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Aerial view of Newark

Photo of the former Dean Woolen Mills and NVF property courtesy of Will Webber Homes.

A Brief History of Newark

​Text Courtesy of the City of Newark's website:

Little is known of Newark's initial settlements. It appears that the community's early growth, like most villages of Colonial America, owed much to natural features and location. In Newark's case, historians say that in the early 1700s a small English, Scots-Irish and Welsh hamlet grew along two old Indian trails and the fall line where the Christina and White Clay Creeks turn sharply eastward toward the Delaware River. In time, the area began to serve travelers en route from the Chesapeake Bay, Virginia and Maryland to colonial Philadelphia. In addition, the streams flowed with sufficient velocity to power the grist and sawmills that soon dotted their banks. Rich soil meant wheat, corn and vegetables were plentiful, and the available ore from nearby Iron Hill fed the forges of a small country iron works. Soon a tannery and brickyard were added to the village. By 1758, the bustling local market and country crossroads received recognition in the form of a Charter from King George II, and Newark was officially born. 

Early Education

Newark began as a market town where farmers from the surrounding area could purchase agricultural supplies and bring their products for sale. While the village's history soon followed the typical late 18th and early 19th century Middle Atlantic region's development pattern of agriculturally based trade, coupled with steam and water powered industry, Newark departed from tradition as its primary impetus for future growth came from the evolution of a local private academy into the city's largest landowner - the University of Delaware.

In 1765, a small preparatory and grammar school had moved from New London, Pennsylvania, to Newark. The school, renamed the Newark Academy, flourished during the years prior to the American Revolution. Newark was described at the time as a "suitable and healthy village, not too rich or luxurious, where real learning might be obtained." During the Revolutionary War, however, the Academy was closed and its funds seized by the British.

Following the Revolution, the reborn Academy and the town grew slowly. In 1833, the State of Delaware - recognizing the need for local higher education - granted a charter to a new institution in the town, Newark College, later renamed Delaware College. The next year, the College merged with the Academy, and shortly thereafter the grammar and preparatory portion of the school was closed. The college itself shut its doors in 1858 as a result of a student fracas and the coming of the Civil War. When Delaware College reopened in 1870 it had become a land grant institution assisted with federal funds. In 1914, the Women's College, physically adjacent and linked administratively to the all-male school, began operations. The two institutions were not formally combined until 1944. Prior to that, in 1921, the male college received a revised state charter and a new name - the University of Delaware.

Early Industry

In the meantime, the village of Newark had become a small city around the college and local crossroads market. In 1837, the Philadelphia, Wilmington & Baltimore Railroad - later the Pennsylvania Railroad and today's Northeast Corridor CONRAIL / AMTRAK line - linked Newark to points north and west. Industrial concerns like the Curtis Paper Company, reestablished in 1848 from the older Meteer Paper Company, the Dean Woolen Mill in 1845, the American Hard Fibre Company in 1894 (later became National Vulcanized Fibre), and the Continental Fibre Company in 1906 helped diversify the local economy. In 1855, the town's first bank was established. The Baltimore & Ohio Railroad -- the predecessor of the modern CSX rail system -- came in 1886 and provided additional passenger and freight rail service to Philadelphia and points west and south. The town's population grew rapidly through the 1920s, and a substantial retail market developed in conjunction with the University and industrial expansion. While the Great Depression slowed economic growth, the pace of industrial and commercial development increased dramatically during World War II and the subsequent Korean conflict. For example, several DuPont facilities opened in the 1940s, and, in 1951, the Chrysler Corporation constructed its Newark Assembly Plant.

Coinciding with the arrival of Chrysler, the State of Delaware granted the city a new Charter that doubled the city’s size. Before the City Charter change, Newark had encompassed an area roughly bounded by the White Clay Creek and what is now the University's north campus on the north; the Newark Country Club and the approximate location of Old Barksdale and Beverly Roads on the west, the Pennsylvania Railroad on the south, and the present site of Library Avenue on the east. The new 1951 Charter resulted in the basic outline of the Newark we know today; our northern boundaries were expanded to include Fairfield and Fairfield Crest, the Paper Mill Apartments, and Kirkwood Highway to the Windy Hills Bridge. Brookside became Newark's eastern boundary, Chestnut Hill Road the southern, and the Christina Creek marked Newark's western limits. In 1965, the State of Delaware granted the present Charter to Newark, significantly strengthening the Council-Manager form of government.

In the 1950s and 1960s, Newark's development pattern closely followed the post war national economic boom. For Newark this meant that population increased from just over 11,000 in 1960 to almost 21,000 in 1970 - by far the fastest growing decade in the City’s history. New residential tracts provided excellent housing for Newarkers and expanded the City's boundaries to include subdivisions like Arbour Park, Westfield, Williamsburg Village, Elan, and Paper Mill Farms. In addition, during the same time period, the Diamond State Industrial Park.

Continued Growth 

In the 1970s and early 1980s as the national and regional economy suffered from oil price shocks, Newark's growth also stabilized. In the latter part of the 1980s, however, the city's pace of development quickened with the completion of the Stafford and Barksdale Estates communities, the approval of the Sandy Brae Industrial Park and the residential developments of Abbotsford, Country Place, Christianstead and West Branch, among others.

In the 1990s, the city approved new subdivisions intended to meet varying housing needs ranging from large student private “dormitories” at Continental Court and University Courtyard, to housing directed for seniors at Southridge, Paper Mill Falls, Briarcreek and Whitechapel Village. More traditional single family style projects were constructed at the Hunt and Woods at Louviers at the north end of the city and at Yorkshire Woods II along the city’s southern boundary. A large redevelopment project, the Mill at White Clay, exemplified the city’s commitment to preserving the best from the past, while, at the same time, exploiting the latest trends in land use planning - in this case, the creative utilization of mixed uses.

Preservation of Downtown

By the late 1990s and through the early years of the new millennium, Newark renewed its commitment to preserving its downtown core through the establishment, in 1998, of the tripartite - city, university, business community - Downtown Newark Partnership. As part of that change, the City Planning Department assumed the responsibility for management of the old Newark Parking Authority’s downtown off-street parking facilities. The City’s downtown and historic building incentive programs led to renewed landowner and developer commitments downtown exemplified by the construction of Main Street Court, Center Square, Main Street Plaza and Pomeroy Station. These projects all included first floor commercial space with upper floor apartments, intended to help meet the need for housing downtown, while at the same time, increasing the available mix of quality retail square footage. Other newcomers downtown - Panera Bread, for example - took advantage of the City incentive programs designed to encourage quality redevelopment of existing vacant facilities. At the same time, the City and the Partnership sponsored new and extremely popular Main Street festivals and installed attractively designed murals and other displays of public art, all intended to foster and strengthen the economic vitality of downtown Newark.

In sum, while the little hamlet between the creeks has become a bustling small city, Newark has retained its college town charm and industrial and commercial diversity. The constant in our history has been change - change tempered by the reality of Newark's geography, natural environment, population, and economy - and change guided to produce the city we all enjoy today.

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