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By Madeline Dunn, Delaware Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs’ National Register coordinator-historian
On June 20, 2019 the U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service listed three Delaware nominations in the National Register of Historic Places including two schools and one historic district. Following are profiles of these historic places:
In celebration of its 150th anniversary, the city of Harrington obtained a grant to hire the University of Delaware’s Center for Historic Architecture and Design to inventory and prepare a historic district nomination for a significant portion of the city’s downtown commercial/residential district. The Downtown Harrington Historic District was eligible for listing in the National Register under two criteria. It was listed under Criterion A for its historical associations with important transportation and commerce trends in central Delaware. More specifically, the district is an example of a prominent railroad crossroads town representing development patterns associated with the arrival and growth of the Delaware Railroad.
The district is also considered significant under Criterion C for its commercial and residential architecture which reflects local, regional and national trends during the late-19th and early-20th centuries. The commercial and residential architecture within the boundaries of the historic district exemplify popular residential architecture such as Romantic and Victorian styles, including Italianate, Gothic Revival and Queen Anne; as well as examples of Art Deco, Classical Revival, Colonial Revival, Tudor Revival, Bungalow and American Foursquare buildings.
The Richard Allen School is located at 316 Railroad Ave. in Georgetown. The school was eligible for listing in the National Register under Criterion A because its history chronicles the evolution of African American education in Delaware with a specific emphasis on Sussex County, especially Georgetown, the seat of Sussex County government.
The three construction phases of the Richard Allen School embody historic periods of change reflective of segregation and integration issues in Delaware’s public education system during the 20th century. The school’s initial 1923 construction, as a segregated facility, was funded by Service Citizens of Delaware, a civic organization that was working to improve the condition of the state’s school buildings. In 1954, the building was expanded to double its size as part of Delaware’s equalization strategy to maintain a segregated education system. The third expansion, in 1964, coincided with the integration of schools across the state. Three prominent groups of architects were associated with the school’s construction: Guilbert and Betelle Architects of Newark, N.J. from 1923 to 1925; Stanhope and Manning of Wilmington, Del. in 1954; and Whiteside, Moeckel and Carbonell of Wilmington, Del. in 1964.
Identified originally in school records as the Georgetown School #23C (“C” designated it as a colored school), this building was renamed the Richard Allen School in 1946 in honor of the African American minister who founded the African Methodist Episcopal Church in Philadelphia in 1816. Historically, courses of study at the school included reading, writing, math, social studies and, eventually, music, art, home economics and agriculture.
A preservation initiative, undertaken by Georgetown’s African American community, resulted in the organization of the Richard Allen Coalition, Inc., a private, non-profit organization with a dedicated vision of preserving this historic building. The coalition became its official owners in 2015 when Gov. Jack Markell signed the bill sponsored in the Delaware General Assembly by Sen. Brian Pettyjohn and Rep. Ruth Briggs King which deeded the building to the coalition.
Located at 121 Flemings Landing Road in southeastern New Castle County, the Taylor’s Bridge School was listed in the National Register under two criteria. It was found significant under Criterion A for its connection to progressive educational reforms in Delaware that markedly improved the education of rural school children championed by philanthropist Pierre S. du Pont and the Service Citizens of Delaware. The school is a highly significant, scarce survival from an era of progressive educational reforms not only from a state perspective, but throughout the United States during the 20th century.
The building was also listed under Criterion C for its forward-looking architecture and design which embodied a new public awareness of the social importance of public education and the welfare of children. This Colonial Revival building typified Delaware’s one-room, one-teacher schools and is reflective of the philosophies of its architect James Betelle, a prominent civic architect from Newark, N.J. who believed that architectural style could have a strong influence on a community.
The original Taylor’s Bridge School, known as School District 66, was a frame, one-story building which measured 18 feet by 25 feet and held as many as 45 students. A horrific thunderstorm with severe rain and wind blew the school off its foundation and wrecked the building on April 5, 1923. Within two years, a new brick school was erected and continued to serve the community until 1948. In 1952, a local group of women organized the Taylor’s Bridge Community Center, and the Smyrna School District, owners of the property, leased the schoolhouse to this newly formed organization for one dollar a year with the proviso that the group maintain the building. Today, volunteers, including members of the Taylor’s Bridge Community Center, Inc., continue to preserve the building as a one-room schoolhouse and also maintain it as a place for community meetings and social events.
Administered by the National Park Service, the National Register of Historic Places is the official list of the nation’s historic places worthy of preservation. Authorized by the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, the National Register is part of a program to coordinate and support public and private efforts to identify, evaluate and protect America’s historic and archeological resources. More than 95,000 properties are listed in the National Register representing 1.8 million contributing resources including buildings, sites, districts, structures and objects. Delaware’s listings include 762 nominations which represent 8,987 buildings, 655 sites, 342 structures, 223 objects and 61 historic districts.