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The Olde Mills of Blackbird Hundred

On our virtual tour of the old mills in Delaware, we started out in the Spring of 2021 at Abbotts Mill in northern Sussex County and we’ve worked our way down the eastern side of Sussex and back up the western side. Then, last December, we started our tour of Kent County mills, which we finished at Duck Creek, near Smyrna, two weeks ago.

I make no claim to be covering every single mill that was ever in Delaware, but I’m doing the best that I can, in the time that I have. Today we will start traveling up through New Castle County, where we will eventually explore the home of ‘modern’ milling. Oliver Evans, Delaware’s “Inventive Genius of the Industrial Revolution” was from New Castle County, as were numerous early Quaker owned mills along the Brandywine. It should be an interesting journey as we learn more about them together.


Blackbird Hundred Industries - [1888]

The earliest industries in Blackbird Hundred were several old grist-mills which have not been in use for many years. Most prominent of these were [1] the tidewater mill of Captain Abraham Staats, on the farm now owned by Isaac Staats, and [2] a wind-mill for grinding wheat and corn on the Liston farm now owned by David J. Cummins. There was also an old mill on the McMurphey farm, now owned by G. W. W. Naudain. A [3] mill-race and dam in good condition on the North West Branch, on farm of V. O. Hill, give evidence that a mill was once located there. As early as 1746 there was a [4] mill pond formed by Ridley Run, now Green Spring Branch. The mill was situated on land now owned by William Nailor and has long since passed away. A mill-race was dug from the stream through a field to the mill, and is still in existence.

In 1780 Ira E. Lyons built a [5] mill on Blackbird Creek, near the village of Blackbird. He retained possession of it for many years, and finally sold it to Auley Lore. It was subsequently owned by Jonathan Hand, William E. Evans, Jacob Richardson, and is now in possession of Samuel R. Warren. The present grist-mill is partially stone and partially frame, does both custom and merchant work, and has a capacity of twenty barrels per day. The saw-mill in connection has a capacity of fifteen hundred feet per day. The mills are operated by steam and water-power.

Alvan Allen commenced manufacturing tiles [6] about 1863, in Appoquinimink Hundred, near Smyrna Landing. In 1868 he associated with himself William .M. Bell, and the business was conducted in partnership for several years. In 1869 Allen & Bell were awarded a contract for sixty thousand drain tiles for park purposes, by the commissioners of Fairmount Park. After Mr. Allen withdrew from the firm the tile-yard was operated by Mr. Bell alone until October, 1884, when he sold to Joshua T. Jerman and John Cosgriff, the latter of whom had served in the capacity of superintendent from the commencement. The business is now carried on under the style of Jerman & Cosgriff. The clay pit, cover-ing ten acres, is of a superior quality, and the half million tiles produced annually are shipped to all parts of the United States. The tile-yard is in operation during eight months of the year, and eight men are constantly employed in manufacturing the various sizes and styles of tiling. Steam is employed to operate the mills.

A [7] steam saw-mill was built on land of Isaac R. Staats, in 1873, by John B. Maddox, of Maine. The mill was operated by him for a few years, and then sold to Isaac R. Staats, who operated it until March 21, 1879, when it was burned. In the same year another mill was built, which is still standing. The mill has a capacity of one thousand five hundred feet per day, and both merchant and custom work is done.

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


Beers 1868 map of Blackbird Hundred - Delaware Public Archives

Editor's Note: As near as I can tell, by comparing the 'Beers' 1868 map of Blackbird Hundred, Scharf's 1888 description , and Google earth, here’s where most of the mills listed above in Scharf’s 1888 history would have been located:

#1 – Staat’s tidewater mill was probably where Paddock Road crosses Sawmill Branch just east of Gardner Road.

(“A tide mill is quite simply a water mill that derives its power from the rise and fall of the tides. It is almost never referred to as a “seawater” or “saltwater” mill because the chemical composition of the water driving the mill wheel is not important. What counts is that the water impounded behind a mill dam can only be put to work after the water level outside of the dam has sufficiently dropped during the ebb tide.” [The Tinkham Brothers’ Tide-Mill by J.T. Trowbridge. Edited and with Commentary by Richard A. Duffy. Arlington, MA: Arlington Historical Society, 1999)

#2 – Windmill on the Liston farm was near the intersection of Paddock Road and Smyrna Landing Road (in front of the Vaughn Correctional Center.)

#3 – A mill-race and on the North West Branch. North West Branch is now called Sawmill Branch, the mill was probably where Walker School Road crosses it, just NE of Gardner Road.

#4 – A mill on the land of William Nailor was possibly where Vandyke – Greenspring Road crossed Greenspring Branch just west of Massey Church Road.

#5 - Ira E. Lyons mill, aka Blackbird Mill, was on Blackbird Station Road and Mill Lane, just NW of Blackbird Forest Road.

#6 - Allen & Bell / Jerman & Cosgriff tile plant was near the end of Brick Store Landing Road.

Old Brick Store - source: Historic American Buildings Survey

#7 - John B. Maddox steam sawmill was probably near the intersection of Sawmill Branch Road and Rt. 9.

Blackbird Mill

The first mill that we will visit, as we venture up through New Castle County, will be Blackbird Mill, which was located on Blackbird Station Road, about 2 ½ miles south of Townsend and less than a mile from Rt-13.

Blackbird Mill site.

Blackbird Mill was built on Blackbird Creek in 1780 by Ira Lyons, near the village of Blackbird. He sold it to 1812 by Auley Lore in 1812 and it was known for most of the nineteenth century as “Lore’s Mill,” even though Auley died about 1847. According to a Nov. 23, 1908 article in The Evening Journal by William Andrew Hukill, who knew him for many years; “Auley Lore was an active business man, sharp and shrewd, a characteristic of the Lore family. He had extensive tracts of farm and timber lands, in conjunction with which he ran a saw and a grist mill, employing many men. He was originally from New Jersey, as was many of his employes (sic), sawyers, millers, ox and mule drivers, and his teams of many kinds were continually on the road conveying the logs to the mill or hauling the cordwood to Weldon’s Landing on Blackbird Creek for the Philadelphia market. He built the nice house where Mortimer Richards (his grandson) now [1909] lives and owns, in 1841, and lived there until his death, I think late in 1847.”

Sheriff's Sale - 9 Sept. 1882 -

Dam Breaks - 1 July 1895 - Daily Republican

23 Oct. 1901 - Daily Republican

In 1875 Mortimer Records turned the saw mill into a grist mill. In October of 1901 it was reported that he had installed a new steam engine so that he could run the mill whenever necessary. In August of 1902 he drained the millpond so he could install new wastegates.

27 Aug. 1902 - The Evening Journal

In 1916 Perry Othersan, of Merwick, Md., leased the Blackbird Feed Mill from George Records for 1916.

5 December 1918 - The Morning News

From 1918-20 Theodore T. Ferguson remodeled the mill, probably adding new roller mills. The modifications were necessary because the United States Food Administration had determined that the old machinery wasted too much water.

18 April 1919 - The Morning News

In 1922 Edwin B. Phillips leased the mill from Theodore Ferguson. Mr. Phillips made minor repairs and intended to engage in a merchant and custom business. The mill had been closed because a long dry spell led to a shortage of water.

21 March 1922 - The News Journal

In 1945 the Blackbird Grist Mill, the six room miller's house and 20 acres, including the pond, were offered for sale for $3,500.

The News Journal - 6 September 1945

Today there is no trace of the mill.

Blackbird Miller's House ? - 18 June 2006 - The News Journal

Ed. Note: I searched everywhere, but was not able to find a single picture of the Blackbird Mill.


Next time, in two weeks, we'll visit Noxontown Pond, now owned by St. Andrews private school where the 1989 film "Dead Poet's Society" was filmed. I found many pictures of the Noxontown Mill, both outside and inside.

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