Newark: A rich heritage and a bright futureOct 08, 2021 11:09AM ● By Tricia Hoadley
Newark, Delaware’s history dates back to the late 17th century, when Scots- Irish settlers made the area their home in the New World in 1694. The town didn’t receive an official charter from England’s King George II until 1758, a time of turmoil in the region as the French and Indian War was fueling tempers to the north in Pennsylvania. The two states would share much in common, including educational institutions. The New London Academy, begun in 1743 by the Reverend Francis Alison in nearby New London, Pennsylvania would have a significant impact on American history, as three of its graduates—George Read, Thomas McKean and James Smith—would subsequently sign the Declaration of Independence. The Academy later relocated to Newark and became the Newark Academy. That school subsequently merged with the newly created Newark College in 1834. The institution would become the University of Delaware in 1921.
The city is located less than a mile from the intersection of the state line with Maryland and Pennsylvania, an area called “The Wedge,” on the border of the Piedmont and Coastal Plain geographic regions. The early settlers made most of the area farmland, but recognized the need for production of necessary items, so around 1798, a paper mill was constructed, later to become the Curtis Paper Mill. The mill operated for nearly two centuries. Other industries were also important to the area. In 1951, Chrysler built an assembly plant in Newark, originally to supply tanks for the U.S. Army as it fought the Korean War. The plant later produced the popular Durango and Aspen vehicles which kept more than 2,000 workers busy for decades, providing them jobs and giving the state of Delaware much needed revenue. Sadly, the Chrysler plant was closed in 2008 after experiencing declining demand.
Although it is situated not far from two major metropolitan areas—Philadelphia to the north and Baltimore to the south—Newark is surrounded by 12,000 acres of public park land, including Iron Hill Park, White Clay Creek State Park and the Middle Run Valley Natural Area, which provide opportunities for hiking, mountain biking and even horseback riding through forests, fields and rolling hills. It is also flanked by the Fair Hill Resources Natural Resources Management Area in nearby Cecil County, Maryland, a 5,656-acre site which was formerly owned by William du Pont, Jr., who enjoyed its pristine fields, woodlands and natural beauty for equestrian activities. Preserving historic sites is nothing new to Newark. Three structures very familiar to downtown visitors are the St. John the Baptist Church, the old Bank of Newark Building at 102 East Main Street and the former Rhodes Pharmacy at 36 East Main Street. St. John the Baptist Church is an impressive one-story red brick building with a prominent central tower and side bays. The original structure was built in the late 18th century, but the floor collapsed in 1880 and a subsequent building replaced it in 1883. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1982. The Bank of Newark is a three-story brick structure built in a restrained Greek Revival style in 1845. It was added to the National Register in 1983, as was the Rhodes Pharmacy, which is a two-story Gothic Revival style structure built in 1917.
For some reason, figure skaters seem to flock to Newark. It’s likely because the University of Delaware Figure Skating Club and The Pond Ice Rink have produced many national and Olympic champions in the sport. The University is quite friendly to athletics, offering 21 varsity sports which compete as the Fightin’ Blue Hens, named after the state bird of Delaware. Harold “Tubby” Raymond served as head football coach for the school for 35 years, from 1966 to 2001, compiling an outstanding win-loss-tie record of 300- 119- 3. The school is noted for its strong chemistry, chemical engineering, business and biochemistry programs, complemented by the presence of Du Pont and other major companies in the area.
Several famous people have called Newark home. John Wilson O’Daniel attended Delaware College and later enlisted in the Delaware National Guard. He is one of the few people you’ll ever hear of who served in three wars—World War I, World War II and the Korean War. O’Daniel (called “Iron Mike”) is best known for his service in the Third Infantry Division in North Africa, Sicily, Italy and southern France in World War II, where he was commanding General of troops including Audie Murphy, the most decorated soldier in the U.S. Army in that conflict.
Wilbert Lee Gore was trained as a chemical engineer and worked for Du Pont, but later left the company to start W.L. Gore and Associates in the basement of his Newark home. Its relatively modest beginnings were later followed by a robust expansion into national and international operations with its now famous Gore-Tex fabric, as well as numerous products, including cables for electronic signal transmission, industrial applications, medical implants and laminated fabrics.
Harry Coover was born in Newark, but later moved to New York, where he received advanced degrees in organic chemistry from Cornell University. He later worked for the Eastman Kodak Company. Most persons do not know his name, but people around the world know his invention: Eastman 910, better known as Super Glue. Rock musician George Thorogood is well known to University of Delaware students. He played some of his first shows at the University’s Rathskeller bar and nearby at the historic Deer Park Tavern. He has toured worldwide with groups including the Rolling Stones.
If you find yourself hungry and strolling Main Street in downtown, rest assured. Several restaurants line the block there, with a wide range of offerings which will please visitors of all ages. Live music at the Deer Park, the Stone Balloon Ale House, Nomad Bar and the Limestone BBQ should satisfy those wanting some entertainment while dining. Be prepared for a “crowd experience” during the regular school season—downtown Newark is brimming with thousands of college students most days, but the friendly atmosphere and variety of places to visit should keep a smile on your face.
Gene Pisasale is an historian, author and lecturer based in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania. He has written ten books and numerous articles on the history of the Chester County and mid-Atlantic region. His latest book is “Forgotten Founding Fathers: Pennsylvania and Delaware in the American Revolution”. His books are available on his website www.GenePisasale.com and also on www.Amazon.com. Gene can be reached via e-mail at [email protected].