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Kent County Delaware ~ Courthouse and Almshouse

Kent County Courthouse

The Office Building

This lot. No. 33, was set apart for the use of the county upon the laying out, and the title has been in the county since 1694. The old rough-cast building that was formerly used for a jail and office was ordered to be torn down, and a new fireproof building erected on its site by the Levy Court of Kent County at the March session, 1868. George W. Cummins, Wilson L. Cannon, Henry Ridgely, Joseph P. Comegys, Alex. Johnson and R. W. Reynolds were appointed a committee "to cause to be erected a new fire-proof county building."

They at once employed Alonzo H. Reynolds, an architect of Port Deposit, Md., to draw plans, which were accepted, advertised for proposals and accepted one from William Greaves, of Wilmington, with whom they made a contract for nine thousand nine hundred and seventy-five dollars. Andrew Smithers, of Dover, was chosen to superintend the work. On the 8th of February, 1859, the building was declared completed by the committee, and it was soon after occupied.

A metallic box was placed in a comer-stone in the southwest corner of the base of the second story, containing a copy of all the newspapers of the State, names of the Levy Court commissioners, names of all State and county officers, population of Dover and various other things.


In 1775 an act passed the General Assembly of the three lower counties for the relief of the poor, authorizing the appointment of overseers and giving them powers to bind out children and to provide means for the support of the poor. Nothing of any importance was done in this county under this act. An act passed the General Assembly of Delaware January 29, 1791, authorizing the purchase of land and the erection of a poor-house in each county and the appointment of overseers. Overseers were appointed under this act for each county, those for Kent County being James Morris, Manlove Emerson, John Patten, James Sykes, William Kirkley, Isaac Davis and William Berry. Section twenty-eight of the act of 1791 declared that the poor of each county should wear a badge of red cloth on the left arm, which had upon it, in Roman characters, the letters P. N., P. K. or P. S., for the different counties.

The overseers above-mentioned, except James Morris and Isaac Davis, met in the town of Dover on the 3rd of February, and organized by the election of James Sykes president. It was ordered at this meeting that lists of the poor of each hundred should be obtained and handed in at the next meeting. On February 8th another meeting was held, and a committee appointed to view houses near Camden to keep the poor in; and a dwelling in that place was rented on February 28th, for temporary use as a poor-house. The overseers reported the 9th of February, and advised the purchase of the Vashel house and plantation, then owned by Jonathan Hunn, Jr. The purchase of seventy-three acres was made in February, 1791, for £ 424 10s. This land was part of the tract taken up by John Barnes before 1700, and called "Barnes' Chance." The title was in some way not fully completed, and on January 4, 1804, Jabes Jenkins and wife, in consideration of one dollar, conveyed the property to the trustees of the poor.

On the 28th of February the trustees ordered the Vashel house fitted up for the use of the poor, and it was occupied in June of that year. On October 31st a log dwelling-house one story high, sixteen by twenty feet, was ordered to be built on the southeast side of the main building, for the use of the overseer and his family; and in the same year a log smoke-house, sixteen feet square, was also erected.

On the 80th of March, 1792, twenty-six acres of the land on the west side was sold to James McClyment, and in April, 1799, a cook-house, sixteen by eighteen feet was built. On July 7, 1800, a wooden building, sixteen by twenty-two feet, two stories high, was ordered to be erected for the use of deranged persons and for the use of the poor Negroes. In July, 1811, arrangements were made for the erection of the building now called the White Woman's House, built of brick, three stories high, twenty-four by fifty-two feet, which was completed in 1812. John Tucker, now (1888) living at Dover, when a lad, assisted in its erection. A few years later a frame dwelling was erected for the overseer to the west of the log hut The Colored House was built of brick in 1853, and in 1854 the brick building, three stories in height, fifty feet front, with two wings twenty-four by thirty feet each, was erected on the opposite aide of the street and is used for males and for the confinement of the insane. In 1880 the present frame dwelling, thirty by forty feet and eighteen by twenty-eight feet, for use use of the overseer, was erected at a cost of four thousand dollars. Besides the lands purchased for the use of the poor of the county, above mentioned, one hundred acres additional, being part of the tract called Springfield, was purchased of Daniel Mifflin February 11, 1819. Since then nineteen acres were purchased May 1, 1854, of Thomas H. England, ninety acres on April 11, 1863, of Benjamin Stradley, one hundred and thirty-two acres on January 9, 1868, of William H. Wallace, and thirty acres on November 2, 1870, of James Kearsey.

The overseers of the almshouse from the opening have been as follows:

Thomas Wild, Feb. 8, 1791
David Pell, Feb. 15, 1791
James Newman, Feb. 18, 1792
Thomas Wild, Jan. 20, 1794
Stephen Miller, Jan. 20, 1796
Thomas Wild, 1799
Issac Lockwood, Jan. 6, 1800
James Sorden, Jan. 6, 1804
Gideon Cullin, 1805
Thomas Purnell, March, 1816
James Schee Aug. 18, 1818
Gideon Cullin July, 1824
Philip Rasin, March, 1828
Alexander Jackson, March, 1829
Hughett Clayton, March, 1833
James E. Boyer, July, 1838
Thomas Jakes, March, 1860
Thomas Purnell, March, 1850
William Dickson, March, 1858
Eli T. Layton March, 1872
Thomas B. Lewis March, 1886
Edward B. Smith March, 1886
Edwin B. Downes, March 1, 1887

The report of the directors for the year ending March 1, 1887, shows that from all sources $10,641.85 have been received, and $2874.83 have been expended for salaries and miscellaneous bills. For the expenses of the poor, outside of the almshouse, $1276.20 have been appropriated, and $902.18 for permanent improvements and repairs, $1876.18 for supplies purchased for the farm, $3704.04 for supplies for inmates, family, farm-hands, etc., making a total of $10,633.43. The produce of the farm during the year was estimated at $4688.44.

The trustees of the poor for 1887 were

J. Henry Jefferson, for Duck Creek
David L. Spruance for Kenton
John W. Fenimore for Little Creek
Wm. Dyer, for East Dover
James Williams, for West Dover
 John G. Graham, for North Murderkill
Abner Dill, for South Murderkill
Joseph Booth, for Mispillion
William J. Townsend, for Milford

The officers of the board are James Williams, president; John W. Fenimore, treasurer; J. G. Graham, secretary; E. B. Downes, overseer.

Kent County

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

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