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Federal fiscal year 2018 review: Three Delaware properties listed in the National Register of Historic Places

By Madeline Dunn, Delaware Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs’ historian and National Register of Historic Places coordinator

Though numerous activities were undertaken to identify, visit and initiate research activities for future nominations, three Delaware properties were officially listed in the National Register of Historic Places in federal fiscal year 2018. Listing in the National Register is an honorary designation which denotes that a property is worthy of historic preservation. Historians at the national level review the extensive site-specific research submitted for each nomination in order to determine whether or not an adequate historical context, relevant to a local or state-wide level of significance, has been properly documented.

Historical photo of the Ball Theatre in Millsboro which was listed in the National Register of Historic Places on Sept. 13, 2018.
Historical photo of the Ball Theatre in Millsboro which was listed in the National Register of Historic Places on Sept. 13, 2018.

Administered by the Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs’ State Historic Preservation Office, Delaware’s National Register program saw increased interest in fiscal year 2018 through the establishment of preservation partnerships with private property owners, church congregational members, representatives of special interest groups, officials from several municipalities, students from collegiate institutions and volunteers from the division’s Volunteer Program. These representatives initiated research activities and will prepare National Register nominations in the future for individual properties and historic districts.

Properties that were listed in the National Register in fiscal year 2018 include the Ball Theatre and Godwin School, both in Millsboro, Sussex County; and Homestead Hall in Appoquinimink Hundred, New Castle County. In each case, documentation was accumulated by either the property owner, representatives of a special-interest group or consultants. Their research included examination of archival records as well as information gleaned from oral-history interviews.

Delaware properties added to the National Register of Historic Places in federal fiscal year 2018

–The Ball Theatre is located at 214 S. Main St. in Millsboro, Del. and was listed in the National Register on Sept. 13, 2018. Originally constructed between 1937 and 1938, the building continued to function as a movie theater until 1971 after which it was utilized for worship services by the New Life Assembly of God. It is currently being privately restored. The primary restoration goal is to preserve the historic fabric, equipment and amenities associated with the Ball Theatre. Preservation objectives include providing the community with a performing arts center and a place of entertainment where Class B movies can be shown, as well as contributing to the promotion and development of Millsboro’s downtown community.

This historic movie theater was constructed by Walter McKinley (Huck) Betts, a retired professional baseball player—hence the name “Ball Theatre.” Betts played for the Philadelphia Phillies and Boston Braves between the 1920s and 1930s and was inducted into the Delaware Sports Museum and Hall of Fame in 1980.

The Ball Theatre retains a high level of historical integrity including its original spatial arrangement; a mezzanine; wooden seating with upholstered seats in both the balcony and auditorium areas; tongue-and-groove wainscoting; a projection room with RCA sound equipment; restroom signage; decorative Art-Deco-style wall sconces; and the original floral patterned stage curtain which was locally made.

Balcony of the Ball Theatre with original seating
Balcony of the Ball Theatre with original seating

–The Godwin School is located at 23235 Godwin School Road west of Millsboro, Del. This historic one-teacher schoolhouse was officially listed in the National Register on July 16, 2018. Historically known as School District #190, it was approved by the State Board of Education as well as the Sussex County Committee of Education in the spring of 1896 and was officially in operation by 1897. During its 40-year history, as many as 30 students, representing grades one through eight, were educated within its walls on a daily basis. Teachers taught a variety of subjects including arithmetic, history, reading and science.

By the end of the 1935–1936 school year, enrollment in rural one-teacher schools had significantly dropped and School District #190 was one of 11 school districts in the state that closed. As a result, former Godwin School students were transferred to Millsboro School District # 23 which offered education to students from the seventh through 12th grades.

Like other closed one-teacher school buildings, the Godwin school was repurposed. Descendants of Jacob R. Godwin, namesake of the school and owner of the land on which the school building had been constructed, utilized it as an agricultural-support building. Decades later, the Millsboro Historical Society was established with the sole purpose of restoring the Godwin School. The society recognized the importance of preserving a once commonplace historical building type that has vanished from the rural landscape. Today the society conducts tours of their beloved building and welcomes visitors of all ages. Tours are conducted by appointment only by calling 302-934-6820.

The Godwin School
The Godwin School

–Homestead Hall is a well-maintained, privately-owned 18th century residence located in western Appoquinimink Hundred which was listed in the National Register on Aug. 13, 2018. It is locally known as the ancestral home of the Rothwell and Wilson families, prominent farmers who lived and owned extensive landholdings in Appoquinimink Hundred for more than 100 years.

Constructed about 1773 and enlarged around 1846, this Georgian style single-pile residence retains a great deal of historical integrity. Noteworthy architectural characteristics include its double entry doors on the main façade, a four-row brick-belt course between the first and second story levels and a projecting brick water table.

As a rare survival of an early 18th century brick dwelling, the documented history associated with this property provides an opportunity to learn about the gentry of the area including their social and domestic relationships as reflected in the reorganization of interior spaces; their land management strategies; and their agricultural activities including the importance of diversifying agricultural products which included transformation from growing wheat and corn during the 18th century, to dairying, raising livestock for slaughter and producing orchard products throughout the 19th century.

Homestead Hall
Homestead Hall

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