Camden Historic District
The Camden Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974.
The Town of Camden is situated on a tract of land originally called "Brecknock", which was granted to Alexander Humphreys under a warrant in 1680. By the middle of the eighteenth century four hundred thirty-six acres of Brecknock came into the possession of Colonel John Vining. In 1780, Warner Mifflin purchased this 436 acres from the Vining estate. Three years later Warner Mifflin sold to his brother, Daniel, one hundred twelve acres, which included the crossroads formed by the main road from Dover to the north and the road from Forest Landing (now Lebanon) to the ea: Somewhat later, Warner Mifflin sold seventy-four acres of the tract to John Edmondson and two hundred forty-nine acres to Thomas Edmondson.
Of the three property owners, Daniel Mifflin held the land which, by its location, commanded the greatest speculative value. Between 1783 and 1788 Daniel Mifflin sold twelve parcels of land at Mifflin's Crossroads, ranging in size from three-quarters of an acre to ten and nine-tenths of an acre. The new settlement was obviously speculative in nature, dependent on the commercial traffic to Dover and the products from nearby mills. By the end of the eighteenth century the crossroads had grown to include over a dozen dwelling houses and several shops. The development had been named Piccadilly, but it was commonly referred to as "Mifflin's Crossroads." The name "Camden" first appears in 1788, but probably did not replace "Mifflin's Crossroads" in common usage until the end of the eighteenth century.
More clearly defined patterns of town lots began to develop in the beginning of the nineteenth century; by 1818 the town included over seventy lots and out-lots. The development process included both speculative exchanges of property and divisions of larger tracts through inheritance. The urban character of the community was reinforced by the reduction of lot sizes to an average of about one acre. In addition, by 1820 the range of occupation represented in Camden had expanded to include merchants, innkeepers, carriage makers, tanners, bricklayers, house carpenters, and physicians.
The development of retail mercantile activity combined with the increase I in grain and lumber production, produced a prosperous town economy which survived until the opening of the Delaware railroad in 1856. With the advent railroad service, the freight shipping business was moved a mile westward to the new Town of Wyoming. Nevertheless, the Town of Camden, which had been incorporated in 1852 by an act of legislature,continued to survive commercially with an active retail trade and a thriving fruit canning industry.
The first religious meeting house at Mifflin's Crossroads was Whatcoat Chapel, erected by the members of the Methodist Episcopal Church in 1791. Cited as the builder of the new chapel was Dr. Elijah Barratt, one of the early benefactors of Delaware Methodism, Philip Barratt.
However, Camden is identified chiefly as a Quaker settlement. Daniel and Warner Mifflin along with the other important local land holders were members of the Society of Friends. Warner Mifflin, in 1774, set precedent in Delaware by freeing his twenty-one slaves because his conscientious objection to the concept of slaveholding. His wholesale manumission became a model for other Friends; between 1774 and 1792 a total of six hundred twelve slaves were freed by their Quaker masters in Delaware. Camden, as a Quaker settlement, figured in this early abolitionist movement. In fact, free Negroes were among the persons who bought and sold land in Camden in the beginning of the nineteenth century. There are also references to an "African school" located in the town. The Hunn and Jenkins families, along with other Camden Friends continued their support of the negro cause during the period of "Underground railroad."
Of prime interest in considering Camden is the process of early town development in Delaware. An examination of the various conveyances immediately before and after the turn of the century will demonstrate the conversion of a crossroads farm hamlet into a town.
In 1780, the entire northwest portion of Camden was in the possession of Warner Mifflin, a descendant of the Daniel Mifflin family of Accomac County, Virginia. By 1783, Warner Mifflin had conveyed to his brother Daniel, a merchant, significant acreage strategically positioned at the crossroads commonly known as Mifflin's Cross Roads. Daniel apparently established the first businesses at the crossroads in Camden, a store and a hotel, on the northwest of the crossroads, adjacent to the place where he later erected his own house. In 1786, Warner Mifflin conveyed one hundred forty-nine acres to the "yeoman" Thomas Edmondson. Within the original boundaries of Thomas Edmondson's property, three significant structures have remained intact. Each dwelling house represents distinct periods of construction.
The Greek Revival mansion house, "Spruce Acres," was accprding to local tradition, constructed by Hunn Jenkins of Philadelphia circa 1848, when he purchased the property from Ruth B. Jenkins, the widow of Jonathan Jenkins, a Camden merchant. The sophisticated construction of this Greek Revival dwelling house could possibly be attributed to Hunn Jenkins' cosmopolitan background and an awareness of the academic architecture that was being constructed in Philadelphia during the 1840's.
The pretentious mansion house constructed by Hunn Jenkins was not the property's original dwelling house. An earlier frame structure probably erected by Thomas Edmondson before 1793, was bequeathed to his son John Edmondson by his father's will dated 1793. This earlier structure remained in the Edmondson family until 1826.
The late eighteenth century portion of the brick dwelling house south of Spruce Acres, was the dwelling house of Thomas Edmondson. At his death in 1793, this structure with its gardens were bequeathed to his wife Sophia for the rest of her natural life.
The third structure within the original boundaries of Thomas Edmondson's estate, is the five-bay brick dwelling house located on Camden-Wyoming Avenue. This dwelling, designed in the late Georgian style, was erected by Charles Kimmey, a Dover merchant, in 1813. The lot included a portion of the original three acres of land Thomas Edmondson bequeathed to his daugther, Margaret (the wife of John Williams, a carriage maker of Camden) in his will dated 1793.
† Vinvent P. Rogers and Madeline Dunn, Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs, Camden Historic District (Picadilly, Mifflin's Crossroads), Kent County, DE, 1973, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.