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New Castle County Almshouses

The first mention of the poor in New Castle County is in 1740, when an act was passed "to prevent poor and impotent persons from being brought into the government." From that time until 1775 no provision was made for the care of paupers. In the latter year an act was passed providing for their support and for the appointment of over-seers.

On the 28th of March, 1785, the first steps were taken to establish a poor or almshouse in the county. On that day Robert Hamilton, Edward Hewes, Robert Pierce and John Lynam, overseers of the poor of Christiana Hundred, purchased the property of John Stapler, on Broome Street, between Front and Fourth Streets, Wilmington. Upon this site they erected a large three-story stone building, forty feet square, and made such other improvements at a cost of £1771 6s. 9d, to provide for the poor of Christiana Hundred. The example set by Christiana Hundred awakened the people of the State to the fact that provision should be made for the care of the poor of the entire State, and accordingly, on the 29th of January, 1791, an act passed the General Assembly, authorizing the erection of a poor-house in each county, unless proper houses already built could be purchased. Trustees were appointed for each county, who were authorized to purchase land not exceeding one hundred acres and to erect buildings thereon.

Section 9 provided that if the trustees of New Castle County could not agree with the overseer of the poor of Christiana Hundred for the purchase of the poor-house already built, and should build in another part of the county, Christiana Hundred should be exempt from the provisions of the act.

Section 28 provided that the poor of each county should wear a badge of red cloth on the left arm, which should have in Roman characters the letters, P. N., P. K. and P. S., for the different counties.1

The trustees appointed in the act for New Castle County were John Lea, John James, Isaac Grantham, Thomas Montgomery Peter Hyatt, William Alfree and Matthew Aiken.

They met at the house of Henry Darby in New Castle, February 23, 1791, and organized, with John James as chairman. The number of paupers in the county was reported as one hundred and sixteen, distributed among the various hundreds as follows:

Appoquinimink, 35
Brandywine, 6
Christiana, 30
Mill Creek, 5
New Castle, 14
Pencader, 5
Red Lion, 6
St. George's, 12
White Clay Creek, 5

The trustees ordered a levy of £2809 5s. to be made for the erection or purchase of proper buildings and for the maintenance of the poor of the county. The question of the location of a site was discussed, and at the next meeting, March 3, 1791, several propositions were offered. A committee was appointed to arrange for a site by this meeting. John James was chosen treasurer and Robert Hamilton overseer. On the 19th of April, 1791, the trustees purchased the almshouse property of Christiana Hundred, the consideration being £1300. The deed was not made until March 9, 1792.

This purchase was added to, August 31, 1829, by nine acres purchased from James Baker, Abisha Clark and Thomas Strode; November 16, 1835, three and one-quarter acres of William Sellers and a small triangular piece, March 13, 1882, of Mrs. Helen Price. To meet the needs of the county, the building was enlarged July 27, 1781, by raising the middle part of the main building one story, and a cupola and bell was placed on the addition.

This building stood until March, 1804, when, through the carelessness of a half idiotic boy, playing in the garret, it was destroyed by fire.

A meeting of the trustees was held on the 20th of the same month at New Castle, when it was decided to send the county poor to their respective hundreds and board them out until a new building was erected.

The burning of the building served as a pretext for an agitation for the removal of the building to another part of the county. Much bitter feeling was displayed, and two petitions were presented to the Legislatures in relation to the matter, one from four hundred citizens of Christiana and Brandywine Hundreds, asking that they be allowed to care for their poor as under the original act; the other, that the Legislature authorize the Levy Court to assess money to enable the trustees "to rebuild or to procure a tract in some other section and build." The Legislature declined to interfere, as sufficient power was reposed in the Levy Court to regulate the matter. The matter was finally settled, however, by awarding a contract for $15,180 to Joseph Newlin, to erect a building on the old site, and on the 12th of July, 1806, the building committee reported "that they had received the building from the contractor the preceding June." An insane department was added prior to 1843, and in 1845 a brick wall was built around the grounds. In 1848 a building southwest corner Fourth and Broome Street was erected for the use of the sick emigrants, who were about that time landing in considerable numbers at New Castle. This building in later years was used as a small-pox hospital.

On July 21, 1850, fire again visited the almshouse and destroyed nearly all the buildings. The old walls were taken down and the buildings rebuilt upon a larger scale, on plans prepared by John McArthur, of Philadelphia. They were turned over in February, 1852, to the trustees.

The increase of the population of the county made the necessity of increased accommodations felt, and provisions were made toward the erection of larger quarters. On the 22d of February, 1882, the trustees of the poor purchased of Graham Blandy a farm of about one hundred acres for $20,000, situated near Hare's Corner Station in New Castle Hundred. A building committee was appointed, consisting of N. Williams, M. Lackey, J. W. Cooch, H. D. Hickman and James Bradford, which was directed to procure plans for the erection of a new almshouse.

S. T. Button, an architect of Philadelphia, prepared the plans, which were accepted, and in May, 1882, the contract was awarded to John B. Johnson and Joseph Hyde, of Wilmington, for the erection of the new buildings, for $163,500, the work to be completed by May, 1884.

On March 30, 1883, the Legislature passed an act authorizing the Levy Court to borrow such sums as might be necessary to erect new buildings for the insane and poor of New Castle County, not exceeding two hundred and ninety thousand dollars, for which they were authorized to issue certificates of indebtedness, payable not less than ten thousand dollars each year.

On the 1st of May, 1884, the buildings were completed, but it was not until May, 1885, that the building committee reported the building ready for occupancy, and on the 20th of May in that year the insane (seventy -five in number) were transferred to the new building, and the following day the inmates of the almshouse were removed.

The new buildings front on the road leading from Wilmington to Hare's Corner. The style is Italian. The main building has a frontage of two hundred and thirty-six feet, and a depth of one hundred and ninety-two feet, with a centre wing fifty feet wide. The windows and doors have stone sills with black bands above. Steep roofs of slate, with galvanized iron crowns and tin gutttering, cover the building. From the towers a fine view of Wilmington, New Castle, Delaware City, Newport, Stanton and Green Hill is obtained. The basement is devoted to cooking, dining and store rooms, laundry, dormitory for colored people etc. On the first floor, which has forty-five rooms, are the offices, reception rooms, dormitories, chapel, etc. Thirty rooms on the second floor divided into dormitories, separate the chambers and the hospital department. Elevators run through the building. The insane department is quite similar to the main building in arrangement. Both are well ventilated and have all the modern improvements.

After public notice a committee of the trustees sold at public sale in March, 1882, that part of the old grounds lying east of Harrison Street, between Front and Third, except two lots previously sold, and two not taken, for which they received $3807.28. Section 4 of an act passed March 30, 1883, directed the trustees of the poor to transfer, in fee simple, all the real estate in Wilmington, belonging to the corporation, to Henry G. Banning, Edward T. Bellak, Joseph L. Carpenter, Jr., Wm. C. Lodge and Victor Du Pont, who were authorized to lay out the land into lots and streets and sell it. The greater portion has been sold and rows of fine buildings have been erected on the ground. Every vestige of the old buildings is entirely obliterated.

The following items are taken from the superintendent's report, dated April 27, 1887.

Number of inmates in both buildings at commencement of year 274
Number admitted during the year 527
Births 12
Total 813

The admissions from the various hundreds were as follows:

Wilmington Hundred 417
Brandywine Hundred 8
Christiana Hundred 19
Mill Creek Hundred 11
White Clay Creek Hundred 12
New Castle Hundred 27
Red Lion Hundred 6
Pencader Hundred 2
St. George's Hundred 16
Appoquinimink Hundred 6
Blackbird Hundred 3
Total number admitted 527

Number discharged during the year 400
Number eloped during the year 57
Number of deaths during the year 65
Number of inmates at the present time 30l
Total 813

The members of the board of trustees of the poor and officers of the board for 1887 were as follows:

Brandywine J. M. Pierce.
Wilmington, W. District, Wm. H. Mooney, Milton Lackey
Wilmington, E. District, J. M. Solomon, Dr. Howard O. Ogle
Christiana, Joseph P. Chandler.
New Castle, G. L. Jemison.
Mill Creek, T. L. J. Baldwin.
White Clay, Creek Dr. Frank Springer.
Red Lion, James Garman.
St George's, Nathaniel Williams.
Pencader, J. W. Cooch.
Appoquinimink, G. M. D. Hart.
Blackbird, Sam'l A. Armstrong.

Officers of the Board

President, Thos. L. J. Baldwin.
Secretary, J. W. Cooch.
Treasurer, Edmund Haman.
Attorney, W. T. Lynam.
Physicians, Dr. W. Springer, Dr. Joseph Pyle.
Resident Physician, Dr. B. R. Tybout.
Superintendent. John Guthrie.
Matron of Almshouse, Mrs. Ellie Guthrie.
Matron of Insane Department, Mrs. Rebecca Emerson
.

Superintendents of the Almshouse

Robert Hamilton, March 3, 1791
Thomas Clark, January 7, 1792
George Clark, Januarys, 1811
Frederick Craig, Januarys, 1818
Henry Heald, April 1, 18222
Frederick Craig, March 13, 1826
Henry Heald,1 April 30, 1828
Frederick Craig, January 27, 1880
Uriah Stroup January 27, 1841
Robert Graves, April 26, 1848
Philip H. Jones, April 30, 1861
James Rickards, April 28, 1852
Charles Thomas, April 26, 1864
Robert Graves, April, 1861
Issac L. Crouch, April, 1869
Malachi Barlow, April 26, 1872
John Guthrie, April 26, 1883

New Castle County

Footnotes:

1. This section was repealed lo 1804.
2. Mrs. Heald was matron from April, 1828, to October, 1845.

Source: History of Delaware, 1609-1888, Volume I, by J. Thomas Scharf, L. J. Richards & Company, Philadelphia, 1888.

 
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