old frame building, recently torn town, was used for hotel purposes at a very early date. A brick house in good repair, now owned by William Evans, was built by Noxen, and at one time contained a stone with the inscription "Thomas Noxon, 1740." This was torn out by one of the owners, and is now in the possession of M. N. Willits. Thomas Noxon died in 1743 and devised his mills to his son Benjamin, and his other estate he divided among his children. Descendants of Thomas Noxon still reside in this hundred. The land on which he resided is now owned by W. E. Evans. The adjoining land, formerly belonging to Noxon, is now in the possession of Edward Appleton.

Industries - 1888

The earliest record of any industry in Appoquinimink Hundred is relative to the mills in Noxontown. When they were built is unknown, but in 1736 Thomas Noxon purchased an acre of land for the use of a new mill. The mill here referred to is the mill known now as Drummond's Mill.

From this it is fair to infer that the mill now owned and operated by William E. Evans was erected at an earlier date. It is said that the old mill was used solely for merchant work, and that ships ran to it and were loaded at its door. The new mill was erected for custom work, which was no small industry at that time. After the death of Thomas Noxon, in 1743, he devised his mills to his son, Benjamin, who operated them for some time. In 1785 Benjamin Williams was the owner of these mills, and on the assessment list of 1816 they were charged to the estate of Joseph Curry. The old mill was afterwards owned respectively by Samuel Hand, Edward Silcox and now by William E. Evans. It is a four-story frame building, forty by thirty feet. The grinding is done by burr, and is entirely custom work. The new mill was later owned by J. Drummond, and is now in the possession of the New Castle County Bank. It was refitted with a complete roller system in 1887, and has a capacity of a barrel and a half per hour. It is now operated by Willits Clothier.

Wiggins Mill - The earliest record of the mill now [1888] owned by I. A. Harmon is found on the assessment list of 1816, when it was the property of Joseph & Whitby, who was a large land-owner in the vicinity of the mill. At his death the mill passed to his son, John, who operated it for some time, and then sold it to Garret Ottison. It was afterwards owned by [Joseph A.] Hunter, who sold it to _____ McDaniel, by whom it was repaired and generally improved. The mill was next owned respectively by John Lewis and William Johnson, by whom it was conveyed to the present owner. It was a two-story frame building, situated a mile north of Townsend, It is fitted up with burrs, and grinds custom work exclusively.

I. A. Harmon's (aka Wiggins) Mill Wheel, Townsend ca. 1905 - Delaware Public Archives

In 1883 Samuel R. Warren erected a saw-mill on his premises in this hundred. This be operated until 1887, when he moved it to Sudlersville. It had a capacity of two thousand five hundred feet per day and gave employment to thirteen men. Merchant and custom work were executed.

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


Wiggins Mill, Townsend

What is now refered to as Wiggins Mill Pond is located on Wiggins Mill Road on the north-west corner of Townsend. As stated in Thomas Scharf's history of Delaware, the mill was owned in 1816 by Joseph Whitby (I believe Joseph & Whitby to be a misprint), and Inherited by his son, John Whitby, who eventually sold it to Garret Ottison.

The next owner was Joseph A. Hunter, who apparently owned it when the Delaware Railroad was built through the area in 1856. He quickly brought a suit against the railroad, claiming that the railroad viaduct over Appoquinimink creek, just down-stream from his mill, had caused the water to back-up, restricting the operation of his waterwheel. Alas, I was unable to find out what the outcome of the suit was.

25 June 1857 - Delaware Weekly Republican

From Joseph Hunter, the mill passed on to ---?--- McDaniel, and then on to John Lewis and then William Johnson, from whom it passed about 1876 to Israel A. Harmon. Mr Harmon owned the mill for almost forty years, until his death in 1914. In 1905 he added roller mills to the mill, enabling him to compete with other mills in the area that were producing the pure, white flour that was now in vogue.

9 May 1878 - The Daily Gazette
15 May 1878 - The Daily Gazette

A sad sign of the times in the late 19th century, when a 'colored' man gets such a harsh punishment for stealing a keg of flour. A fine of 50 cents in 1878 would be worth about 30 times that amount today, or about $15, plus 20 lashes on the back, three months in jail and shaming for 6 months.

15 Sept. 1904 - The News Journal
15 Aug. 1905 - The Evening Journal

L. B. Shockly was "in charge", apparently meaning that he was the head miller, but the mill was still owned by Israel A. Harmon.

22 Aug. 1905 - The Evening Journal

9 Dec. 1914 - The News Journal

After Israel Harmon's death, the mill was acquired by George H. Wiggins. In 1915 the town of Townsend explored the possibility of installing a generator in the mill that would supply the town with elecric lights.

27 Oct. 1915 - The Morning News

29 Dec. 1915 - The Evening Journal

11 June 1928 - The Morning News

Wiggins Mill Bridge, 1968 - Library of Congress (control no. de 0461)

Wiggins Mill Bridge today - Google Earth

Wiggins Mill Bridge, 1968 - Library of Congress control no. de 0461

7 Aug. 1934 - The News Journal


Noxontown Mill

The Noxontown Mill is still standing, located on private property on the east side of a sharp bend on Noxontown Road, just south of Middletown, Delaware. The Noxontown Millpond now belongs to St. Andrews private school, which was the filming location for the 1989 film, "Dead Poet's Society" staring Robin Williams.

In the years immediately following the Civil War, Noxontown Mill quickly passed through a succession of owners. Two brothers, Samuel and Jonathan Hand, purchased the mill—-but neither brother could turn a profit. Each brother, in turn, lost the mill back to Edward Silcox, a local money-lender.

Oct. 30, 1875 - The News Journal

The next owner was William E. Evans, Samuel Hand's son-in-law, who purchased the mill [in 1875]. Evans, of Welsh descent, was an experienced miller who had operated grist mills in Dover and Blackbird, Delaware. Evans proved to be the man to turn around the fortunes of the faltering mill. Instead of running Noxontown Mill for only a short time, as his immediate predecessors had done, Evans transformed the mill into a profitable proposition—and his descendants have retained ownership of the mill until the present time (1976).

When Evans purchased the Noxontown Mill, it was already 130 years old. Thomas Noxon constructed it in or around 1740, and at the same time he built a residence near the mill and two other grist mills in the area, at the head of the Appoquinimink River. [2] Noxon's mills were in most respects typical of the small, localized, grain-milling establishment that predominated in Delaware—and in the rest of the country—during the colonial period, and indeed throughout much of the 19th century. Water-powered, the mills handled locally harvested grain. In the colonial period, Noxon's mills did benefit from one important advantage which many similar mills lacked: the navigability of a nearby river, in this instance the Appoquinimink. In an era of dreadfully poor overland transportation, the river afforded Noxon's mills cheap transportation and access to a larger marketplace. Largely because of their advantageous location at the head of the Appoquinimink, Noxon's mills flourished, and around them a village sprang up which bore Noxon's name.

Chartered in 1742, colonial Noxontown boasted a hotel, malthouse, brew-house, and bake-house. Noxontown for a brief period served as a major activity center for its part of Delaware; it was especially noted for its annual fair. At this event, Delawarians gathered to buy and sell livestock, to purchase locally produced goods, and to sample Imported goods from England. But Noxontown faltered in the 19th century, giving way to nearby Middletown and Odessa. By [1875], when William E. Evans purchased Noxon's last surviving mill on the Sassafras Branch of the Appoquinimink, Noxontown had already, in a sense, disappeared. The name of "Noxontown" lingered on, but the "town" consisted of Noxon's house, the mill and milltown, farm acreage, farm buildings, and a tenant house. William E. Evans owned the whole of these properties, and he set about making Noxontown Mill a profitable flour mill.

Source: Historic American Engineering Record, National Park Service,

NOXONTOWN MILL HAER DE-9 - Author: Historian Larry D. Lankton, August 1976.

Noxontown Mill loading dock - Library of Congress

Noxontown Mill - 1936 - Delaware Public Archives

Noxontown Mill turbine well - 1976 - Library of Congress

Noxontown Mill ground floor millstone - 1976 - Library of Congress

Noxontown Mill ground floor flour bin and roller mill - 1976 - Library of Congress

Noxontown Mill second floor - 1976 - Library of Congress

John Noxon house - 1936 - Delaware Public Archives

Noxontown millers house - 1970 - Delaware Public Archives

To read the rest of this detailed history of the Noxontown Mill, as well as the author's Notes and Bibliography, please go to:


On my next post, in two weeks, we'll explore the old mills in St. Georges Hundred, the largest hundred in New Castle county, which includes all of the area from the Appoquinimink River to the C&D Canal.

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