New Castle, Delaware
Community History and Archaeology Program 

Typed notes of Jeannette Eckman (1947)
With permission of Delaware Historical Society

General Appraisal of Areas and Structures - Introduction

This year, 1947, New York is celebrating the 300th anniversary of
the arrival of Peter Stuyvesant at Manhattan an director-general
of New Netherland In America. It was Stuyvesant who selected the
site of New Castle for the Dutch capital on the South River (the
Delaware) in 1651, who built Fort Casimir that year and founded
the town. He planned the streets and the green, much as they are
today, and gave instructions for their development to the deputy
directors after 1655.

In 1668, Director Stuyvesant made a third visit to the little
town then called New Amstel, and although both records and map
embodying his plans are lost, his separate directions and his
account of the town he laid out at the site of Wilmington
indicate that the plan upon which New Castle developed and exists
today, was his. A green, adequate space for gardens and orchards
and land for a common were essentials. The straight parallel
streets were laid out along the Strand and west of the green with
"Thwart streets" running back from the rivers, crossing the
others at right angles.

When Fort Casimir was built on the high sandy point that formerly
extended out into the river beyond the end of present Chestnut
Street, the town site behind it rose abruptly In a bank of fast
land, a few feet above the low sandy shore and leveled off gently
into a low wooded plateau. This stretch of fast land was flanked
by two streams, north and south, each bordered by a tidal marsh
and fed by springs drained through a sandy subsoil.

The first of the parallel rows of lots for houses and gardens
were the Strand south of the fort and Beaver Street west of the
green - the present Fourth Street. The land between was left open
as green or common. Twenty-two houses built of wood were put up
along these streets in the next four years,, 1651 to 1654. After
1855 the remaining streets of the central town were gradually
laid out and lots for dwellings and public buildings assigned. By
the close of the Dutch period In 1664, the town had a hundred
houses, mostly of wood with brick chimnies and some with tile
roofs. Brick was beginning to be used, and its use increased in
the Duke of York period which followed. By the end of the century
the earliest wooden houses had been largely replaced by more
substantial structures on the some sites. But during the whole of
the first half of the eighteenth century, enough of the early
wooden and brick houses survived to suggest the Dutch character
of the town's origin. Some of these still exist, mostly
incorporated as kitchen wings of later-built dwellings. Others
have been torn down and replaced.

Throughout Its history from the beginning, the town has been
interesting to travelers both from this country and abroad who
have visited it; and many descriptions of New Castle have been
written by them. The early plan and aspect of the town have
persisted so well up to the present, that looking at New Castle
today in the light of these early descriptions and other
contemporary records and considering the Information revealed by
property deeds and willis by early drawings and paintings, a panorama of
its first founding, growth and change can readily be visualized.

When Fort Casimir on its point of land where the ferry wharf now
is, was weakened by storms and its repair neglected because of
lack of available labor, a blockhouse, with prison underneath and
court room above was built on the green at the site now occupied
by Immanuel Church. A few years later a windmill was built near
the north end of Second Street. How soon after the arrival of
William Penn, the blockhouse was discarded upon the building of
part of the court house on its present sites Is still a question;
but the green continued to be the center of public activity. The
weekly market was hold here, the stalls extending behind the site
of the city hall.

Outstanding features of the skyline would be the windmill and the
tall gables of some of the houses. Notable among the latter was
the "Tile House" on the Strand, a remarkable dwelling house, large
and high for its period, with stepped gable facing the street and
a roof of Dutch tiles, built in 1687. This strongly built fine
example of the work of the early Dutch builders, was inexcusably
neglected in the nineteenth century and though its walls and
masonry foundations were still strong In 1884, It was taken down
in that year.

Near this sites in the garden of the present Read House was the
broad and substantial early eighteenth century dwelling of George
Read, the Signer. It was destroyed in the fire that swept the
Strand from Delaware Street nearly to Harmony in 1824. This fire
destroyed taverns, shops and dwellings, most of them on the east
side of the Strand, but on the west side destroyed in addition to
the Read house, the Rowan tavern which stood in the present
Morrison garden. (#14 the Strand)

A fire about a hundred years earlier had destroyed the house of
Colonel John French on the northwest corner of the Strand and
Delaware Street, where the Farmers Bank was later built. After
Colonel French's house was burned, this site was called the "burnt
Lot" in the many indentures by which it subsequently changed hands.
For many years it was a garden with a great willow tree near the
corner. Tradition tells that it was long unfenced, and that a
bench beneath the willow became a resting and trysting place with
a fine view of the river. Later a wall was built around it.
Colonel French was an outstanding figure of New Castle's life, and
with his house were burnt minutes of the assembly and other
Important records.

Every street and site of the central town is of historic interest.
These are briefly reviewed in the immediately following sections
of this report; and the history and character of many sites and
buildings are given in more specific detail in later sections.