Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Conestoga wagon deliveries to Lea flour mills in Delaware

Before the first railroads in the 1830s, huge Conestoga wagons hauled by 6 horse teams brought wheat from Pennsylvania to the Lea mills along the Brandywine River by Wilmington Del.  A convoy of 20-30 "inland ships" would approach a mill, with the others waiting in line, blocking roads, as the first unloaded.  The physical activity of unloading and the loud noise from "rumbling wheels, clattering [horse] hoofs...shoutings and clamorings of the Dutch drivers" contrasted with the railroad and barges that replaced the Conestogas.

Elizabeth Ellicott Lea (daughter of George Ellicott) married Thomas Lea and lived in Brandywine (Wilmington) after their 1812 marriage and returned to Maryland in 1823.

1888 book: "In the old days of the mills there were, perhaps, more conspicuous indications of activity and of huge business than now. For the railroads handle thousands of bushels of grain and flour swifter and with less of outward show of labor than did the cumbersome Conestoga wagons carry their hundreds. 

These Conestogas, or “inland ships,” which brought grist to the mills, were mighty vehicles constructed to carry huge loads, and needing teams of six horses to move them to good advantage on the average road. They came to the mills from a wide circuit, from Dauphin, Lancaster, York, Berks and Chester Counties, in Pennsylvania, usually in companies or droves, of from twenty to thirty, blocking the streets for squares

The rumbling wheels, clattering hoofs, mingled with the noisy shoutings and clamorings of the Dutch [Pa. Dutch/German] drivers, produced an almost prostrating pandemonium of sound, but the sight was a picturesque one.

At whatever mill the leader stopped to unload his grain, there all stopped, some of them waiting hours for their turn. Here, too, came the quiet Friends from the counties of Southeastern Pennsylvania, and the farmers of the Delaware-Mary land Peninsula.

Now [1888] both railroad cars and barges are unloaded directly into the mills.

Scharf, John Thomas.  History of Delaware: 1609-1888.  Phila: 1888

©2017 Patricia Bixler Reber
Forgotten history of Ellicott City & Howard County MD

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