History lives here
Tour takes locals to historic sites in Pencader Hundred

By CHRISTINE NEFF, The Newark Post
Wednesday, September 19, 2007

From battlefields to churches, cemeteries to mills, the historic sites of the Pencader Hundred continue to shed light on this region's past.

Recently, the Pencader Heritage Area Association - an organization committed to promoting and preserving this history - took a group of locals on a bus tour of some of the area's more noted sights.

The first stop - the Wawa parking lot on E. Chestnut Hill Road - seemed an odd spot for sightseeing until tour guide John Slack pointed out the historic building adjacent to the parking lot. "The little girl who was born in this house," he said, "would go a long way."

That girl was the daughter of a pastor who went on to marry Everett Johnson, founder of the Newark Post and a representative in the Delaware state legislature. His wife, Louise, survived him by more than 50 years and continued his life's work.

At 91, she wrote a memoir, "Many Memories, Several Detours and a Few Thoughts." Slack said he had the pleasure of knowing Louise Johnson. "I think, quite simply, she was one of the most elegant women I have ever known," he said.

From there, the tour took participants to the shopping center on S. Chapel Street where BJ's stands now. During WWII, long before the area became a strip mall, it was the location of five or six Army barracks. German prisoners-of-war lived in one of the barracks, and their services were often loaned out to local farmers. Nearby, American soldiers loaded railroad cars bound for New York City with ammunition as part of a re-supply program.

The ride down Chapel Street (or Route 72) sparked another memory for some Newark residents on the tour bus - the distinct smell of "Purgatory Swamp." The swamp was to the west of Chapel Street near a wooded area. Longtime Newark residents remember groups of "gypsies" camping next to the swamp that smelled often of skunk cabbage.

Further down Chapel Street is the Dayett Mills Complex, one of the last two mills to operate in Delaware, said Slack. The state of Delaware now owns the property, and the Pencader Heritage Area Association uses one of the buildings on site to hold meetings and house artifacts for a museum. Signs installed on the portion of the property nearest Old Baltimore Pike tell the history of the mill and other historic sites in the area.

From there, tour participants went to the Cooch house on Old Baltimore Pike. Ed Cooch Jr., the seventh generation of his family to live in the home, stood on the front porch, recounting the history of the 1777 Battle of Cooch's Bridge, which, he said, took place "right on my lawn."

After the Americans retreated, British forces occupied the Cooch House for five days before going on to fight the Battle of Brandywine. When asked what it's like living in a house with so much history, Cooch replied, smiling, "I love it."

The tour continued with stops at several historic churches in the area - Pencader Presbyterian Church on Glasgow Avenue, Welsh Tract Baptist Church - said to be the oldest "primitive" Baptist Church in the country" and St. Daniels UAME, which was founded in 1813 on Whitaker Road on Iron Hill.

To learn more about Pencader history, attend the 7th annual Pencader Day on Saturday, Sept. 29, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Activities will be at the Dayett Mills Complex at the intersection of Old Baltimore Pike and Route 72. Events include children's games, pony rides, hay rides, obstacle courses, performances by Glasgow High Band and ROTC Drill team, NCC football league cheerleaders, Fife and Drum Corps of the Colonial Militias and more. All events are free to the public. A replica Revolutionary War cannon will be fired at noon.

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