New Castle Historic District
The New Castle Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1984. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document.  Adaptation copyright © 2009, The Gombach Group.
The New Castle Historic District is located within the City of New Castle, a town of approximately 4,800 people situated on the Delaware River in the northeastern area of New Castle County. Dating its initial settlement from 1651, New Castle retains buildings from the early eighteenth century and encompasses significant development through 1930. This 135-acre district is made up of 572 sites that include 517 buildings and 55 undeveloped lots.
Located about four miles south of Wilmington, which is the largest city in Delaware, New Castle is situated on a piece of land that juts out into the Delaware River. The New Castle Historic District is bounded by the river shoreline on the east and south; by Penn Street and South Street on the southwest; by Sixth Street on the northwest; and by Cherry Street, Fourth Street and the dyke on the north. Marshland borders the New Castle Historic District to the north and southwest. The late nineteenth century workers' communities known as Shawtown and Washington Park are located northwest of the New Castle Historic District. Because intrusive modern development has occurred between the district and these two communities, it is not possible to include them in the New Castle Historic District.
Two buildings within the New Castle Historic Districtare individually listed in the National Register:
In addition, two individually listed sites lie adjacent to the New Castle Historic District boundaries:
New Castle is laid out on a grid plan with a centrally located public square and marketplace. Much of its early development occurred close to the river due to the town's function as a stop along an important transportation route. Today, the main section of town consists of seven major streets and five cross streets. Illustrating this orientation to the water are Delaware Street and Harmony Street which terminate as wharves on the river bank.
Originating as the site of a Dutch fort in 1651, the first dwellings outside of the fort were built along two parallel streets that were laid out soon after the fort was constructed. These two streets, which were located just south of the fort, established the pattern of development the town would take. Today these streets are known as The Strand and Fourth Street. Under the Dutch, expansion of the settlement followed an informal compact grid plan. As an English colony the simple grid plan was expanded during the eighteenth century, retaining the public squares and market that had been established by the Dutch. By the early part of the nineteenth century, buildings occupied the one block span between Delaware Street and Harmony Street, extending four blocks westward from The Strand, through Market Street, Third Street, and Fourth Street.
In 1831 the tracks of the New Castle and Frenchtown Railroad entered town, extending toward the wharf along South Street. Beers' Atlas of the State of Delaware (1868) reveals the town expanding northward along Third and Fourth Streets between Harmony and Chestnut Streets; and southward along Fourth and Fifth Streets between Delaware and South Streets. By the end of the nineteenth century Second Street was extended one block northeastward and development along Delaware Street extended two blocks further west up to Seventh Street. In addition, Fourth and Fifth Streets became more heavily infilled by that time. The first few decades of the twentieth century brought housing to the western ends of Fifth, Sixth and Seventh Streets.
The early Dutch settlement consisted primarily of small wood and log buildings with their gable ends facing the street. Due to the fluctuation in population and the tenuous government during this time, many of these first period constructions did not survive beyond the seventeenth century. The "Old Dutch House," a one-story, brick structure with a steeply-pitched gable roof and an overhanging eave on the facade, is thought to be a survival from the late seventeenth century, but this has not been verified. The Tile House (1687), a 2 1/2-story, stepped gable dwelling constructed of a very light-colored brick, was torn down in 1884.
Early in the eighteenth century new construction began to reflect the change from Dutch to English rule, with brick Georgian buildings becoming the dominant form. The Court House, built in 1732 to replace an earlier court house at the head of the public square, displays the formal, five-bay Georgian plan and Flemish bond brickwork that was typical of the English colonies. Dwellings of the period include brick, three-bay, five-bay, and four-bay plans with gable or hipped roofs. A rare frame survival is the house at 49 The Strand with flush-mounted board siding. The two Churches built during this period, the 1706 Immanuel Episcopal Church and the 1707-12 Presbyterian Church, were both originally constructed as small, brick, one-story structures with round-arched windows and clipped gable roofs. Immanuel Church was enlarged with a transept and a spire in the nineteenth century.
Late in the eighteenth century, buildings still retained the basic 3 or 5 bay Georgian form but their appearance became more refined by the use of details such as stone lintels and sills, traceried fanlights, and punch-and-gouge work. The George Read II House, which was built during 1794-1804, dominates The Strand because of its huge five-bay, double pile proportions, but is also outstanding because of its Palladian window that is framed by punch-and-gouge molding, and the entrance which is surrounded by a large fanlight and sidelights. The Academy, which was built on The Green in 1789, is a seven-bay building with a center, pedimented bay and a cupola on its gable roof.
The 1804 Latrobe survey of New Castle, which includes scale drawings of several streetscapes, shows the combination of English and Dutch building forms that still existed side-by-side. On The Strand, Federal style and Georgian style dwellings such as the George Read II House and the Richard McWilliam House were interspersed with small gable-ended Dutch buildings with lean-to side additions.
Into the early part of the nineteenth century, two and three story, brick Federal style dwellings became the preferred form. A particular concentration of Federal row homes exists on The Strand due to the immediate rebuilding on that street after a fire destroyed many of its earlier buildings in 1824.
At mid-century the basic form of the Federal detached house and the row house persisted, but with the addition of bracketed or corbeled brick cornices, and transom-topped doorways with molded lintels supported by large scroll brackets. The 1857 jail is an unusual five-bay, dressed stone building with round-arched windows and a projecting, pedimented central pavilion. Related to it stylistically is the 1851 Farmer's Bank, a brick Renaissance Revival building with a bracketed flat roofline, round-arched windows, rusticated quoins, and a high stone watertable.
After the middle of the nineteenth century architectural styles became more diverse but brick was still the primary construction material. The Italianate style persisted, but with more exaggerated cornice lines and window treatments. Also, the profusion of workers' row housing at this time tended toward the Italianate with the application of bracketed cornices and transom-topped entrances to otherwise plain rows of brick and frame dwelling units. Cross-gabled houses and mansard-roofed Second Empire style houses were introduced in the latter half of the nineteenth century but these did not become persistent types.
At the close of the nineteenth century, stylistic trends had broken away from the square, brick townhouse to include asymmetrical Queen Anne style buildings with wood and slate shingle siding, stained glass, and large ornate porches.
New building in the twentieth century followed two major trends. A variety of Bungalow styles were constructed on the western end of town. Primarily frame, these small, single-family dwellings display an array of decorative features including butt end and fishscale wood shingle siding, pebble-dashed stucco, rock-faced concrete block, and porches that are incorporated under the main roof of the house. The Colonial Revival style was used in the construction of the 1930's brick post office, the Booker T. Washington School, and a "Dutch" Colonial cottage. While the type of colonial references made in these buildings is only loosely interpreted from that period, there was also an accurate replica of an early Georgian townhouse constructed on The Strand circa 1930.
Since New Castle's architectural development reveals many significant building periods and styles dating from the early eighteenth century well into the twentieth century, contributing structures within the New Castle Historic District are defined as all pre-1934 buildings that possess sufficient integrity so that their scale, massing, fenestration and stylistic details convey the character of their particular period of significance. Because New Castle administers its own local historic zoning commission, there are very few noncontributing buildings within the New Castle Historic District.
The New Castle Historic District is significant for its architecture, for its early settlement, for its importance as a seat of government, for its position as an early trading and shipping center and for its role as a critical link in the regional transportation network. New Castle Historic District's many well-preserved buildings document almost three hundred years of architectural development. From its inception as an outpost of the Dutch West India Company, the town of New Castle developed as a major port and market on the Delaware River; as the Colonial and briefly, first state capital of Delaware; and as the seat of county government and the center of a trans-peninsular transportation system linking Atlantic seacoast settlements with those on the Chesapeake Bay.
Six churches and associated cemeteries are included in the New Castle Historic District as exceptions to the general rule that does not allow cemeteries or properties owned by religious institutions to be considered eligible for the National Register listing. These properties are designated as contributing since their primary significance is derived from their architectural distinction and historical importance.
New Castle, on the Delaware River six miles south of Wilmington, is among the oldest settlements in the Delaware River Valley. It was founded in 1651 by Peter Stuyvesant to regain control of river trade from the Swedish. Fort Casimir, as New Castle was first called, was to be the seat of the New Netherland government on the Delaware. Situated as it was on a hook of land extending into the Delaware River beyond what is now Chestnut Street, Fort Casimir provided a sweeping view and virtual control of all traffic on the broad Delaware. After a brief period of Swedish control in 1654, the Dutch recaptured Fort Casimir and in 1656 it was renamed New Amstel.
Initially, this frontier settlement was a rough outpost consisting of the fort and about twenty houses. As the major port on the Delaware, Dutch New Amstel experienced considerable growth, increasing in population from twenty families in 1657 to six hundred people the following year. By 1658, some one hundred buildings had been erected, including a guardhouse, a bakehouse, a forge, a twenty-foot square log building for a city hall, as well as private residences. The streets were arranged in a compact, but rough, grid pattern. These early buildings were constructed of wood and logs on long, narrow lots with their gable ends facing the river.
In 1664, when all Dutch possessions in North America were seized by the English, Sir Robert Carr took New Amstel for James, Duke of York. New Amstel became New Castle. Except for a brief reassertion of Dutch control in 1673, the town remained under the Duke of York's proprietorship until 1682, when William Penn, first arriving in America at New Castle, received the proprietorship of the Three Lower Counties of New Castle, Kent and Sussex. British control of New Castle continued through the Colonial period.
The informal grid pattern of Dutch settlement continued to develop under the English with residential and commercial structures encompassing an open market area. With the construction of a new blockhouse in the 1670's, this area developed as the administrative as well as the commercial center of town. But by 1679, New Castle as a commercial center had been surpassed by New York and building stock had dwindled to about fifty buildings of primarily wood or log construction.
Little survives to document the architectural character of pre-1700 New Castle. The Tile House, a brick, three-story, stepped-gable dwelling was razed in 1884. J. Thomas Scharf, in his 1888 History of Delaware, says that the roof of the Tile House "was very steep and covered with tile brought from Holland. The rafters were made like the knees of a vessel, all cut out of crooked timber." It is possible that some early structures have been incorporated into later ones, but a careful study of this occurrence has not yet been undertaken. The "Dutch House," facing the Green on Third Street, is thought to have been built in 1698. It was in the next century however, that New Castle developed a distinctly English architectural disposition with brick construction becoming the dominant building method.
In 1704, the Three Lower Counties were granted a separate legislature with New Castle as the colonial capitol. The State House and Courthouse, built in 1689 and rebuilt after a 1732 fire, still dominates the Green, the public square laid out during the Dutch period. The early Georgian central section with its glazed header, Flemish bond facade and stepped belt course was constructed in 1732. East and west additions are later eighteenth or nineteenth century elements. The construction of two religious buildings in the vicinity Immanuel Episcopal Church (completed 1706) and the Presbyterian Church (1707-1712) emphasized the public square and market place as the focus of community life. Extant examples of domestic architecture related to this period include the two-and-a-half story, four-bay, gable-roofed Rosemont House, believed to have been built prior to 1704; the Richard McWilliam House a two-and-a-half story, three-bay, gable-roofed brick dwelling believed to have been erected during the first decade of the eighteenth century; and the Amstel House, a two-and-a-half story, five-bay, gable roofed dwelling erected circa 1730. All are constructed of brick.
New Castle's colonial economy depended on the harbor and the courthouse. As the last safe harbor on the Delaware, New Castle was a frequent stop for ships bound for foreign or domestic ports. This position was enhanced with the erection of ice breaking piers in the mid-1790's. As the colonial capitol, New Castle profited from the provision of government services. Even though the state government was removed to Dover in 1777, New Castle continued as the seat of New Castle County government and of the federal courts. The late eighteenth century brought a sense of optimism and prosperity to the town of New Castle.
Its location on the eastern side of the Delmarva Peninsula made New Castle a significant link in the regional transportation network. The 1800 relocation of the federal government in Washington increased New Castle's popularity as a transfer point for travel across the peninsula and to other destinations along the Atlantic seaboard.
This steady stream of people, materials, as well as concepts and perceptions assured an architectural environment that shared much in common with other urban centers in the Mid-Atlantic Region. Typical are brick, two or three-and-a-half story; hall parlor, central-passage or side-passage; single or double-pile plan buildings. The George Read II House on the Strand overlooking the Delaware is an outstanding example of late Georgian/early Federal architecture. The sophistication of its five-bay facade with a Palladian window surmounting a great fanlight is matched by an elegant and elaborately-finished central-passage, double-pile plan interior. The three-and-a-half story, three-bay, side-passage, John Wiley House (1801); the two-and-a-half story, three-bay, side-passage Kensey Johns, Sr., House (1789-90) and the two-and-a-half story, five-bay, double-pile Nicholas Van Dyke House (1779) with an unusual central facade pavilion are representative of upper-class dwellings erected at the end of the eighteenth century. Aull's Row (1802), three attached, two-and-a-half story frame, hall-parlor plan buildings represent the unusual survival of frame worker's residences and are distinguished by exposed interior corner posts.
Federal period dwellings in New Castle present only slight variation from the Georgian designs of the previous century. They are typically of brick construction, two-and-a-half stories in height, two or three-bay, side-passage plan buildings having entrance doorways with fanlights and segmental-arched dormers piercing a gable roof. Restraint in the use of exterior detail is the rule. Notable examples include the Kensey Johns Van Dyke House built in 1820 and the Kensey Johns, Jr., House erected in 1823. The rebuilding of the river side of the Strand in the Federal style is the result of a fire that swept this riverfront street in 1824.
The New Castle and Frenchtown Railroad, one of America's earliest rail lines (completed in 1832), connected the steam packet service of the Delaware River with the steam boats of the Chesapeake Bay bringing increased prosperity to New Castle in the second quarter of the nineteenth century. The chartering of the New Castle Manufacturing Company, one of the nation's first locomotive engine manufactories proved to be an additional boon to the local economy. Though the prosperity of the 1820's, 1830's and 1840's was short lived, it yielded significant change in the architectural character of the town. Most conspicuous was the construction of the town hall between 1823 and 1826. Situated adjacent to the colonial statehouse and in the open area originally laid out as a public square in the seventeenth century, this brick building stands three stories high before terminating in a square and octagonal cupola. This civic building with an arcade through the center of the first story also housed a fire company and a Masonic lodge.
A combination of social and economic factors, including the decline of river traffic following the completion of the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal in 1829; the Philadelphia, Wilmington and Baltimore Railroad's bypass of New Castle at mid-century, as well as the ascension of nearby Wilmington as a commercial and industrial center encouraged a gradual decline in New Castle's importance as a commercial center. From a peak of 2,737 in 1840, the population of New Castle declined by more than half to 1,217 by 1850.
Though it continued to be overshadowed by Philadelphia and neighboring Wilmington in the second half of the nineteenth century, New Castle like many towns and cities in this country evolved an economy based on manufacturing and industry from the agricultural and mercantile economy of the past. In 1850 there were only four companies in the New Castle vicinity with production valued over $500 annually. In 1870 there were twenty in the town of New Castle alone, and by 1900 this number had risen to thirty-one. The resultant effect on the local population was dramatic with a doubling of population between 1870 and 1880. Civic improvements, including gas service in 1857 and piped water in 1873, as well as improved streets and police protection, were evidence of New Castle's economic health and civic vitality. Harbor improvements included the construction of additional ice piers in 1874, 1875, 1879 and 1882. In 1875 the town was incorporated as a city.
Several major companies provided industrial muscle to New Castle's manufacturing economy in the second half of the nineteenth century. Principal among these was the Delaware Iron Company whose thirty-five acre site along the Delaware River encompassed a rolling mill, a bending mill, a welding mill and a finishing room, all built of brick and powered by Corliss-type engines. In 1887 the works provided about 800 pounds of iron and steel tubing per week and employed about 800 men.
Shortly after 1868, Thomas T. Tasker erected a flour mill, which in 1872 was acquired by William Lea and Sons Company. Operated in conjunction with the Brandywine Mills in Wilmington, this mill operated at a capacity of 350 barrels per day and in 1827 employed twenty-five men.
Another leading manufacturing concern was the Triton Spinning Mill erected 1860-61. The Triton Mills manufactured cotton-yarn and employed between 125 and 150 workers. James G. Knowles' Woolen Mill, established in 1873, produced "Cotton Worsteds" for the clothing trade. From his New York office, Knowles distributed most of the forty thousand yard weekly output of the New Castle mills. In 1887, Knowles' Woolen Mill employed 200 workers.
In the second half of the nineteenth century, the Hicks Steam Engine Company occupied the former shops of the New Castle Manufacturing Company.
Throughout its history, New Castle has had a strong mercantile economy. During the eighteenth century, local merchants were principally engaged in the provisioning of outbound ships but also provided essential goods to the local population. There were taverns, hotels and a state bank branch after 1807. Perhaps the largest of the eighteenth century mercantile concerns was the firm of Bond and Lees which beside general merchandising was involved in the coastal trade and maintained an office in Philadelphia. Prominent nineteenth century merchants included Charles E. Ferris, proprietor of a drugstore; Elihu Jefferson, a grain dealer, who erected and operated a granary on the wharf at the foot of Delaware Street; Charles Lambson, a lumber dealer whose yard was adjacent to the gas works; and the firm of J.T. and L.E. Eliason, which was engaged in the coal, lumber and machinery trade. In 1868, New Castle's professional ranks included four attorneys, two physicians, a dentist and two civil engineers.
Adequate housing for the requisite working class population during this industrialized era tended to be the rowhouse. The rowhouse was not an architectural type introduced during the second half of the nineteenth century, but had been built in New Castle at least as early as the first decade of the century. Cloud's Row at Second and Delaware Streets, a brick row of five three-and-a-half story dwellings with stone lintels and beltcourses, was built prior to 1804. Many rowhouses, like Cloud's Row, provided a suitable solution for land speculators building on long narrow city lots. Two-and-a-half story, two or three-bay, gable-roofed federal-period brick rowhouses are represented in New Castle, as are the somewhat later two-story with attic, two or three-bay, flat-roofed Greek Revival style rows with corbelled brick cornices. The circa 1824 row of two-story, two-bay, side passage dwellings between 27 and 33 The Strand is a particularly noteworthy example of the Federal period rowhouse. The Greek Revival style is illustrated by the row at 10-16 East Fourth Street.
It is after 1850, however, that the rowhouse grew to prevalent status in New Castle. Simple, straightforward rows of brick or frame, two-story, two-bay, Italianate rowhouses were built throughout New Castle in the years between 1865 and 1885. Brick, two or three-story, three-bay, flat-roofed townhouses with elaborate, bracketed cornices of wood and occasionally with bracketed verandas became the preferred housing of the merchant and professional classes. The John E.V. Platt residence, built in the late 1870's on East Fourth Street is a particularly good example. Another variation of the Italianate style which appears in the late 1880's is the two-and-a-half story gable roofed, brick double dwelling with a symmetrical, four or six-bay facade and entrances topped by fanlights. The six-bay version of this type is illustrated by the Eagle and Gordon House at 14 and 16 West Fourth Street and the four-bay version can be seen at 77-79 West Fifth Street. Particularly notable is the elaborate cutwork decoration of the Eagle/Gordon House veranda. The frame Ira Lunt House at the corner of Third and Chestnut Streets is a unique expression of this style in the town of New Castle. With its attached wing, carriage house and stable or barn, it represents one of the most southernmost examples of the New England connecting barn plan. An important non-residential demonstration of the Italianate mode is the Samuel Sloan designed 1857 brownstone Jail with rusticated quoins flanking two tiers of round arched windows below a bold pedimented and bracketed cornice. The 1870 St. Peter's Roman Catholic Church with its offset bell tower and rectory constructed in 1877 is a noteworthy ecclesiastical expression of this style. The Renaissance Revival Farmer's Bank erected on the northwest corner of Delaware Street and The Strand in 1845 is a more formal, urban expression of the Italianate mode.
The Second Empire style was never very popular in New Castle and only six examples are located in the New Castle Historic District. The Christopher Pfrommer House erected circa 1875 on East Third Street is a finely detailed example with an intricate bracketed cornice, elaborate dormers piercing a steep mansard roof and windows animated with incised stone trim. Another finely detailed circa 1881 Second Empire dwelling is located at 17 West Fourth Street. The Second Empire double house plan is represented by 122-124 East Third Street and 602-604 Delaware Street. In the late 1870's, Philadelphia architect, Theophilus P. Chandler, designed a Masonic Temple and Opera House that is ultimately derived from Second Empire Classicism.
Like the Second Empire, the Gothic Revival movement had little influence on New Castle's architectural development. One of the few examples is provided by the circa 1885 double house at 22-24 West Fourth Street. Here the indications of the Gothic Revival style are provided by elaborate barge-boards and bracing in the paired gable fronts, and the vertical effect of the steep roof. A more articulate delineation of the Gothic Revival is the New Castle Methodist Episcopal Church. The Mount Salem Methodist Episcopal Church erected in 1878 is a vernacular version of the Gothic ecclesiastical mode.
In 1881, the county seat was transferred to Wilmington. Although the rate of building declined in the succeeding years, construction of residential, commercial and institutional buildings continued through the turn of the twentieth century. Residential building of this period was characterized by stylistic diversity, the introduction of irregular plans, a combination of varied building materials, an increase in overall size, and location of the large open lots available away from the densely built-up center of town. Emblematic of this period are the L.E. Eliason House built 1894; the adjacent J. T. Eliason House built circa 1899-1900; the 1898 J. Ernest Phillips House constructed 1898 at 111 West Sixth Street and the Immanuel Episcopal Church Manse erected in 1887 on the northeast corner of Third and Harmony. The half-octagonal Old Library on The Green, built in 1890, is a unique expression of late nineteenth century eclecticism.
New building continued into the twentieth century introducing several new styles to New Castle's architectural character. The brown-shingled Bungalow at 108 West Sixth Street is elaborated by braced cross-gables; the simple hipped-roofed square Bungalow at 184 East Fourth Street is animated by the use of a narrow clapboard siding and exposed rafter ends while the Bungalow at 50 West Fifth Street is a large rectangular frame building with a sweeping gable roof and broad overhanging eave supported by heavy wooden rafter ends. The Beaux-Arts style bank at 220 Delaware Street was constructed in 1918. The Colonial Revival Booker T. Washington School on South Street is typical of the type of school constructed in Delaware after 1920.
Level of Significance
The level of significance claimed for the New Castle Historic District is national because of New Castle's importance as an early Delaware Valley settlement, as the colonial capitol of Delaware, and as a regionally important port of entry and transfer point for travel across the Delmarva Peninsula.
Cooper, Constance Jean. "A Town Among Cities: New Castle, Delaware, 1780-1840," Ph.D. dissertation, University of Delaware, 1983.
A Day in Old New Castle, Immanuel Episcopal Church, n.d.
Dixon, Stuart P. "Ira Lunt House." A National Register Nomination prepared December, 1983.
Gilbride, Joanna. "Terry House." A National Register Nomination prepared December, 1983.
Heite, Louise B. "New Castle Under the Duke of York: A Stable Community." M.A. thesis, University of Delaware, 1978.
Hofer, Julia R. "John E. V. Platt Residence." A National Register Nomination prepared December, 1983.
Ideal New Castle. Wilmington: George Wolf Company, 1844.
Johnson, Daniel P. "The J. T. and L. E. Eliason Company, 1868-1919, A Study in Market Transition." Undergraduate research paper submitted in fulfillment of the requirements of a Special Problems Seminar, February, 1981.
Ladner, Madelyn. "L. E. Eliason House and J. T. Eliason House." A National Register Nomination prepared December, 1983.
Mannix, Mary K. "Immanuel Episcopal Church Manse." A National Register Nomination prepared December, 1983.
New Castle Board of Trade. New Castle, Delaware; 1915.
Poole, Robert T. "Eagle House, Gordon House, Wilson House." A National Register Nomination prepared December, 1983.
Powell-Watson, Lorraine. "J. Ernest Phillips House." A National Register Nomination prepared December, 1983.
Scharf, J. Thomas. History of Delaware 1609-1888, 2 vols. Philadelphia: L. J. Richards and Co., 1888.
Shigo, Suzanne M. "Masonic Temple/Opera House." A National Register Nomination prepared December, 1983.
Toro, Lucille P. "The Latrobe Survey of New Castle, 1804-1805." M. A. thesis, University of Delaware, 1971.
Woolard, Annette. "Mount Salem Methodist Episcopal Church." A National Register Nomination prepared December, 1983.