Historical Background for Dan DeWyatt’s Early Life; and George R. Prowell
In the first part of Chapter 2 of Railcar Gold, we learn that Dan DeWyatt was born in Spring Mills, New Jersey. I choose Spring Mills as the birthplace of my fictional character Dan for several reasons, which will become more apparent as the story progresses through the various installments appearing every Thursday.
The above segment from an 1846 map shows the location of Spring Mills on the Big Timber Creek. Spring Mills is now known as Grenloch; it is located approximately 8 miles from the Delaware River and is very close to where New Jersey Route 42 transitions into the Atlantic City Expressway.
For the story line I’m going with, the criteria is for Dan’s birthplace being located in New Jersey; within 10 miles of Philadelphia. I also wanted a small town on a creek with the existence of some manufacturing. Finally I wanted place names that just sounded right for the story.
Even though Dan is fictional, I wanted to keep his surroundings as historically accurate as possible. I was sure that I found what I was looking for when I picked up a History of Camden County at a library in New Jersey.
In leafing through the book, I quickly discovered the place names Blackwood, Big Timber Creek and Spring Mills. Blackwood and Spring Mills had the characteristics that I wanted. They all had the right sound for places in my story!
The clincher; I’m pretty sure I pulled this book from the shelf because of a habit of pulling history books with Prowell on the end. Only after checking the title page, I made the discovery; the same George R. Prowell who would eventually write The History of York, County, PA in 1907, wrote this History of Camden County, NJ in 1886.
With the York connection, I was destined to use this book! Here are two paragraphs from Chapter XIV of the History of Camden County, New Jersey, by George R. Prowell, Published by L.J. Richards & Co. 1886.
Reading the Headlines: A Quick Index to All YorksPast Posts
SPRING MILLS is the name of a manufacturing hamlet on Great Timber Creek, one and a half miles above Blackwood. The location is highly picturesque and the water-power at this point is not excelled in this county. It is utilized to the extent of one hundred horse-power, while the volume unemployed is fully as great. As early as 1810 this was the site of the Bates & Wilkins sawmills, which later became the property of Jacob Glover. The improvements were very meagre and as late as 1836 a dense growth of tanglewood covered all but a small clearing around the mill. At that time the Indian name, Tetamekon, was frequently applied to the locality. About this period the advantages of this site for manufacturing purposes were recognized, and, in 1836, Carr & Lunt, of Philadelphia, purchased the property and established what have since become widely known as the Spring Mills Agricultural Works. In a few years William H. Carr became the sole owner, carrying on the works, with Stephen Bateman as his manager. He was a practical machinist, from Naugatuck, Conn., and his labors here were characterized by the energy peculiar to the natives of that State. His first operations were confined to the manufacture of forks and shovels, those articles being here made complete. The lumber used was brought in scows to Good Intent, which at that time had tide-water communication, and was there worked into handles. The finished goods were carted to Philadelphia, where their superior quality secured them a ready sale, and notwithstanding the disadvantages of location, the business prospered so that twenty men were employed.
NORCROSS STAGE LINES. The stage lines established by Norcross were not confined to the county. He had a line from Philadelphia to Cape May, and interests in lines to the south, the east and the west. Having his headquarters at Blackwood, it was, in consequence a busy place, as he had large stables of horses, numbering at times more than thirty. In the course of years an opposition line was established, from the “Village to Camden,” which the old driver regarded as an encroachment upon his rights, and determined to resent at any cost. The fare was reduced to a merely nominal sum, runners were employed to solicit patronage and the stages once started, reckless driving was indulged in. It was no unusual thing for Norcross to fasten a large brush, formed out of the branches of cedar trees, to the rear of one of his vehicles, and then dash ahead of his rival, giving him the full benefit of all the dust, and often enabling the indomitable Jehu to come in first at the finish. Collisions were frequent, and, in consequence, many cases of litigation ensued, which caused some diversion in the courts of that day.