Saturday, October 31, 2009

Milton's Hosiery History.

Remember silk stockings? What a mess they were. I am sure they were as much trouble to put on as they were to get off. Did you know that the Sears & Roebuck 'best' were made in Milton. Read Freddie Harpster's memories about the Portland Hosiery Mill. Fred's gone now , bless his soul.
Fred's Story: Sometime before September 1994 fire had all but destroyed the old Portland Hosiery Mill at the southeast edge of Milton, where Cave Neck road takes over from Atlantic Avenue. [Fred Harpster, who wrote this article, died Wednesday, October 28, 2009, which brought his memories to my mind, and the report of the 1994 fire that had kindled his memories sometime ago.]
He tells us he came to town on a dark and stormy night in 1949 or early 1950, admitting his memory was a bit hazy that far back about the dates but felt they were within reason, so be it. He and his father, who had been named the manager of Portland, resided at Lena Jefferson's 'room & board' on Federal Street. [Lena's husband, Webb Jefferson, operated a restaurant in downtown Milton. You need to be an old time Miltonian to remember Webb's, almost next to the theater. It was an eating place, hangout, coffee joint, whatever. Midnight oyster stew was the favorite to the after hours bunch who gathered at Webb's after all the bars in the county had closed for the night. Webb had several 'markets' to choose from, Lord knows just what creek they came from but usually they were fat and tasty. They were somewhat expensive too, because after midnight when you ordered one, the waitress made you pay, then when little Effie brought it to you, she made you pay. Then on your way out, Webb, at the only door to the place, made you pay. Happy days, nobody cares and never made a fuss, because Bill Betts, town cop, was handy.]
Back to Freddie;
He credits Miss Helen Hastings for her help with the early history of the building and adds that she was with the plant when it was taken over by Pohatcong Hosiery Mill of Washington, New Jersey and that she remained on the job until 1966 when Portland closed the operations.
The building was erected in 1938 by a Mr. Schultz when the ladies hosiery industry was moving southward. There were 72 hosiery mills in Delaware and a few of them centered about Lewes and Milton
Helen and Fred worked together worked together at the last mill to close, the Mar Clay Mill, at Milford in 1975.
When Fred and his father came to manage the newly acquired mill they brought with them more modern equipment to replace the old obsolete machinery which called for additions to the building, air conditioning was one improvement enjoyed by the workers. The post war machinery produced some cotton and silk stockings but the major part of the business was of nylon.
After Portland became fully operational. 30 knitting machines, running seven days a week, around the clock, with 110 or so employees, produced in the neighborhood of 10,000 dozen pairs of hosiery each week. A most up to date knitting machine, with 50 needles per inch could knit 30 stocking at a time. All of Portland's production went to Sears and was considered the 'top of the line'. The knitting was the only part of the manufacturing taking place in Milton. Company trucks hauled the product to Siler City, North Carolina for the dyeing and 'finishing'. That operation was owned by Sears and known as Kellwood Company.
Employees of Portland, if they so chose, could obtain a lot, free of charge, to build their home, in a new section of Milton, what was once the Conwell Nursery, located between Bay Avenue and Atlantic Street, soon known as the 'New Development'. Local contractors, Roy Murray and Glen Marvel, who had made the additions to the mill, were engaged to build most of the new homes. Standing in 1994, the 75,000 gallon water tower on the plant site, was used entirely for fire protection. It was built by Chicago Bridge and Iron Works.
The King Cole Company ended up with the building, using it for a storage facility.
Fred has said in his writing that many of those who came to Milton with the mill were not all that happy with the area, himself included, however, those who remained and became permanent residents could not be removed by a team of mules today. [The Sussex Tavern, across the street for the fire hall helped in that aspect, most of the knitters were well known there. John and Mildred Geyer where host and hostest that knew how to make you feel at home and have another beer.] [addendum]

Submitted: 10/31/09

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Report: Agricultural Museums Tour: 10/20/09

This is a report about a real interesting day for the 5-Points Arby's Coffee Group, from over here near Lewes, Delaware. All of us are, almost old men, retired, with plenty of time on our hands, mostly Republican. Eight of the coffee group visited the Delaware Agricultural Museum, north of Dover, direct across from the Dover Downs Racetrack. There is no excuse for telling anyone "'you don't know where it is". It is very visible and well worth and hour or two of your time. Yes, it cost $3, but try to get them to take a bit extra since the State has reduced their operational fund. There is a gift shop, go in, spend some money. The staff and volunteers are great and very helpful. Most of the museum artifacts pertain to farming, antique farming, more modern farming, good ole days housekeeping, hog killings, hand milked cows, water driven grist mill and saw mill, general store, barber shop, one room school, church and railroad station where you can sit and wait for the train. Do you know what a 'cucumber' pump is? Visit and find out. Also, this month, there is the art exhibit of the Hammond family, Mrs. Hammond and her daughter are there to greet you. The paintings, pencils sketches, etc., are well worth the visit. Of interest too, there is a two generation family of turkey buzzards living in or around the barn. If you hurry up and go, the two 'young ones' will still have 'face feathers' and ain't that bad to look at.
Now, this was not the end of our exciting day, for on the trip back home to Lewes, after a failure to visit the South Bowers Indian Burial Site, it being 'closed', we made an abrupt stop at the Bennett Farm Museum , just south of Argo's Corner, and great day, what a surprise. There at the sheds on the west side of the beach bound highway, Delaware 1, is a collection of 'good ole days' farm equipment, tractors, hay gathering machines, threshers and wagons. Yes, there is a 'timber cart'. After you have looked this exhibit over real good, it is a good bet that Fred Bennett III will drive up in his grey Dodge pickup, engage you in a lively conversation and then invite you to follow him to the 'barn' down the road, and, yes, during the conversations, sooner or later, everybody, will know everybody that everybody knows. The barn is full, I mean 'full' of history. Thanksgiving Dinner table is set with antique dinnerware. Everything but the turkey and taters, and pumpkin pie. Next to it is a memorabilia table, documents you have never seen before, pamphlets we all threw away years ago, magazines, newspapers, of times past and of interest. This is just the beginning of a three, maybe four, generation farm family collection of just everyday things. A collection to toy tractors that the kids will love , family things from the home that both mom and grandmom will want to spend time with. This is one 'free' museum that has been open since January 20, 2001 you want to make an 'extra effort' to visit, take my word for it. Fred II says "it is for the benefit of all to enjoy the history of agriculture". You can call before a visit, 684-1627. Mr. Bennett also said he has a wonderful wife, so don't worry if she answers your ring. Mrs, Bennett is from Sussex County farm families too, the Argo's and Cliftons. A family can't get much better than this.

Monday, October 12, 2009



This article comes from the Chamber Clipper newsletter of the Milton Chamber of Commerce. The issue date I do not have, but it is somewhere in the late1980’s or early 1990’s. It was first written by William Wagamon, the local historian at that time, now deceased, and his able assistant, Wanda Clendaniel King, who on this day of our Lord, October twelfth, two thousand and nine, is very much alive and an active ‘bridge’ player.

The article will have names of people you may not know nor remember, but they were very much part of the Milton and Broadkill Hundred population.

Bill Wagamon wrote “ Schooling, education, book learning, basic education and higher learning, are phrases that maintain knowing about one’s world and oneself, is important to mankind and the ‘schoolhouse’ is and will ever be, a revered place where we began to nurture other ideas besides ones learned at mothers knee”.

In Milton, one of the first school buildings, located next to the Chestnut Street Goshen Cemetery, also called the Milton Methodist Cemetery, was called the Milton Academy. Bill writes, “Academy, the word has such an erudite ring to it that one wishes more buildings of learning were called academies”. This building was probably built in the late 1700’s and is said to have ‘run’ from Chestnut Street to Walnut Street.. This old academy building had only two rooms so plans were made to build another school for an increasing number of Milton school children. A new building was erected in late 1800 , located on Atlantic Street. but caught fire and burned before it was ever occupied.

The old two room Academy was moved to the river, amongst the wharfs at the foot of Walnut Street, then used as a community hall for town meetings and voting. In its place was built what was or is now called by local folk ‘the old school’. This happened in 1890 and the school was named Milton High School, District #8. Students of this school found some of the ‘accommodations’ rather rustic, what with the ‘outdoor lavatory’, one for ‘boys’ and one for ‘girls’. There was no cost spared to make these outdoor buildings commodious and they were ‘well built’ and roofed with slate. Pupils attended this school from 1890 until 1933.

In his writing, ‘Bill’ said that one of the ‘outhouses’ was still in existence on ‘Puddin Hill’.

The year 1932 saw the erection of what was when this article was first written called Milton Consolidated School #8. The first graduating class there was in 1934. A gentleman named Art Wagamon was in that class. Art was Bill’s next younger brother and was lost in an air plane crash at the end of World War II.

In 1922 Milton School #8 on Chestnut Street was ‘consolidated’ and students from all the ‘one room’ schoolhouses nearby in Broadkill Hundred were brought together.

The Cave Neck School, located about one and one half miles ‘east’ of Milton, a wood structure probably built in the mid 1800’s and educated in the one room and one teacher situation, maybe 30 to 40 pupils, age six to almost twenty. Two of the Milton people, known to many old timers, were Pete Reed and Melson Carey. This school was most likely near the Cave Neck and Round Pole Bridge road intersection. Pete and the Carey fellow had to walk to the Chestnut Street school house.

The Williams School was north of Milton, located on what is now the Williams Farm Road out on the Waples Pond Road, also Route 5. It was at lease half way to Reynolds Road. Some of the Donovan children, including Martha, Sam Williams, his brother Asa and Nate, two sisters, had that walk to make to ‘get’ educated. Sam was well know about town after serving the Navy during WWII, as ‘THE SIGN PAINTER’ and painted many of the local business delivery trucks doors.

Then there was the Ingram School. History tells it was built on the old foundation of the St. Johns Episcopal Church which I place right about where Gravel Hill Road and Shingle Point Road intersect. Wagamon tells us there was a mill pond near by named Tam Mill Pond and also known as Fraser Mill Pond.

Other one room schools had been established in Prime Hook Neck, Argos Corner, Broadkill and New Market which more likely were transferred to he Milton #8 consolidated school. Close to Overbrook , east of here , Draw Bridge , Whites Chapel, West Hill and Sunshine schools probably were transferred to the Lewes district. Anyway, these children had to walk to the town school unless their fathers or mothers were not to busy to harness up the horse and buggy. Later this conditioned changed and the school district made a contract with Merritt Hopkins to transport the children to and from school. Bussing had begun.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Hurlock - They observed LUCY HURLOCK GERMAN DAY here the other day in recognition of the 100th birthday of the only surviving daughter of the man for whom the town was named. Members of her family and friends greeted Lucy Hurlock German at an open house in the Academy Avenue home where she had lived so long. She had lived here for 99 years. A year ago she moved to a nursing home in Denton after breaking her hip. When the town was incorporated in 1892, it was named for her father, JOHN MARTIN HURLOCK, who was the town's railroad station agent. He came to Hurlock in 1869.

News paper item from the Daily Times of Salisbury on June 18, 1985

Great Rehoboth 1912 Fire

This news items is reprinted from the Delaware Pilot newspaper printed in Lewes on November 22 , 1912

On last Saturday night , fire was discovered at the
Cooper cottage on Surf Avenue. The Rehoboth Fire Department was prompt to arrive but for half an hour it was impossible to obtain water other that what was in the engines which lasted only about ten minutes and was not enough to extinguish the flames. The brisk north west wind blowing flames soon caught the Pennington cottage afire on Surf Avenue. About the same time the large double cottage of Horsey and Wolfe were on fire also. While a line of water buckets were kept coming from the force pump at Hill's bath houses a block away it was impossible to save these cottages or the stables of Dr. Wolfe on Olive Avenue. The Cannon cottage on Maryland Avenue was also destroyed. The fire was stopped at a vacant lot between the Cannon cottage ad the Judge Handy cottage on Maryland Avenue about ten o'clock. The Lewes Fire Department arrived just a little too late to be of much assistance due to the railroad being unable to move its train in time to allow the Lewes engine to arrive. To Dr. Walter Robinson belongs the credit for bringing the Lewes Engine as he towed it here and back using his own automobile. The origin of the fire has not been determined. Some cry "fire bug"" but those who carefully sized up the situation think it was some of the younger boys of this town who have been in the habit of playing 'hide and seek' behind these cottages where cigarette stumps and half burned matches are found scattered on the porch floors. The losses by the Saturday night fire were as follows; Harvey L Coopers cottage and nearly all it's contents $2000 with $1500 covered by insurance ; Mrs Lydia Pennington's cottage and content of one bedroom was $2200 and insured for $1500; Harry P. Cannon's cottage $1200, insured for $600; and furniture saved. The Horsey and Wolfe cottage, $3000, insured for $1500, furniture saved; the Stable of Dr. Wolfe $600 with no insurance. . Loss estimates by some of the city dailies correspondent ran as high as $30,000. We wish we could access the property as they had it rated. A call is out to improve the town water supply and have a water system installed. After the fire the V. I. A. ladies served hot coffee and sandwiches at the home of Mr. and Mrs. William J. Ruddell on Baltimore Avenue, while another very prominent citizen of the town furnished some left over Republican Campaign whiskey and to the everlasting disgrace of the town, some of our young men were so drunk they had to have assistance to reach their homes and while we thank the Lewes Fire Department for their assistance we beg to apologies to the citizens of Lewes for returning their young men in such intoxicated conditions.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Magnolia Trees in Georgetown at East Market Street and Railroad Avenue.

Magnolia Trees in Georgetown


East Market Street and Railroad Avenue.

The next time you are in Georgetown slow down as you cross the railroad tracks and take a gander at the two Magnolia trees in the front yard of the Franklin Masonic Lodge.

According to the “Sussex County Snapshot Column” of the June 24, 1915, Philadelphia Inquirer, they were planted in front of Masonic Hall on Tuesday, June 22, 1915 by Dr. John W. Messick, a 72 year old Georgetown dentist. This was just three years before his death. They were presented to the Franklin Masonic Lodge by Edward D. Hearne, a Georgetown Lawyer, a United States Treasury Auditor living in Washington, D.C. It would be interesting to know how Mr. Hearne acquired them. One of those political gifts, you suppose?

The Clemson University Home & Garden Center list three main Magnolia varieties, the Southern, the Star and the Sweetbay, then goes on to say there are eighty species. The Georgetown trees appear to be Sweetbay, but that’s just a guess. The Southern Magnolia Tree is the Mississippi State Tree and I think all Magnolia trees are basically adapted to a southern landscape.

Google “Magnolia Society International” or “Clemson University Home & Garden Center” if you want more Magnolia information.

But, slowdown at the railroad next time in Georgetown and look for the trees, they are handsome.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Traveling Sand Hill of Cape Henlopen

This article was found in the June 5th , 1890 issue of Hagerstown, Maryland, Herald & Torch Light newspaper. We still have a 'walking dune' located at this Cape in the Cape Henlopen State Park and can be visited.

Lewes, Del., June 5, 1890:
Without a doubt a most interesting feature of the Atlantic Coast, a most interesting phenomena, is the traveling sand hill of Cape Henlopen. A ridge of sand, more than a mile long, fifty feet high and two hundred yards wide at its base, is rolling inland like a mighty wave from the sea and with power that is irresistible. Formed at the oceans edge, no body knows for certain when it began to move inland. Within the memory of men barely past middle age , it has traversed a space worth describing.
In 1845, General Joe Johnson, as a government engineer, was engaged in surveying the coast, he found on Cape Henlopen a great ridge of sand. It was in appearance like the ridges of sand that divide the Great South Bay of Long Island from the sea. It towered seventy two feet above high water mark. It was a ragged ridge, with course grass growing over a few parts of its surface and a few gnarled and stunted pines on its land side.
Behind it is a salt marsh with water from one to three feet deep at low ebb tide. Inland from the marsh, a small growth of pine trees. Half a mile back from the beach trees from two to three feet in diameter, tall in proportion, were found. Winding through this forest was a road established in colonial days, having mile stones by its side to show the wayfarer how far he had traveled from Lewes to the Cape Henlopen lighthouse.
In making the survey, General Johnson, noted whenever the wind came from North'erd it picked up sand on the weather side of the great ridge in such clouds that one could not travel the ridge except with face covering and then with great effort and pain, it was sometimes almost like facing a charge of birdshot. The sand thus picked up by the wind was carried over the brow of the hill where the wind formed an eddy that could not support the weight of the sand. With every northerly gale, inch after inch was cut away in front and carried to the back. The gnarled and twisted pine on the back disappeared under the wave of sand. The edge of the salt marsh was covered, the tree covered ridges were next buried out of sight. Then the great forest was reached. Where the trees stood thick and formed a solid wall of limbs and leaves the sand wave rolled up into a perpendicular wall before them, higher and higher, until level with the tree tops and then curled over and broke on them as a wave of water might have done. Where the trees were far apart the sand flowed in and filled the opening. It steadily advanced and the people saw with wonder the forest buried before their eyes. The great trees that seemed to be able in their strength to defy all that nature might bring against them, strove to put forth new branches above the rising tide, grew faint in the struggle, turned their green leaves to yellow, the yellow cones to grey and black, then died of suffocation.
As the years passed the receding wave began to uncover the old surface that had been buried. Old land marks along the edge of the salt marsh reappeared. Finally the winds scooped the sand out of the ridges and hollows of the marsh and today the the tide ebbs and flows there and at low tide the water is as deep as it was before. Then, strange to tell, a new growth of pines sprung up on the little old ridges and a new ridge of sand formed alongshore where the old one had stood. The new ridge alongshore is only a
small one , twelve to fifteen feet above high
water, but it is growing as the new trees behind it grow and it may be possibly start inland as the big one that proceeded it did. As the big sand wave continued its way, the old forest that had been buried began to be uncovered again, so that now the stranger that traverses the ridge sees on one hand the living giants of the forest grasping in the last throes of death and one the other the bleached and decaying skeletons of those that had succumb. The picture is desolate and depressing.
Judging from what the local people say here, the wave travels now from fifty feet a year to thirty feet a year where it is obstructed by the forest. It has covered one-half a mile in the last forty years.

Sunday, October 4, 2009






Street names change, who knows why or when, but Milton’s Main Street in the late 1700’s has become Front Street today. This is where Bill Wagamon begins his story.

The 1909 fire destroyed many buildings at the corner where Federal and Union Streets meet and intersect with Front Street, and replaced with new buildings and businesses. Today this is sort of town center, so to speak, after all, a bank and town Police Station sit there. Going East on Front Street, river side, the first building was the S. J. Wilson & Son farm machinery and general hardware, feed and seed business. A popular item was a hand push/walk behind garden cultivator. Next door was Billy Robinson’s movie house. Bill Wagamon says Billy also showed movies on a platform on the pond for the entertainment of people in the hotel and adjoining park at Federal and Mulberry Streets.

Joe Wall’s butcher shop was next down the street, then, with no thoughts of zoning and planning , a two story structure with the union quarters of the Junior Order of United American Mechanics, JROUAM, situated on the second floor and a printing or newspaper shop. The printers were Walter Crouch, printer of the Milton Times, the Bill McDaniel, Howard Carey and Tom Hughes. The next building was the shoe maker shop of John T. Crouch. Later, all of these, except the Wilson building, were demolished or renovated to make room for the Sussex Tavern, owned and operated for years by John and Mildred Geyer. Behind this line of businesses, on the river, was the Edgewater Milling Company operated by the S. J. Wilson family. The Royal Packing Company, canners of tomato products and strawberries, and a series of wharves ran along the river also. This business area was situated between Federal Street and Chestnut Street. According to Ms. Mary King Morgan , another great lady, local teacher and Milton historian, Chestnut Street was at first named Appletree Street.

Chestnut Street ends its northern way at Front. Across the street at this end was the Milton Creamery operated by J. William Fox, a nephew of S. J. Wilson. His mother, Ida , owned the theater and an ice cream parlor on Union Street. William Fox also owned one of three ice houses located on the pond near the grist mill, the other ice houses being owned by Joe Walls and Handy Prettyman. Later, Charles G. Porter took over the Fox creamery and operated an ice cream business. Next was a blacksmith shop where Walt Blizzard forged and hammered many years. Lately this section became a poultry processing factory, then a section of the city’s sewer disposal facility.

Walnut Street also ends at Front. It is unknown what name Walnut had at one time, but at the top of the hill going southward, a section was known as “Pudding Hill”.

There were more wharves along the river in this area of Walnut Street which were used to load barges with timber by Mr. Reuben Harrington. Somewhere along in this general area was an oyster shucking house.

The original structure of the Milton Academy, once situated near the Goshen Methodist Cemetery, had been moved to this river side area. It served as a community center and the local voting place. Jim Ponder had a pool room around the area but I am not sure it was located in the old academy building or not.

The next block, Walnut to Collins Street, was mostly marsh that had been filled in to make a road to one of the Ponder shipyards and the Birdsong Tomato Factory, run by the Apt Brothers. Skull Town was across Front Street and had its own “Mayor”. Right about now we are at ‘Round Pole Branch’ and that is the end of Milton town limits and this story.


My name is Harrison and I collect historical newspaper clippings and information that I will share with you. I volunteer with local historical societies and do research for them. I will post whenever interesting items are available. Maybe I will tell you about something about my work with the historical society. Most of my research is from Sussex County DE and surrounding counties, as well as Eastern Shore Maryland. Thank you for visiting, and I'll be right back with an interesting post!