Prior to the late 1800’s the Elsmere area existed as a small rural community, largely open farmland with some scattered residential dwellings. The major road through the area during much of the nineteenth century was DuPont Road, used by Du Pont Company to transport black powder to the Christiana River for shipment. Beers map of 1868 for Christiana Hundred indicated several individual homes as well as a grist mill, a saw mill, and a schoolhouse. In the ensuing years after 1881 two rail lines and a road which intersected the area were added. The “New Road” (still known by this name) runs east to west from Wilmington to Greenbank. The Delaware and Western Railroad and the Wilmington and Northern Railroad made connections from the north into lines which passed through Wilmington.
Between 1881 and 1893, significant land divisions had occurred. The transformation from a rural farm district characterized by large estates to a suburb of Wilmington evolved in part through the efforts of a real estate promoter, Joshua T Herald. Newspaper advertisements enticed prospective buyers with promises of escape from the noise and smells of the city, cheaper living outside city limits, and exemption from city taxes and building code regulations. The close proximity of the railway lines offered cheap transportation to city workers. Several streets had been added to the area around DuPont Road and New Road. The land involved had been subdivided. The resulting lots, stated the advertisement. that homes could be purchased for $200.00. Fifteen homes indicated the beginning of the development. This area was now identified as Elsmere. Proximity to the railway lines provided access to supplies and served as a shipping point for the new businesses located in Elsmere, namely, a brick yard and the Wilmington Wheel Company.
Introduction of electric trolley car service furthered Elsmere’s development. In 1897 agreement was reached between the local line and the Wilmington line which allowed that only the trolley car’s crew had to change at the city line instead of the passengers changing cars as had previously been required. The line which ran from 4th and Market Streets in Wilmington all the way out to Brandywine Springs Park. Not only did the trolley line provide transportation to the amusement park for urban dwellers, but also made commuting to downtown jobs feasible for suburban dwellers. Trolley lines north and west of Wilmington provided access to other developing areas since, in the 1880’s, the city of Wilmington’s population exceeded the available housing.
In 1909, with the agreement of the approximately 70 families residing in the area at the time, four men incorporated the Town of Elsmere. They were Joseph A. Ranck, Thomas Kane, Penrose S. Foreman, and Albert Wild. A plan for the town had been prepared. On New Road at the corner of DuPont Road was Delaware Lynam’s grocery store which remained in business until the 1920’s. Below this toward the railroad tracks was the Post Office. Around 1910, Mrs. Whiteman opened a private elementary school on the west side of DuPont Road near New Road next to the Ball family home. Price and Price map of the same year delineated the path of Wilmington and Elsmere Electric Railroad south from Wilmington down Cleveland Avenue to DuPont Road and west across both Junction Street and Northern Avenue to New Road. A growing number of business sites still centered around the railroad tracks. While the Wilmington Wheel Company remained, the brick yard had been replaced by F. Blumenthal and Company, and the Diamond State Fibre Company also had a site.
The population increased between 1910 to 1920 from 374 to 620 residents. After 1920, Elsmere began to draw population away from the city. This phenomenon was occurring both locally and nationally. In Elsmere, Richardson Park, and Bellefonte, the main portion of this growth consisted of lower-middle class residents which included white collar clerks, skilled artisans, and small retailers.
By the 1920’s support facilities for Elsmere’s residents were overburdened. Trolley companies were required by their franchises to maintain major access roads in their operating areas. these too were inadequate for the population. A state sanitary engineer’s 1925 report indicated the resident’s well water was being infiltrated by cesspool runoff. In an effort to correct these problems, Elsmere’s government attempted to have the town resident’s pass a bond issue which would create a water and sanitary system to connect with Wilmington’s facilities. The issue was turned down due to resident’s fears that it would make annexation of the area easier for the city. Wilmington’s mayor and city council had attempted annexation of Elsmere and Newport in order to create a broader tax base. Since the residents of these area had moved out of the city to avoid taxes and regulation, they opposed this move. Eventually, Wilmington sold water to Elsmere at a higher rate than that paid by the city residents. Gas was available from a city gas plant as early as 1911. The four-inch main was extended beyond Elsmere to Price’s Corner in 1915.
During the late teens, the Delaware State Fair Association purchased land and built a new fairgrounds within Elsmere;s town limit. The grounds, including a racecourse for horses, cars and motorcycles, were located south of New Road and Wilmington Avenue and west of the previously established streets. It was hoped that this new location would prove more profitable than the fair’s old location in Wilmington. The modern facility, site of the Delaware State Fair from 1917 to 1928, providing a large parking area and had ready access from the nearby trolley line. Agricultural exhibits provided the backbone of the fair, but in addition to the races, the summer attraction also included horse and dog shows, vaudeville acts, music, and fireworks. After 1928, the State Fair had moved to Harrington, but the grandstand and the races remained until 1943 when the location failed.
During the ensuing years, streets had been laid to the north and west of the fairgrounds, allowing development in those areas. Most of the development occurred close to the major arteries of Wilmington Avenue, New Road, and the western extension of New Road now known as Kirkwood Highway.
The business interests of the community had continued to grow. In the late 1920’s the Diamond State Fiber Company, a bedspring factory , Elsmere Marble and Granite Company, Amalgamated Leather Company’s Extractor Plant, Jones Company (a concrete products plant), and Barr and Dougherty Inc. (storage of hides and leathers) were operating. Two garages and three or four stores were also indicted. Many of the industries continued to depend on access to the railroad for both materials and markets. A. H. Angerstein, a coal supplier, started in business in 1924 and is still operating today selling contractor and home owner supplies.
The outlying areas of the town were built up by developers beginning at the end of World War II and continuing into the early 1960’s. The tract housing, most of it in the form of row houses, is typical of that found in much of the country. One of the developments, Elsmere Manor, was built by Daniel’s Inc. in 1943 on the former site of the state’s fairgrounds. Streets included Filbert, Birch, Baltimore, Wilmington, and Dover Avenues. From 1946 to 1950, on the other side of New Road on land originally owned by Newton Derrickson, Alfred J. Vilone built the village bearing his name. The streets were named for his entire family. In addition to the homes, Mr. Vilone also built the Parklyn Apartments at this time – the earliest apartment complex in Elsmere.
Development continued. In 1950, Joe and Frank Tigani built Elsmere Park south of New Road. Streets included Linden, Locust, Tamarack, and Dover. From 1955 through 1963, Bordman and Smith built brick homes on Sycamore, Bungalow, Cypress, and Maple Avenues. This area became known as Elsmere Gardens. in 1954-55 on the Wilmington side of the B&O tracks and adjacent to the Haddock Construction Industrial Site, Pullela and Baldini built a section of homes now called Rosemont.
(Majority of this information was taken from a Survey Report of the Town of Elsmere prepared by Historical Preservation Program in New Castle County Department of Planning. Balance of detail per conversations with long-time Elsmere Residents.)
The Town of Elsmere proudly celebrated its 100th Anniversary in 2009.
We are committed to preserving the history of the Town of Elsmere.