New Castle, Delaware
Community History and Archaeology Program 

Oral History: Agnes Hewlett Megginson
(7/10/1887 - 6/1988)


Part 1

Part 2
Gas lights
Dairy farm
Part 3.
Hired help
farming details
ice skating
Part 4
Dances in Opera House
Whipping post
Gilpin House

Video by Harry Keyser in 1984 with a grant from the Trustees of New Castle Common

Aggie was born at Sixth and Delaware, next to what is now Gebhart Funeral Home, but was then a vacant lot. Not long after, her parents bought 3 acres of land "out in the country" (at Moore's Lane and Rte 9) and her father built the handsome "3 story 12 room " house still standing there. The house is at 1100 Wilmington Rd, now on 0.31 acres is currently the Stockwell residence. He built the house with his brother and 2 or 3 men of the town on land bought from Mr. Janvier who owned many acres on Moore's Lane (Janvier woods).

Her father was a carpenter, but to bring in a steady wage of $15/week, he worked at the flour mill west of New Castle. "Lea & Sons Millers" is shown in page 2 of the 1885 Sanborn map, west of Washington Street near the Triton Cotton Mill (which become Deemer Steel).
Later on, her father worked "for the dupont people" and went to Paris for a year demonstrating a button machine.

Her father used to walk to work, carrying his lunch pail. Aggie and brothers or sister would walk into town to go to school also carrying a lunch basket, and set it on the windowsill. Elementary school was in the Academy, high school in the Arsenal building. She recalls that sometimes the food became inedible because ants would climb all the way up to the second story windowsill. Both she and a brother contracted typhoid fever during her first year in high school. He died, she survived but was so week that she didn't return to school that year, and never finished.

She remembers the trolley coming to town. The trolley bridge ran right in front of the house. Two of the supporting blocks are still there [visible in the picture above, now gray and covered with ivy]. Prior to that there was a dirt road to Wilmington. If you wanted to go there you had to drive horse and wagon, The trolley barn was just down the street from their house.

She recalls the horse drawn wagons loaded with kegs of beer. When they get stuck, farmers were called to add more horses. She rode everything that had wheels or legs. She, like everbody else, was a tomboy.

She met her husband Edward S. Megginson on a boat ride excursion about age 16 and married at 19. Her marriage was to last 64 years! The had one boy who died age 71 heart attack. He is shown here in a flashy car similar to pictures of 1927 Pierce Arrow or a 1930 Lasalle.

She and her husband leased the farm where part of the airport now stands from the Trustees of the Common. Her husband always had big farms. This one [the "Union and Bayrd] had a long field, which was the reason the airbase took it. Prior to that there was a runway on it where a pilot offered 3$ rides from the farm. [He later leased Penn Farm (Quigley Farm). The ad for the auction in 1945 when he stopped farming is to the left.]

Before that, she and two others operated the first telephone system in New Castle. There were only 20 or 30 phones in NC, mostly businesses and the mills.

She remembers the gas lights in New Castle being only on every other square [block]. A man went from light to light with his ladder in the evening, lifted up the cover and lit them. The gas came from the gas plant on the Battery. The Battery wasn't fancy then -- just the gas plant, and beyond it, Tasker's iron works [closed around 1900]. They had no gas lights in the farms, just oil lanterns. She would light her way to the barn in the mornings for milking. The had 45 head of cattle. She would do a little of everything including pitching hay and filling the glass milk bottles labeled "[E.S.] Megginson Dairy"

She had been married to Ed Megginson 64 years when he died.

Their hired help included one man who worked for them for 42 years. His name was Gattis and he may have occupied the structure listed in the 1945 advertisement as "one 10 ft x 12 ft CABIN for hired help" The 1920 US census shows E.S, Agnes and Edgar Megginson as living on a farm in New Castle, but nobody else. She mentioned the hired man's brother in New Castle. A Stephen Gattis, plasterer lived on W 4th in New Castle in 1930 with wife and daughter. The "CABIN" is still on the farm. It now hides an electrical transformer.

The first female in town to drive a car was Mrs Clayton, Aggie was the second, using her own $400 Ford. When they first started to sell milk in town, people would put a bucket on window sill, and then Megginsons would deliver it daily with their truck for 6 cents/quart. They also shelled lima beans and sold them off the truck to their regular customers like Miss Hetty Smith who lived at Laird House (Read House).

For fun, there was ice skating on the broad dyke. There was a telephone pole by side of the dyke to sit one while you put your skates on. The dike would be full of people. Some winters her brothers could skate all the way to Delaware City. On Fourth of July the boys would gather cat tails by Glebe cemetery. They burned slowly, and were used to light the fire crackers.

The boys played marbles, girls played jacks in the school house yard. There were dances in the Opera House on Saturday night featuring square dances, schottische, and two step.

She remembered the whipping post. People would come from Wilmington to watch the whipping in the courtyard of the jail. Then the prisoners would be put in the pillory. Prisoners would wave from the Black Maria, a black coach with tiny windows.


This picture shows ....
Note the cow to the right!

"Frank and his team" next to the barn that stood behind the house.

Pictures courtesy Frank Hewlett

The Megginson farms

According to City Councilman Ted Megginson, his grandfather Jabez Frank (the tax collector in 1901) and Frank's brother Ed were farmers in New Castle on land leased from the trustees, as was Frank's son Theodore (Hap). Ted's father (Hap) and Frank originally farmed the Hermitage, then around 1941 leased the Central Hall farm where the Penn-Mart Shopping center now stands. They operated the J.F. Megginson Dairy. Ed leased the large Union and Bayard farm (206 acres in 1894) from the Trustees and operated the E.S. Megginson Dairy. According to Kathy Mae McDonough at the Trustees, he leased Penn Farm also known as the Quigley farm from 1941-1945 after the other land had been converted to the air base.
1894 Plan of Trustee Farms. Courtesy Trustees of New Castle Common. Click on image to enlarge. The Union & Bayard farms is outlined in red to the left, the Central Hall Farm is to the right.
1945 aerial photo of the area around Penn Farm. The military airfield (now Wilmington Airport) was blacked out by censors. Visible at the bottom is Bellanca's airfield and factory. The photo (#1945/400/417) is from U.D.'s historic aerial photo collection.

Jim Meek '09