April 22, 2020
By: Elizabeth Androskaut, Interpretive Programs Manager at Alapocas Run State Park & Vivien Makos, Folk Art Collections Specialist at Wilmington State Parks
If you are standing at the Weldin site, next to the Can-Do Playground at Alapocas Run State Park, it is difficult to imagine the land as farm fields with herds of dairy cows. This site, also known as Chestnut Hill, gives us clues to New Castle County’s agrarian past. Archaeological excavations and the artifacts they yielded can help us tell the story of two families: the Bradfords and Weldins. Their properties are examples of successful 19th-century middle-class dairy farms.
In 1850, the Chestnut Hill Site was occupied by John and Rebecca Bradford, along with their nine children and two servants. John was a tenant farmer who rented the land from Albanus & Maria (Dickinson) Logan. The dairy farm had fifteen cows and was considered a large operation for the time. Through the work of Rebecca, her four daughters, and their domestic servant, Margaret Reedl, the farm produced 2,000 pounds of butter annually, three times the average for the area. The farm was a diverse operation since, in addition to dairy cattle, they kept horses, oxen, and swine. They also planted crops of wheat, corn, oats, and hay as well as market vegetables such as potato, peas, and beans.
The Bradford’s middle-class lifestyle is revealed through the clues from recovered artifacts and historical documents. Fragments of redware milk pans and the presence of a French drain found at the site indicate that dairying activities took place in the basement of the farmhouse. Fresh milk was poured into the milk pan, and the pan was placed in the cool basement until the cream rose. The French drain would have had water running through it, helping cool the basement in the summer months. Pieces of whiteware, English-made ceramics, and Chinese porcelain were also excavated. These more expensive types of tableware indicate the family had moderate economic means. By looking at agricultural censuses from the time, we can see that John had a personal estate worth of $2,500 and was able to afford two hired hands.
In 1862, Jacob Weldin, his wife Hannah, and their three children moved into their newly purchased farm. They did not have to move far, as they had previously lived on an adjacent farm. The Weldin family had been living in the area since the 1700s and had the support of a large family network as they were related to other prominent Wilmington families like the Talleys and the Grubbs.
Like the Bradfords, the Weldins had what was considered a large-scale dairy. They owned 25 cows and produced 11,250 pounds of butter annually. In addition to farming, Jacob supplemented their income with shad fishing, the profits of which Hannah would then sell in local markets. Jacob was considered a progressive farmer due to his participation in the Cherry Island Marsh Company, which was composed of local farmers and a result of the national Grange Movement. Along with stabilizing the marshes, the company gave farmers like Jacob access to marsh hay to supplement their livestock’s feed.
Once again, the archaeological evidence from the site indicates that the Weldin family were a middle-class family. The fragments of their everyday dishes included pearlware, ironstone, and white granite. Pieces of expensive porcelain tableware were also found and are thought to have been used for special occasions. Other indicators of this family’s middle-class status were bottles of patent medicine and glass canning jars. Prior to Jacob’s passing in 1891, an inventory of his possessions was conducted. Some items listed such as Italian marble top table and books indicate his financially secure position.
The Weldin family farmed the land until 1934, and the last occupant stayed until 1942. When the family left, the farm fell into disarray, and later a portion was destroyed by the construction of the Blue Ball Properties Area Transportation Project. Prior to the project, DelDOT and FHWA (Federal Highway Administration) hired archeologists to excavate the site. Delaware State Parks took over the management of the land in 2002, and have continued to attempt to protect the historic site. The next time you visit the Can-Do Playground or walk the Greenway Trail, we invite you to visit the Weldin site and appreciate how the relics from these families give us a glimpse into what a middle-class dairy farm was like in the 19th century.