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By Madeline Dunn, Delaware Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs’ National Register coordinator-historian
On Oct. 19, 2020, the National Park Service listed the American Vulcanized Fibre Company — Wilmington Plant, located at 700 Maryland Ave. in Wilmington, Del., in the National Register of Historic Places. The honorary designation denotes that this industrial complex is a historic property worthy of preservation.
Logan Ferguson, senior associate for Powers and Company, Inc. of Philadelphia, prepared the nomination at the request of the current property owner who expressed interest in obtaining historic preservation tax credits to adaptively reuse the abandoned manufacturing complex. The owner intends to redevelop the property for residential use in keeping with the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties.
Completed in consultation with the Delaware Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs’ State Historic Preservation Office and the city of Wilmington’s Department of Planning and Development, the nomination was reviewed and approved by Wilmington’s Design Review and Preservation Commission on July 15, 2020 and subsequently reviewed by the Delaware State Review Board for Historic Preservation on July 29, 2020 which in turn recommended its submission to the National Park Service for listing in the National Register.
The American Vulcanized Fibre Company, later the National Vulcanized Fibre Company, was listed in the National Register at the local level under two criteria: A and C. Criterion A, for contributing to the broad pattern of industrial history in Wilmington and for its recognition as the oldest-known, consolidated-commercial, manufacturer of vulcanized fibre in the world. The company specialized in production of heavy sheet fiber made from cotton rags that, once processed, created a strong and flexible insulating material used for electrical and mechanical purposes.
The vulcanized fiber industry was exclusively located in Wilmington through the 19th century and the city became a major production center during the late-19th and early-20th centuries. The period of significance begins in 1901 with the incorporation of the American Vulcanized Fibre Company and ends in 1922 after its consolidation with the National Vulcanized Fibre Company. During the early 20th century, both companies were considered leaders in their fields with prolific product lines and continued technical innovations. Once merged, vulcanized fiber production continued at this location under National Vulcanized Fibre Company ownership for over 100 years.
Under Criterion C, the complex represents an example of the evolution of industrial architecture in the early 20th century. The property not only represents the shift from heavy timber frame construction with limited architectural embellishments to a minimalist, reinforced concrete system, but also affirms the notion that the company was a pioneer beyond its commercial output. The building was designed as a comprehensive, multi-story manufacturing complex with cutting edge construction materials, including reinforced concrete, and remains as an intact representation of an early 20th century factory. The surviving buildings, constructed during the period of significance, were designed by two local architects: William Draper Brinckle and John Dockery Thompson Jr. and represent their limited industrial commissions.