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Lower New Castle County

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The Dutch settled in the seventeenth century along the Appoquinimink River at present-day Odessa, starting the local pattern by which towns sprang up along river wharves from which produce could be shipped to larger markets. Agriculture was intensive in this fertile region of the Upper Coastal Plain, and soil exhaustion set in by the early nineteenth century. As historian Bernard Herman has described, scientific farming sought innovative solutions to the crisis and brought new prosperity, which in turn triggered a great antebellum renewal of homes and outbuildings. One of the northernmost outposts of slavery in the United States was here, although most slaves in the state had been freed by 1840. By that time, the Chesapeake and Delaware (C&D) Canal had divided this section of the county from the part farther north, “Below the Canal” becoming shorthand for the more Southern culture detectable here. The coming of the north–south Delaware Railroad in 1855 allowed perishable fruits to be sped quickly to markets in ice-cooled cars, triggering a boom in peach production. Fortunes made in the 1860s and 1870s were followed by a sudden failure around 1890, owing in part to a dread agricultural disease, “peach yellows.” A second wave of growth in this region, infinitely bigger than the first, came in the form of late-twentieth-century suburbanization. Current lot sizes are three times larger than those in the developments of the 1950s in northern New Castle County, and open space is disappearing with incredible rapidity, along with old farmhouses. No part of Delaware has been more thoroughly studied by architectural historians, thanks to the Center for Historic Architecture and Design at the University of Delaware. Many of the structures they surveyed in the 1980s and 1990s are already gone, as are many of those discussed in Herman's Architecture and Rural Life in Central Delaware, 1700–1900 (1987).

Writing Credits

W. Barksdale Maynard

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