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Delaware City Refinery (Tidewater Delaware Refinery)

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Tidewater Delaware Refinery
1955–1957. Wrangle Hill Rd. and River Rd., 1.8 miles west of Delaware City
  • Delaware City Refinery (W. Barksdale Maynard)
  • Delaware City Refinery (Tidewater Delaware Refinery) (Photograph by Matthew Aungst)

Tidewater Oil Company marketed its products nationwide as Flying A Gasolines and Veedol Motor Oils. It examined thirty sites on the Eastern Seaboard before choosing this one, 5,000 acres of farmland centered on the historic Philip Reybold peach mansion, Lexington (1846, Samuel Sloan). The company torched the mansion (July 1955) and erected the largest refinery ever built at one time, a facility that could process 130,000 barrels of crude oil per day. Nine thousand men were at work erecting the plant in 1956. At its heart was the twenty-five-story-high Fluid Catalytic Cracker for converting gas oils into gasoline, said to be the largest in the world at the time. A huge marine terminal was dredged, and nine million barrels of river water were pumped through the refinery per day for cooling, more than the volume used by Philadelphia. Indeed, the gigantic facility resembles a city in itself when its towering smokestacks and thousands of lights are seen from across the fields at night. Delaware City welcomed the plant eagerly, but some residents later grumbled about the limited financial benefits to the town and the acrid smells. From his farm at Buena Vista (NC24), former Governor C. Douglass Buck complained in 1958 that the plant had turned “peaceful” farmland into “a smelly unattractive section.” Fearing more refineries, the state legislature eventually passed the historic Coastal Zone Act banning heavy industry (1971). Tidewater Refinery has subsequently changed hands many times and remains controversial for its groundwater pollution and toxic releases.

Writing Credits

W. Barksdale Maynard


What's Nearby


W. Barksdale Maynard, "Delaware City Refinery (Tidewater Delaware Refinery)", [New Castle, Delaware], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—,

Print Source

Cover: Buildings of Delaware

Buildings of Delaware, W. Barksdale Maynard. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2008, 201-203.

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