Old frame houses stand close to the twisting streets of Laurel (pop. 3,668), which radiate irregularly from the town center, elevated above Broad Creek. Land speculator Barkley Townsend, whose house still stands at 108 Oak Street, laid out Laurel Town at an Indian “wading place” in 1789. Streets were named for Lumber, Corn, Wheat, and Rye, staples of the local economy, all of which were shipped on the creek. The Delaware Railroad came through in 1859, allowing export of peaches, watermelons, berries, and corn to cities, along with crates and baskets and five million feet of lumber annually (by 1860). Wealth ensued, and some large houses were built. The business district was entirely reconstructed after a disastrous fire in 1899 that consumed sixty-two of sixty-eight stores and twenty-eight houses. Up to 1,200 railroad cars filled with sweet potatoes left Laurel annually in the 1920s, and some sweet potato storage-and-curing houses survive. The 1920s also saw construction of a State armory (1926, Edward Canby May). Sussex County's third-biggest town, Laurel has the largest designated historic district in the state, with more than 800 buildings on the National Register. It is distinguished by its many late-nineteenth-century homes, of which local historian Ned Fowler singles out three as especially interesting: Dr. Joshua Ellegood House (1880s) and Daniel Fooks House, both Queen Anne style, and Hitchens House, which shows the influence of Andrew Jackson Downing's cottage designs.
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