VIDEO - Historic house and 10 acres of the farm will be preserved and investigated.

Hallowed ground believed to be the final resting place of some two dozen American soldiers who perished in the only battle of the Revolutionary War fought in Delaware will soon become property of the state’s historic preservation agency.

At the historic Cooch home just south of Newark, officials from the Department of State joined members of the Cooch family Dec. 7 to announce plans for the Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs to buy the home and surrounding property at the heart of the Cooch’s Bridge battlefield.

In addition to providing a new public resource for future generations of Delawareans to learn the story of the Battle of Cooch’s Bridge, the acquisition of the site will also allow for continued archaeological study of the property in an effort to locate the unmarked graves of the Americans who gave their lives there.

The agreement is the latest illustration of the Cooch family’s ongoing commitment to preserving the rich history of their lands, acquired by Thomas Cooch in 1746 and held in the family for nine generations.

“Our father, Edward W. Cooch Jr., would be very pleased with this announcement,” said Richard R. Cooch and Anne Cooch Doran in a press release. “He always said that he hoped that if the family house and battlefield, which he worked hard to preserve, ever left the Cooch family, that the property would be acquired by the state.”

“We should be proud of all the effort and cooperation that has allowed us to preserve another quintessential piece of our state’s history here at Cooch’s Bridge,” Secretary of State Jeff Bullock said.

“I want to thank all the partners that came together to make this possible, with particular gratitude to Dick Cooch and Anne Cooch Doran for choosing to share this site with their fellow citizens.”

Property, price and plans

The acquisition includes the historic Cooch home, Ioutbuildings and 10 acres of surrounding property. The Cooch House, circa 1760, is a three-story house with rear wing, brick masonry with scored stucco.

Greek Revival alterations and additions were made to the house in the early 19th century. The interior of the house was remodeled circa 1860 and again in the early 1920s. The house was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1973 and has been documented as part of the Historic American Buildings Survey.

The site will be bought with $875,000 from the Delaware Open Space Council, plus $200,000 from the Crystal Trust and $25,000 from the Marmot Foundation, both Delaware-based independent, private philanthropic organizations.

Twenty percent of the proceeds will be donated by the Cooch family to the Cooch’s Bridge Historic District Fund administered by the Delaware Community Foundation. The fund, established by Edward W. Cooch, Jr., helps support maintenance and preservation.

“The announcement of the permanent preservation of Delaware’s only Revolutionary War battlefield is another key example of the responsible stewardship for our shared history that we continue to practice here in our state,” said Tim Slavin, director of the Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs. “Next, we will begin to develop, with community input, a long-term vision for how these lands will be interpreted and made accessible to the public.”

The Cooch’s Bridge site also holds the potential to be among Delaware’s most sacred places. Written accounts from the 18th century cite the burial of about two dozen American soldiers on the Cooch farm after the battle.  The Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs launched an investigation and, this summer, a team of archaeologists from Indiana University of Pennsylvania conducted testing using ground-penetrating radar. Their initial findings have identified several areas which will now be investigated more thoroughly by archaeological excavation.

The property contains the archaeological site of the first Cooch mill, which was burned by British forces following the Battle of Cooch’s Bridge.

Historical archaeologist Wade P. Catts said, “The Cooch property is a remarkable tract with a remarkable story. The cultural history of the land encompasses not only resources that can be observed in the landscape, but also those items found below ground – the important and fragile archaeological record which provides information about the history of a place not found in texts or written documents. Thanks to the Cooch family and their generations of stewardship, the Cooch’s Bridge battlefield is in excellent condition, retaining its context and integrity, and the story of the battle can be told to visitors.”

The battle

In late summer 1777, Gen. George Washington dispatched a unit of light infantry to a key choke-point on the main road from Baltimore to Philadelphia: Cooch’s Bridge over the Christina Creek just south of Newark.

Intent on scouting the British forces and delaying their advance through Delaware and into Pennsylvania, Washington knew that the men he sent to Cooch’s Bridge would be outnumbered, but he also knew they could put up a substantial fight.  On Sept. 3, after several hours of heavy fighting, the Continentals and militia, low on ammunition, were forced to retreat. Some two dozen American soldiers gave their lives in the battle. Their sacrifice affirmed that Washington and the American Army would strongly contest the British advance to Philadelphia.