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The Walton, Whann & Company Super Phosphate

Updated: Dec 12, 2022

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Something NEW is coming to this blog....

Here's what's happening at Abbotts Mill Nature Center this week, and what's scheduled for next week...

I started writing about the old mills in Delaware almost two years ago and the end is in sight. We're in Christiana Hundred right now and then we'll explore the many old mills in Brandywine Hundred. There were just a few mills in New Castle and Red Clay Hundreds and we'll take a look at them as well.

Then, when I'm convinced that there isn't much more to discover about Delaware's old mills, I'm going back to where this blog started - Abbotts Mill Nature Center. Of course, if some new information about an old mill rears it's head, I'll be happy to include it on this site. But first, let's look at this week's old mill.

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The Walton, Whann & Company Super Phosphate


I'm going to include the Walton, Whann & Co. in this blog of Delaware's Mills, even though it wasn't a grist mill and it wasn't powered by water. Saw mills aren't grist mills and lots of grist mills were powered by steam or diesel engines. It also isn't in Christiana Hundred, but is just across the river in Wilmington Hundred. Oh, well...


WHANN'S Raw Bone Super-Phosphate - The Library Company of Philadelphia

The Walton & Whann Super Phosphate Manufactory meets all the other requirements of a mill. They imported animal bones from meat-packing houses as far away as the western United States and South America, and then ground them up for fertilizer. Phosphate rock from their own land on the Cooper river, in South Carolina was also imported and ground up. Sulfur that they had imported from Sicily was used to make sulfuric acid, also referred to as "oil of vitriol." The ground phosphate was dissolved in the oil of vitriol and was then known commercially as acid phosphate. After the bone meal and other ingredients were added, it was transform into an ammoniated super-phosphate, of greater strength and fertilizing property. "Steam power was used for grinding operations, breaking bones, mixing and pumping water."

(Industries of Delaware, Richard Edwards, Editor and Publisher, Wilmington, Delaware, 1880.)

The buildings devoted to the phosphate and chemical works were along the Christina River in Wilmington, next to the Market Street Bridge. The present location is behind the Amtrak-SEPTA Station platforms, where the Tubman Garret Riverfront Park is now.


The factory buildings contained chambers that were constructed of sheet lead, 40 feet in height, and having open spaces at the top and bottom between the partitions, and were designed for the production, on a large scale, of sulfuric acid (oil of vitriol.)


Whann's Super-Phosphate Manufactory - The Library Company of Philadelphia

The works reportedly turned out 100 - 150 tons of the super-phosphate fertilizer daily, the demand being equal to, and often greater than the supply. In 1880 the manufactory was considered one of the most important in the city. Schooners arrived with supplies or departed, loaded with phosphate fertilizer, nearly every day.

July 7th, 1879 - The News Journal

February 11th, 1884 - The Morning News

But, they didn't always get to their destination...


January 28th, 1884 - The Daily Republican

As far as I could tell, nothing was ever discovered of the schooner "James Satterthwaite." If anyone knows what happened, please leave a comment below. My guess is that the "overhauling and repairing" wasn't as thorough as it should have been.


Walton, Whann and Co. got it's start in 1861 and was incorporated in 1865. John Whann left the company in 1869, to start his own manufactory in Richmond, Virginia. Never the less, Walton, Whann and Co.. made no change to their name.

June 3rd, 1869 - Delaware Tribune

After a very successful manufacturing career, the Walton, Whann & Company met with disaster during the financial panic of 1893 and it ceased doing business in 1894 .

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Here's what's happening at Abbotts Mill Nature Center.


Last week an arborist visited to cut down or trim several of our trees so they would no longer be a hazard. All trees eventually die of old age, and some succumb to disease or insect damage. Nearly all of our ash trees have died in the past year or two from damage by the Emerald Ash Borer. If they were near one of our trails, then we had to have them cut down so their limbs wouldn't fall on you or me. If the trees were not near a trail, then they were left alone so the woodpeckers could make use of the insects.


On Tuesday, Dec. 6th, over fifty (50) 4th grade students from Benjaman Banneker Elementary School in Milford braved the cold rain to visit AMNC. They took our "Mill and Machines Class" and visited four stations, where they got hands-on experience about how Pulleys, Levers, and Gears work. They also got to peek into the mill (from outside) to get some idea of what the equipment looks like inside. Then they got to operate a portable model of part of the mill that included an working elevator, a chute and an Archimedes screw conveyor.



On Wednesday forty-five (45) more students from the same school took our "Mill and Machines Class."


Then, on Thursday, fifteen (15) students from the Central Delaware Christian Academy in Dover took our "Discovering Habitats Class." The students visited three different habitats (The streamside, the forest and the meadow) and they learned which different animals live in those areas and how they survive in those habitats.


There are no more classes scheduled for the rest of the month.


Notice: If you visit Abbotts Mill Nature Center during a weekday, and you see a big, yellow bus (or busses) in the parking lot, then you know that there are classes in progress. The kids are not, just on a field trip, they are actually in a school class.

You are still welcome, but please don't disturb the classes, which are nearly always somewhere outdoors.


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