New Castle, Delaware
Community History and Archaeology Program 

Proposed location in 1704 (red) of the boundaries of New Castle Common.  Properties currently owned by the Trustees are shown in blue. The survey started "att an old corner Black Oake of Joseph Wood's [marked 'A'], standing by the Rode [?Moores Lane?, green] that leades to Christina Fferry [4th St. Br., Wilmington?]". Its southern border ran from "an old corner Spanish Oake ... standing by Maryland Rode; then by the severall courses of the said Rode N. 84° Westerly 87 pch. N. 75° Westerly 134 pch... then by the severall courses of the Rode that Leads to Christina Bridge". The best clue to location is the rectangular chunk of land missing in the survey at points marked W,X,Y,Z which seem to match School Lane (next to the Pathmark and Home Depot on Rte 40). Note that Trustee land included some but not all of what is now the Greater New Castle Airport, especially the bottom third of runway 1/19. This land was seized by condemnation during WWII.

Surveys in 1704 and 1894
of Lands of New Castle Common

What IS New Castle Common?
Where were the original lands?
Where were the farms located
HOW have the lands been used?
Are there any traces of the original marker trees?

In 1701 William Penn ordered a survey which was returned in 1704 and formally recognized 1,000 acres outside of New Castle which were already being used as a common. This land was set aside to be for the "onley use and behoofe" of the citizens of New Castle.

By the middle of that century, it became apparent that overseers were needed to protect and preserve the common lands for the benefit of all. A trust was therefore incorporated in 1764. The Trustees of New Castle Common divided the land into farms and lots. These farms were leased, and the tenants were required to build houses on them. Income from the leases have included the purchase and development of Battery Park, establishment of the river walkway, support of wetlands rehabilitation, major renovations to the Old Town Hall, construction of the Good Will Fire Company building, and most recently, its new addition; construction of the Public Library in the 1960's and now major support of its renovation and expansion, and funding for the Public Safety building. The Trustees also continue to support college education for City residents through a scholarship grant program. Annual appropriations are made to the Tree Commission, Beautification Committee, Good Will Fire Company, New Castle Historical Society, Public Library, and Senior Center, Summer Concerts, the Mayor and Council, and various other public and charitable organizations.

Since the charter expressly prohibited sale of any land, the Common remained intact except for condemnation for roads until 1941 when land was taken for the airport, and the trustees were able to purchase lands such as Battery Park and sell others, such as Penn Acres. After WWII, the land was sold which now contains Jefferson Farms, Penn Acres, Penn Mart and William Penn HS.

An interactive Google map shows the proposed location of the survey along with overlays of the whole survey, location of Penn Farm and other Common properties from the 1849 Rea & Price map.

1894 Survey

A survey of the Lands of New Castle Common from 1894, retraced in 1928, shows Trustee Lands divided into eleven farms and lots. They were very irregular both in shape and in size: lots were from 3 to 7 acres, farms were from 81 to 206 acres. The largest (#8 and 9, Union and Bayard) is now the site of the New Castle Airport and New Castle Farmers Market, Home Depot, Pathmark etc. The image is courtesy of the Trustees.

Tenants were required to erect homes on the farms. In many cases the tenants were not the occupants. For example, the first part of the house on Penn Farm was erected c1804 by tenant John Crow. He was a prominent New Castle citizen: Town Commissioner, member of the Trustees of New Castle Common, owner of one of the town's better taverns at 202-204 Delaware Street across from the Courthouse and unlikely to have lived in the farmhouse.

The only surviving farm, now called Historic Penn Farm, was created by removing from farm #6 (Penn farm) the portions across Rte 273 now occupied by Amazon.com, and the portion on the northeast side of school lane and adding a portion of farm #11 (Model farm) to the intersection of School Lane and Rte 273. Click on the image to enlarge. Higher resolution copies are available both as pdfs: the colored tracing (1mb) and original tracing (6mb)

Originally, the Common's 1000 acre was divided into 10 or 12 farms. The location of eight of them can be deduced from the farmhouses which show up as "Common" on the 1849 Rea & Price map or the 1868 Beers Atlas of New Castle Hundred. In the latter, they are shows as "W P N C Common", possibly standing for "William Penn New Castle Common", as opposed to the other Commons in town, for example the common under quite different control which housed the courthouse and town hall.

The 1894 map also shows 8 large farms along with three much smaller lots. One farm, Union & Bayard was formed when the buildings of Bayard (?) burned to the ground in 1883.

Aerial photos from 1926 of the area are available courtesy of John Inkster. Overlaying the lot lines from the 1894 survey show the same 8 farms, and that none of the farms had been diverted from agriculture in 1926; most seem to be under cultivation. (The time of year the photos were taken is not known). One set of farm buildings is visible on each farm.

The photos taken on June 23/24, 1945 have the airport blacked out by military censors. The farm boundaries from the 1894 survey are in red. Seven farmhouses are identified in yellow, though the one for Clayton is soon to disappear. In the next 20 years, 5 more will be sold off.

Overlays of the historic maps and aerial images over modern road maps suggest the following locations of the sites of the houses:

No.NameAcresHouse site
1Jefferson97Monticello Blvd, Jefferson Farms
2Stockton171Yeates Dr. in Penn Acres
3Oglethorpe81Parking lot between Asbury Meth. Church and baseball field
5Central Hall128Rte 40 near Airbase Carpet Mart.
6Penn192Surviving house
8&9Union & Bayard206Runway, NC Airport
10Clayton116Off Rte 273 near NC Airport
11Model115Under William Penn Senior HS

Reference: New Castle Common
by Rodney, Booth and Banks, 1944
"The Blue Book" (pdf, 3.9 mb)

Jim Meek
NC-CHAP, 2007
Updated 2012