Labor Day: A chance to appreciate local history

By Madeline Dunn, the Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs’ former National Register coordinator-historian

Labor Day was established as a federal holiday by President Grover Cleveland when he signed U.S. Senate Bill 730 on June 28, 1894. The upcoming state and federal holiday of Labor Day provides an opportunity to reflect on the accomplishments achieved by laborers, including those of the past, who designed and constructed what are now considered historic buildings and structures. Historic properties are inventoried and may be nominated to the National Register of Historic Places through the Delaware State Historic Preservation Office. Preservation of these properties is undertaken by individuals and organizations funding restoration activities or by property owners who secure historic preservation tax credits available through the State of Delaware and the National Park Service.  

This black-and-white image shows the cover of the 1868 Pomeroy and Beers Atlas of the State of Delaware.
The cover of the 1868 Pomeroy and Beers Atlas of the State of Delaware.

Examining map legends, such as those published in the 1868 Pomeroy and Beers Atlas of the State of Delaware, provides a reference to a variety of building-related manufacturers, occupations and suppliers of construction materials located throughout the state. Listed manufacturers produced bricks, doors, flooring, ironware, laths, lumber, marble, roofing and spouts, sashes, shingles, shutters, siding, tin and window glass. Identified suppliers of building materials included dealers selling building hardware, foreign and American marble, glass, lime, hardwood lumber, oils and paints, and putty. Noted occupations associated with construction activities included blacksmiths, brick layers, builders, carpenters, contractors and joiners. Miscellaneous businesses associated with buildings included individuals operating sawmills, insurance and real estate agents, and quarries.

Delaware’s cultural landscape continues to feature many buildings and structures that reflect the craftsmanship and materials sold by dealers who operated businesses around 1868. Examples include barns, churches, commercial buildings, dwellings constructed of wood, brick and/or stone, granaries, factories, mills, public buildings, railroad stations, schools and stables.  

Today, historic preservation entities strive to document and preserve Delaware’s cultural landscape representing multiple historic social economic groups and demographics. Professionals engaged in historic preservation and restoration activities today include archaeologists, architects, bricklayers, builders, contractors, engineers, electricians, landscape architects, landscape architects, land surveyors, painters, plumbers, realtors and stone masons. The labors of their efforts help to preserve physical reminders of the formally designed or vernacular interpretations of popular architectural styles and building traditions representing buildings constructed for the wealthy as well as middle-and-working class populations from colonial times through the early 20th century and thereby secures a sense of physical history for the future.

To learn more about preservation efforts in Delaware, go to

This image shows Madeline Dunn, the division's former National Register coordinator-historian.
Madeline Dunn

Madeline Dunn was the Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs’ National Register coordinator-historian from 2009 to 2023. A lifelong Delawarean, she joined the division in 1973 and served in a wide variety of positions including architectural site surveyor for the State Historic Preservation Office, and as curator of education from 1975 to 2009. She retired in June 2023.

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