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Hendrickson House:
The Oldest Stone House in America?

by Ronald A. Hendrickson, Esq.
Councillor & Forefather Member
207 East Oak Avenue
Moorestown, New Jersey 08057

originally published in Swedish Colonial News,
Volume 1, Number 19 (Spring 1999)

additional article by Max Dooley
in Swedish Colonial News,
Volume 3, Number 9 (Fall 2008)

Holy Trinity Church knew a good deal when it saw one. Forty years ago the church was offered an old stone home, reportedly of historical significance to the Swedish community, on the condition that the structure be dismantled and removed from its site immediately. By acting quickly, Holy Trinity became the owner of a brand-new, yet 310-year-old structure which had been built for a young Swedish farmer as a wedding present in 1690, and which is - quite possibly - the oldest stone house in America.

The Hendrickson House of the grounds of Holy Trinity (Old Swedes') Church, Wilmington, Delaware
[photo by the author]

The history of this old stone house began in 1653 when Sweden's Queen Christina agreed to answer Johan Printz's repeated pleas for more men and supplies. Two vessels, Örnen (Eagle) and Gyllene Hajen (Golden Shark), were recruited for duty, and preparations were made to replenish the far-off New Sweden colony.

Sven Skute was commissioned to recruit 50 soldiers and 250 colonists for the voyage. He was especially successful finding colonists in the forested area of northern Värmland, where he encountered skogsfinnarna (the so-called Forest Finns). These Finnish-speaking people had come to Värmland from Savo, a border province between Protestant Finland (then part of Sweden) and Orthodox Russia. They practiced huuhta (the cultivation of rye in the ashes of burned spruce forest) and had been encouraged by Swedish monarchs during the 1500s and early 1600s to clear the ground for eventual farm use. By 1640, however, their Swedish neighbors complained about the burnings, and soon the Forest Finns eagerly volunteered for the voyages to New Sweden.

The Golden Shark was damaged and unable to make the Atlantic crossing. The Eagle set sail from Gothenburg harbor on the icy, winter morning of 2 February 1654. Aboard were 350 souls, including Peter Mårtensson Lindeström, who would describe this voyage in his famous work Geographia Americae, and Johan Risingh, who was destined to become the last governor of New Sweden.

Overcrowding, poor sanitation and illness combined to take their toll on the ship's passengers and crew. When the Eagle, after a four month voyage, dropped anchor at Fort Christina on 22 May 1654, more than 100 people had perished.

Among those who survived the voyage were Johan Hendricksson and his sons, Hendrick and Johan Johansson. The father was sick on arrival, but still living in September 1655 when he signed an affidavit describing the surrender of Fort Trinity to the Dutch. He made a purchase of linen and sewant (wampum) from a Dutch trader on the Delaware in April 1657, but he is lost from the record thereafter.

By 1671, Hendrick Johansson owned (together with Bärtil Eskilsson) nearly 600 acres of land in Ammansland (later Ridley Township). By 1673, Johan Johansson owned property on Marcus Kill. Hendrick Johansson and Bärtil Eskilsson partitioned their joint property into four separate parcels (each taking two). By November 1676, Hendrick was dead.

Hendrick Johansson was survived by three minor sons, Johan, Anders and Matthias Hendricksson. Hendrick's brother, Johan Johansson, and his neighbor Mårten Mårtensson were appointed overseers of Hendrick's estate and guardians of his minor children. When Hendrick's eldest son, Johan Hendricksson, came of age, he took possession of his father's homestead in Ammansland, the eastern parcel on Darby Creek. When Anders Hendricksson came of age, he took possession of his father's other tract of land - the western parcel facing Crum Creek. It was here, at the confluence of Crum Creek and the Delaware River, that the Hendrickson House was built in 1690, and there it remained for 270 years.

To document the true historical value of the Hendrickson House, H. Edgar Hammond, long-time vicar of Holy Trinity Church, and Ruth L. Springer, wife of Courtland B. Springer (a descendant of Charles Springer) wrote "The Hendrick-sons of Crum Creek and the Old Swedes House" Pennsylvania Genealogical Magazine, 22:45-82 (1961) (reprints available at the Hendrickson House).

In Crum Creek, the authors propose that Johan Hendricksson, as the eldest son and new family leader, inherited not only the family homestead but also the task of supporting his younger brothers, which, in Anders' case, meant helping him build a good house to live in when he was ready to marry. The presence of a good supply of freestone dictated the material of choice. Thus was constructed a stone house for Anders Hendricksson and his bride, Brigitta, the daughter of Mårten Mårtensson, Anders' old guardian and neighbor whose great-grandson, John Morton, would sign the Declaration of Independence as a representative of the colony of Pennsylvania.

The Crum Creek history reports that the stone house measured 30 by 20 feet and faced southwest overlooking Crum Creek and the Delaware River across to New Jersey. In the center of each of the two longer walls, front and back, was a door, flanked by a window on either side. The gambrel roof was supported by the end walls and by heavy, hand-hewn pine beams which extended two feet beyond the face of the front and rear walls to form protective eaves over the first floor doors and windows. Inside, the northwest wall was completely filled by a huge fireplace, an adjacent wood closet (fed by a hatchway to the outside), and in the right-hand corner, a narrow, winding stair leading to the second floor. The large upstairs room was used for sleeping quarters and was heated by a second fireplace.

Anders and Brigitta had four children (Hendrick b. 1691; Jacob b. 1693; Helena b. 1696; and Catherine b. cir. 1700) before Brigitta died in December 1702. Anders soon remarried. With his second wife Catharine he had six more children (John, Peter, Gabriel, Maria, Christina and Rebecca).

Anders Hendricksson died in late Summer 1722 and was buried "in Christian and decent manner ... at Wicaco (Philadelphia)." The stone house and surrounding 164 acres on Crum Creek were devised jointly to the three youngest sons, John, Peter and Gabriel.

By 1726, John Hendrickson had reached majority. By 1735, he had married Magdalena and was considered the head of the household, where also lived his mother and his unmarried brothers. John and Magdalena had two known children, Isaac and Gabriel. In 1741, Peter Hendrickson purchased land in Greenwich Township, Gloucester County, New Jersey and left Crum Creek, perhaps by 1747, when he married Catharina Lock, granddaughter of the immigrant pastor Lars Carlsson Lock.

Late in 1746, John Hendrickson, and then his youngest son Gabriel, died. John's only child and sole heir, Isaac, was scarcely more that five years old. With no family member to care for the plantation, the land, but not the stone house, was leased.

Not long after John Hendrickson's untimely demise, his widow Magdalena married Charles Grantum, a justice of Chester County, whose first wife, Catherina Morton, was a granddaughter of Mårten Mårtensson. Magdalena and Isaac left Crum Creek to live at their new home in Ammansland. On 4 January 1753, Magdalena Grantum died and was buried in the churchyard at Wicaco.

In 1763, Isaac Hendrickson became sole owner of the stone house and the 161 acre Crum Creek plantation. On 31 October 1769, Isaac married Margaret Nethermark, the widow of Luke Nethermark of Tinicum Island and daughter of George and Margaret (Justis) Webb. Isaac and Margaret had no children.

On 30 June 1788, Isaac Hendrickson sold the stone house on Crum Creek and the family plantation, which had grown to 182 acres of land and meadow, to John Crosby. Thus ended nearly 120 years of Hendrickson family ownership.

Now more than one century old, the Hendrickson House was in dire need of repair. Around 1798, the size of the original house was increased fifty percent (to 45 by 20 feet) by the addition of a new section, matching the existing section in both material and construction.

The house and grounds passed through a succession of owners until 1868, when the Ward family of Ridley acquired the property and operated a successful quarry business and brickyard for the next fifty years. In 1918, a large portion of their property, including the stone house, was acquired by the Baldwin Locomotive Works, who owned it until 1956.

In the summer of 1958 the new owners, the Vertol Aircraft Corporation (now The Boeing Company), offered the "Old Swedes House" on their property to Holy Trinity (Old Swedes) Church Foundation with the provision that the structure be removed as soon as possible. Plans were made to create a combination museum-library and church office on the grounds in Wilmington. Careful drawings were made and every structural detail was photographed before the house was painstakingly dismantled, stone-by-stone.

Rebuilding presented many challenges. Where original wood and hardware were no longer serviceable, proper reproductions were crafted or replacement materials secured. The beams (which had been damaged by fire) served as templates for duplication. The original door-frame and two window frames were retained as patterns. The original mantel and frame of the great fireplace are now in place in the restored house. Modern utilities, heat and air conditioning, a fire-proof storage vault and a new straight stairway were installed.

For the past forty years the Old Swede's house has served as an integral part of the Holy Trinity Church/ Hendrickson House/Christina Community Center triad of buildings that form the Swedish presence in Wilmington, not far from Fort Christina Park. In 1960, the house saw the first of its royal visitors when H. R. H. Princesses Brigitta and Desiree admired the rebirth of the ancient Swedish structure. On 29 March 1963 (to coincide with the 325th Anniversary of the Swedes landing at "the Rocks"), this area hosted Vice-President Lyndon Johnson, H. R. H. Prince Bertil, Governor Carvel and other dignitaries who designated Fort Christina and Holy Trinity Church as national historic landmarks, accepted the presentation of the Stallcup log cabin, and officially dedicated the Hendrickson House. In 1976, H. M. Carl XVI Gustaf visited the Swedish landmarks as part of America's Bicentennial celebration and in 1988 the Swedish King returned with Queen Silvia to mark the 350th Anniversary of the ancient Swedes' arrival in the New World.

Today the Hendrickson House serves as headquarters for the Holy Trinity (Old Swedes) Church Foundation and principal meeting place of the Delaware Swedish Colonial Society. Its vault contains the Church's treasures, including the 1718 Communion silver presented by the grateful parish in Sweden where Holy Trinity's first pastor, Ericus Björk, served after leaving New Sweden. In the upper floor gallery may be viewed the altar cloth, bearing a central cross embroidered by H. M. Gustav V, and presented to Holy Trinity in 1950. Students of the earliest settlers visit the library's holdings and throughout the house visitors enjoy Swedish-American antiques and furnishings. Perhaps its proudest role, however, arrives each December when the gift shop offers delightful Swedish treats and the Hendrickson House is decorated for Lucia and a traditional Swedish Christmas.

The 310-year-old Hendrickson House (America's oldest stone?) stands today as both a monument to the Delaware Valley's first permanent settlers and a vital asset rebuilt to meet the needs of the present-day Swedish community.