May 4, 2020
By Rebecca Roberts, Naturalist at Brandywine Creek State Park
Prior to becoming a state park, the land of Brandywine Creek State Park was a hub for the early milling industry. During their peak in the American Industrial Revolution, the many mills up and down the Brandywine became known as some of the top mills in the nation. In Rockland (the historic area surrounding the southernmost corner of our park), the milling industry is one of the earliest and longest-functioning mill seats on the Brandywine.
Adam Kirk’s Grist mill was the first around the park land. And it went up on the western bank of the Brandywine, just below the now Rockland bridge (first built in 1818, the later modern bridge went up in 1934), in approximately 1724. Over the years other milling operations were added, like the fulling mill in 1733, and a sawmill later around the 1770s. The Kirk mills passed through the family and eventually, parts of their property were sold off to others in the area. Many mills ended up running along Wilsons Run and other nearby streams. The part by the river was sold to William Young.
William Young was probably one of the most prominent names in Rockland and the area’s milling industry. William Young, originally from Irvine, Ayrshire, Scotland, moved to Philadelphia in 1784. There he did business as a bookseller and publisher in a shop on Second and Chestnut street, not far from Independence Hall. He then moved on to a new business as a papermaker in Rockland, De, in about 1794. His mill, the remnants of which can be seen along the eastern bank of the Brandywine in the southern corner of the park by the dam (pictured here), was the foundation of a milling industry in Rockland that lasted until well into the mid-20th century.
William Young did very well at the papermaking trade. One of Young’s major clients was the US Government, which at the time was seated in Philadelphia. Because linen was costly, Young decided to experiment by using mulberry root to make paper, and it worked! He ended up receiving a medal from the Philadelphia Company of Booksellers, for his success in making paper this way. In 1813 Young created “ the adjacent Delaware Woolen Company mill for making blue cassimere (suit cloth) and working coarse wools into satin-like fabric”. A year later when the paper mill burned down, he shifted his focus to being primarily a textiles mill. In 1822 they began processing cotton at the new cotton mill known as the Wallace Cotton Factory, named for Young’s son William Wallace. This mill contained one of the earliest powered cotton-spinning machines in the country!
Around a similar time he founded the Rockland Manufacturing Company, which his sons William Wallace and Evan took over. Later the mills, on this the eastern bank of the Brandywine at Rockland, came to be under the ownership of Jessup and Moore in the 1860s, and later San-Nap-Pak Manufacturing Co. (later renamed Doeskin) in the early 1900s. The mills continued until 1973 when they were sold and converted to residences.
Young was also one of the major contributors to Rockland as a village. He built the Rockland Presbyterian Church (now in ruins) and his home the William Young House, which is on the National Register of Historic Places (though not within park land). The stately Federal-style home still stands uphill on Black Gates Road, a reminder of the wealth that early industrialization brought. Rockland Village, referred to as the Rockland Historic District, is also on the National Register, though the mill building that remains has been made into condominiums.
At its peak the Brandywine had more than one hundred mills “grinding and creaking, up and down the valley”, and the mills in and around our park were an important part.
“National Register Information System”. National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. July 9, 2010.
Jay Shoemaker and Patricia Wright (March 1982). “National Register of Historic Places Registration: William Young House”. National Park Service. Retrieved March 16, 2013.
Montgomery, Elizabeth (1851). Reminiscences of Wilmington: In Familiar Village Tales, Ancient and New. T.K. Collins, Jr.
Maynard, W. Barksdale (William Barksdale) (2015). Brandywine : an intimate portrait. University of Pennsylvania Press. ISBN 978-0-8122-9073-8. OCLC 891846666.
Philadelphia, St Andrew’s Society of (1907). Historical catalogue … with biographical sketches of deceased members, 1749-1907. Printed for the society.
Zebley, Frank R. (1940). Along the Brandywine. William M. Cann, Inc. OCLC 8082203.
“Rockland Manufacturing Company”. Hagley. September 27, 2017. Retrieved April 3, 2020.