Interview with Richard F. Rowe, 1968 July 9 [audio](part 1)

Hagley ID:
  • Family background; explosions at Hagley; knowledge of the phrase "Going across the Creek"; gathering wood for charcoal
    Keywords: Du Pont, Alfred I. (Alfred Irenee), 1864-1935; explosions; Going across the Creek; Hagley Yard; Henry Clay (Del. : Village); Ireland; Joe Errigo; Rising Sun Lane (Wilmington, Del.); Rokeby Hall; Saint Joseph on the Brandywine Roman Catholic Church (Wilmington, Del.); Walker's Banks; Wilmington (Del.)
    Transcript: Wilkinson: Well Mr. Rowe, let's repeat that question about your family background. The oldest member of the Rowe family in this country that you know of was your grandfather. Is that correct?

    Rowe: Yes. According to what we have here chronology in family Bible on him, he was born in 1828 and died in 1897. So that would mean I did not know Grandpop personally. He was William Rowe, and he had come from Ireland. He was married on June 30, 1853 in St. Joseph's Church on the Brandywine to a girl by the name of Suzan Fisher. Now, I don't know for certain, but as far as I know they made their home on Walker's Bank. He was employed by the DuPont Company for fifty years. Now we have some other stuff around here -I wish I had looked for it -tells about when he started for the Company. I think he got 50¢ a day, and of course at that time he was a bachelor, and they had some kind of bachelor's quarters at Rokeby Hall. Do you know about this?

    Wilkinson: Well in the bachelors' building up in the Upper Yard where the single men lived, the Company provided meals and lodging, but there may have been other bachelor's quarters.

    Rowe: That's how he got started, and I know whatever they had left over at the end of the month then they got that in money. They were charged so much for meals, etc. And then of course when he got married they used to provide them with a house as I understand it, and they would take it out of their wages. It seemed they worked like a commissary.

    Wilkinson: I think if they were married some workmen did get houses, either free or at a very modest rent, $12 a year or $20 a year.

    Rowe: When Grandpop got old he came to live with Pop and Mom, when we lived at the foot of Rising Sun Lane. I think Dad lived there for twenty-three years. (And of course as the folks got older they did come to live with my mother and father.)

    Wilkinson: Do you recall any incidents told to you by your mother or father about his working in the mills?

    Rowe: No. Years ago we used to do a lot of visiting. You had no television and it was family visiting. And I can remember an incident that Uncle Bill was telling us about; up in the Yard, when the Mills used to go up, of course nobody got any warning. Now I don't know which mill it was, but anyhow it was a friend of theirs who had been blown up in the mill, and Uncle Bill said that he just happened to be looking at the mill at the time - everything happens in a flash - and whoever the man was, he said he saw him go out, almost instantaneously, and he said that the crash seemed to come after the explosion. Whoever it was disappeared. Now I remember that because I was just a kid and those things stick in your mind.

    Wilkinson: You've heard the expression, "He's gone across the Creek?"

    Rowe: I have heard the expression and the first time I really came across it I remember Joe Errigo, a lawyer in town, and he wrote a little book and I think Joe used that expression, "Gone across the Creek," and I hadn't heard it too much before that time.

    Wilkinson: We've interviewed some of the old powder men and that's where we picked it up.

    Rowe: Now here's how that might have come in. It meant he got blown across the Creek.

    Wilkinson: Your grandfather as far as you know worked for 50 years without any injury.

    Rowe: No, Grandpop never had any accident that I ever heard of. Well, I used to hear a lot of them talking about people being lucky. Some people go through a war, and their buddies have been killed right beside them, like the old Generals had their horses shot out beneath them, and I suppose that's the kind of life Grandpop had. I used to hear him say that they would just leave the mill and go on down and that mill would go up.

    Wilkinson: Do you have any impression or memory of your grandfather, trying to dissuade his sons from going into the mill?

    Rowe: Well, I don't know. Pop never worked in the mills. Pop worked for DuPont's but he was a painter. And of course he spent a lot of his last years with Alfred I. du Pont. But Uncle Bill worked in there. They used to work around when they were kids because I remember Pop talking about one time, he said that they were 12 years old or under, and they used to gather wood for charcoal in those days. And he said that they were so young when they went to work that they would come home and play with their toys after they got done.

    Wilkinson: Were these young boys working in the powder mills?

    Rowe: No, not in the mills. One ingredient for the powder was your charcoal, and people used to gather wood, individual families, and they stripped the bark off of it. So that is where the child labor came in.

    Wilkinson: We get the impression that this was an extra curricular job for mothers and older youngsters, and they did it afternoons and early evening.

    Rowe: Yes, I think that is how it worked. It wasn't that you were on the payroll or anything.

    Wilkinson: Then your grandfather was pensioned by DuPont? Or was this before pensions came in?

    Rowe: I don't know whether he had a pension or not. I think they did give one. I have an older brother that would know more about this than me. This is Al. He Would remember more than I would. Now when you leave here I will remember some stories of things - hearsay.

  • Memories of explosions; memories of his grandfather
    Keywords: Breck's Mill; Buchanan family; Du Pont, Alfred I. (Alfred Irenee), 1864-1935; explosions; Hagley Yard; risk; security; whiskey
    Transcript: Wilkinson: Much of what we get is hearsay, we realize this.

    Rowe: We used to hear an awful lot of stories about the explosions because I remember when we were kids we lived in sort of a dread -something like living around a mine - always waiting for something.

    Wilkinson: And yet as the years went by and nothing happened, didn't you have a sense of security and forgetfulness about what might happen?

    Rowe: Kids forget easy of course. I remember several explosions, naturally, like when we were in school. There was a terrific sensation when a mill went off when you were in school - I went to the old school up here, St. Joseph's. I don't know what would happen but all the kids would stand up at the same time as the smash would come. Now what made us stand up I don't know. There was a sensation there. I can't explain it. And of course the nuns would run and open the long windows. School was immediately dismissed and kids that had people working in the mills would start crying. And everyone would head for the gate. Pretty soon somebody would come down and say, "Bill's all right." The only ones allowed in the gates were priests, doctors.

    Wilkinson: Was Alec Burns the gate tender in your time?

    Rowe: I don't remember. I remember the old gate because they used to pat men for matches. Everybody got searched as they went through the gate. But they couldn't take their whiskey.

    Wilkinson: They could take their whiskey? They were allowed to wet their throats?

    Rowe: No, they weren't supposed to drink, but they tell me of course there were a lot of Irishmen, a lot of those boys were "blown up" and were about "half smoked" and nobody knew about it.

    Wilkinson: Well, some of the explosions have been blamed on that as you may have heard. But the men involved weren't around to say.

    Rowe: I remember one time there was an explosion up by the Iron Bridge - it was called the old packing house and if you will go up there today right underneath the bridge, that's the last pier, there was a big long toilet there - an 8 holer and there were 25 men working in the packing house, two men were out at the time; one man was at the toilet, the other was down at the spring getting a drink, when that thing went up.

    And they got the whole works. The guy was telling me about this. He said they had a little snort. I guess maybe to quiet their nerves. Well, anyhow the only two that were saved were the two that were out and he said that they had five piles of "meat" you know, just what they could find, along the road. Now when I said that some of them drank, I don't know because I wasn't there. I remember down at the Hagley House they had services, they didn't have the bodies.

    Wilkinson: By that you mean Breck's Mill?

    Rowe: Yes, Sunday service for them and one fellow killed was Jamesie Baird - the only thing they found of Jamesie was an arm. The reason that they identified it was because it had a tattoo mark on it. And of course they had the burial, some up at Greenhill Cemetery, and two days later they found Jamesie under a pile of rocks. The only thing missing was his arm.

    Wilkinson: Living?

    Rowe: No, he was dead. The man who told me this story isn't around here any more. His name is Tucker Buchanan. There was one of the fellows that got killed in the packing house they called him Egg Cumston, and I guess they were first cousins.

    Wilkinson - The Buchanan family - there was a Buchanan family lived at the foot of Breck's Lane. Wm. Buchanan, Yaba, his father.

    Rowe: Yes, there was young Yaba and old Yaba.

    Wilkinson: The one with the missing eye - that was old Yaba. Close to Alfred I.

    Rowe: That was old Yaba. He and Alfred were pretty chummy.

    Wilkinson: Did your grandfather ever talk about Alfred I.?

    Rowe: No, it was Pop. As I understand it, when they were going to sell the Company to Laflin & amp; Rand, or somebody was about ready to buy it out, they wanted to keep it in the family if they could. I guess the old fellows were tired and sick, and they didn't give a hoot what happened. It was Alfred, the least one they would expect to try to save the thing, that went out to T. Coleman, who was not connected with the Company at that time, and Pierre. I think the three of them came back and made an offer to the Company and as the story gets around I think they had $6,000 in cash but I think the old guys figured if they could take it over they didn't need anything.

    Wilkinson: The story is that Alfred went to New York and I think negotiated with J. P. Morgan for the financing of it but it was done on a shoestring. The powder company's property and reputation and so on were the security for it.

    Wilkinson: Then your father, if you feel you have told us what you know about your grandfather...

    Rowe: Well you see, now the only thing I would know about Grandpop would be when someone would mention something. I was born in 1908 and he died in '97.
  • His father's education and work; Alfred I. du Pont's glass topped stone wall
    Keywords: carriage painting; Du Pont, Alfred I. (Alfred Irenee), 1864-1935; DuPont; education; Gentieu, Pierre A., 1842-1930; Nemours (Greenville, Del.: Dwelling); Walker's Mill
    Transcript: Wilkinson: Well, let us pick it up with your father. Tell us something of your father's education, where did he go to school, how did he get into painting?

    Rowe: Pop was what they call a carriage painter in those days. There were a lot of carriages around. He was a striper. And Pop was a good painter. He used to paint a lot of portraits - scenery, etc. He was a master painter but there was no place for his talents. He went to work for the Company, painting, and I remember he told me once he painted the old Iron Bridge as part of his job.

    Wilkinson: He was born at Walker's Bank and he went to the Yellow School house, or the Rising Sun School house?

    Rowe: Now, he went to school where Beatty lives. There was an old school house that sits up on the top of Barley Mill Lane and there was also a school house right off Rising Sun Lane, by the old school spring. Pop attended both of those schools; now for how long, I don't know.

    Wilkinson: Did he go to Alexis I.?

    Rowe: No, but I suppose it was St. Joseph's. When you had eight grades of schooling that was all you ever got. You were fully educated, and that was it. Then you were ready to go to work, or you better be ready. As Pop told us, he really did start with Grandpop when they brought them in on a part time basis or whatever, Pop and Uncle Bill and a couple more of them. But they all weren't powder men - uncle Johnny was a barber, so the question you asked, did they all go into the mills, they scattered.

    Wilkinson: Well, at the age of fourteen did he start the job of painting right away or did he do other things?

    Rowe: Well, I imagine he must have scampered around with the Company on odd stuff and I don't know the name of the man he learned his trade with, but I do know he had to walk to town. He learned his trade in Wilmington, somewhere. I'm not sure whether the name was Cartwright -I don't know where I get this name from but it seems they were carriage painters.

    Wilkinson: Have you been reading these items in the evening paper by Emerson Wilson about old Wilmington industries? He had one on the Wilmington carriage factories of the 19th century. There was Gregg and Bowe and a half a dozen carriage factories during the latter part of the 19th century. There used to be one at the location of the Van Sciver store - 9th and King.

    Rowe: I don't know, but Cartwright sticks in my mind. But he did learn his trade as a carriage painter. Then when he'd learned his trade he went to DuPont, and he spent all his life with them.

    Wilkinson: Around the houses, around the farms?

    Mr. Rowe - Yes, I suppose it would be maintenance painting. And then he went with Alfred I. for quite a good many years.

    Wilkinson: Over at Swamp Hall?

    Rowe: Well Alfred I. used to live over on Breck's Lane at one time.

    Wilkinson: That was Swamp Hall.

    Rowe: And then of course he built his big place. I don't know how he was connected with Alfred I. when he lived on the Lane, because the only time we remember was when he was up on the estate.

    Wilkinson: The 1920's or 1930's?

    Rowe: That was during the 20's.

    Wilkinson: He was building it during the 20's, and had a formal opening in the 30's.

    Rowe: All along the top of the wall is glass.

    Wilkinson: Still there.

    Rowe: They used to say that was all the booze that old Alfred drank. They had some feuding between the families. But I remember that they used to buy glass off the kids. If you wanted to take some glass out the head stonemason would buy it.

    Wilkinson: Well we heard the story that the head contractor who had the job didn't like the idea of all that broken glass on the wall and he told Mr. du Pont about it and Mr. du Pont said, "Damn it, if you won't do it I'll get somebody who will." And it is said he put the glass there to keep people out he didn't like, mostly by the name of du Pont.

    Rowe: Where the feeling came in, as I understand it, after he got the Company together with T. Coleman and Pierre I think there was a stock issue or something and I think they kind of pushed old Alfred off to one side.

    Wilkinson: It is a complicated business but I think it was simply T. Coleman wanted to sell out and he offered his shares to the Company to purchase and Alfred thought the price too high, so after a time T. Coleman offered the shares to Pierre, and the story is that Pierre negotiated to buy them from T. Coleman without telling Alfred and this created some hard feelings. A simple explanation. Did your father ever have much to say about Alfred I. as an employer? How many years did he work for Alfred I.?

    Rowe: Let me see. Pop died in 1922. That's how I happened to go to work in the woolen mill up here. He died in December and I went to work in February.

    Wilkinson: Did your father ever say what he was paid as a workmen?

    Rowe: Pop never made much money. I think about 60¢ an hour was about as much as he ever made. In 1922 when the first World War was over and wages were starting to be raised, I don't think Pop ever made over 60¢ to my knowledge. Alfred I. was a very decent man to Pop. And I remember Alfred used to give a boat ride every summer for the old powder men and I was on a couple of those myself. That was quite a thing.

    Wilkinson: We have photographs of these reunions on the boat but we never see any youngsters.

    Rowe: I remember old Mike Maloney. He was sort of a right hand man of Alfred I. I think Mike was an old school mate of years back. And he used to arrange for the boat rides down on the old Wilson Line. Now Alfred himself wouldn't get on the boat and sail along. He had a boat named Nenemoosha and he used to tie it down right across from where we got on the old Wilson Line, which he chartered and they had a band and catering service. We would go down the bay a little way and he would come alongside in his yacht and would come aboard. Alfred was deaf and he had one of those trumpets -no hearing aids way back then- and he'd come on and stay, I guess, for an hour or so and some of the old boys would turn on for him. They'd do a couple of jigs for old times sake. We Were just there to get something to eat and have a boat ride.

    Wilkinson: Do you remember Pierre Gentieu?

    Rowe: Yes.

    Wilkinson: He was an old man when you were a young boy?

    Rowe: I'll tell you where he used to live. There is a little white house over on Mrs. W.K. du Pont's estate, called the summer house, and that's where Pierre Gentieu lived. And then we lived next door to his son, when we had to leave the Creek, we lived on 17th Street, or rather 18th Street and we lived right next to Gentieu's.

    Wilkinson: Four generations of Gentieus have been working for the Company.

    Rowe: That goes back to the French element. Italians, and then French. Down on the creek it was mostly Irish and up there it was Italians.
  • Leaving Wagoner's Row; living on Breck's Lane
    Keywords: Brandywine Creek; Breck's Lane; houses; Peggy Dadd's store; Talleyville (Wilmington, Del.)
    Transcript: Pizor: Why did you have to leave the house you lived in?

    Rowe: They were going to tear the house down. It was an old company house that Mrs. Copeland acquired and she just knocked them down. There was no place available on the Creek at the time, and we had to live somewhere, so we moved to 18th Street. I was five years old. We were down there for seventeen months, and then there was an opening up on Rising Sun Hill so back we came again.

    Wilkinson: Was that a Company house on Rising Sun Lane?

    Rowe: No, it belonged to Paul Foster, and I think Foster married a du Pont girl. The house was given to somebody for a wedding present. And we stayed on there. The rent there was $15, but at the foot of the hill it was $6. About 1914. $6 at the bottom of the hill and in seventeen months when we returned to the top of the hill it was $15. That was high rent. When Flossie and I got married we went to live near the Powder Yard gate and it was $8.25 a month rent. That was in 1932.

    Wilkinson: And who owned that house?

    Rowe: That belonged at that time to Gov. Buck. When you moved into a house down at the Creek you stayed there until they carried you out with your toes up. I don't think anyone down at the Creek ever had hardwood floors in their house so I decided to fancy the house up a bit so I put hardwood floors in there, built a fence out in front for the kid. And of course we had the old outside toilets. So after we had the house fixed up, I remember young Paul Wilson came up; he came around to collect the rents, and he was talking to me for a couple of hours, saying these places could be fixed up. I told him what you could do, and a week later we got a notice to move. And I can't figure out what's the matter here. So I went down to see him; he lived on Delaware Avenue at the time. And he said he was going to fix them up, inside plumbing, etc. and of course we had to get out. So that's when we thought we ought to do something about this because if this could happen once it could happen twice; and of course we had to go to live with our in-laws in the meantime. After the houses were fixed up we did go back and paid $25 and we stayed there a year or two. There was an old fellow by the name of Hamm and he said, "Why don't you come out here in Talleyville?" So that's how we happened to come out. The picture of the house there that I showed Mrs. Pizor is this house right here. We tore it down and brought it out and erected it here.

    Pizor: Did you own this house when you moved here?

    Rowe: I'll tell you how we happened to come out here. Old Mr. Talley had some ground out here that he wanted to sell. Mr. Talley said he would sell me an acre lot and he said he wanted $500 a lot. That was a lot of money and I had exactly 80¢ but I was working at the racetrack at Delaware Park and had gotten raised to $1.00 an hour. I gave him a down payment of my whole $40 a week paycheck. That's how we came here. But it just seemed that everything started to break for us after that. The wrecker, Handly, gave me the house - a double house - for $35, so I tore it down. It stood right across from the Hagley House on the right side of the road going up Breck's Lane, right on the turn.

    Wilkinson: Right at the foot of Breck's Lane and the Creek Road?

    Rowe: Because the trolley car track runs so close to the house. They used to have coal boxes in those days and the toilet, well you could almost reach off and touch the box. So that's how close the house was to the car tracks.

    Wilkinson: It often surprises me as I drive along the Creek Road now that there was enough land between the creek and the road to allow for any houses to be built in there.

    Rowe: Well, here's what happened, and it happened a lot of times. Now the toilets had to be wired to the house so that they wouldn't float away in a high creek. When the Creek came up high it came up to the ceiling of the first floor of these two houses. And I remember one time the Creek had awful thick ice on it, and a warm spell came. When the snow melted it lifted the whole platform of ice up, and there was nothing for it to do but move forward and the dam breaks it up. Well, the creek rises very rapidly when that happens, and I remember the Fleming family didn't have time to get their clothes in off the line, and I remember someone was on a cake of ice, and he rescued someone's wearing apparel out of the water. The water then was almost up to the ceiling of the first floor. When you walked in off the road you were even with the second floor.

    Wilkinson: So the back of the house is really supported on supports or stilts - stone?

    Rowe: It was a stone foundation and the clothes lines were wired so that the old privy wouldn't go down the creek. On the other side of the creek they used to lose one every once in a while, right on the turn there.

    Wilkinson: Then you were right opposite what is known as the old Rokeby Mill?

    Rowe: Yes.

    Wilkinson: And that became the first DuPont Experimental Station as we understand it. Then you were right around the corner from Peggy Dadd's store?

    Rowe: Here's the mill - the tower - right down in back of that and Frizzell was in there with Peggy Dadd somehow. Frizzell used to run a pie wagon around the creek. I remember old Sam had a crooked finger, went up in the air and over, and the other one was off. They used to have a joke about how Sam got that way. They asked him how it got that way and he said he was working in the mill where the cog wheels were, so he came over with a bent finger and the boss said, "How did you do that?" and he said, "I did it this way," and he stuck the other one in and chopped it off.
  • Early life and childhood; attending Irish wakes; medical care; local stores; swimming in Brandywine Creek
    Keywords: Blakeley's tavern; Brandywine Creek; Catalina's store; Cavanaugh's store; Dorman's store; Dr. Chandler; Dr. Greenleaf; Dr. Spear; freshets; Hagee's tavern: Irish wakes; Harry Gregg's Store; Rising Sun Lane (Wilmington, Del.); Sam Frizzell's store; swimming
    Transcript: Wilkinson: You were born in which of these several houses?

    Rowe: I was born at the foot of Rising Sun Lane. Near the covered bridge. The one we had to move out of. You could look out and see the covered bridge, and I can remember as a child looking Out the window, and the water looked awful black.

    Wilkinson: Do you have any recollections of boyhood? Recreation? Games? Sports?

    Rowe: I can remember looking out the garret window at a funeral and it was icy and slippery. In those days we had the horses and the black carriages, and I don't know who they were burying, but all the activity was going on near where Hagee's store is right now.

    Wilkinson: Did you ever go to an Irish wake?

    Rowe: Yes, I've been to a couple of them but we were young and we had to go home. The old Irishmen believed that when you died you went to heaven, or at least your troubles were over and there was nothing to cry about, so it was a good excuse for everybody to get drunk anyway. They used to behave themselves until around ten or eleven, but after that...they said they used to get mad as hell if an Irishman died on Monday because they all had to go to work during the week and they couldn't have a proper wake; if he died on Saturday they had a little more time.

    Wilkinson: Do you remember anything of the funeral customs - the body being packed with ice, etc.

    Rowe: No, I don't, but I do remember them telling that they didn't embalm them in those days. They had a special casket full of ice which they put the body in until they were going to lay it out and then they removed them from the ice box and put them in the casket and they had to keep wiping the face at different times.

    Wilkinson: Who was the local doctor who took care of people?

    Rowe: Old Dr. Samuels. And there was another old Doctor, Dr. Greenleaf, who drank a lot. Delivered a lot of babies and very seldom showed up sober. But he was a very good doctor.

    Wilkinson: Was he at the head of Breck's Lane?

    Rowe: I don't know where Dr. Greenleaf lived, but I remember they had to call him to the house once, and he came down the railroad track.

    Wilkinson: Dr. Chandler, does that name ring a bell?

    Rowe: Yes, Doc Chandler was one of the old timers. Old Dr. Spear. That was a later time. Dr. Samuels and Dr. Chandler and Dr. Greenleaf, they seemed to be the locals.

    Wilkinson: Mrs. Blakeley, Jeff Blakeley's wife. What do you know about her?

    Rowe: Well, old Jeff was an old United States Senator or something like that. He ran a saloon down here. I mean he was an old politician.

    Wilkinson: Oh, all right. I never heard of Senator Blakeley.

    Rowe: Maybe it was a joke, like they call people colonel. He was a big stout man, around 300. He ran the saloon, and when they went dry he went out of business. And I remember one incident. Talking about the old funerals. They used to send the cabs around like they send the car around today. Jeff was going to go to a funeral so the colored fellow came down with the cab, and he turned around and pulled up to the door. We lived in the middle of the hill, and I was standing on the porch looking down and the old colored driver had a high hat, and the horses had a little plumage. I can still see Jeff. He came around, and he walked around to the outside where there were two handles that you held on to and a pedal for the step. And when he hit that pedal and grabbed the handles I could see that coon on the top - I thought he was going to fall off. Jeff weighed 300 or more.

    Wilkinson: We've interviewed a man named Edward Cheney, later he went over to Carney's Point. He spoke of Mrs. Blakeley as being the type of woman who everyone went to when they had trouble.

    Rowe: That was Jennie. I don't remember Jennie so much as being that way - she was a very nice woman. Now, mom used to go to all the baby matinees. When the doctor wasn't around they always called Annie Rowe (his mother) until someone else got there. She always took care of everybody else. I can't remember Mrs. Blakeley being like that, you know.

    Wilkinson: Is this the house where you were...?

    Rowe: Yes, this is the as you come over the covered bridge one wall goes one way and one wall goes up Rising Sun Hill. This is the old station house, the old freight station up by the railroad track. Now, there was a row of houses up on here - over toward Hagee's. That was called "up on the rocks." The stones are still there.

    Wilkinson: Is this Miss Mary and Miss Eileen du Pont's place?

    Rowe: No. Miss Eileen would be right here. Right up over the top of this roof. Jeff Blakeley's would be right on the other side of this roof. Because if we could see this, this would be the railroad bridge here, this would be Rising Sun Lane but this is an ink sketch of our old house.

    Wilkinson: What number was that Rising Sun Lane?

    Rowe: I don't know whether we had a number. Right across the street from there was Harry Gregg's old store. It set right here and the foundation of that is still there. Sort of a general store. I know he used to sell gum boots and groceries and one thing and another.

    Wilkinson: Was he competitive with Frizzell down on the Creek road?

    Rowe: Well, when he was there the only other store was Dorman's. As far as competition went it would be Cavanaugh's, which had the post office, and when you get over to Squirrel Run there was a store run by an Italian called Big-a-da Tom (Catalina). They were the only three stores that I knew on the creek. But Simon Dorman started his store up right before the first World War and when Cavanaugh went out of business Simon took it over because he ran the store, and I remember when they had four clerks in there, so they did a good business. Now when they knocked our house down, they also knocked Gregg's store down so he had to vacate off the creek, and that left Simon with the bulk of the store business. That's where Hagee's saloon is now.

    Wilkinson: The covered bridge came down about 1928? Do you remember anything about it?

    Rowe: I remember when it came down because it was a twin bridge. It had a sign over the top of the bridge, "Walk your horses over this bridge under penalty of $5." That bridge was dusty. We kids went up through the rafters, and when we came down the other side we were real dirty.

    Wilkinson: Did they burn it down or knock it down?

    Rowe: No, it was knocked down. When they cut that bridge down, see that bridge was a truss bridge and was actually a suspension bridge and held its own weight. Now they shored that bridge up from the creek bottom because I remember the first time they had it shored up it was just shored up a couple of days when down came a freshet and knocked a few of the shores out; that was before they had any weight on them. Then they put the shores up again and, of course the cover...when a bridge is covered it has nothing to do with the strength; you can knock the roof off and the sides and so forth because the strength is in the arch. The cover was built simply to protect the bridge against the weather. Everything was wood. It was a twin bridge, and when they cut it down they put the iron bridge over, and it didn't seem to satisfy us very much. The old bridge was such a pretty thing. In those days the creek seemed to be deeper. You could hang out that bridge window and drop, and there must have been about 12 feet of water, but if you look over that bridge now you can see bottom. I think the creek is filling up because about three years ago my son bought a canoe and wanted me to take a ride up the creek with him and all this water as I knew it we knew every square inch, particularly over the dam - was changed; you couldn't even put your paddle down. I'll tell you what kept it open: up at the head gates, when the head gate was running, it kept things open and if you go over in back of the mill now, well I know the race and everything else must be filled in.

    Wilkinson: You were telling us something about your boyhood in this region...I guess the creek was the focal point; if you wanted any fun that's where you went.

    Rowe: Yes, the creek was the playground. This was taken in the fall of the year. You can see the foliage on there. Down in this part, particularly through here, everybody went swimming. I'm talking about even the mothers and fathers. When you're a kid and see a mother and father in you always had an idea they were around 90, but they were young women. Of course in those days nobody ever wore any bathing suits; the women went in with wrappers and dresses. Of course, the kids just went in the way we came. I guess I was around 12 or 13 and they started to sell tights in the 5 and 10 cent store. I think they were 15¢ a pair and I got a pair, but before that nobody ever bothered. There were never a whole lot of fish in the creek and that was because of the freshets. By the time something got built up in there along came a big, high creek and swept everything out.
  • Pollution on the Brandywine Creek; working at Hodgson's wool mill; description of yarn making; learning how to become a carpenter
    Keywords: Boyce Brothers; Brandywine Creek; Claymont (Del.); Hagley Museum and Library; Hodgson Bros. woolen mill; pollution; Wilmington High School; wool mills; yarn
    Transcript: Wilkinson: Weren't there stories, even in those days, of mills polluting the stream? Did you hear any of them? Paper mills, for example, at Rockland or...

    Rowe: This old guy, Billy Hodgson, over here ought to have been shot. He had three big tanks at that time; now, you see this dark circle right here- they were three wooden tanks that set up on stilts, and that stuff was supposed to be contained until there was a high creek, and then they were supposed to release it.

    Wilkinson: What was in the tanks?

    Rowe: It was the dirt from the wool and everything; you could smell it for half a mile. Now that continuously leaked right into the water; instead of dumping them when a high creek came they just let them go and overflow all the time. We used to swim over here, and one side was called "Girlie" and the other "Minnie" - "Minnie" was deep and "Girlie" was shallow - and when they used to let out an awful gush of this stuff when the tanks overflowed it would come right down the creek to where we were swimming. But they never did anything about it.

    Wilkinson: What did they make at Hodgson's?

    Rowe: The wool came in there raw and they had a wool sorter - some wool was a better grade than others - and I guess he threw the better grade away, and the other went through. I know compared with the wages everyone else was paid he was a highly-paid man. Hodgson paid his help terrible money. I was telling Mrs. Pizor that the old man himself was about the crustiest man I ever met. They said he took a bath, but I doubt it. He was an old Englishman. By crusty I mean every way, being dirty and his personality; he was a short man, about 5'2" or 3", and heavyset, and he smoked an old corncob pip incessantly.

    Wilkinson: What was the end product that came out of the mill?

    Rowe: The end product of that company was yarn. When it came out of there it was ready to go to the weavers to make garments. This place was called "the college" and everybody at some time worked there. They never paid any decent wages so there was always a turnover. You could always get a job there. I worked in the upper mill and I got seven dollars and some pennies, about forty cents, and that was for 9 hours a day and 5 1/2 days a week. I think the girls got around fourteen dollars a week. I was just a boy when I worked there; that was the first place I worked, and I guess I was there for about a year. I was fourteen in November when Pop died and I went to work in February, so I was fourteen, when I went to my trade I was fifteen, so I must have stayed with him about a year.

    Wilkinson: What was your job, what did you do?

    Rowe: I guess I was what you'd call a band boy there at that mill. I did general all around jobs. The way the machinery ran, there was a big long drum that revolved and the machine was full of bobbins and each bobbin - 4 sets of bobbins came off of one band or belt or strap - and this strap used to go over the drum and back and around, and the band used to break - they were sewn together. When one band broke the four bobbins weren't working. You had to pull the band back out, and you had a little sewing machine which was on wheels and had a little seat, and you turned a crank to sew the bands back together. Then you had a hook and you pushed it back around the four bobbins. As soon as a band would break they'd yell, "band boy," and I'd come up with my little sewing machine. I did a lot of things like that. I used to have to carry the waste wool. We put it in a bag and took it upstairs, and that was sold off separately. You see, when a bobbin is flying there'd be a little hair fall to the floor; it doesn't look like much, but you'd be surprised because pretty soon you'd have to sweep the floor. That can't be used again for what they used it for the first time. It was like a fluff, but it was a fiber. It was a shorter fiber. Anyway, that was called waste and that was sold off separately, but I don't know what for.

    Pizor - Do you know where they got their raw wool?

    Rowe: It used to come in up at New Bridge Station in box cars so it must have come from the west. I don't think he ever bought any local wool, that I knew of.

    Wilkinson: No sheep were being raised locally for wool purposes around the Brandywine?

    Rowe: No, not that I know of and I don't think he bought any locally because it came in big bales and was very heavy. Probably weighed about 400 or 500 pounds. They were hauled out of the box cars and taken over to the mill and broken open and sorted. From there the first thing it hit was a machine called the cards; a machine with a great big drum with a million short wires sticking out of it. After that it went over to the combs. When it came through the carding machine it was pulled apart and as it came out the other end of the machine it was in a loose ball that probably weighed more than ten or fifteen pounds...very loose. So, then it was carried over and put on the combs, and I think about 12 or 15 balls would be put on at one time, and they were pulled through a small hole which we called the combs, and it was also turned back into balls. After that they put them over onto the gill boxes, and it came out of there onto a big spool. That was the first spooling of it; it was like rope. Then they put these spools onto long frames. Finally it was put onto the twister and then the spinning frames. After it came off the spinning frames it was put onto reels, and that was when it was yarn.

    Wilkinson: Well then your trade was as a wool worker, Is that right?

    Rowe: That's the only place- my first job into the yard.

    Wilkinson: So you spent a year with Hodgson's. You were about 15 years old at this time?

    Rowe: Yes, because I was 14 in November, and in the following February I went to work for Hodgson and it seemed like I spent a year with him. The following fall I went to work with the Boyce Brothers.

    Wilkinson: where were they, in Wilmington?

    Rowe: I was going to be a carpenter. These were two fellows from down state who had started to build some houses. It was sort of a cooperative thing - me and another fellow. I'd work two weeks and then go to high school for two weeks and he'd take over just vice versa. It was supposed to be for a year, but we only did it for about six months because the other fellow quit. So, the Boyce Brothers wanted to know what I wanted to do and I said, "I want to work full time." So, I worked with them for a while but they got slack. I went from there up to the Worth Steel Mill in Claymont. I was almost 17 at this time, and they told me I was too young, but I told the fellow I could do the work. I remember they kept me for about three months and then they had to let me go because I just couldn't keep up with them. Then I went with John E. Healey, the contractor. That was where I finished my carpentry trade. I came through just when the bottom of everything fell out in 1929.
  • Work at the former Hagley mills; becoming a master carpenter
    Keywords: carpentry; contractors; Fred Krapf; Hagley Museum and Library; Hagley Yard
    Transcript: Wilkinson: What I'm leading up to is this: The closing of the powder yards came in about 1921 or 1922, the year your father died is that right? The old metal keg mill would have gone out of business as a keg mill when the yards closed?

    Rowe: That's right.

    Wilkinson: As I understand it you went to work in the building where our Museum now is. What were they doing in that building when you went to work there?

    Rowe: When I went to work there they just had machinery on the first floor. That would be February of 1923. The powder mills shut down about a year before.

    Wilkinson: We are interested in knowing what they converted this keg mill into. If they no longer made kegs, what were they making?

    Rowe: When they quit making kegs in there - they were the round canisters. Let me see if I can help you. Right outside of the powder yard gate they built a tremendously big temporary building, right under where the bridge goes over now. That was called the "shook shed." I don't know where they got the name "shook", but when the shooks were nailed together they formed a wooden case around a tin can that was put in there full of powder and the tin powder can with the wooden case around it for protection was shipped across to the other side. I'm trying to picture those things in my mind...the tin can - well, the shoulder of that can came up over the wood. If they were shipping them overseas the wood would have had to come over the top of the tin can because that was the protection. This thing that went down in there, say the thing had a pouring arrangement, like if it had come up and you turned it over it would look like it had been a funnel upside down. I'm not sure whether I'm right or wrong about this, but if that funnel was so it would have had to go clear down inside the box and then the lid over top. The shooks were sent in here already assembled. They were stored in this big shed. And I think, that's when the tin shop went out of existence, because, when I went to work up there, there were an awful lot of sheets of tin. We built a shack over on Holly Island out of the sheets of tin - we used the sheets for the sides and the roof. There were probably a couple of thousand sheets there.

    Wilkinson: What was the purpose of the shack?

    Rowe: Just something to do and have some place to hang out.

    Wilkinson: What kind of work did you do in this building?

    Rowe: When I came in there, there was machinery on the first floor and from the first floor, now this is toward the back of the building. I suppose it came almost over to the center. The second and the third floor was cut out I'd say about 20 feet square. There wasn't any floor in there at all. I don't know what the purpose of this was. During the time I was there they never put any machinery on the second floor - just used the first. The second floor was used for storage.

    Wilkinson: Then it was a woolen operation.

    Rowe: It was strictly a woolen operation, being run by Billy Hodgson's brother, Dick. As I understand, he used to work in a mill in Boston and I think he got canned because he'd drink a little "hootch", so his brother brought him down to run this mill. I know he used to come in with some big hang-overs in those days.

    Wilkinson: We are interested in knowing what the Museum was used for after the keg mill was closed.

    Rowe: That would be it. After that thing was stopped I suppose Hodgson went to the Company and asked if he could rent it. Now, whether it was to give his brother a job or not, I don't know, but he did bring his brother down from Boston. Old Billy used to go up to inspect the other mill. Right in back of here was a rowboat and I used to come down and I would paddle Old Billy up to the other mill in a rowboat. He'd stay about an hour going over things with his brother Dick, and then I'd row him back again and have to walk all the way around back. I'd get a lot of pleasure out of that, but I could never understand why he'd never get someone out of the mill to row him up and row him back.

    Wilkinson: Was that one of those flat-bottomed boats?

    Rowe: Yes, it was a row boat and after I finished I had to take the oars up and store them in Billy's office. Now, you had to see this office. It was a projection that stood out from the mill with an old dingy desk in it.

    Wilkinson: About how many people worked in the mills? Walker's Mill? Hodgson's Mill?

    Rowe: There must have been about 15 girls - this was two floors -there must have been about 15 girls on the upper floor; they employed only girls upstairs. And downstairs they must have had about 10 men. I'd say the full employment was less than 30 people.

    Wilkinson: And up at the mill which we call the Hagley Museum?

    Rowe: Up at the Hagley mill I was the only boy. Dick was the boss. Now, as you come in the front door, over to the right-hand side was the last operation, and we had two girls there. Then you walked over to the side, and there were three machines there, and two sisters worked them. Let me see, there were 10 women worked there, me and the boss. All producing yarn. Now, here there was one operation that they missed up in the upper mill. The yarn was brought up there, and the first operation that was done in the upper mill was the gill boxes; remember in the lower mill (Walker's Mill) I told you it was on the cards and the combs and then the gill boxes. Well, the first operation in our mill was the gill boxes. Instead of the wool being brought out of the box cars to our mill it was brought up in a truck in balls to the mill where we worked. The preliminary operation was already done in the lower mill - the carding and the combing.

    Wilkinson: How long did you stay there working in that mill?

    Rowe: Well about a year, I guess it was. Because as I say Pop died on the 29th of December, that was in '22. I went there in February, that would be '23, after New Year's to the following September is about what I stayed and then that's when we went with Boyce on the cooperative basis. And that only lasted about a year or less...

    Wilkinson: When you say you came through your trade you mean you got your rating as a master carpenter?

    Rowe: After coming through my trade with Healey, work was pretty slack on work and they wanted me to stay on at what I was earning as an apprentice, but since I was the main support of my mother I felt I had to make a try to get work at more money so I went down to see old Fred Krapf - that outfit is still in business - who was at 3rd and Orange then. I went in and said, "Mr. Krapf, are you hiring any carpenters?" He said, "Are you a carpenter?" I said, "I don't know because I just came through my trade." He asked me who I learned with. "Johnny Healey," I told him. "I'll give you a job," he said, "after you spent four years with him." Anyway, I remember the first job, it was up here at Elam.

    They were putting an addition on to a church, and he sent me up and I thought there were more men up there. They had the gothic arches in the church with the trim and of course, you're a little apprehensive when you're starting out as a new man and I thought sure I'd see a foreman. Well, I worked there for two days and there was no one around; on the third day old Fred came around - he was a big fellow and a very gentle man - but I don't think I've ever seen anyone as mad as he was when he came in through that front door. I thought I must have spoiled something. He just walked in and didn't say anything at all and in about ten minutes he said, "How are you making out?" I said, "Well, all right, I guess." He said everything looked fine.
  • Identifying buildings at Hagley; working with water power at the woolen mill
    Keywords: Bake Shop; Pierre Ferraro; pulp keg; Soldering Shed; water mills; water power; water turbines
    Transcript: [Dr. Wilkinson showed Mr. Rowe some pictures of the Hagley building with structures surrounding it and questioned if Mr. Rowe could help identify any of them.]

    Pizor: All of these buildings are in the area of the parking lot. This is Hagley cotton mill. This is the main building that you worked in. There were actually three other big buildings; one we believe had a stone first floor and a brick second story. Do you have any idea what this was used for?

    Rowe: It was brick and it was demolished. It was a similar structure to this thing here. Let me see, what was that called? Up at the Hall of Records, right in back of the Hall of Records and this is getting away from what you asked me - was a building called the pulp keg; it was where kegs were made out of paper. Now then, they didn't use that, and they went back up to the tin shop. Now let me think. It had something to do with the same thing that this building had because back in the back you'll see there is a big bank there, and a lot of refuse lead was wheeled out of this building here. We used to go over and dig it out and sell it to the junk man. To my knowledge it had the same function as this.

    Pizor: We notice it's the same size.

    Rowe: I wish I could think of its name.

    Wilkinson: Was it known as the Bake Shop? Where they baked the paint on the sheet metal canisters?

    Rowe: I could have found out the name for you, but we're a year late because the chap who told me to go over and dig for the lead in that place worked in it. He was an old junk man, old Pierre Ferraro; he's dead now.

    Pizor: When was that torn down? When you were around?

    Rowe: It must have been torn down just about the time I got here. I can't remember them demolishing it. It was down when I went to work in the woolen mill because the rubble of brick was just laying there.

    Pizor: Next to the main Museum building there still remains a building. Here you see it with a wooden structure on the second floor. Right now this is the way it looks. It looks like a hut. In these days it had a wooden second floor and a catwalk that attached it to the second floor of the Museum building. Do you remember what that building was used for?

    Rowe: No, that was knocked down also. That was down by the time I started there. These must have been taken quite some time ago.

    Pizor: That's what we are wondering. We don't know how to date some of these.

    Rowe: You see, if you'll look over this wall right now this tail race has a round brick arch on it if you will look at it now and that would mean a bridge went across that road at that particular time.

    Wilkinson: That would be the tail race for the turbine behind the mill, wouldn't it?

    Rowe: What I'm looking at here - this is different, because see there's a bridge across your roadway. Now this must date way back. I wouldn't know how far back. See, here's the piece that was put -I'll tell you what that is l that's the tail race of your old building. See where the line comes down in the old building? See where this tail race is? Your new tail race would be over here with a brick arch over it. So, that thing, I don't know - it seems like the building was built before they moved. Your turbine's down this way because they still used the old tail race. See what I mean?

    Pizor: This is another point. You say the second floor was off this little building we are talking about. The way we know it now, it was a smaller building than this. Was it a small building with two doors in it? As you can see this is a larger building; we are enlarging it now. We tore the end of it off, and we are making it as long as it was here. Can you remember if it was pretty much of a small building or did it go all the way?...

    Rowe: It was a small building.

    Wilkinson: It now measures about 23 feet and we're putting 11 more on it.

    Rowe: Are you putting a new foundation down or is that the full foundation?

    Pizor: No, we enlarged it completely with a new foundation.

    Rowe: That must have been the regular size of it because it wouldn't be any bigger than the old foundation.

    Wilkinson: Do you know of any equipment inside that building?

    Rowe: There was no equipment in the place when I went in there, but it used to be the old soldering shed. Of course, it's a stone building, but they called it the soldering shed.

    Wilkinson: Did you ever hear about why the brick arches and the metal columns? Did anyone ever explain? Why did it look so sturdy and strong for the uses to what it was put?

    Rowe: No, I never did. It must have been for a purpose. There was no ventilation, no windows. All of the doors on this place were just flimsy; just like on the old powder mills. There was an old door across the creek that lay there for years. I think it was off a rolling mill. There's probably nothing left but the big hinges, but I think I was the only one who ever knew where it was. I wish I could help more, but this is very interesting to me.

    Pizor: You are helping. Now we know it was torn down before 1923.

    Rowe: Oh, this would go way, way back. You see, although the mill has been extended, they are still using the water wheel as it was at that time without the extension on it. Now then, this part was done away with here and the tail race was moved down and the turbine wheel had to be carried down because there is a bridge across that road and the bridge wasn't across that road during the war. I remember every square inch of the place. Just like that old track there. How it got in the creek I don't know, but there was a section of it there the whole time I was in the mill because when the creek would go down you could see it.

    Pizor: When you worked in the woolen mill, what power did you have?

    Rowe: It was the old turbine wheel. Now, up at the keg mill dam is what they called the main headgates. Right in back of that dam, about 50 feet, there is another dam still in the creek; it's under water about five feet. There are two dams up there. If the water gets real low you can still see that old wooden dam. The headgates used to work by electricity during the war. You can see the screws on them. Now, when the creek got high I used to have to go up with a hand apparatus; when the water got too high you used to have to drop that down and shut the water off because it would overflow the race. Right down this way a little you will see another sluice, the old gates. You had to open them up also, you had to maintain a balance. Now, in order to keep the wheel going, if you just let the water drift in there by itself, the leaves and the little sticks of wood would build right up on that rack and shut the whole mill off. There was a rake called a rack rake which looked like an ordinary rake only it had long teeth on it, and they were curved. You'd put that down to the bottom and work your way up and dump the leaves on the bank and that immediately gave more power. That was part of my job. Now, down at the lower mill they used to have to shut down. They used to drop the headgates; they were dropped with pegs, but when the creek would come up so high they couldn't control that and when it came up and over top of the wheel it wouldn't turn anything. When the power was on they called that the "Speed." We used to turn the "speed" on where today we say "power."

    Pizor: Do you know what kind of power this little annex building next to it had?

    Rowe: I don't think it had any...if it had any power it would have been off of a jack shaft.

    Wilkinson: There are two little blocks of stone along the upper wall, like a pillow block which carried some shafting at one time. Maybe it was only being carried to something else beyond that building. There is no opening in the wall to indicate where it came in.

    Rowe: There was only one other method they could have used in those days and that would have been steam. The steam could have been carried by a pipe into some kind of a steam jenny because they couldn't use any fire up around there. Of course, down here there was no powder made and they probably could use it here. I was explaining about starting the speed up. Well, as you walk in the front door, I guess you'd take about five steps and there was a big iron wheel - every Saturday I had to go down and pack all the gears with grease. Now, everything in the mill was run by leather belting, and if you turned this big wheel by the door on full speed ahead it would knock every belt off in the place.

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