Interview with Daniel Toomey, 1969 August 7 [audio](part 1)

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  • Birth and early childhood in Upper Banks; his father, a DuPont Co. foreman, being killed in an explosion
    Keywords: churches;Explosions;Free Park;Gunpowder industry;Industrial accidents;Squirrel Run;Upper Banks
    Transcript: Scafidi: The following is a tape recording of an interview with Mr. Daniel Toomey conducted at his home in Stanton, Delaware, on Thursday, August 7, 1969. Present at the interview were Faith Pizor and John Scafidi. And now, Mr. Toomey, take it.

    Toomey: I'm 67 years old and I was born and raised right there in what they used to call the Upper Banks.

    Scafidi: We have a map here, it was mainly known by a man named Warren Harden, related to the Betty's and he drew this for us. He doesn't know whether it's really that ...

    Toomey: That was Betty. The man which you're talking about, Betty, he used to be supervisor or something like that up there on the highway, I mean...

    Scafidi: On the farm?

    Toomey: Yeah, and the man what I last knowed up there was man by the name of Smith.

    Scafidi: Remember his first name at all?

    Toomey: No, I couldn't remember his name.

    Scafidi: Is there any way you - would your house be on this map at all?

    Toomey: It's the first one from the old barn.

    Scafidi: First one.

    Pizor: First one going down, going down towards the water?

    Toomey: That's right.

    Scafidi: Where's that in reference...

    Toomey: I was born January 1, 1902 right in that house and the next house - My God, his name was Betty, that's no kidding.

    Pizor: The Betty's lived in the house next to you?

    Toomey: Yeah.

    Scafidi: Was this two separate houses or a double house?

    Toomey: No, it was one single from the old barn. You know where the old - big barn right there? And then come Betty's, Dewey's lived in the next, then they went down in the bank there.

    Scafidi: What was your house made out of, you remember?

    Toomey: Well, just an old frame house, I guess that's what it was.

    Pizor: When you walked around the property, was it still up, was it still up today?

    Toomey: No, no it was all torn - the old barn's there, that's where the horses used to come out of there and stuff like that. And then went down in the bank like that.

    Scafidi: Do you remember any stories about how your father came to work in the powder, you know, why especially to end up, of all places, out in...

    Toomey: Well, I'll tell you the truth, I couldn't tell you. He was there for about, he was boss powder man, in the powder works. I was born January 1, 1902 and I think it was around about eight or nine years when I can remember.

    Pizor: Did he like his job?

    Toomey: I couldn't tell you about it because I was too young.

    Pizor: When - you said he was killed down there?

    Toomey: Well, I was born in 1902, he must have been gone in 1910.

    Pizor: That he died?

    Toomey: Yeah.

    Pizor: What kind of an accident, do you remember?

    Toomey: Blown up.

    Pizor: One of the powder mills went up, is that it?

    Toomey: Yeah, because he was boss down in there.

    Pizor: You were about eight years old then?

    Toomey: Round about eight or nine years old. He went in - Lammot du Pont brought him in on an experiment on prismatics or something like that, and that's when he got blown up.

    Pizor: Did you move then, or did the Company do anything for your family?

    Toomey: They took care of us, they did, until we got up to a certain age. Then mother died and the other brother died and there was just two of us left.

    Pizor: You could stay in your house, or did you move when your father died?

    Toomey: No, we had to move.

    Pizor: Remember the one you moved to?

    Toomey: Six hundred and some Franklin Street.

    Scafidi: Was this, well was it a pretty normal thing that families around there had one member blown up or take a trip across the creek?

    Toomey: Well, the one that I can remember, when all these girls got blown up. They were in Prismatics or something they called it, and they lived down at the bottom of Breck's Lane and they were in there running some kind of a capsule or something like that and they all got blown up - girl's head and stuff was all up in trees and all around. I just couldn't say what date it was.

    Scafidi: But you were old enough to remember it?

    Toomey: Yeah.

    Scafidi: Were you ever frightened living around the powder that much?

    Toomey: Nope, my father used to drive right down into the big glazing mill and never heard tell of the explosions after the war had come on. And after they put him in there, why that was it.

    Pizor: Do you remember much about the property when you were a little boy, you evidently walked all around it, you were allowed.

    Toomey: Hallock du Pont, Mrs. Dean, stuff like that.

    Pizor: Yeah, where you lived, yeah.

    Toomey: Yeah, I know them all. Christ Church and everything like that.

    Pizor: You used to explore around there?

    Toomey: Yes, sir.

    Pizor: Were there many kids your age living around there?

    Toomey: Well, in what they called the Upper Banks, I'd say there might have been fifty.

    Scafidi: Did you run around in gangs or crowds?

    Toomey: No, no we just - we used to call it the Upper Banks, and then - what the heck was that other - and then come Montchanin and then they come - oh what the heck was that next place there where the bank was at - Free Park.

    Pizor: I've heard of that.

    Toomey: Yeah, and Christ Church, right in there - that's where all the du Ponts built the church there.

    Pizor: Where did you go to school - when you were living down there, where did you go to school?

    Toomey: St. Joseph's and the du Pont School - that's on the Kennett Pike.

    Pizor: Alexis I.

    Toomey: Yeah, yeah.

    Scafidi: Did you have much contact with the kids from down the creek, Squirrel Run?

    Toomey: Oh (laughs) my God, yeah, you know Squirrel Run do you? There were Italians and stuff down in there, stuff like that.

    Scafidi: Was there any bad feeling between the Irish and the Italians?

    Toomey: Well I'll tell you, I couldn't tell you that, I was just a little young, you know, but they tell me you go down there to Pat Dougherty's Saloon and Jeff Blakeley's Saloon, they used to have a little trouble. And they only had one barber shop down there.

    Scafidi: Was there any kind of friction between the Catholics who went to St. Joe's and Protestants maybe going to Green Hill or Mt. Lebanon?

    Toomey: No, not at that time. It's not like it is today.
  • Visiting the Upper Banks as an older man; sledding and other childhood pastimes; powder yard recollections including his father's position, noises, horse-drawn powder wagons, and fire hydrants
    Keywords: Children--Social life and customs;Draft horses;Fire extinction;Gunpowder industry;rubber horse shoes;saltpeter refinery;Sledding;Water-supply
    Transcript: Pizor: Once you moved away, did you ever come back - did you ever come back to the mills after you moved away?

    Toomey: Only when what's-his-name took me up there and I had a cry. We used to sled there and go right down into the mill.

    Pizor: You don't remember anything about when they were dismantled in the twenties?

    Toomey: No, I couldn't tell you. And I mean to tell you, when I got up on top of the hill over at J. Simpson Dean's and Free Park - it brought back memories to me and I had to start to cry.

    Scafidi: You said you went sledding down into the yards?

    Toomey: Yeah.

    Scafidi: Which part of the hill - would you go sledding on a road or did you just ...

    Toomey: No, it went down into the - it had two gates, and one went into the Hagley Yard and the other went down the other way.

    Scafidi: You went zipping through the gate?

    Toomey: Yeah. And these barrels, eight barrels and they just kept on turning, turning, turning, and you could hear them all night.

    Scafidi: Even while you were trying to go to sleep?

    Toomey: No, it wasn't that. And these women, there were - oh what the heck kind of house was it - they called it - and this man used to come up there and put these bags - saltpeter bags out on top, and put them up on top there. What the heck was his name - I think his name was McVey or something like that. He used to come up there and put them out there all the time to dry them out.

    Scafidi: What did you do when you were a boy - did you have to do chores when you were about eight years old or did you get out of it?

    Toomey: Oh man - used to walk on tin cans, done everything like that.

    Scafidi: Any special games that you'd play - favorites?

    Toomey: Well, I was a great basketball player, I was, but drum got the best of me.

    Scafidi: Did you ever hear of them having games in the Community Center, whatever it was, the Hagley Clubhouse, was it called?

    Pizor: Breck's Mill.

    Toomey: Well, that was down in - Mrs. Crowninshield lived there and I was only a small kid then. They used to have basketball games and stuff down in there. Mrs. Crowninshield - it was right down in the bottom where the old barn's at.

    Scafidi: What did you do at Christmastime - what kind of celebration did you have at Christmastime?

    Toomey: Well, just sit home, single, stuff like that. And go out there with these people I lived with. She's up and around about 74 years old. I've been around about thirty years now.

    Pizor: When you were a boy, do you remember what your father - was he boss powder man for certain mills or for the whole area?

    Toomey: Whole area down in there.

    Scafidi: Both yards?

    Toomey: Both yards, Daniel F. Toomey.

    Pizor: Had he been there for many years?

    Toomey: Went on about thirty - thirty-five years. It was right at the top of the barn, right next to the - you know where the old barn's at? Well the first house was over there, now you couldn't see it. And his father before that, I didn't know his father before that, and William Casey, he married his daughter and he had charge of what they call the coal house. That's right next to Mr. Carpenter's.

    Pizor: Right, all the way up there.

    Toomey: Yeah. I could never understand, this man took me up through there, and look at the mills. He showed me one down in what they called the Upper Banks, heck we used to play in between that. I says, "You got me, I'll show you where the...", but that was on Carpenter's side.

    Pizor: Well there's a fence up there now.

    Toomey: Yeah.

    Pizor: Can't get over. Have you heard very much about the refinery, were you kids allowed to play around there?

    Toomey: Yes Sir.

    Pizor: Was it a dirty place?

    Toomey: No, I'll tell you one thing about it. You said about the refinery, that's where they made the saltpeter and they used to take these bags and stuff out of there. And it was a big mill, it was. I wouldn't say it was a dirty place, but it was pretty humid. And these fellows brought up these bags and stuff and hang them up on the fence.

    Scafidi: Was there any kind of characteristic smell out near the yards, could you tell that you were coming close to the mills because you could smell it?

    Toomey: Nope.

    Scafidi: How about noise?

    Toomey: Nope - all you heard was the grinding. They'd grind all day and all night. And these powder men, they used to sit down along the creek there and fish and stuff like that. And you'd take - they used to call it the rolling mill - the man stayed away, he didn't get blowed up. But they'd get out there and fish and stuff like that - sunfish or something like that. And they'd sit there all day smoking a pipe, stuff like that. And the horses what comes from that barn, you know, they had to have rubber shoes on them.

    Scafidi: Was mostly horse-drawn vehicles down there or did they have any kind of trains, steam engines?

    Toomey: No, no trains. They had a - I can give you the best estimation of it - these horses what used to pull the powder from there up to Montchanin, it was more like a caboose, you know on the railroad track. And used to take two and three horses and they used to holler, "He-ay, woo-hoo" like that.

    Scafidi: Did they use reins at all or did they just follow?

    Toomey: No, talk to them - and they were all great big horses they were.

    Pizor: Was there a farm up above the barn, in that area, was there any type of farming operation that you remember?

    Toomey: The only one up there is Willie du Pont's, but he's dead now. I think they got it put in the golf course now. And I wouldn't want to say for sure.

    Pizor: But near where the barn was, and where you lived, was there a farm?

    Toomey: No, no, but just right off.

    Scafidi: Do you know where you got your water from when you lived down there?

    Toomey: Well I'll tell you, to tell you the truth, I don't know where we got it from. It was well water or something like that I believe.

    Scafidi: How about if even a fire, did they have any kind of hydrants around?

    Toomey: Yeah, they had one of these, oh heck them old coppers what they used to pull (laughs). The house would be burnt down before...man I used to laugh at them. Congall's house got on fire there at one time at Chicken Alley, and these men come on up there and it's a big tank or something like that.
  • Recalling the names of friends and workers in the Upper Banks; taking the Rising Sun trolley to Wilmington; walking to St. Joseph's School
    Keywords: Labor supply;race and ethnicity;St. Joseph's on the Brandywine School;Street-railroads
    Transcript: Pizor: Do you remember some of the names of the men that worked in the refinery and those areas that might have had kids your age?

    Toomey: Well, there's a man by the name of McVey. They were mostly Dagos, Italian people they where - I couldn't go right back there and tell you. Just as I told Mart Dillon, I says I couldn't go back there an tell them all. There was a Callahan, there was a Dougherty, heck I don't know how many was in there.

    Pizor: Did you ever keep up with any of the kids that you played with in those days, do you know any of them?

    Toomey: Most of them's dead, I'll tell you the truth. I just lost the best friend here the other day, his name was Callahan, he died.

    Scafidi: Is there any place around Wilmington or in the Wilmington area where people who were around the powder would be most likely to be found, any place where old timers congregate and sit around and tell lies to each other?

    Toomey: Joe Haley, he's dead. My God, I couldn't tell you.

    Scafidi: Any colored people who worked in the mills at all?

    Toomey: No.

    Scafidi: Or even lived in the area?

    Toomey: No Sir.

    Scafidi: Any Chinese or anything like that?

    Toomey: No, because the only colored fellows, they worked on a farm, way out further.

    Pizor: Did you ever go into town when you lived over in the Brandywine area - how did you go there, how did you manage to get into town?

    Toomey: Well, when I was born...I come from Hockessin and I had to walk to Hockessin, and get on a bus there.

    Pizor: When you were living on the Brandywine?

    Toomey: Yes - no, when I was on the Brandywine, I had to go up to Rising Sun car they called it.

    Pizor: Did you ever go in with your father or with your brother?

    Toomey: No, I was too young, I just can't about remember. We used to go down there, oh we'd go down there Rising Sun car. We called it Montchanin and look at the trolley car, they used to have that pole, you know, what they pulled up and down. I just about remember me Daddy. I was around about eight, nine years old, something like that.

    Pizor: When you went into town in those days as a very young boy, what did you do?

    Toomey: Just get on there and get some peanuts or something like that.

    Pizor: Walk around town?

    Toomey: Well, somebody had me by the hand.

    Scafidi: So if they walked, you walked, or if they didn't walk, you didn't walk?

    Toomey: That's it. But just like these days today. Now I walked from school, from Upper Banks what they called it, to St. Joseph's, pretty near two miles, maybe three. And then after I got transferred from there to du Pont School, it was up there, we walked rain or shine.

    Scafidi: The Toomey interview will be continued on Tape 69-2, Side 1.