Explore Our History.
With over 325 years of history in our small sliver of Northern Delaware, there's much to learn about and explore. From the Swede's Mill dating all the way back to 1677, to the construction of the Robert Phillips Farm, the explosion that was the Industrial Revolution and so much more. Once you step onto our property, there's a sense of something's special here.
HISTORY HAS TO START SOMETIME.
The first mill at Greenbank was reportedly called the Swede’s Mill, dating back to 1677. Not much is known of this mill except a vague description and undecipherable archaeological remains. In the 1760’s, the present gristmill was built as a merchant mill to export flour. According to local legend, George Washington posted a guard at the mill when American troops took up positions along the Red Clay Creek after the Battle of Cooches Bridge.
After the Revolutionary War, the mill declined and was sold at auction in 1790. New mill owner Robert Philips contracted with Delaware inventor and neighbor, Oliver Evans in 1793 to have Evans’ milling system installed. Evans received U.S. Patent No. 3 for his revolutionary milling system which he developed along the banks of Red Clay Creek less than a mile from Greenbank.
Using a network of bucket elevators and screw conveyors, Evans automated the milling process, saving much time and labor. His engineering genius led to other inventions, including the high-pressure steam engine. At Greenbank, the new machinery brought success allowing the mill owners to expand and diversify.
A schematic of Oliver Evan's Automated Flour Mill that was submitted to the United States Patent Office in the 1790's. The Automated Flour Mill would become Patent No. 3, putting Oliver Evans and his wonderful invention a part of the history books. Learn More Here.
A map of the Mill Creek Hundred, circa 1868. The Philips family was a part of District No. 33, which you can see shaded in pink on the right. Click to Zoom in and see all the families that lived in the Mill Creek Hundred!
In 1810 a stone building was constructed next to the gristmill, expanding operations to include wool processing. The new building was called the Madison Factory, after President James Madison. Strong anti-British sentiments in existence prior to the War of 1812 and trade restrictions encouraged the development of American textiles. A need for fine wool led to speculation in merino sheep. The Madison Factory grew to house the entire wool production process, from the back of the sheep to the back of man. The process included departments for carding, spinning, weaving and finishing as well as a complete dye house.
But American woolens could not compete with cheaper goods from England once hostilities ceased. Trying to adapt to the changing market, the millers began producing a variety of wood products in 1850. Sawmills had been a part of the ever-growing complex since 1824, but now Thomas Blanchard’s woodworking machines and the first circular saw mill in New Castle County were added. Blanchard’s irregular copying lathe and bending machine were important in changing woodworking from hand work to a production line process. The mill began producing bentwood camp chairs, spokes and felloes for carriages, tool handles, ladders, and croquet sets. Woodworking ended at the mill in 1881 when a partner embezzled $20,000.
After nearly a century, the mill left the Philips family control when it was sold at sheriff’s sale. Ownership of the mill changed often during the next few decades as Greenbank Mill tried to define its role in the changing marketplace.
In 1888, Isaac D. Philips sold the mill to James and Ellis Clark, ending the Philips family's 115 year tenure at the site. Greenbank passed through several hands over the ensuing decades, but remained in operation the entire time, doing custom milling for local farmers. By the 1960's, it was the only grist mill operating in Delaware on water power. It was operated then by Roy Magargal, who began working at the mill in the 1920's and would continue to do so for over 45 years. Starting as a truck driver, he learned the miller’s trade on the job. He continued working at the mill the rest of his life, through several owners and partnerships. Even after the mill was purchased by the group Historic Red Clay Valley, Inc. and partially converted to a museum, Magargal still milled during the week while visitors came on the weekends.
2 Photographs of Greenbank Mill & Philips Farm taken in 1958, photographer(s) unknown.
Unfortunately, the business days of the mill were numbered. In 1969 vandals set fire to the structure, bringing to an end nearly three centuries of milling at the site. Magargal continued to run a feed business out of the office. The newly formed "Friends of the Greenbank Mill" set out on the long process of restoring this important piece of Delaware history. The fire had heavily damaged the gristmill, and had devastated the Madison Factory. The stone woolen mill was so damaged by the blaze that it had to be torn down completely. Little by little, though, dedicated volunteers and employees worked to bring the mill back to life. Ravaged by fire, the Delaware treasure faced the threat of fading into a memory on the landscape. After several years of struggling to save and restore the mill, the group incorporated in 1987 as The Greenbank Mill Associates, Inc.
The gristmill was restored through the concept of adaptive reuse. It was determined that one of the contributing factors to the 1969 fire was the absence of anyone onsite, so the rebuilt mill included two apartments on the upper floor. Original materials were used when possible, including much of the equipment on the lower floors that had survived the fire. The Madison Factory was rebuilt and finished in 1999, and is such a faithful restoration that it's almost indistinguishable from Robert Philips' original from two centuries ago.
A photo shortly after the devastating fire in 1969. As shown the The stone Madison Factory was destroyed, and the frame gristmill was gutted, creating the need for an extensive restoration.
The water system is the defining element of any water-powered mill. The millwright who decided to construct the buildings, wheels, and races at Greenbank chose the location on topography and water potential at this location on the Red Clay Creek. Unfortunately, these waters have not always been so calm.
In 1999, Hurricane Floyd pushed over the already damaged walls in the diversion channel. New permits had to be acquired from both the Corps of Engineers and DNREC because the scope of work had changed. Among other flood-related projects. the water wheel had to be rebuilt yet again due to severe damage. On September 15, 2003 a freak storm brought more struggles: the storm dropped 8 ½ inches of rain in the Red Clay Creek watershed in twelve hours. The flood that resulted brought over twelve feet of water down the Red Clay Valley in less than two hours. Water rose to chest high levels in the first floor of the gristmill and textile mill, reaching the highest level in living memory and possibly recorded history. The damage, however, was mostly to the modern components of the gristmill and Madison Factory, the bridges, and part of the water system that had not been restored.
Since the devastating fire in 1969, work has concentrated on restoring the mill structures. The 1760 gristmill was restored using the strategy of adaptive reuse. The award winning restoration included a mill machinery exhibit and education facility. By creating two apartments and using the education facility as a community rental facility during under-utilized periods, the adaptive reuse provides revenue to assist with operating expenses.
The reconstructed Madison Factory contains reconstructed textile machinery including a working 19th century dye house. Currently, the Madison Factory houses textile exhibits and demonstrations on the 2nd floor and a work area where visitors can watch and even participate in some of the restoration activities.
The Greenbank Mill and Madison Factory as it stands today. The wonderful preservation job of the structure has been done by Greenbank Mill Associates, Inc.
The Greenbank Mill Associates knew that telling the story of the mill required understanding how it fit into its community. Pursuit of this idea led to a plan that recreates a glimpse of Delaware during the late 18th and early 19th centuries. By restoring or reconstructing the industrial, agricultural, and residential elements of the Historic District, GMA provides a complete picture of the early republic in the First State. Visitors experience the connections between raw materials and finished products, home industry and industrialization, and farms and foods. By walking in the footsteps of the past and experiencing daily life, we gain a better understanding of our present.
We'd like to especially thank 'The Mill Creek Hundred History Blog' for providing much of the information displayed on this page. To visit the blog, which is filled with vast amounts of Northern Delaware History, click here.