This month’s Question & Answer is supplied by FAH volunteer Elliott Warburton. Elliott is a student at A.I. DuPont High School with an interest in local area history.
Driving through the Red Clay Valley, we often find ourselves driving along roads that reflect the people and industries that once inhabited the area, such as Snuff Mill, Center Mill, Sharpless, and Yorklyn roads. This is true for many places throughout the United States and for the world as well. But more often than not, the original meaning of some road names are often lost when these namesakes either move, close, or are outright abandoned. In the Red Clay Valley especially, where once rural outposts are now becoming suburban havens, people often approach us at Auburn Heights with questions about the origin of some names in particular. Which Red Clay Valley road was named for a fundamental part of rural community life that has long since been abandoned?
Many people who drive along the Ashland-Clinton School Road are impressed by one of the older roads in the area. With wide shoulders and narrow roadway, the road is believed to have been at one time an original nine-foot road, likely constructed to make the Ashland grist mills more accessible to those traveling along the Old Kennett Road. This explains the “Ashland” portion of the road’s name. However, the “Clinton School” portion remains a mystery to many, especially since there is little evidence that there was ever a school in the Ashland area.
Interestingly, this “Clinton School”, which did in fact exist over a century ago, began its life in an entirely different area! While the road would come to bear the name of the school, the original school, formally known as Schoolhouse No. 28, was located along Snuff Mill Road, about two hundred feet west of the parking lot for the Oversee Farm Trail. Its ruins can still be seen with a watchful eye when driving by.
Initially looking at the area, one may be puzzled by the lack of a defined population center and why anyone would build a schoolhouse in the area. But during the late-18th and 19th centuries, the Ebenezer Baptist Church once stood across from the school along Snuff Mill Road, providing another vital service to a rural population of farmers, especially to the few who were not members of the Quaker society that dominated the Mill Creek and Christiana Hundreds. Because local meetings were often responsible for the opening and operation of the earliest schoolhouses of the area, it seems likely that the Ebenezer Baptist Church was responsible for the construction of the original schoolhouse sometime in the late 1700s or early 1800s. When Delaware passed the Free School Act in 1829, it was officially recognized thereafter as Public Schoolhouse No. 28. The map shows the boundary for the schoolhouse in 1849.
District No. 28, the state recognized area that the No. 28 school served, became the main district for Yorklyn children. Before the Auburn/Yorklyn Schoolhouse was built in 1869, students either relied on the Hockessin Schoolhouse (Public School No. 29), or the No. 28 School. As outlined on the 1849 Rea & Price Map of New Castle County, children who lived around the future Marshall paper mill area had to attend the Hockessin School, which was at the time across from the nearby Hockessin Meeting House. However, nearly every other area in Yorklyn, including the Garrett Snuff Mills, were under District No. 28. As a result, most children seeking public education in Yorklyn during the early 1800s would find themselves attending School No. 28.
In an era when most children walked to school, the mile distance between downtown Yorklyn and the schoolhouse may have been difficult at times. However, the Red Clay Creek proved to be a natural boundary that isolated the community from the Hockessin area, restricting children from education opportunities elsewhere. But following the construction of Yorklyn Road and the Yorklyn Covered Bridge in 1863, the Garrett Snuff Mills were no longer as isolated. And, along with the idea of increasing the accessibility of community resources to Yorklyn, in September of 1868, the Delaware Legislature approved the creation of Auburn District No. 91. In about a year’s time, Yorklyn’s own Public School No. 91 began serving the community.
But what about Schoolhouse No. 28? Thankfully for the Ebenezer Literary Society (the organization maintaining the schoolhouse at the time), what was left in District No. 28 still included the Garrett Snuff Mill population. District No. 91’s creation, in theory, would have little impact on Schoolhouse No. 28. But the appealing new schoolhouse in Yorklyn, as well as a declining congregation at the Ebenezer Baptist Church, would ultimately bring the fall of the original schoolhouse. After the election of Willis Passmore to the role of District No. 28 Superintendent in 1870, the decision was made to build a new schoolhouse in a place more accessible to the growing populations around the rural Ashland population. This final location would be along the old Ashland Road, south of its intersection with Center Mill Road, and would be called the new Clinton School.
How exactly the name “Clinton” was decided remains lost, but was likely the name of an early teacher, or possibly a minister at the Church (they may have even been the same person in that case). But because no property owner in the area was named “Clinton”, the moniker remains of uncertain origins. Nevertheless, the “Clinton” hallmark caught on quite fast, with District No. 28 becoming known as the “Clinton District”, and at some point, the adoption of the name Ashland-Clinton School Road for the road the schoolhouse lay upon. So, whoever this “Clinton” was, they surely left an impact on the area, even if they may have never even been a local resident!
As milling operations in the district slowly ceased by 1900, the school began to cater to the children of area farmers instead of the children of millworkers. Along with the No. 26 Mount Airy Public School in Centreville, which the school maintained a close relationship with, it remained one of the northernmost rural schools in Delaware. It seems notable that, in many contemporary accounts, people like superintendent Passmore maintained a high standard of education for the school regardless of the changing demographic shift towards Centreville and Yorklyn. Finally, when word came that a new, modern school was to be built in Yorklyn in 1932, it came time for the Clinton School to close its doors. On August 7th, 1931, District No. 28 was officially absorbed by District No. 91, with all students going to the old Yorklyn School until the beginning of the 1932 school years, when the new Yorklyn School hosted all students in modern facilities. School District No. 91 would remain a functioning district until April 6th, 1962, when parents voted to join the Alexis I. DuPont Special School District and convert the Yorklyn facility into an elementary school.
With the original schoolhouse in ruins, and the second Clinton School a private residence (pictured in 2023, below), it’s hard to tell exactly what gave the Ashland-Clinton School Road its name. But with a watchful eye, the evidence will produce itself!