You might think your town is old, but it probably isn’t the oldest in the country.
That is unless you live in St. Augustine, FL. Which looks pretty good for being 454 years old.
That’s older than America for those playing at home.
So that got us thinking, what is the oldest city in Delaware? And how old is that when you put it into perspective of St. Augustine or American Independence in 1776?
Because even if your Delaware city or town is old, it isn’t really all that old in the grand scheme of things. For example, the Pyramids in Egypt were built around 2600 BC, a cool 4100 years before St. Augustine.
And now that we have you thinking about how the time line of your existence is really kind of unimpressive on the timeline of history, let’s drop right into the analysis.
These are the 10 oldest cities and towns in the First State according to their ‘date of foundation’:
- Wilmington (Photos)
- Milford (Photos)
- Seaford (Photos)
- Claymont (Photos)
- Dover (Photos)
- Newark (Photos)
- Smyrna (Photos)
- New Castle (Photos)
- Elsmere (Photos)
For being 380 years old, Wilmington doesn’t look a day over 40. And the newest city in Delaware? That would be Elsmere — a brand spanking 113 years old.
How We Determined When A City Was Founded In Delaware… Or Is It Settled?
Surprisingly, there’s not a definitive data set that contains the dates of incorporation or settlement for cities in America. Put differently, there’s no official data set from the Census that contains when every place in America was founded.
So what did we do instead?
Use the internet’s version of official government data — Wikipedia of course!
For the majority of cities in Delaware, Wikipedia offers data on some kind of ‘date of foundation’ in the infobox. Unfortunately, because it’s Wikipedia and not a sprawling government bureaucracy, that can take the form of any of the following nomenclature (plus others):
And then even more stuff — for example Atlanta has a ‘Terminus’ date, whatever that is.
If no ‘date of foundation’ was found in the infobox, we looked to the general text in the History section of the city for ‘Founded in XXXX’.
All in all, we were able to collect data on 10 out of 20 in Delaware with over 5,000 people. That’s good for a 50.0% completion rate.
We then ranked them from oldest to newest with Wilmington turning out to be the matriarch of Delaware at the ripe old age of 380.
Here’s a look at the top ten and a snippet of their history from Wikipedia.
Population: 71,276Founded: 1638
Wilmington is built on the site of Fort Christina and the settlement Kristinehamn, the first Swedish settlement in North America.
The area now known as Wilmington was settled by the Lenape (or Delaware Indian) band led by Sachem (Chief) Mattahorn just before Henry Hudson sailed up the Len-api Hanna (‘People Like Me River’, present Delaware River) in 1609. The area was called ‘Maax-waas Unk’ or ‘Bear Place’ after the Maax-waas Hanna (Bear River) that flowed by (present Christina River). It was called the Bear River because it flowed west to the ‘Bear People’, who are now known as the People of Conestoga or the Susquehannocks.
Population: 10,645Founded: 1807
The Kent County side of Milford was first settled in 1680 by Henry Bowan on what was known as the Saw Mill Range. A century later the Reverend Sydenham Thorne built a dam across the Mispillion River to generate power for his gristmill and sawmill. Around the same time, Joseph Oliver laid out the first city streets and plots nearby on a part of his plantation. Soon a number of homes and businesses appeared along Front Street. The city was incorporated February 5, 1807.
Population: 7,447Founded: 1865
Seaford is named after Seaford, East Sussex in England.
Population: 8,707 Founded: 1903
Claymont has been a continuous settlement near the mouth of Naamans Creek on the Delaware River since at least A.D. 1200, with evidence of its original inhabitants along both banks pointing to the Middle Woodland period (1100-1600 B.C.). The first western inhabitants named the creek and settlement after the Lenape chief who occupied the region.
Population: 37,109Founded: 1904
Dover was founded as the court town for newly established Kent County in 1683 by William Penn, the proprietor of the territory generally known as the ‘Lower Counties on the Delaware.’ Later, in 1717, the city was officially laid out by a special commission of the Delaware General Assembly. The capital of the state of Delaware was moved here from New Castle in 1777 because of its central location and relative safety from British raiders on the Delaware River. Because of an act passed in October 1779, the assembly elected to meet at any place in the state they saw fit, meeting successively in Wilmington, Lewes, Dover, New Castle, and Lewes again, until it finally settled down permanently in Dover in October 1781. The city’s central square, known as The Green, was the location of many rallies, troop reviews, and other patriotic events. To this day, The Green remains the heart of Dover’s historic district and is the location of the Delaware Supreme Court and the Kent County Courthouse.
Population: 33,243Founded: 1904
Newark was founded by Scots-Irish and Welsh settlers in 1694. The town was officially established when it received a charter from George II of Great Britain in 1758.
Population: 13,672 Founded: 1904
Hockessin traces its roots to 1688.
Population: 11,276Founded: 1904
Smyrna was originally called Duck Creek Cross Roads and received its current name in 1806 after the Ancient Greek seaport of Smyrna in present-day Turkey. The town was located along the north-south King’s Highway. Smyrna was originally a shipping center along the Duck Creek and was the most important port between Wilmington and Lewes, shipping grain, lumber, tanbark, and produce to points north. After the shipping industry collapsed in the 1850s, the town would continue to be an agricultural center.
9. New Castle
Population: 5,364Founded: 1904
New Castle was originally settled by the Dutch West India Company in 1651, under the leadership of Peter Stuyvesant, on the site of a former aboriginal village, ‘Tomakonck’ (‘Place of the Beaver’), to assert their claim to the area based on a prior agreement with the aboriginal inhabitants of the area. The Dutch originally named the settlement Fort Casimir, but this was changed to Fort Trinity (Swedish: Trefaldighet) following its seizure by the colony of New Sweden on Trinity Sunday, 1654. The Dutch conquered the entire colony of New Sweden the following year and rechristened the fort Nieuw-Amstel (‘New Amstel’). This marked the end of the Swedish colony in Delaware as an official entity, but it remained a semi-autonomous unit within the New Netherland colony and the cultural, social, and religious influence of the Swedish settlers remained strong. As the settlement grew, Dutch authorities laid out a grid of streets and established the town common (The ‘Green’), which continue to this day.
Population: 6,097Founded: 1905
Elsmere dates back to 1886 when real estate developer Joshua Heald bought farmland and converted it into houses, building the first suburb in northern Delaware. The community was built at an intersection of railroad lines and allowed working-class families easy access to Wilmington. Trolley lines were later built leading to Elsmere. In 1909, Elsmere was incorporated as a town.
Oh How Time Flies For The Oldest Towns And Cities In Delaware
So there you have it, a look at some of the oldest places to live in Delaware. If we missed your city’s ‘date of foundation’, let us know in the comments. Or feel free to take a look at the table of the oldest places in Delaware.
And now, let’s raise our glasses, to the next 100 years of existence for these cities and towns in the First State.
And for those wondering, here are the newest additions to Delaware:
- Elsmere (Founded in 1905)
- New Castle (Founded in 1905)
- Smyrna (Founded in 1905)
Detailed List Of The Oldest Cities In Delaware