The Marshalls of Auburn Heights
In 1890, brothers Israel & Elwood Marshall sought to expand the family’s papermaking business, based just across the Pennsylvania line at Marshall’s Bridge, and purchased an old mill along the Red Clay Creek (on present-day Benge Road). There they commenced paper production. While Elwood remained to oversee the Homestead Mill to the north, Israel and his wife, Lizzie, relocated with their children to Auburn, moving into the mill owner’s house. Within six years, business was booming at the Marshall Brothers Paper Co. in Yorklyn, so Israel built a grand home overlooking the mill and named it Auburn Heights.
A Plan House
On a four-acre parcel adjacent to the original Marshall Brothers’ paper mill stands the 6,000-square-foot grey stone home built by Israel W. Marshall and his wife, Lizzie, in 1897. At a cost of $11,500, the house exceeded tenfold a typical middle-class home of the period, boasting indoor plumbing, electric lights, and steam heat. Occupied by three generations of the Marshall family, it was gifted to the State of Delaware in 2008 by Tom and Ruth Marshall, who launched the Friends of Auburn Heights Preserve (a charitable organization) to ensure the preservation of steam technology for future generations.
While grand, Auburn Heights is not unique. In fact, the plans were purchased from an 1886 catalog, and an identical house stood at Pennsylvania Avenue and Clayton Street in Wilmington until the 1930s. The design shows the floor plans for the main two floors, including locations of the original bathrooms. The current Auburn Heights mansion has undergone a few changes but remains largely the same. To build the home, Israel ordered the complete architectural plans at a cost of $250.
Marshall Brothers Paper Co. and Vulcanized Fibre
As sales grew for the paper company, Israel’s sons, J. Warren and T. Clarence, joined the business, which expanded in the early 1900s to include vulcanized fibre production. By 1904, Warren (at only 23 years old) was named president while young Clarence, then only 19, maintained the mill’s complex machinery (a job he loved).
The Marshall Steam Museum
Clarence acquired his first automobile in 1904, sparking a passion that would lead him to “moonlight” as a dealer for the Stanley Motor Carriage Co. from 1910 to 1920. Clarence married in 1921, and his only child, Tom (born in 1924), inherited his father’s love for mechanical things. When Clarence rekindled his interest in steam cars in 1940, he purchased and restored countless steamers, building a world-class collection now displayed — and operated — for the benefit of a growing audience at the Marshall Steam Museum.
Clarence Marshall’s 75 birthday (August 5, 1960) marked the debut of the Auburn Valley Railroad (AVRR), with its 1/8-size steam train, which circled the Auburn Heights property. The Marshalls offered rides several days that fall to such favorable response that they expanded the operation (adding another engine and cars). In 1961, in cooperation with Historic Red Clay Valley Inc., the AVRR offered public rides to raise funds for the launch of the Wilmington & Western Railroad (WWRR), Delaware’s steam tourist railroad.
Tom and Ruth Marshall celebrated the 100th birthday of the Marshall Collection’s Stanley Model CX in 2005. The same year, the Marshalls announced their plan to donate Auburn Heights to the State of Delaware.
The Marshall Steam Team celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2017. Dedicated members maintain—and operate—the historic collections entrusted to the care of the Friends of Auburn Heights for the benefit of a growing public audience.