Du Pont Highway

-A A +A

T. Coleman du Pont will always be remembered for his highway (U.S. 13 and 113) that carries traffic ninety-seven miles north–south through Delaware. In 1908, looking for some contribution to make to the state, he considered a school, hospital, or fountain before deciding on a road to help farmers. “I will build a monument a hundred miles high and lay it on the ground,” he is supposed to have said.

A builder of street railways in several cities, du Pont was a Good Roads advocate in the visionary National Highway Association, which pushed for 50,000 miles of paved Federal arteries. Du Pont saw in Delaware a chance to jumpstart the process, proposing to fund the ribbon of concrete himself, an extraordinary contribution to a state with notoriously bad roads (only 8 percent were then listed as “improved”).

He hoped for a multilane thoroughfare with high-speed cars separated from trolleys, trucks, and horses, an ingenious suggestion not acted upon. The state legislature established a Boulevard Corporation in 1911, and by 1917, twenty miles of two-lane concrete road had been laid from Georgetown to the state line at Selbyville. Another ten miles was complete in the vicinity of Ellendale (a well-preserved segment today is Old State Road South through Ellendale Swamp, southwest of that town). The engineer was Frank M. Williams, formerly of the New York State highway department, working with the young future Delaware governor C. Douglass Buck.

The completion of the road (sixty-nine miles north to Wilmington) took place by 1923 under the new Delaware highway department, with Coleman paying up to $44,000 per mile. In total, he spent $3.9 million, double the initial estimate. Among the contractors providing concrete bridges and roadbeds were the Philadelphia fi rms of Field, Barker and Underwood and the Juniata Company, and some landscaping was done by Wheelwright and Stevenson of that city.

Du Pont Highway proved so popular for the shipment of produce by truck—by far its most important function in the early years—that it soon needed enlarging. In 1929–1933, the forty-five miles from Wilmington to Dover were reconfigured as a divided highway, Delaware Dual Road—said to be the first highway in the world to adopt the “dual roadway” technique (well before the German autobahns opened in 1935–1936, and the Merritt Parkway in Connecticut, in 1938–1940). With a fifty-foot grass plot between them, the new lanes were for northbound traffic only, the old for southbound. By 1942, the dual road was handling more than a million crates each of poultry and cantaloupes, plus huge quantities of peaches, strawberries, and potatoes.

It was Coleman’s idea that the original highway should bypass towns—five between Selbyville and Georgetown alone—a controversial idea at the time, but later standard practice everywhere. A surveyor of the initial route was Coleman’s son, Francis V. du Pont, later head of the Delaware Highway Commission and a leading figure in the creation of the U.S. interstate highway system under President Dwight Eisenhower.

Writing Credits

W. Barksdale Maynard



W. Barksdale Maynard, "Du Pont Highway", [, Delaware], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—, http://sah-archipedia.org/essays/DE-01-ART256.

Print Source

Cover: Buildings of Delaware

Buildings of Delaware, W. Barksdale Maynard. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2008, 266-267.

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.