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Elsmere Town

Elsmere Town administrative offices are located at 11 Poplar Avenue, #2, Wilmington, DE 19085; phone: 302‑998‑2215.

Beginnings [1]

The state of Delaware has a long history of early colonial exploration along its coastline. The first attempt at permanent colonization occurred when a Swedish expedition to Delaware landed in 1638 and built Fort Christina, which later became a center for fur trading with the Native Americans. A small town, which became Wilmington, gradually developed near the fort. The mills along the Brandywine River and the major port along the Christiana River gradually established Wilmington as the dominant city in New Castle County. From 1832 to the Civil War, a steadily increasing number of commercial and industrial undertakings supplemented the manufacturing and shipping that solidified Wilmington's economic importance. Following the nationwide financial panic that occurred at the end of the Civil War, money was subscribed for a succession of railroads and transportation companies. During the latter half of the 1880s, the Baltimore and Ohio (B&O) Railroad extended its lines from Philadelphia to an area known as Elsmere Junction.

Prior to the late 1800s, the Elsmere area was a small, rural community largely made up of farmlands and scattered residences. An 1868 map shows several homes as well as a grist mill, a sawmill, and a schoolhouse. The major road through the area was DuPont Road, used by the DuPont Company to transport black powder to the Christiana River for shipment. By 1881 two rail lines and a road that intersected the area were added. The "New Road" (still known by this name) ran east to west from Wilmington to the Greenbank Mill on the Red Clay Creek. The Western Railroad and the Wilmington and Northern Railroad made connections from the north into lines that passed through Wilmington.

Between 1881 and 1893, Elsmere evolved from a rural, farm district into a suburb of Wilmington. Significant land development occurred in part through the efforts of real estate promoter Joshua T. Heald, who saw an opportunity to transform this rural, farm district close to Elsmere Junction into a suburb of Wilmington. Heald promoted cleaner and cheaper living outside of the city of Wilmington with newspaper advertisements enticing buyers with promises of escape from the city, cheaper living, and exemption from city taxes. Heald hoped to attract working-class people to the small building lots that he sold for about $200 each. Buyers were allowed to choose whether to erect their own homes or employ a contractor. Initially, 15 homes were built, establishing a development that would be identified as Elsmere. This new suburb was within walking distance of the new railway yards and factories and was only a five-cent fare away from downtown Wilmington.

The close proximity of the railway lines provided inexpensive transportation to city workers and access to supplies and served as a shipping point for new businesses in Elsmere, namely a brickyard and the Wilmington Wheel Company. The introduction of trolley car service furthered Elsmere's development. In 1897 an agreement was reached between the local line and the Wilmington line, which allowed uninterrupted service to run from downtown Wilmington out to what is now Brandywine Springs Park, west of Elsmere. Not only did the trolley line provide transportation to the amusement park for urban dwellers, but also made commuting to downtown jobs feasible for suburban dwellers.

In 1909 the approximately 70 families residing in Elsmere gave their consent to Joseph A. Ranck, Thomas Kane, Penrose S. Foreman, and Albert Wild to incorporate the area into the Town of Elsmere. Between 1910 and 1920, the population doubled from 374 to 620 residents, and Elsmere continued to draw residents from the city. The main portion of this growth comprised white-collar clerks, small retailers, and skilled artisans. In the 1920s, the Delaware State Fair Association bought land and built a new fairground within Elsmere. The grounds, including a racecourse for horses, cars and motorcycles, were located south of New Road and Wilmington Avenue and west of the previously established streets. This land became the site of the Delaware State Fair from 1917 to 1928 and provided a modern facility with a large parking area and ready access from the nearby trolley line. Agricultural exhibits provided the backbone of the fair, but, in addition to the races, the summer attraction also included horse and dog shows, vaudeville acts, music, and fireworks. After 1928, the State Fair moved to Harrington, but the grandstand and the races remained until 1943, when the property was converted to land for residential housing.

During the next decade, streets were laid to the north and west of the fairgrounds. Most of the new development occurred close to Wilmington Avenue, New Road, and its western extension (now known as Kirkwood Highway). The outlying areas of the town were built by developers from the 1940s through the 1960s. Commercial development continued to expand westward along Kirkwood Highway, and by the 1950s the majority of Elsmere was developed. Subsequently, Elsmere emerged as a traditional town connected to an urban center. The town became a working class suburb of the city with relatively small residential lots, the majority of the modest homes having been built between 1940 and 1960. About half of Elsmere's homes are small cottage- and ranch-style, single-family detached dwellings, mostly clad with brick or siding. The southern side of town also has a large number of brick row-homes and some apartments. Elsmere Manor was built by Daniels, Inc., in 1943 on the former site of the state fairgrounds. From 1946 to 1950, Alfred Vilone built the village bearing his name. In addition to those homes, Mr. Vilone also built the first apartment complex in Elsmere-Parklynn Apartments. Development continued as the Tigani brothers built Elsmere Park in 1950. Rosemont and Elsmere Gardens followed in the 1960s, built by Bordman, Smith, Pullela and Baldini.

Thus, the farms of the Brown, Derrickson, Forman, Hollingsworth, Richardson, Stidham, and Walters families became the Elsmere of today.

  1. Town of Elsmere, 2010 Update to the Town of Elsmere Comprehensive Plan, Draft, March, 2010.
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