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West Center City

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Quaker millers spurred the growth of Wilmington in its first decade, the 1730s, and settled on the slopes of a hill west of the town center, where they built a meetinghouse in 1739. A handful of colonial buildings survive on Quaker Hill, including 310 West Street (c. 1750). The brick house at the corner of 4th and West streets is said to date back to 1737. Far more numerous are mid-to-late-nineteenth-century houses, including 401 Washington Street (1881, Edwin Thorne), supposedly built by a local architect to demonstrate his skills. Abolitionist Thomas Garrett's son Ellwood, a daguerreotypist, built the townhouse at 609–611 Washington Street (c. 1848). The History of Wilmington (1894) noted that the residential district centered on West Street had enjoyed its heyday from 1864 to 1874, when it witnessed “the first attempt to break away from the rectangular, steep-roofed houses of the colonial period,” the new homes being “pushed back from the street, and their fronts … adorned with the then fashionable cast iron piazzas or porches.” Six major churches were erected between 1865 and 1871, an achievement “unsurpassed by any community in the United States.” By the mid-twentieth century the area had slipped economically, however, and the old mansions on West Street were being subdivided for apartments or demolished. The riots of 1968 (centered around Jefferson and 6th streets) led to wholesale abandonment of much of the area through the 1970s. Some urban homesteading has subsequently occurred, and historic districts, including Shipley Run, Trinity Vicinity, and Quaker Hill have been established, with ongoing restoration. The last, embracing the old Quaker Meeting House and extending from Tatnall to Jefferson and 2nd to 8th streets, is especially rich in historic rowhouses.

Writing Credits

Author: 
W. Barksdale Maynard

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