New Castle, Delaware
Community History and Archaeology Program 

Detail of the Latrobe Survey, 1805   Delaware Public Archives, Dover.  Click to enlarge


Mysteries of The Dutch Tile House

The road to the City of Emeralds is paved with yellow brick 
[L. Frank Baum The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, ch. 2 (1900)]

I've finally decided my future lies beyond the yellow brick road
[Elton John (1973) ]

latrobe_tilehouse.jpg (58500 bytes)
From the Latrobe Survey, 1805
Delaware Public Archives, Dover
Click to enlarge

 What's so mysterious about the Tile House? 

After all, there are numerous paintings of it from the early
1800s, even photos, postcards and stereoopticons from the late 1800s. 

Old Tile House, New Castle, Del., built in 1687
1907 postcard from UDel

Everybody knows it was built in 1687 from the Dutch yellow bricks we find around town, and was so sturdily built it required dynamite to demolish it.   Right?

Actually, what we don't know includes:

* When was it built?  (There was a large '1687' in old paintings and photos.  Were they an addition between 1805 and 1820?) 
* Why was it called the Tile House? Because of a tile roof? Because of bricks that were smaller than normal, and yellow -- 'tiles'?
* How was it built?
* Was it intended as a house, store or government building?
latrobe_plan.jpg (687740 bytes)


Many of these details are discussed in the article "New Castle's Dutch Tile House of 1687: Fraud or Genuine?" by W. Barksdale Maynard .  This article was originally  published in Delaware History 29 (2001): 141- 168 and is posted  with permission of the Historical Society of Delaware (www.hsd.org).

Bird 1822? 1826? Univ. Pennsylvania

Edward Williams Clay, 1822, Courtesy New Castle Historical Society

Click on photograph  to enlarge
tilehouse1884.jpg (373418 bytes)
1884 -- just before its destruction
Courtesy Carol Maltenfort

front_door.jpg (53206 bytes)

Was it build in 1687?  What about the numbers in the wall?

There are opposing view on date the building to 1687  based on the numbers that are seen in drawings and photos from 1822 to 1884.  Harper points out that they are not shown in the Latrobe Survey of 1805, and may have been added during a renovation between 1805 and 1820.  Maynard suggests that Latrobe may have just not included them.  Given the quite small details he included elsewhere -- such as the signs above the door on the Tile House (see below) and Hotel  and Delaware signs on the Gunning-Bedfore/Caleb Benett house it seems strange that he would not include the much larger numbers.  However, as Maynard points out, it also seems strange that they would be added between 1805 and 1822 "as an antiquarian exercise to an old, somewhat decrepit commercial structure" when interest in "colonial architecture was at its lowest ebb, with even major public buildings being demolished without comment or qualm".

Appearance just before destruction in 1884; Where's the tile?

"Dutch tile" could refer either to a tile roof, or to the yellow bricks, which are smaller than standard red brick.  The photograph (see below) taken in 1884 show that at least after the renovation at the beginning of the 19th century, the roof was wood,  the facade a single layer of standard brick, and the walls the normal two courses of standard brick, not the thick structure of local lore.  Maynard (p 150) quotes a refernce to English houses of Dutch yellow brick clinkers which had been used as ballast.  The late Ned Heite (d2005) stated  "Yellow "Dutch" bricks are commonly found in Swedish and English sites of the early seventeenth century, as well as on Dutch sites. In the town of New Castle, they often are found during construction work. Fort Casimir was supplied during its first years with brick from Albany. Up the Delaware River, on Tinicum Island, similar hard, yellow bricks have been found at the site of the Swedish governor's mansion, Prinzhof.  The Prinzhof bricks are complete, so that length can be determined. In width and height, they match the Fort Casirnir specimens. In spite of their common designation as "Dutch," small yellow bricks are too common throughout the Colonial seaboard to sustain a national attribution without further documentation".

In any case, after the removal of the house's foundation in the 1930's,  local workers dumped much of the rubble (including the bricks) into the river and at the site of the current garage at the end of Harmony Street (statement of one of the workers to C. Maltenfort).

Original  and early use

Who lived there?  What was it used for?
In the 1805 Latrobe drawing, there is a tiny barely legible sign over front door. Maynard suggests it might read "something like " Dennis Gall/ Grocer".  Company is another possibility for the second line.  Looking at all the D... C or G... in the 1800 and 1810 federal censuses for New Castle only reveals one likely possibility, a David Cxxxx who was listed on the same page as George Read Esq [II], George Read Jr.[III], Doct Couper, Thomas Bond, John Janvier, Thomas Janvier, Wm Darby, John McCoy, David C???, James Riddle, Caleb Bennett, and therefore probably lived on or near The Strand.  

1810 Federal Census entries