Tag Archives: Laurel

Bull’s Mills

A few days ago I posted a short piece about Terrapin Hill, a forgotten hamlet between Laurel and Gumboro, and mentioned Bull’s Mills a couple of times.

By the Civil War, the sawmill and gristmill named after Manaen Bull, a former British soldier who married Governor Nathaniel Mitchell’s widow, were already more than one hundred years old, having been built by Joseph Collins before 1760, when the area was still claimed by Maryland. They were built on a branch of Broad Creek known as Wimbesoccom Creek during the colonial era, Sockum Creek during the late 18th and early 19th centuries, and Gray’s Branch from about the 1850s to the present. In modern terms, they were located on the south side of Laurel Road (Route 24) immediately before the road to Trap Pond, though at that time that road didn’t exist and the Trap Mills were relatively unimportant.

There were only about a dozen houses clustered around Bull’s Mills, but the surrounding area was populated enough to justify a post office and schoolhouse. The nearest church was Bethesda M.E. Church, about a mile and a half to the southeast, but there was also a new Methodist Protestant (M.P.) congregation meeting in another schoolhouse, only about a mile to the northeast. They would eventually build their own church and name it Trinity.

It seems that there was a sizable black population in the area between Bull’s Mills and Hitchens’ Crossroads, about two miles north. In The Churches of Delaware, Frank R. Zebley briefly mentioned that “Gray’s Church, colored” was “located south of Record’s School near Gray’s Branch,” but offered no additional information. An A.M.E. church was built across from the Ross Point Colored School in 1884, on what is now East Trap Pond Road. I’m not sure how old the schoolhouse (which was replaced in 1922) was; it doesn’t appear on the Pomeroy & Beers Atlas of 1868, but the atlas isn’t perfect. Unfortunately, historians have tended to overlook 19th-century black churches, schools, and communities, particularly in rural areas.

Today you will not find the name Bull’s Mills on any map. Or Bull’s anything, for that matter. The community became known as Pepper’s Store or simply Pepper, and the old mill-pond was named Pepper Pond. The mills, store, and schoolhouse are long gone.

– Chris Slavens

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Terrapin Hill

If you were to travel from the thriving town of Laurel to Gumborough during the Civil War, you would not take today’s Route 24 to Lowes Crossroads. You couldn’t. At that time, the main road ran roughly parallel to what was known as the main branch of Broad Creek, veering southeast shortly after Bull’s Mills, about six miles east of town. A mile farther, and you’d be at Terrapin Hill, a low hill that was probably prime real estate during the colonial era, when the surrounding area was part of the Pocomoke or Cypress Swamp and the local landowners were still working to drain it with a network of ditches. There was a community there, smaller than a village, but busier than the typical country crossroads; there were four intersections within a quarter mile, and about thirty houses within a one-mile radius.

Terrapin Hill appears on a map published in 1856. I’m not sure how old the name was at that time. In Folklore of Sussex County, Delaware, Dorothy W. Pepper stated that the name was of Indian origin, but didn’t elaborate. I suspect she meant that terrapin is an Algonquian word, not that the Nanticokes named this specific location after terrapins. Other local Nanticoke place names include Asketum or Assacatum (possibly derived from ah!secque, or crane), Rossakatum, and Wimbesoccom or Winnasoccum (possibly derived from weensquaaquah, or cedar; wineak, or sassafras; and/or sachem, or chief). Nanticoke place names are a fascinating subject for another day.

There was a sawmill at Terrapin Pond, and another at nearby Raccoon Pond, which were owned by various members of the Hudson, Matthews, Wootten, and Cannon families over the years. The nearest gristmill and post office were back at Bull’s Mills. Two stores offered whatever the residents didn’t make or grow themselves. Most attended Bethesda M. E. Church, which had been built in 1823, but the slightly older St. John’s at Little Hill, a small Episcopal chapel, was only about a mile away. Children learned to read and write at the one-room Bethesda schoolhouse. From Terrapin Hill, you could travel south to Whitesville, southeast to Gumborough, or northeast to Lowe’s Crossroads and Millsborough—in the unlikely event that you needed or wanted to.

 A century and a half later, little remains of the community at Terrapin Hill. The stores, mills, and schoolhouse are gone, as are all but one of the old farmhouses. Bethesda M. E. Church, which was replaced in 1879, has been beautifully restored, but St. John’s was converted into a private residence a few years ago. Even the roads have changed; part of the old road to Little Hill has been a driveway for decades, and the road to Lowes Crossroads has vanished completely. Terrapin Hill still shows up on some modern maps, but the name is meaningless to most locals, little more than the fading ghost of a forgotten community.

Bethesda Methodist Episcopal Church, located near Raccoon Pond, was built in 1879. Photo taken by Brittney Slavens in February 2014.

Bethesda Methodist Episcopal Church, located near Raccoon Pond, was built in 1879. Photographed in February 2014.

– Chris Slavens

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