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Waterpower on the Brandywine


The Brandywine Creek winds through southeastern Pennsylvania and northern Delaware. Today it is crossed by bridges and abutted by state parks. In the summer people float down it on inner tubes; it is a part of the natural landscape. Two hundred years ago, however, the Brandywine was viewed as a source of power and a site of industry. In the fourteen and half miles of creek between Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania and Wilmington, Delaware, where it drains into the Delaware River, the Brandywine drops 160 feet. This change in elevation meant the Brandywine was the perfect site for establishing water powered mills in early Delaware.

By the early nineteenth-century, the river was churning with industry. This is evident on an 1816 map of the region, which resides today in the collection of the Hagley Museum and Library, a repository for America's early industrial history. The water of the Brandywine propelled the creation of paper, textiles, gunpowder, flour, and more. Many of its mill seats were also sites of innovation, where new technologies were implemented, or even invented.

The individuals who ran businesses on the banks of the creek were often involved in multiple industries, demonstrating their entrepreneurial spirit. One such man was William Young, who produced both paper and textiles at Rockland Mills between 1795 and his death in 1829. 

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