-A A +A

“Delaware is like a diamond,” downstate poet John Lofland wrote in 1847, “diminutive, but having within it inherent specific value.”1 Although ranking just forty-ninth in population, the Diamond State has had a long and colorful history that belies its size. Europeans settled here only a generation after Jamestown. It was one of the original thirteen colonies and the first state to sign the Constitution, a document that gives little states significant power.

Admittedly, its contributions to the architecture of the nation have been modest; as one measure, the National Park Service does not own a single site in Delaware, historical or otherwise, making it the only state thus neglected (although plans got underway in 2003 to change this). Great architecture is often a product of cities, and Delaware is preeminently a place without them: as late as World War II, there was not a single town besides Wilmington with a population of even 5,000. As a result, a great deal of Delaware's historic architecture is rural and vernacular. And because its important buildings almost invariably show the influence of neighboring states, Delaware is mostly a place to study architectural responses rather than bold innovations—responses that are often fascinating in their variety and imaginativeness.

Because of its frontage on Delaware Bay and the Atlantic Ocean, the chief geographical characteristic of the First State is lowness: it lies more wholly in the Coastal Plain (95 percent) than any other Eastern Seaboard state except Florida. Delaware's earliest settlers, the Dutch in 1631, must have felt at home as they explored its beautiful saltgrass marshes and sinuous tidal creeks. It was Delaware Bay that was first named for English Lord de la Warr, a name later applied to the entire western shore, today's state of Delaware. The latter forms part of the Delmarva Peninsula, all of which was economically oriented toward the Chesapeake and Delaware bays and away from the wooded central spine, still sparsely populated today. The western boundary of Delaware, almost ninety miles, passes through hardly a town of significant size.

In architecture as in much else, Delaware is delightfully obscure. Few outsiders know much about it, except for having driven through it on I-95 or visited one of its racetracks or beaches. Only one American in 362 is a Delawarean. The state has the fewest counties of any state, just three, compared to 254 in Texas. Even if Delaware were a city rather than a state, it would rank only twelfth-largest in the nation, behind San Jose and Detroit. With a population of 853,500 in 2006, it is hemmed in by much larger neighbors with vigorous architectural traditions: Maryland, with a population seven times larger; New Jersey, eleven times larger; and Pennsylvania, fifteen times larger. In the colonial period, in fact, Delaware belonged to Pennsylvania as the Three Lower Counties (it was given to William Penn by the Duke of York to provide his colony with better access to the sea), and northern Delaware's architecture has repeatedly been shaped by Pennsylvania trends and Philadelphia architects. For its part, Maryland claimed chunks of southern Delaware until the 1770s, a legacy of old land disputes between Penn and Lord Baltimore. As Delaware has an average width of only twenty miles, nearly the whole state is just a short drive from Maryland, making for considerable architectural influence from there, too, especially in the south.

Delaware's relationship to North and South has long been ambiguous. It lies almost entirely south of the Mason-Dixon Line (established 1763–1768)—and at the same time east of it, that famous divider between American regions making a right-angle turn to define Delaware's western border. Delaware was a slave state, yet it did not secede. Quaker abolitionists ferried runaways along the Underground Railroad here, but the state legislature would not ratify the Thirteenth Amendment (outlawing slavery) until 1901! The marked internal division between northward-oriented New Castle County (with only a fifth of Delaware's land area, but today with nearly two-thirds of its population) and the more southern Kent and Sussex counties gives the state much of its sociological interest and architectural variety.

Delaware's prominent, mid-Atlantic location has exposed it to many cultural influences, with a resulting diversity of architectural forms and building types. Take churches, for example: one sees Quaker meeting houses like Pennsylvania's (MC1), Methodist chapels like those on Maryland's Eastern Shore (KT30), and urban Italian-Catholic churches like those of Philadelphia (WL77). There are high-style Gothic Revival Episcopal edifices of stone with soaring towers (CH16), much plainer Presbyterian boxes (NK5), and rustic camp meetings (WS25). The diversity only increases with time, as recent years have brought a Hindu Temple (MC2) built by workers from India and old churches reconfigured for modern social outreach (WL42). One could cite similar variety in other building types. In spite of Delaware's small size—or perhaps because of it—the overlay of architectural cultures and trends here is surprisingly complex and exciting.

Woodland Indians

Before the Europeans came there were Paleo-Indians in Delaware, highly mobile hunters and gatherers. Starting about 3000 BC in the Woodland Period, they began to settle down for much of each year along rivers and estuaries. Archaeology has lately revealed much about their habitations. Excavation of “pit house features” started in Sussex County, where pits were first recognized (by accumulations of shells and organic matter), then moved north to New Castle County, where numerous pits were found near Delaware Park racetrack. When archaeologists first reported having found pit features, many observers doubted these indicated house sites, for where were the expected postmolds, traces in the earth of upright saplings that supported a wigwam structure? But postmolds were later found ringing a pit feature at the Snapp Site, St. Georges Creek, New Castle County (c. 1000 BC), which had escaped being plowed. The latter discovery clarified the nature of these early houses, as the postmolds formed a ring fully twenty-five feet outside of the pit, answering critics' objections that the pits themselves were too small to comprise a whole house: evidently, the pit was only a small “basement” some dozen feet across and eight feet deep. Probably, the pit houses were occupied during a single winter, then abandoned, smoke escaping through a hole in the structure above. Often the pit had a hearth at its center.2

In just a few years, archaeologists went from knowing nothing about Delaware's prehistoric architecture to being able to reconstruct a typical house: a framework of saplings that formed a domical structure over the pit, to which thatch, woven mats, or bark were probably applied. Further excavations have continued to refine the picture, including several undertaken for the Delaware Department of Transportation (DelDOT) just before sites were bulldozed for road construction (see exhibits at Delaware Archaeological Museum, DV10). Probably, a very few families lived together at each site, so there were no Indian “villages” per se. The total population of Woodland people in Delaware at a given time was astonishingly low, no more than 800 or 1,000.

In the extreme north, a few natural rock shelters existed. Pioneering archaeologist Hilborne T. Cresson excavated one near Claymont (Darley Road at the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad [B&O]) in 1866–1867, identifying four layers of occupation. Another rock shelter at Beaver Valley along the Brandywine was investigated in 1948 (and inspired a diorama at the Hagley Museum, CH15).

At the time of European settlement, the native peoples belonged to the Delaware or Lenni Lenape tribe. Eventually most of them were driven out of the region. In 1990, however, there were still 2,500 persons in Delaware who identified themselves as Native Americans, including members of the downstate Nanticoke tribe, who have their own Indian Mission Church (ES34) and museum.

Swedes, Finns, and Dutch

With the coming of the Europeans, Delaware formed part of Nya Sverige, or New Sweden, the only Swedish colony in the New World, active from 1638 to 1655. New Sweden was founded when the ships Kalmar Nyckeland Vogel Grip under Peter Minuit landed at Wilmington (see Fort Christina Park, WL2). Twentieth-century historians searched avidly in Delaware for traces of Swedish architectural influence—and Finnish, as there were many Finns intermingled. But the Swedish colony was never large and was soon swamped by the influx of settlers from England and elsewhere, making Swedish cultural survivals difficult to find. The entire Swedish colony in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware numbered only 300 persons when Sweden lost governmental control in 1655; a census taken in 1693 of Swedish families in the southerly half of the old colony, now Delaware, counted just 418 persons; and the 1,200 Swedish speakers in former New Sweden in 1697 numbered only 5 percent of the area's population. Such small numbers mean that there must have been few “Swedish” buildings to start with, and the two famous “Old Swedes” churches in Philadelphia and Wilmington (both begun 1698; WL3) are basically English in style.3

Nonetheless, the Swedes and Finns made a crucial contribution to American architecture: the log house. Generations of scholars have concurred that log houses first appeared in the New World in Nya Sverige, debuting within the walls of Fort Christina. From the cultural hearth of the Delaware Valley, log construction diffused widely throughout the colonies, reaching Maryland by the 1660s, North Carolina by 1680, and northern New England after 1760. The crude and inexpensive Finnish cabin, in particular, proved popular in the Delaware Valley and went on to be widely replicated throughout the United States, in time spreading from coast to coast as a highly familiar type. It generally featured unhewn, round logs; v-notching; gaps left between the logs and filled with chinking; and a ridgepole-and-purlin roof covered with clap-boards. Log houses went hand-in-hand with another Finnish contribution to frontier life, the zig-zag or “worm” fence.4

In the 1950s, noted amateur archaeologist C. A. Weslager worked with state archivist Leon deValinger to save several log houses and plank (squaredlog) houses from destruction. The Thomas Springer log house of c. 1795 from near Milltown, Mill Creek Hundred, found its way to the Smithsonian Institution in 1962 as a museum exhibit. Log houses of this kind were once extremely numerous in New Castle County. Connecticut diarist Joshua Hempstead visited Ogletown in 1749: “Here are mostly wooden houses Cribb fas[h]ion & old, those that are newly built the logs are hewed & as thick as [a] hog neck.”5 Still today, many early Delaware houses conceal a log portion beneath weatherboarding. Weslager dreamed of finding a purely Swedish or Finnish log house surviving, but probably none exists: all are later Anglo-American adaptations, including Thomas Bird House (WL2.2), “Swedish” Log House (DV3.2), and plank houses in Smyrna (KT10.1) and Lewes (ES16.1).

In addition to the Swedes, the Dutch also settled in Delaware—first at Swanendael (ES13) near Lewes in 1631. Dutch families occupied New Castle, as well (see Fort Casimir Site, NC6), but little or nothing survives of Dutch architecture in either town. (Enthusiasts will need to visit northern New Jersey and New York to see extant examples.) New Castle's Tile House (1687; demolished 1884), known only from illustrations and its surviving iron date numerals, was an exceptionally interesting Dutch townhouse of the kind once common in New York. Its facade with crowstep gable was built of small yellow bricks imported from Holland, which even today are regularly unearthed in yards throughout the town. Still standing in New Castle is the so-called Dutch House (NC7), its modern name cheerfully ignoring the fact that it postdates, by years or even decades, the English takeover of the community. As in the Ryves Holt House (ES18) in Lewes, the H-bent construction suggests typical Dutch practice, but beyond that these houses both seem English. Dutch architectural heritage, like Swedish, proves elusive in Delaware.

Colonial (and Colonial Revival)

No architectural era in Delaware has attracted so much attention as the colonial. Early twentieth-century historians, all amateurs, focused enthusiastically on major architectural monuments. More recent historians, including several professionals, have corrected this bias by studying humble structures, pointing out that the vast majority of colonial dwellings were wooden one-story habitations, often well-built and skillfully framed but hardly bigger than shacks. Almost all of these homes have long since disappeared. Experts were once quick to assign extremely early dates to colonial buildings—indeed, seventeenth-century dates wherever possible—but subsequent research has shown that architectural forms often lingered for generations. Buildings from before 1740 are inevitably rare, given that the entire population of New Castle County, for example, was then just 6,000—one-eightieth what it is today. There were few buildings to start with, of which only the tiniest fraction survives (about thirty pre-1740 structures appear in this book). Most likely to persist are churches, of which eighteen are still standing from before 1800. Some remain in active use; Immanuel in New Castle (NC10) is proud of having held services continually for 300 years.

Most architectural motifs and practices came from neighboring colonies. The stone farmhouses of Delaware's Piedmont resemble those of its sprawling neighbors, Delaware and Chester counties, Pennsylvania (see the very early Strand Millas of 1701, CH12). Houses in Wilmington and environs often imitate Philadelphian examples, showing, for example, the pent eave typical of that vicinity as well as the fine proportions and design typical of an urban milieu (John England House, NK6, is a good example). One “Delaware” feature often pointed out is green louvered shutters upstairs, white solid ones below, but this was customary in Philadelphia, too (solid shutters offered security, louvered ones ventilated the bedrooms). Piedmont Delaware, like neighboring Pennsylvania, was a major center of milling, taking advantage of fast, rapidly falling creeks (ten mills above the Fall Line, that point beyond which streams cease to be navigable, are described in this book); downstate, creeks were dammed to provide a head of water—as at the rare survivor of c. 1740, Noxontown Mill (LN20). There were numerous Quakers in Delaware, both upstate and in Kent County, many of them millers, and earlier historians wrote much of the Quaker plan in laying out houses (see Aspendale, KT1). But that plan is no longer considered diagnostic of Quaker architecture. Nor were Quaker buildings “simple,” as long held; they basically followed prevailing Anglo-American approaches. In southern Delaware, colonists often employed the Chesapeake custom of earthfast (post-in-ground) construction. Because the posts eventually rotted, these buildings have entirely disappeared. They are known, however, through archaeology—for example, Thompson's Loss and Gain (early eighteenth century), north of Rehoboth Bay, with its hall-parlor plan. As researchers Gabrielle Lanier and Bernard Herman have written, Sussex County builders “developed a regionally distinctive construction tradition of setting durable houses on impermanent foundations. This tradition has persisted to the present,” and buildings are frequently moved, as at Lewes.6

In all of the eastern United States, wood offered an abundant material for the colonial builder. Even after the white oak of Delaware's Piedmont was depleted, the bounteous supply in the Indian River area, Sussex County, fed the shipbuilding and construction industries for generations. Today, a third of Delaware is timberland, mostly in Sussex County. But wood was sometimes imported from out of state, as was the case in the construction of Wilmington Friends Meeting House (1815–1817; WL41), of lumber from North Carolina. Wood was easy and cheap to build with, but, being highly perishable, it produced an ephemeral architecture. Thus, brick buildings survive in disproportionate numbers. Early brick structures are fairly common in New Castle and upper Kent counties but become much scarcer in Sussex, owing both to the paucity of brick clays in sandy southern Delaware and the ready availability of wood there. Perhaps the most interesting brick colonial building in Sussex County is the venerable Maston House (1727; WS8), a Maryland type with lingering seventeenth-century features.

As colonial travelers often noted, stone architecture is confined almost entirely to the 5 percent of Delaware in the Piedmont, a province dominated by ultra-hard, dark-gray gneiss of the so-called “Wilmington Complex.” This gneiss underwent metamorphosis unusually deep in the earth (thirteen miles) and was heated to nearly the highest temperature of any Appalachian rock (1,600°F), which accounts for what pioneering geologist James C. Booth called in 1841 its “superior gravity, hardness and toughness” for building.7 By 1700, Wilmington Complex gneiss was quarried as “blue rock,” a name referring to the blue sheen of the quartz that, along with feldspar, distinctively bands the stone. (“Blue granite” is a misnomer, gneiss differing from granite both in being banded and coarser-grained.) Blue rock quarried at Brandywine Granite Quarry (BR24) and elsewhere was used for numerous buildings in Wilmington, including the 1850s stone spire of the Cathedral Church of St. John (WL54). Limestone occurs in a few places, too. More exotic stones have sometimes been imported to Delaware: from Chester County, Pennsylvania, came those Victorian favorites, green serpentine and white Avondale stone (a billion-year-old white quartzite), and Wissahickon schists were brought from areas around Philadelphia (see St. Andrew's School, LN19). Fort Delaware (PR21) is awesomely faced with Quincy, Massachusetts, granite. As a general rule, if you find stone architecture south of the Fall Line, it must be the result of materials brought from a great distance (as at Wilson-Warner House and stable, LN7, or Old Stone Tavern, KT19).8

We perceive Delaware's colonial architecture through the lens of the later Colonial Revival, a national movement with special appeal in the First State, which was never more prominent on the national stage than in colonial times. In 1790, one American in sixty-six lived in Delaware, the north–south center of the former colonies; by 1930, just one in 515. The state flag (1913) is, by mandate, “colonial blue,” and Delawareans pride themselves in being feisty “Blue Hens,” renowned in eighteenth-century cockfighting. Not surprisingly, the Colonial Revival took hold here early and flourished, reaching a peak around 1930, when the University of Delaware campus (NK9) was being steadily expanded, Pierre S. du Pont's campaign of public schools was using colonial exclusively, and a colonial Legislative Hall (DV16) and state government complex would soon be built.9 National Geographic highlighted “Diamond Delaware, Colonial Still” in 1935.10

Even the coming of architectural modernism did little to shake the colonial craze. Purely International Style designs were relatively scarce here—and were virtually banned from the University of Delaware so long as wealthy trustee H. Rodney Sharp and other traditionalists dominated the building committees. Modernism was gradually allowed, but only with a certain nod to colonial bricks and white trim (see Smith Hall, NK9.13). In 1962, a Wilmington architect lamented that “contemporary” homes were rare: “Because Delaware was the first state, does that mean we must always live with ‘ersatz colonial’?”11 In the twenty-first century, Colonial Revival remains popular, as clients ranging from individual homeowners to governments and corporations favor the tried-and-true over the experimental. As this book was being written, yet another enormous, red-brick Colonial Revival building was going up in Dover, for Wilmington College (2003–2004, Homsey Architects).

Nineteenth Century

Socially and politically, nineteenth-century Delaware was conservative. This habit of thought—rooted in an agrarian economy and a palpably Southern mindset—manifested itself in ways both good and bad. “It is not to be wondered that a State which has no free schools should be behind others in civilization,” sniffed Harper's Weeklyin an 1868 cover story denouncing the use of the pillory and whipping post in New Castle (quaint institutions not abolished in the state until 1905 and 1952, respectively).12 As architectural historian David Ames has written, political and architectural conservatism were tied to Delaware's extremely slow growth: from 64,200 persons in 1800 to 91,500 in 1850.13 This 7.5 percent increase each decade compared to 34.3 percent nationally. Moreover, Delaware's demographic situation differed from most states: it had no frontier district, no claims to the westward, and little immigration, except to Wilmington. The booming conditions that produced vast expanses of Greek Revival elsewhere in the nation generally failed to occur here, so that signature style of the early nineteenth century is relatively rare, except in a conservative manifestation by which Greek forms and motifs were grafted to old-fashioned Georgian boxes (for example, the house Monterey, built in 1847, on Road 423 near McDonough in southern New Castle County). The paucity of temple-front Greek Revival houses is often commented on, but several have been demolished, including Wilmington-area Draper Mansion (c. 1840) and Ellerslie (1842, home to a carousing F. Scott Fitzgerald in 1927–1929) as well as Lexington (1846, Samuel Sloan) near Delaware City.

If pure Greek Revival was relatively rare, the more flexible Italianate was common. Most examples are quite hybrid, but Ross Mansion, in Seaford, is a perfect pattern-book Italianate villa (WS10). Victorian buildings of many types are abundant in the state, though they are often shorn now of their full complement of decorative details (as at Queen Theater, WL15, or Darley House, BR3). Some locales are especially rich, such as Middletown, and a guidebook was published for Lewes, Victorian Lewes and Its Architecture (1986). The houses Rockwood (1851–1857; BR18) and Lesley Manor (1855; NC23) are sophisticated examples of antebellum Gothic Revival, the former being one of Delaware's few nationally important buildings. The subsequent Queen Anne can be found widely, as at Auburn Heights (CH37); Howard Pyle Studios (WL81); turreted and wide-porched Lindale in the town of Magnolia; or in the scenic Victorian Dover Historic District (DV4). Arts and Crafts inspired the unique community of Arden.

As late as the 1920s, it was said that Delaware was the most decidedly agricultural commonwealth in the nation.14 Some 60 percent of its surface was under cultivation, a greater proportion than in any other state. In 1930, there were nearly 10,000 farms in Delaware occupying 900,815 acres (71.6 percent of the state). These conditions made Delaware, until the last twenty years' frenzy of suburbanization and demolition, a prime laboratory for the study of agricultural buildings and folkways. Rural types consisted of farm houses with their barns (see Cloud's Farm, CH36, and Cherbourg Round Barn, KT21), smokehouses (Corbit-Sharp House, LN6), privies, and other structures, as well as more specialized buildings serving specific needs: corn cribs (Ross Mansion, WS10), sweet-potato houses (Chipman's, WS24), muskrat-skinning sheds (Wilson-Warner House, LN7), and broiler houses for chickens (Mrs. Steele's, DV3.1). Downstate industries supporting agricultural activities included canneries and basket-making factories. The University of Delaware's Center for Historic Architecture and Design (CHAD) has sent fieldworkers to study all of these building types before they are destroyed. Their publications have made nineteenth-century agricultural Delaware perhaps the most intensively studied vernacular landscape in the country. Buildings of Delaware gives only a small sampling of vernacular outbuildings, as they are usually difficult to visit. Readers may examine them up close at Allee House (KT16), Delaware Agricultural Museum and Village (DV3), Dickinson Mansion (KT25; reconstructions), and Eleutherian Mills (CH15.6); also, from the road in many places, including Achmester (LN11), Cochran Grange (LN17), and Wheel of Fortune (KT17).

African American history and architecture have lately attracted attention (see, for example, the former schools at Hockessin, MC3, and Iron Hill, PR2). Compared to most Southern states, slavery played a lesser role in Delaware, though it was nonetheless a subject of sharp dispute. As early as 1800, freed blacks outnumbered slaves as the state's slave population steadily dropped. By 1860, 20,000 African Americans were free, but 1,800 were still enslaved. Nearly all slaves worked in agriculture. Never numerous, slave quarters subsequently disappeared along with outbuildings of all kinds, and persistent searches have turned up few survivals (but see Causey and Ross mansions, KT38.1 and WS10.2). Delaware lay along the Underground Railroad, and in recent years there has been great interest in locating sites. The Wilmington home of abolitionist Thomas Garrett having long since been demolished, we are left with locales based largely on hearsay or myth. The supposed tunnel that led runaways to safety from the basement of Woodburn (DV6) exemplifies the chimerical nature of many Underground Railroad attributions: no such tunnel ever existed, except in the pages of George A. Townsend's novel, The Entailed Hat (1884).15 More recent African American historic sites are fast disappearing, including the headquarters of a pioneering men's organization, the Monday Club, demolished in 2004 by a Wilmington bank, which had previously razed the United African Methodist Episcopal (U.A.M.E.) Church nearby.16


While the state's vernacular builders have lately received considerable attention from historians, its architects remain virtually unstudied. Of the few active here before the Civil War, most were borrowed from Philadelphia and included some of national prominence: Benjamin Henry Latrobe, William Strickland, Samuel Sloan, John Notman, and Thomas U. Walter. Strickland and Robert Mills apprenticed for Latrobe, and all three lived for a time in New Castle. After the war, booming Wilmington at last offered opportunities for a native son, Edward Luff Rice Jr., active from 1870 on and responsible for the frame, Queen Anne style Delaware State Building at the 1876 Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia.

Ties to Philadelphia long remained close. Frank Furness had several Delaware commissions, including Wilmington Station (WL5) and the ingenious but now demolished B&O Station at Trolley Square, Wilmington, and Stephen Decatur Button concluded his career with Delaware State Hospital, Farnhurst (1882–1884; NC1). A Cope and Stewardson office photograph taken in Philadelphia around 1899 shows several young men who later designed Delaware buildings: James O. Betelle (Delaware public schools), E. Perot Bissell (Winterthur, CH10), Alfred Morton Githens (Wilmington Public Library, WL28), William Woodburn Potter (Wilmington churches), and Herbert C. Wise (University of Delaware). Furness's protégé, E. James Dallett, eventually moved to Wilmington, and the firm of Baker and Dallett was long dominant there. Philadelphian Will Price provided plans for the village of Arden; George I. Lovatt designed Catholic churches in Wilmington; and Wallace and Warner provided nearly two dozen house designs for wealthy Wilmingtonians in the Jazz Age. Some Wilmington architects of the 1920s–1950s who trained with Philadelphia firms or at Philadelphia schools include Weston Holt Blake, William Bonner, Erling Dollar, William Lawler, E. Canby May, Hubert Shelton Stees, and G. Morris Whiteside.

“Most Americans and especially Delawareans have very little conception of what an architect is,” Beaux-Arts trained Alfred Victor du Pont lamented in 1933.17 But this was gradually changing; the year before, Whiteside (Philadelphia born and educated) had organized the Delaware Chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA). At that time, the firm of Brown and Whiteside was the state's largest and symbolized the maturing of the architectural profession here (see Modernism in Delaware). Other firms that contributed early members to Delaware's AIA were Martin and Jeffers (Colonial Revivalists) and Massena and du Pont (specializing in Stripped Classicism and Moderne). Even as several new firms gained hold in Wilmington, the rapidly expanding DuPont Company organized an in-house Engineering Department responsible for the design of chemical plants nationwide, along with Home Office structures in Wilmington. Hubert Stees, for example, spent the 1930s designing for DuPont as it produced more buildings than all the other architectural firms in the city combined. As it happened, the DuPont Building (WL32) housed some of those private firms, too, with Martin and Jeffers on the third floor looking across the courtyard at rival Brown and Whiteside on the second. Both before and after the Great Depression, however—a nadir for architectural commissions—most design work in the state was done by outsiders. In 1946, there were thirty-three Delawareans registered within the state as architects, but sixty-eight registered from outside. Thanks to State Board of Education policy, school commissions went to Delaware architects only, which helped several partnerships thrive.

Like all small businesses, local architectural firms are prone to rapid change and disappearance, and forgotten today are the once-renowned Fletcher and Buck; Martin and Jeffers; Massena and du Pont (later Young and Banwell); Pope and Kruse; and W. Ellis Preston. Nonetheless, at the start of the twenty-first century, there were at least six firms that had operated since the 1960s: Moeckel Carbonell Associates (1909, originally Brown and Whiteside), Homsey Architects (1935), Anderson Brown Higley Associates (1949, originally Stanhope and Manning, later Dollar and Bonner), R. Calvin Clendaniel Associates (1961), The Architects Studio (1967, firm of Jim Nelson), and Weymouth Architects (1968). All were headquartered in Wilmington except Clendaniel, downstate in Lincoln. These survivors have subsequently been joined by numerous younger firms, listed by AIA Delaware as numbering at least fifteen in Wilmington, two in Dover and Georgetown, and one each in Newport, Christiana, Milford, Lewes, Bethany, and Laurel.

Du Pont Estates

Wilmington-area country estates built by wealthy du Ponts and their business associates form Delaware's most famous architectural legacy, sometimes called Chateau Country. Best known is Winterthur, a museum for more than fifty years now. Starting as a gunpowder factory in 1802 at Eleutherian Mills (CH15.4) on Brandywine Creek, the DuPont Company expanded in the early twentieth century into a gigantic chemical corporation known worldwide. The du Pont chateaux are not a monolithic group, but were built across many decades in a variety of styles. Today's examples are but part of a larger number, the rest having been razed.18

Several of the grand houses were made possible by wartime profits from gunpowder in 1914–1918, when just one family member, Alfred I. du Pont, saw his income reach a staggering $3 million a year. He had already built a chateau at Nemours (BR26.1) but now added a Versailles-like garden (BR26.2). All the estates infused Delaware architecture with a flavor of internationalism otherwise lacking, as the family were inveterate travelers—Alfred I. adopted a war orphan off the Paris streets, and H. Rodney Sharp of Gibraltar (WL94) crossed the Atlantic fifty times and would eventually die aboard an ocean liner returning from Italy. Some of the houses were French-inspired, as befitted the origins of eighteenth-century founding father Pierre Samuel du Pont de Nemours, or they emulated one or another of the ancestral homes in France. Several chateau architects were kin to the clannish family by blood or marriage, including Theophilus Parsons Chandler, Robeson Lea Perot, Alfred Victor du Pont, C. Douglass Buck Jr., the Homseys, and Jim Thompson (later a businessman in Asia famous as the “Thai Silk King”). At times, estate architects of regional or national prominence were brought in by the du Ponts or their wealthy neighbors, including Carrère and Hastings (Nemours); DeArmond, Ashmead and Bickley (Oberod, CH1; Gibraltar, WL94); Albert Ely Ives (Winterthur; Chevannes, CH13); Harrie T. Lindeberg (Owl's Nest, CH5); Mellor, Meigs and Howe (Selborne Farms, CH2; Eleutherian Mills); and R. Brognard Okie (Merestone, NK1). Woodwork for sumptuous interiors came from the Mill Department of American Car and Foundry Company, the firm that had taken over the old Jackson and Sharp railroad car plant on the Brandywine in 1901. In 1925, the company switched to making luxury yachts, of which it produced more than 300 before abandoning that business in 1938. In the flush years before the Great Depression, wealthy Wilmingtonians might have purchased both their yacht and dining room from the same firm. Of the chateaux that have been spared demolition, several have been transformed into museums, conference centers, or institutes since 1950, making it possible for the public to gain access to an unprecedented degree. The most recent conversion (2003–2004) was of the Copeland estate, Mt. Cuba (MC4).


Delaware's entire history could be told from the standpoint of transportation. Water was the first avenue of travel for colonists, and it remains vital today, with countless ships passing along the Delaware River and through the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal. Said to be the only American canal constructed before 1900 that is still in commercial use, the C&D (begun 1824, now hugely enlarged) carries 40 percent of the Port of Baltimore's ship traffic. With its ample frontage on river and ocean, Delaware once had many lighthouses to guide vessels. Eighteen of the original twenty-seven have disappeared, including ones at Bombay Hook (1829, burned 1970s), Port Mahon (1903, burned 1984), and Mispillion (1873–1875, destroyed by lightning in 2002)—all on the Delaware River. However, several survivors are included in the entries for the state (LN1, KT28, ES26, ES43), as are waterfront fortifications that span several centuries.

Water can form a hindrance to travel as well as a help, of course, so the Dutch built dikes—still to be seen at New Castle and Lewes (ES15)—and later came bridges of all kinds. Brandywine Creek saw experimentation with bridge types, including an early chain suspension span, a spillover from innovations at Philadelphia (see North Market Street Bridge, WL51). Northern Delawareans have long taken an interest in covered bridges, a building type derived from Pennsylvania, where they are more numerous than in any other state. The wooden covering serves to keep the structural truss joints dry, so they will not swell or shrink. Delaware once had dozens of nineteenth-century covered bridges, but these were down to twelve by 1930. The rise of automobile and truck traffic resulted in fatal damage to many of the remainder, including three over the Brandywine demolished in 1928–1934. The second-to-last survivor in the state, at Wooddale (CH32), was destroyed by a flood in 2003. It is to be rebuilt by the Delaware Department of Transportation (DelDOT), which takes good care of the state's 1,437 road bridges and recently reconstructed the lost Smith's Bridge (BR37). Recent years have seen continuing bridge innovation. Delaware Memorial suspension bridge over the Delaware River was the sixth-longest in the world when completed in 1951; later it was enlarged as the biggest twin span anywhere. Lately, the state has constructed or planned two cable-stay bridges on the cutting edge of bridge design nationwide (PR13, ES37).

Improved north–south turnpike roads of the early nineteenth century allowed efficient transport of grain from the Piedmont to shipping or milling points in northern Delaware—Pennsylvania farmers driving down the Limestone, Newport and Gap, Kennett, and Concord pikes in huge Conestoga wagons. Centreville exemplifies the towns that sprang up along these routes; Christiana, the point of transfer from wagon to ship; and Brandywine Village, a milling center. All had taverns where farmers could spend the night. Travelers between Philadelphia and Baltimore constantly passed east-to-west through Wilmington, Newport (or New Castle), and Christiana, making these towns familiar to every colonial tourist. George Washington, to take a famous example, is reputed to have slept at taverns along the way (BR1, BR20), held war councils (WL53, MC11), and “kissed the pretty girls” at a New Castle society wedding (NC19). His records confirm that he “lodged at Wil. at O'Flins.” tavern (WL12) and spent the night in Christiana as often as five times in a six-month period (MC12).19 Then, as now, Delaware was frequently a place one passed through on the way to somewhere else.

In spite of modern development and new highways, most of Delaware's roads still follow their ancient routes through the countryside, as a drive with Beers's Atlas of the State of Delaware (1868) makes clear. But, as in all states, the coming of the railroad profoundly reshaped the landscape, encouraging the rise of new towns and the growth of formerly remote regions. The New Castle and Frenchtown Railroad, one of the very earliest American lines, cut across Delaware in 1830–1832 (see New Castle and Frenchtown Railroad). Later came the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad and Pennsylvania Railroad, with various connecting lines: the Wilmington and Western (CH30) served the water-powered industries of the Piedmont, and the north-to-south Delaware Railroad spurred the agricultural development of downstate. Many buildings described in this book owe their existence to the railroad, and not just the railroad stations that are still landmarks in towns from Wilmington (WL5) to Dover (DV9) and beyond. Railroads allowed the importation of eclectic architectural materials, for example, colorful bricks to Harrington (KT34) or concrete blocks imitating stone to Bridgeville. Wealthy manufacturers used the railroad to import raw materials for powdermaking (CH15.1) or building ships (WL8), and on the weekend they took it to country estates (Archmere, BR4; Granogue, CH9), to railroad-company shooting lodges in Sussex County (ES2), or to new vacation communities along the Atlantic beaches. Delaware farmers grew wealthy in the shipment of produce by train and built big houses, sometimes called “Peach Mansions,” for the crop that benefited most from rapid transport to urban markets. (“Peach Mansions” is often misleadingly applied to houses that predated both the railroad and the peach boom; see Cochran Grange, LN17.)

The job of shipping agricultural products was taken over in the twentieth century by trucks. Tomato and poultry industries in Kent and Sussex counties were made possible largely by concrete “farm-to-market” highways (see Du Pont Highway). Later, those highways mostly carried automobiles, as is the case with the new, sprawl-bringing DE 1 (completed 2003). The roads that once benefited the farmer have now put him out of business, as farmland in Delaware declined by 50 percent between 1890 and 1990, owing to urbanization. Roads define and dominate modern Delaware, especially in the congested northern third that is laced by arteries linking it to Maryland, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey, traffic reaching its maximum at a notorious chokepoint near, ironically, the old colonial town that George Washington passed through so often—Christiana.


Thanks in part to its early road improvements, Delaware is an excellent place to study the development of the modern American suburb. Even as early as 1900–1941, architectural historian Susan Chase has shown, the outskirts of Wilmington saw 143 subdivisions spring up on streetcar lines or automobile routes.20 Innovative planning was on display at Overlook Colony (BR5), Villa Monterey (BR16), and Union Park Gardens (WL78). The $1.4 million in Works Progress Administration (WPA) funds channeled to the state in 1935–1936 went partly to projects that benefited these new suburbs, including roadwork, stream channelization, and sewer construction. The Depression and World War II curtailed the development of many suburbs, including the exclusive residential park of Henlopen Acres at the beach (ES28). With their varied materials—Brandywine granite, oak, stucco, tile—the pre–World War II suburban dwellings generally form a charming body of work, making subsequent builder-designed tract houses seem anemic by comparison—as, for example, at the development of Fairfax in the 1950s (BR31).

The modern history of Delaware has been defined by its location in the Boston-to-Washington megalopolis, said to be the largest urbanized area in world history. Because Delaware remained largely rural until World War II, its subsequent growth (like that of neighboring Maryland) was especially fast and wrenching, causing, by 1969, what a Wilmington architect called “some of the most severe growth problems known in the nation.”21 The changes began when wartime industry brought an influx of workers to Wilmington. Subsequently, growth in the 1950s was astounding. Delaware's population climbed 40 percent, making it the fifth fastest-growing state in America. In just ten years, Delaware added more new residents than its entire population had numbered in 1870. Suburban New Castle County nearly doubled in population; smaller than Wilmington in 1950, it closed the decade at more than twice its size, with new communities sprouting like mushrooms (see Brookside, NK14).

Between 1950 and 1970, Delaware grew twice as fast as the United States as a whole, and explosive growth raised calls for planning. New Castle County had no zoning before 1954. By the time President John Kennedy dedicated the Delaware Turnpike (I-95; PR1) in 1963, only 75,000 acres of open space were left north of the C&D Canal, and these were being swallowed at a rate of 4,000 acres annually. The Delaware AIA warned that, at the current rate of development, northern Delaware would run out of open land by 1982; it called for immediate planning.22 Architect Samuel Homsey was instrumental in at last getting zoning established. But other architects felt hopeless in the face of the sprawl and bad design, especially as they lost control to the developers, many of whom were from out of state and concerned only with profits. One architect complained in 1962, “We have a hodge podge of architecture in our area put up by builders and owners and sometimes architects who have no conception of good design.”23 In 1967, C. Douglass Buck Jr. was one of many architects who complained bitterly about “the political dominance and red tape which had resulted in bad architecture and unprecedented ugliness throughout our greater community. The evidence screams at us from the edges of our strip zoned arteries”—most infamously, along Kirkwood Highway between Wilmington and booming Newark (see Prices Corner Shopping Center, CH29).24 Most suburban building was banal, but here and there some examples showed the willingness to experiment that marked the best of the 1950s and 1960s nationwide. Department stores (Wanamaker's, BR22), churches (Aldersgate United Methodist, BR33), and schools (Wilmington High, WL79) were especially interesting. Some reformers have repeatedly tried to improve upon suburbia with innovative, community-building designs—as early as 1966 at Valley Run (BR6) and currently at Town of Parkside (LN12) or Village at Kings Creek (ES33). Today, for all of suburbia's much-publicized flaws, Delawareans continue to crave it.

Historic Preservation

The architect G. Morris Whiteside observed in the 1940s that preservation had been slow to come to Delaware, compared to neighboring states.25 Nonetheless, a few architectural sentimentalists had been vocal early on. Writers and artists played a critical role as they cast about for picturesque scenes. Wilmington artist Howard Pyle complained of changes at his beloved Old Swedes Church: “Old buildings and fragments of the past are to me very and vitally alive.”26 Between 1877 and 1909, Pyle illustrated no fewer than eighty-seven magazine articles on colonial and Revolutionary subjects, often with architectural backdrops. Local painter Robert Shaw produced numerous prints of old Delaware buildings, writing in 1894–1895 that he was busy with “etchings that I contemplate publishing to preserve some of the old landmarks about our city” and lamenting that “I didn't begin soon enough.”27 Founded in 1896, Friends of Old Drawyers (LN5) was Delaware's first preservation group. Twentieth-century campaigns to save Old First Presbyterian Church (WL58) and Old Town Hall (WL19) in Wilmington (1917), Cape Henlopen Lighthouse (1926), and the Bank of Delaware (WL89; 1931) attracted widespread publicity.

As losses accelerated, the Americana Decade of the 1920s brought a spike in interest. Herbert C. Wise (a designer of the University of Delaware campus) included Delaware examples in Colonial Architecture for Those About to Build (1924), and, a year later, he wrote on New Castle's Read House (NC21) for White Pine. An issue of that journal in 1926 treated New Castle in detail. Architect George F. Bennett traveled around his native state for twenty-eight months making measured drawings for his Early Architecture of Delaware (1932). The Colonial Dames provided Bennett with a supplementary list of historic sites, mostly patriotic in their associations. Bennett's volume was aimed at people seeking elements to incorporate in Colonial Revival homes, and he offered hints on “adapting these early details to modern needs and taste.”28 The automobile allowed easier access to Delaware's historic architecture, which the Historic Markers Commission (first report, January 1931) helpfully began to point out with metal signs. For years, historic churches had hosted annual events such as “Anniversaries” or community festivals, and this idea was now secularized and expanded to whole historic towns with the creation of A Day in Old New Castle (1924) and Old Dover Day (1933).

During the Great Depression, the Delaware office of the Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS) was started under architect Albert Kruse with ten employees in the Old Town Hall, Wilmington (January 1934) and, a year later, under Weston Holt Blake (who presided over the office at 10th and West streets). Blake pointed to some 300 distinctively designed buildings over a century old in the state. By 1941, when funding ran out, 114 buildings had been surveyed in New Castle County alone. Willard S. Stewart provided much HABS photography. The first production of the Federal Writers' Project anywhere—before any of the state guidebooks—was New Castle on the Delaware (1936), with abundant information on architecture. It was followed by the indispensable Delaware: A Guide to the First State, largely written in 1936 and published two years later, which devoted a chapter to the subject of architecture and described hundreds of significant buildings, many treated in print there for the first time. During those years, New Castle was a major focus of the efforts of Mary Wilson Thompson, who organized the Delaware Society for the Preservation of Antiquities, modeled after the similarly titled group in New England, to “preserve the buildings left to us as a heritage by our fore-fathers and which are far more beautiful than modern structures,” including the Dutch House (NC7).29 Louise Crowninshield, sister of Henry Francis du Pont of Winterthur and later a founder of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, aided Thompson. The Colonial Dames were also active preservationists. In the matter of rescuing the past, the uppercrust Wilmingtonians' conservative habit of thought proved beneficial—not only in Delaware, but also in their helping to fund the restoration of colonial houses elsewhere, such as Stratford Hall and Kenmore, in Virginia.

Gradually, local historical societies were formed in the face of appalling post–World War II losses of historic fabric. Lewes Historical Society saved and restored the Burton-Ingram House and Early Plank House (ES16.1), the former becoming the site of the Second Annual Delaware Preservation Conference in September 1963 (the first had taken place a year before in New Castle). Nearly 200 participants heard architects and historians Albert Kruse, Robert Raley, and Harold D. Eberlein call for restoration of all kinds of historic buildings, even the small and unimportant—presaging today's interest in vernacular structures. Eberlein had just published his landmark Historic Houses and Buildings of Delaware (1962), a volume suggested in part by the history-minded Mabel Lloyd Ridgely in Dover (see her home, DV13), who was dismayed at the increasing number of old houses and buildings in the state being torn down. About this time, AIA Delaware had the Junior League undertake a project over two years to identify every pre-1850 building surviving in Brandywine and Christiana Hundreds. Volunteers took 1,615 photographs, now at the Historical Society of Delaware.

The state played an increasing role in preservation under the impetus of longtime archivist Leon deValinger, who sponsored the work of Eberlein and Cortlandt Hubbard. DeValinger arranged the acquisition of several historic houses by the archives commission, starting with the Dickinson Mansion (1952; KT25) and Fisher-Martin House (1962; ES24). Upon turning ninety-five in 2000, deValinger could look back proudly on the whole development of professional historic preservation in Delaware. In 1972, a State Historic Preservation Office had been established under Edward F. Heite. The office eventually found an unlikely ally in the highway department. Long a notorious devourer of old buildings, DelDOT by the 1990s began purchasing them to prevent sprawl (see the Weldin House, BR19). Delaware was late to have state parks, but today there are several that contain important examples of early architecture that otherwise might have been lost. Unfortunately, a number of buildings purchased by the state for preservation, including Buck Tavern (PR10), Lum House (PR11), and Octagonal Schoolhouse (KT18), are currently boarded-up and inexorably decaying.

The University of Delaware has never had a School of Architecture, but several notable programs there allow students to investigate architectural history. The Winterthur Program in Early American Culture (1952), brainchild of Winterthur Museum director Charles F. Montgomery and art historian Frank H. Sommer, derived from Henry Francis du Pont's love of antiques, including old buildings, as manifested at Winterthur Museum. The Hagley Program soon followed (1954), associated with the Hagley Foundation headed by Walter J. Heacock. In the History Department, John A. Munroe, and, later, Carol E. Hoffecker were among the first trained scholars to write about Delaware's architecture. Art historian Alan Gowans ran the Art Department from 1959 to 1966, during which time he published an acclaimed book on architecture, Images of American Living (1964). The College of Urban Affairs was founded by a Ford Foundation grant in 1961. In later years came the Art History Department (1966) and the Center for Historic Architecture and Design (1984). These programs have collectively generated considerable scholarship on Delaware's architecture and landscape history.

In spite of increased study, however, much about Delaware's architecture remains obscure—even as the early examples continue to slip away. “Art builds on sand,” reads the inscription on Wilmington's Josephine Fountain (WL59), an appropriate epitaph for the state's architectural heritage. One cause of huge losses is Delaware's high standard of living, which encourages rebuilding. In 1959, Delaware had the highest per capita income in the United States, and, in 2000, its poverty rate remained eighth lowest in the nation. By the latter year, only half of the housing units extant in the state in 1940 still stood, an astounding 40,000 having been destroyed through redevelopment—a preservationist's nightmare. Most Delawareans live surrounded by shiny newness: 40 percent of homes in the state postdate 1980!

Nearly every early building discussed in the entries for the state has, at one time or another, been threatened with demolition. Each was saved because one or two people cared enough to speak out. Those who love and respect Delaware's historic architecture owe them gratitude.


John Lofland, Poetical and Prose Writings (Baltimore: John Murphy, 1853), 105.

Jay F. Custer, “Stability, Storage, and Culture Change in Prehistoric Delaware” (Dover: Delaware State Historic Preservation Office, 1994).

Statistics from Peter Stebbins Craig, The 1693 Census of the Swedes on the Delaware (Winter Park, Fla.: SAG Publications, 1993).

C. A. Weslager, The Log Cabin in America (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1969); Terry G. Jordan and Matti Kaups, The American Backwoods Frontier: An Ethnic and Ecological Interpretation (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, in association with the Center for American Places, 1989).

Springer House in Barbara Clark Smith, After the Revolution (New York: Random House, 1985); “Hog Neck” in Joshua Hempstead (1749), Delaware History 7:1 (March 1956): 96.

Bernard Herman, “Eighteenth-Century Quaker Houses in the Delaware Valley and the Aesthetics of Practice,” in Emma Jones Lapsansky and Anne A. Verplanck, Quaker Aesthetics: Reflections on a Quaker Ethic in American Design and Consumption (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2003), 188–211; Gabrielle M. Lanier and Bernard L. Herman, Everyday Architecture of the Mid-Atlantic: Looking at Buildings and Landscapes (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, in association with the Center for American Places, 1997), 66.

James C. Booth, Memoir of the Geological Survey of the State of Delaware (Dover: S. Kimmey, 1841).

Margaret O. Plank and William S. Schenck, Delaware Piedmont Geology (Newark: Delaware Geological Survey, 1998).

Ralph Adams Cram, American Church Building of Today (New York: Architectural Book Publishing Co., 1929).

Leo A. Borah, “Diamond Delaware, Colonial Still,” National Geographic 68:3 (September 1935): 367–98.

Editorial, Center Line (AIA Delaware) 4:3 (October 1962): 7.

“The Whipping-Post and Pillory in Delaware,” Harper's Weekly 12:624 (December 12, 1868): 791.

David L. Ames, “Architectural Style in Delaware,” draft (Newark: Center for Historic Architecture and Engineering, University of Delaware, 1992), 8.

1920s statistics in Delaware: Its Products, Resources, and Opportunities (Wilmington: National Publishing Co., c. 1925).

George A. Townsend, The Entailed Hat (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1884).

On slavery, see Patience Essah, A House Divided: Slavery and Emancipation in Delaware, 1638–1865 (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1996).

Alfred Victor du Pont to A. I. du Pont (June 17, 1933), Accession 1508, Hagley Museum and Library.

Destroyed relatively early were Swamp Hall (demolished c. 1910), the original Iris Brook (c. 1925), Rencourt (c. 1950), second Hagley (1950s), Pelleport (1954), and Dogwood (c. 1960). Vanished more recently are Elton (1970), St. Amour (1972), Still Pond (burned c. 1975), Upper Louviers (1978), St. Giles (c. 1980), and Spanish House (early 1990s). Barbara E. Benson, “Vanished Estates of the du Pont Family,” The Hunt (June–July 2000): 66–78.

Jeannette Eckman, New Castle on the Delaware (New Castle: New Castle Historical Society, 1950), 88.

Susan Mulchahey Chase, The Process of Suburbanization and the Use of Restrictive Deed Covenants as Private Zoning, Wilmington, Delaware, 1900–1941 (master's thesis, University of Delaware, 1995).

“Growth Problems,” Center Line (AIA Delaware) 10:3 (1969).


Editorial, Center Line 4:3 (October 1962): 7.

C. Douglass Buck Jr., Center Line 9:1 (Summer 1967).

G. Morris Whiteside, “Architecture,” in Delaware: A Guide to the First State (WPA guidebook; New York: Viking Press, 1938).

Charles D. Abbott, Howard Pyle: A Chronicle (New York and London: Harper & Brothers, 1925), 153.

Thomas Beckman, “The Etchings of Robert Shaw,” Delaware History 24:2 (Fall–Winter 1990): 75–108.

George Fletcher Bennett, Early Architecture of Delaware (1932 reprint, Wilmington: Middle Atlantic Press, 1985), 47.

Mary Wilson Thompson, “Memoir,” pt. 4, Delaware History 23:4 (Fall–Winter 1979): 238–66.

Writing Credits

W. Barksdale Maynard

If SAH Archipedia has been useful to you, please consider supporting it.

SAH Archipedia tells the story of the United States through its buildings, landscapes, and cities. This freely available resource empowers the public with authoritative knowledge that deepens their understanding and appreciation of the built environment. But the Society of Architectural Historians, which created SAH Archipedia with University of Virginia Press, needs your support to maintain the high-caliber research, writing, photography, cartography, editing, design, and programming that make SAH Archipedia a trusted online resource available to all who value the history of place, heritage tourism, and learning.