Preserving Hockessin’s HistoryJun 29, 2023 11:19AM ● By Tricia Hoadley
If you thought Hockessin was a sleepy Delaware town with little historic significance, think again.
A tavern dating back to the late 18th century still stands, as does a place of worship which started its life 38 years before the Declaration of Independence was signed. Unknown to many people, Hockessin was a major conduit for escaping slaves on the Underground Railroad. Other buildings which helped educate young minds in the late 19th and into the 20th century are still on the landscape. The Hockessin Historical Society highlights many of these structures and welcomes visits from all who want to learn about the region’s rich heritage.
Tweed’s Tavern dates back to the year 1790. It was originally known as the “Mudfort.” Measuring 21 feet by 27 feet, the two-story log structure is listed in a colonial-era tax assessment as a large building with a cookery (kitchen), barn and stables.
In 1802, the building, which apparently was used at some point as a tavern, was sold to John Tweed, whose family owned it until 1831, when it ceased tavern operations. The building was situated along a busy trade route from Lancaster County to Newport, Delaware and attracted travelers coming through the region.
For much of the late 1800s, it was owned by the Thomas Baldwin family, and then, after several changes of ownership, it was purchased by Alfred Giacomelli in 1930. His family owned the building until 1989. Noting its historic significance, the state of Delaware acquired the structure in 1999. Preservation Delaware, under the guidance of the Hockessin Historical Society, took ownership of Tweed’s Tavern in 2000.
Originally located at the northwestern corner of Limestone Road (Delaware Route 7) and Valley Road, the Tavern was relocated to just off of Valley Road near the Hockessin Athletic Club. A ‘behind the scenes’ tour of the facility graciously provided by Historical Society vice president Darleen Amobi showcased a building which hosted thirsty travelers when George Washington was President of the United States. Although many of the walls and floorboards have been reconstructed, some of them are original to the building. You can sense its link to the past by running your hand along the logs more than two centuries old, separated by the white plaster popular during the period. Tweed’s Tavern’s rich heritage also gave birth to the group which would preserve it forever. During the DelDot relocation, the efforts prompted community members to form the Hockessin Historical Society which maintains it today for all to enjoy. A parlor with period furnishings gives visitors a chance to see what colonial taverns were like back in the 1790s.
The Hockessin Historical Society added a museum next door in 2016 to give guests a better sense of Hockessin’s history. Former society president Joseph R. Lake constructed a series of exhibits highlighting the Wilmington and Western Railroad which ran through Hockessin and on to Landenberg in Pennsylvania. There’s a re-creation of the Hockessin Train Station inside, along with several railroad signs and memorabilia which were some of Lake’s favorite pastimes. Lake wrote two books on Hockessin titled “Hockessin: A Pictorial History.” Sadly, Joe Lake passed away in 2021. A memorial service on June 28 of that year highlighted his many contributions.
Citizens in northern Delaware and southeastern Pennsylvania were very active on the Underground Railroad during the 1800s up through the Civil War. Amobi’s great grandmother was a slave down in Mississippi. Others among her ancestors were slaves in North Carolina and South Carolina. According to Amobi, “Hockessin was one of the main sites for the Underground Railroad in the north. Thomas Garrett assisted many escaping slaves through the area.” She mentioned that Garrett married a Mendenhall, whose family is linked with the popular Mendenhall Inn just across the state line. An exhibit showcases local “stationmasters” on this railroad, which never posted a schedule.
The Society owns the Lamborn Library—also known as Delaware Old Public School #29—just up the road from Tweed’s Tavern. Old Public School #29 was built circa 1868-1870 as a one-room schoolhouse. A second floor was added around 1890. The property was previously owned by Levis H. Lamborn (1808- 1896) before it was donated to Hockessin. A tour of the cream-colored brick building guided by Amobi allowed a walk through the structure later used as the Hockessin Library. The Society gained ownership of the building in 2014 and allows use of its meeting room for educational purposes and non-profit groups.
The Hockessin Friends Meetinghouse was constructed in 1738 and enlarged seven years later with a side addition. The stone building is one of the few colonial-era houses of worship in Hockessin and is believed to have operated the only school in the area during the late 1700s and early 1800s. A blue and gold historical marker at 1501 Old Wilmington Road tells its story. The first African-American Schoolhouse in Hockessin is not far away. It is believed that a schoolhouse may have stood at the location on Grant Avenue as early as 1829, but the first documented school for black students is listed as operating in 1878.
Members of the Historical Society are active in reaching out to the community. Society president Pete Seely maintains that sites like Tweed’s Tavern are important reminders of our heritage and deserve greater public attention. His Society business card states this clearly: “Preserving Our Local History to Educate Future Generations about Our Past.” The Society website is www.HockessinHistoricalSociety.org. They have Facebook and You Tube pages and can be reached via e-mail at [email protected].
Gene Pisasale is an historian, author and lecturer based in Kennett Square. His 11 books focus mostly on the Chester County/mid-Atlantic region. His latest book is “Heritage of the Brandywine Valley”, which delves into fascinating aspects of the more than 300-year history of the region. Gene’s books are available on his website at www.GenePisasale.com and also on www.Amazon.com. He can be reached via e-mail at [email protected].