The Laurel Historical Society is staging a Hoedown at Hitchens Homestead on Saturday, June 8th, featuring live music, food trucks, beer and wine, and artisan exhibits. Located at 205 Willow Street, overlooking Records’ Pond, and commonly known as “the house on the hill,” the Hitchens Homestead is in the beginning stages of an extensive restoration project. The main house was built in 1878 by Emmanuel Twilley, one of the owners of the nearby mill. The event is a fundraiser for the restoration project; tickets are $10 per adult, or $5 per child under 16. Advance tickets will be mailed to society members, but they are also available at Laurel Pizzeria and Maxine’s Hair Happenings, as well as online.
Category Archives: Sussex County
Some time ago I came across this video about the history and restoration of Bethesda Methodist Episcopal Church, located on Wootten Road between Laurel and Gumboro, and was intrigued by the reference to the journal of a minister who preached there. Bethesda is special to me for a number of reasons: It is the closest church to my home, though it has never been open during my lifetime; as kids, my brother and I often rode our bikes to the church and poked around in the cemetery and fellowship hall; and later this year, I’ll be getting married in the church.
Hoping to learn more about Bethesda and its congregation, I searched and found that the journal in question is that of Rev. John M. Purner, and that it is in the possession of Barratt’s Chapel & Museum of Methodism in Frederica. I was delighted to learn that the museum has transcribed copies of the journal for sale for a mere $5, and stopped by during regular hours yesterday afternoon.
The journal was transcribed and edited by Barbara Duffin and Philip Lawton for The Commission on Archives and History of the Peninsula-Delaware Conference of the United Methodist Church in 2004, and opens with a two-page biography of Purner. Born in Cecil County in 1833, he was assigned to the Laurel circuit in 1859 as a Junior Preacher, and subsequently served several circuits on the peninsula before suffering a tragically early death in 1867. His journal covers the period between January and May of 1860, and consists of short, fragmented, poorly spelled entries, mostly covering the churches he preached at, his text, and the local families who welcomed him into their homes for meals and lodging. Without a home of his own, he stayed with a different family every single night.
The entry for Sunday, January 22, 1860, is typical:
St. Thomas, preach Eph. 3 ch 18 – 19 v plenty of words but no liberty ~ small congregation ~ burbing [?] Ish 40 ch 8 v ~ midling time large congration supper at Sister Danson ~ with Mr. Rusell the Bible Agent go Concord hear Chaplin tex “The Son of man goeth” very good sermon take sacrated good time, it had been 18 months since I had taken it before. return home with Sister Danson Mr. Rusel stay all Night
Purner preached at many local churches, including Jones, Bethesda, Hepburn (now King’s), St. Thomas, Old Zion (colored), and Sailor’s Bethel.
Several familiar names from the Bethesda neighborhood appear. For example, he spent the nights of January 29th and 30th with Hezekiah Matthews, then spent the following day with Matthews “wrighting out a sermon for Conf” (Conference).
Reading between the lines, one wonders at the amount of attention Purner seems to have received from young women, and how it might have affected him, a young man in his late twenties. Consider the entry from January 18th:
Leave for Br E. Hitches take dinner Miss Collins their visiting spend it after noon in righting ~ spend in eving ‘th the girles vey plesently ~ a day of dark temptation from the Devil.. Spend the even studing Watson~
A number of other entries mention visits from single women, often in groups of two or three — or more, as was the case on February 14th:
Studing Watson ~&c interrupted with visiters Miss E. Cannon, Miss E. Gordy Miss Mary Mathews, Mar Cannon Magge Collens, Kati Collens poor chance to study without a home ~ go to class good tim Reeceve a letter from Sister Marria heare of Rebecca illness ~~ all Night at Cap Lewes the girlle stay all Night to dark to go home.
Though Purner’s brief notes probably contain little of interest to those who aren’t familiar with the churches he preached at or the families he stayed with, they nonetheless offer a rare glimpse into the daily life of a young Methodist circuit rider in the Laurel area and the people who inhabited that life. The fact that he was only here for about a year, and died only seven years later at age 34, makes his journal all the more precious.
– Chris Slavens
Grab some popcorn, silence your cell phone, and enjoy the show.
In Historic Movie Theaters of Delaware, published by the History Press, film buff and writer Michael J. Nazarewycz invites readers to take a deep dive into the history of 150 movie theaters in the First State, from the Middletown Opera House—where attendees enjoyed viewing still photographs projected via Sciopticon in the early 1870s—to the multiplex cinemas of today. This is a cleverly cinema-themed book, with punny section titles including Opening Credits, Closing Credits, Fade In, Fade Out, and Moving Pictures, all referring to the life and times of various theaters. Rather than trace the history of individual theaters from beginning to end, Nazarewycz tackles the statewide scene in chronological order, one era at a time. Thus we learn in “Take” or chapter four that T. J. Waller built the first Waller Theatre in Laurel in 1913, but its disastrous burning in 1940 and subsequent replacement are mentioned three chapters later. The Waller (or New Waller) closed permanently after its ceiling collapsed in 1967.
Of the 150 theaters covered, only 22 are open today, a mere “14 of which are full-time movie theaters,” making Historic Movie Theaters of Delaware a valuable and important history of a vanishing part of Delaware’s past.
The Laurel Historical Society welcomes Michael J. Nazarewycz to St. Philip’s Episcopal Church on Saturday, March 16th, for a film-themed dinner, presentation, and book signing.
– Chris Slavens
I joined the Laurel Historical Society about three years ago, primarily because I appreciated the society’s newsletters and wanted to support it. Ned and Norma Jean Fowler promptly tracked me down and encouraged me to get involved. Since then, I’ve contributed a few short articles to the newsletter, most of which are also available on this site. Recently I’ve gotten more involved in LHS, and am now its newsletter editor, as well as a board member.
The Winter 2019 issue of the newsletter was printed in early January and mailed to members, and it will be available online in the near future, along with previous newsletters. I’ll also post my article, “Parramore’s Plantation at Whaley’s Crossroads,” on this blog. Editing this issue was a learning experience, and although I’m pleased with the final product, I have a few ideas for improvements which I’ll try with the Spring 2019 issue.
One of the things I’m hoping to accomplish with the newsletter is to preserve older locals’ memories in writing. There are many people in our community who know things that everybody else has forgotten, and their knowledge will die with them if we don’t talk to them and document what they have to say. I find that the handful of local residents in their 90’s, in particular, remember a Sussex County that the rest of us have never known. For example, I’ve asked many people if they’ve ever heard of the local roofed grave custom, and I even ran an ad in the Guide last year in the hopes of turning up new leads, but so far only two local men in their 90’s have recalled hearing about roofed graves — and even then, neither had actually seen them. Yet these mysterious grave shelters were supposedly quite common in the area between Laurel, Gumboro, and Salisbury in the mid- to late 1800s. What else has been forgotten by the Baby Boomers, Gen Xers, and millennials of Laurel? I think there are a lot of interesting stories out there, and I’d like to publish them.
So I’d like to sincerely invite anyone to contact me with any leads of interest. Photos, memories, suggestions, questions, etc. Possible future topics include the history of Scouting in Laurel (which dates back to 1912, just two years after the Boy Scouts were founded), the lost community near Sandy Fork known as Old Forge or Broad Creek Bridge, and wooden grave markers around Laurel. I’d also like to invite anyone who enjoys this blog to consider joining the society. Membership is only $30 for an individual, $50 for a family, or $100 for a business, and includes a print copy of each newsletter.
The Spring 2019 issue comes out in May; at the moment, it’s a dozen blank pages.
– Chris Slavens
From the second volume of the Biographical and Genealogical History of the State of Delaware, published in 1899:
LOWE’S CROSS ROADS, a village whose population is 200 or more, is situated in the midst of a level and partly wooded country, whose dark, loamy soil is productive of corn, vegetables and fruits. The place is about 14 miles from Georgetown, and is in the northern part of Gumboro hundred. Churches and schools are convenient.
Among the citizens of the town and its vicinity are the following:
Mrs. Sarah W. Brittingham
Wm. A. Cannon
Mrs. Nancy S. Collins
Mrs. Mary Downs
Stephen H. Downs
Philip E. English
Peter B. Gordy
W. T. Gray
Chas. S. Gumby
George H. Harrison
N. Washington Jones
Benj. S. King
C. E. King
George E. King
John S. Lecates
Minos B. Lingo
Stansbury C. Matthews
Levin H. Moore
Amelia G. Parsons
Elijah C. Short
Elijah W. Short
James N. Short
Wm. B. Truitt
John S. Baker
James B. Brown
Joseph M. Cannon
Elijah W. Collins
Jacob P. Collins
Ora J. Collins
Elijah R. Downs
James F. Downs
Jesse T. Downs
Joseph M. Downs
P. O. Downs
Stephen H. Downs
Thomas H. Downs
James M. Foskey
Aaron I. Gordy
Benton H. Gordy
Frank W. Gordy
John H. Gordy
John L. Gordy
Peter B. Gordy
Levi J. Gray
Wm. T. Gray
Stephen P. Gumby
George F. Hudson
Benjamin M. Jones
Elijah W. Jones
George W. Jones
Isaac S. Jones
Jacob S. Jones
Joseph B. Jones
Matthew R. King
Wm. C. King
John S. Lecates
Joseph H. Lecates
Minos B. Lingo
James H. Littleton
Henry C. Matthews
Elijah J. Mitchell
Ebenezer H. Parsons
James S. Parsons
Edward C. Pusey
George W. Pusey
William S. Pusey
Elijah C. Short
James N. Short
Burton P. Truitt
Cornelius W. West
John H. West
John T. West
Joseph P. West
Rufus W. West
William J. West
William H. Wooten
Note: The list of names is printed in paragraph form in the book; I’ve presented them this way for the sake of convenience. There are a few duplicates. Although I’m not certain how much territory this section covers, names like William J. West, John S. Lecates, Henry C. Matthews, and Benton H. Gordy indicate that the area around Whaley’s Crossroads and Terrapin Hill is included.
– Chris Slavens
Having lived at Whaley’s Crossroads for most of my life, I’ve always been interested in the history of the land that I call home. Who lived here in the past? Who was the first? If there were old, forgotten houses, where were they? Were today’s fields yesterday’s woods, and vice versa? What routes did the early roads follow? What did the land look like during the colonial era?
With the help of early maps, land records, wills and other genealogical records, and software, I’ve been able to answer some of these questions, but there is much that remains unknown. The Pomeroy & Beers Atlas of 1868, which features local roads, waterways, houses and their owners’ names, and other structures, is incredibly useful — but 1868 isn’t all that early when one considers that there was English settlement activity in the neighborhood in the early 1700s. My goal is to use the atlas as a starting point and work backwards towards the original Maryland surveys, and connect as many dots as possible in this mostly forgotten period of 150+ years.
For this article, I’ve used Plat Plotter, Inkscape, and Google imagery to create a series of maps to demonstrate how I visualize overlapping surveys and resurveys from the same neighborhood. In theory — my theory, at least — the overlapping area(s) between different early surveys of the same tract of land can be viewed as a Venn Diagram, of sorts. The unchanging core of a plantation over the course of decades probably includes the site of the primary dwelling house and/or the most desirable land. As successive owners buy and sell parcels of surrounding land, they create new property lines which can be compared to the older property lines, and — again, in theory — we should be able to make some educated guesses about where the core of a plantation may have been during a particular period.
All of this sounds very confusing, even to me as I’m writing about it. This is better shown than described.
Let’s start with a plat of the tract Friendship, surveyed for John N. Saunders in 1760:
This is a resurvey which begins with the original, diamond-shaped 50-acre tract (D), takes away several acres which are part of an overlapping “elder survey” (C), and adds vacant land (B), resulting in a new tract. The rest of the certificate (not shown) explains that the original tract had been surveyed for James Bowger in 1743, and was named Bowger’s Choyce (or Choice), but “the Afsd. Bowger had omitted paying Caution for the Land” and the original certificate became “null & void.” James Bowger or Bouger remains a somewhat mysterious figure in the early history of the neighborhood; he appears on the tax list for 1723, and, interestingly enough, the 1760 survey of Friendship refers to Bowger’s Mill, which was probably located at Terrapin Pond. He also received a patent for a 55-acre tract called John’s Folly in 1720.
A word of explanation is in order before we look at the next image, which shows the approximate location of Bowger’s Choyce. Although I’ll be presenting the next few maps in chronological order, I had to locate and plot each of them in reverse chronological order. Their locations are based on the boundaries of other parcels of land. To the north, a large tract sold in 1811 bordered land owned by Jonathan Betts, and it just so happened that two pieces of land, which Betts purchased from Thomas Paramore in 1791 and 1792, fit the neighboring tract like a glove. The boundaries of these two parcels, which we’ll look at in a bit, begin with the original bounder of both Friendship and Bowger’s Choyce, and although slight errors in the surveys make it impossible to pinpoint its exact location, we can get very, very close.
Here is the approximate location of Bowger’s Choyce, mostly in the area between Route 24, Whaleys Road, and Samuel Hill Road:
The boundaries begin at the southernmost point, which, in 1743, was a marked red oak sapling. As I said, there’s a margin of error here, and the tree is long gone, so we can’t be sure of the exact spot, but it’s close.
Apparently, Bowger’s Choyce overlapped with another tract — “C” from the plat of 1760 — which I’ve yet to identify. The next image is based on a crude tracing of the plat, since I don’t have any other information about the mystery tract’s boundaries.
Though “C” was called an elder survey in 1760, it’s unclear whether it predates the survey of Bowger’s Choyce in 1743. It certainly predates the resurvey of Friendship in 1760.
Beginning at the same red oak at the southernmost point of Bowger’s Choyce, it’s fairly easy to plot the boundaries of Friendship:
A small section of the tract extends beyond the map. The shape of Friendship doesn’t match the modern landscape in an overtly recognizable way, but there are boundary markers that seem to align with modern features (i.e., roads and tree lines), and may have been used in drawing later property lines.
Friendship was resurveyed yet again in 1776, resulting in a much larger tract called Delay. I don’t have the boundaries of Delay to plot it, although it appears on the incredibly detailed and useful maps created by Mike Hitch and the late John Lyon. However, additional records allow us to piece together the history of Friendship/Delay over the next few decades. Worcester County land record indices indicate that Matthew Parramore purchased a piece of land from John N. Saunders in the late 1760s; though the deed itself isn’t available online and I haven’t sought it out, it seems clear that this purchase included Friendship. Matthew Parramore willed the resurveyed version of Friendship to his son, Ezekiel, who, in turn, conveyed it to Thomas Parremore in 1791. (Note that the name Paramore was spelled differently in various records at that time.) Almost immediately, Thomas sold a 100-acre parcel of the land to Jonathan Betts, Sr., in 1791.
Here is the approximate location of that parcel:
Notice how a couple of the boundary lines on the northeast side align with modern tree lines. The point near the middle of the tract, at what is almost a right angle, was described as the northwest corner of Parremore’s plantation in 1791, and the line extending to the east and into the woods followed a fence at that time. But just a year later, he sold an additional parcel to Betts, shown below:
The 1791 and 1792 surveys don’t fit together perfectly, so I’ve erred on the side of matching the 1792 parcel to the tree line along its northeastern corner, which seems to match it perfectly. Its westernmost boundary is questionable, however, and actually overlaps the 1791 parcel somewhat. Both parcels begin at the red oak used as the first bounder of Bowger’s Choyce in 1743 and Friendship in 1760.
I haven’t quite pieced together the history of the land after Betts acquired it in the 1790s; I suspect it passed to Hezekiah Matthews at some point, because I know his son, Henry Clay Matthews, owned it at the time of his death in 1917. Since then, the old plantation has been divided into increasingly smaller parcels owned by a number of landowners including members of the Mitchell, Whaley, Morris, and Slavens families, among others.
The Pomeroy & Beers Atlas offers a glimpse of the neighborhood in 1868 —
— but it still doesn’t tell us much about the way things were 100+ years earlier. To get a better idea, I’ve stacked the images we’ve already looked at. Where the changing property lines overlap, they reveal what may have been the core of the plantation owned by Jonathan Betts, and the Parremores before him, and John Saunders before them, and — possibly — James Bowger before him, although it’s not clear whether Bowger actually did anything with his land between 1743 and 1760.
The yellowest area is our “hot spot” (for lack of a better term), not only because it is included in both the 1743 and 1760 surveys, but also because it isn’t included in the first parcel that Thomas Parremore sold in 1791. It seems unlikely to me that he would have sold the most important part of his plantation first. The deeds aren’t helpful, since both vaguely mention housing, fencing, and orchards, which was pretty standard for the deeds of the time, and part of the price of the 1791 parcel is illegible.
So I’ve created two images, the first, showing what I consider to be the primary hot spot; the second, showing adjoining land that may have also been considered part of the core of the plantation between 1743 and 1791, yet, for some reason, was sold a year earlier than the land to the east.
It’s only my opinion, but I’d like to suggest that the area within the solid yellow lines may have included the earliest and/or primary dwelling house, outbuildings, gardens, and orchards, while the area within the dotted yellow lines may have included early features of less importance; perhaps the earliest fields. I would also suggest that the land outside the yellow lines may have included wooded land and later fields, as the owners expanded and improved their holdings, all while buying and selling surrounding parcels.
The location of H. Matthews’ house on the Beers Atlas seems to support this theory, allowing for minor errors in both the atlas and the surveys layered underneath:
So we have the earliest known house site depicted in 1868, located on the part of Bowger’s Choyce (1743) that was included in resurveys of Friendship (1760 and 1776) and sold in two transactions in 1791 and 1792. This probably isn’t a coincidence.
The overlapping tracts/parcels might also explain why an earlier version of Samuel Hill Road looks like it leads directly to the H. Matthews house before heading east towards Lowe’s Crossroads and Millsboro. It’s possible that this section of the road was built specifically to connect Bowger’s Choyce and Bowger’s Mill, to the south, during the period between 1743 and 1760, if not earlier.
Further research might tell us more about the neighborhood, not only as it appeared in the 1790s, when the vacant land was disappearing and the land records are a bit easier to decipher, but perhaps even as it appeared in the 1740s, when only a handful of settlers were establishing plantations in this part of Wimbesocom Neck. We still know little of this early period.
– Chris Slavens