Seaford is at the head of the deep Nanticoke River about 40 miles from its mouth in lower Chesapeake Bay. The Nanticoke Indians and their ancestors lived along its banks for over 6,000 years. The first record of a European to explore the head of the Nanticoke, however, was in 1608 when Captain John Smith set out exploring the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries. Development along the Nanticoke River was slow partly due to friction that developed between the Nanticoke Indians and the English settlers.
Those who did settle the region were Marylanders until 1763 when, after many years in the courts of London, the boundary lines for Maryland and Delaware were established as the surveyors Mason and Dixon defined in 1763. The first record of any settlement in the area around Seaford was a very large tract of land identified as “Martin’sHundred.” This 1,750-acre plot of land, bordered by the Nanticoke river and Herring Creek, was granted to Jeremiah Jadwin of Virginia on January 22, 1672.
Seaford was laid out in 1799 at what was then Hooper’s Landing on the river; it was presumably named after Seaford, Sussex County, England, whence came some of the early settlers. Henry Adams opened the settlement’s first store, at Front and Water streets, the following year. As one of the two important Delaware towns on navigable streams flowing into Chesapeake Bay, Seaford is similar to the many towns on the Eastern Shore of Maryland that have depended largely upon water transportation and the seafood industry of the Bay. Oyster-packing was an important early industry with dozens of rake-masted schooners making weekly trips down the winding river to the oyster beds of the lower Chesapeake. Shipbuilding was also carried on in Seaford.
In 1939, the DuPont Company chose Seaford as the site of the first Nylon plant in the world. By the 1960s the plant was employing 4,000 workers and Seaford was the “Nylon Capital of the World.” The largest employer in Sussex County also drew those workers to the new developments surrounding Seaford and away from downtown.
In 2000 more than a million dollars was invested back in downtown Seaford and our walking tour will start at the culmination of this project, the new City Hall...
414 High Street
The town broke ground for a new government office building in 2002, capping a $1.5 million face-lift for the High Street area that included new sidewalks, ornamental lighting and shade trees.
WALK SOUTH ON MARKET STREET THROUGH GATEWAY PARK TO THE NANTICOKE RIVER.
Seaford Bridge (State Bridge Number 151)
Front Street at Nanticoke River
The languid Nanticoke River, the most important water trail through southern Delaware, divides Seaford to the north from Blades to the south. That gap was first spanned in 1832 by the Seaford Bridge Company with a wooden toll bridge. A steel-and-timber swing-type span followed. The present bridge is a 1925 creation and is a lift structure unique in Sussex County. Called a “trunnion bascule” bridge, the mobile leaf and 150-ton counterweight are placed in a pit below the bridge deck and rotated on the bascule (a steel axle). The original wooden floor was torn up in 1951 and replaced by a steel deck.
WALK WEST ON WATER STREET ALONG THE NANTICOKE RIVER.
The Riverwalk is a 400-foot lighted, landscaped and paved sidewalk that traces the Nanticoke River.
TURN RIGHT ON SPRING STREET.
413 High Street, southeast corner of Spring Street
This brick home from the late 1800s, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, was built by Edgar Ross, a descendent of William Henry Harrison Ross, Delaware’s governor from 1851 to 1855. The Governor Ross Mansion on the northern edge of Seaford on Pine Street is one of Delaware’s finest Italianate villas, built on the family’s 1,400-acre farm where they raised fine Hackney carriage horses. Ross was a supporter of the rebel South during the Civil War. President Lincoln issued a warrant for Ross’ arrest, putting one of the state’s most popular governors on the unsavory side of the law.
TURN LEFT ON HIGH STREET.
Burton Brothers Hardware Store
407 High Street
Customers who stopped in to Burton Brothers to pick up some nails and seed when it opened in 1893 would likely recognize the store today, although for the past 50 years it has operated outside the family. The multi-use building has always housed the hardware business on the left side and the other side has performed various duties, including as a movie house for a spell. Pressed metal facades that mimicked rusticated blocks were a common way to dress up a storefront in the 19th century but this is a rare souvenir of that time. Appropriately enough William S. Burton, who started the business, was a Laurel tinsmith.
Seaford Fire Museum
400 block of High Street
The museum displays fire memorabilia related to the history of the Seaford Volunteer Fire Department and includes the company’s first motorized vehicle, a new Seagraves engine, purchased in 1921, after the town bonded itself for $10,000. The engine responded to hundreds of fires before it was retired.
TURN RIGHT ON PINE STREET.
First National Bank of Seaford
118 Pine Street
The first monetary institution in Seaford was a private bank, which did business for a brief spell at the start of the Civil War in 1861. The First National Bank of Seaford was organized February 18, 1865 with a capital stock of $55,000. Governor William Cannon was the first president. The bank opened for business at the corner of Pine and King streets but quickly moved down the block to this headquarters with Italianate roof bracketing in 1868.
RETRACE YOUR STEPS ON PINE STREET TO HIGH STREET AND TURN RIGHT.
Mount Olivet United Methodist Church
315 High Street
This is the third meetinghouse for the congregation that organized in 1830 seeking reform in the Methodist Episcopal church. Dedication of the brick sanctuary took place on June 5, 1898. Although the building has received its share of additions and remodellings it retains its general 19th century appearance. Using a chunk of money donated by steel baron Andrew Carnegie the church purchased its pipe organ in 1911.
Seaford Lodge, No. 7
312 High Street
This lodge formed on March 6, 1882 with 17 charter members and assembled in Odd Fellows’ Hall here.
Hiram Lodge, No. 21
306-308 High Street
The world’s oldest fraternal organization, the Masons, chartered the Hiram Lodge on June 27, 1866. In 1878 the members moved into this brick hall with a stepped parapet on High Street, which was erected at a cost of $1,000. The ground floor later became the home of the popular Stein & Company men’s store that failed to survive the Depression of the 1930s.
203 High Street
Seaford received its first post office in 1827 and for more than a century the mail was distributed from private homes and businesses, wherever the postmaster happened to hang his hat. To help ease America through the Great Depression the federal government went on a building spree with a mandate to provide every town with an architecturally significant building, usually a post office. Seaford got this Romanesque-styled brick home that was expanded in 1960 and served until 2001. Today it houses the Seaford Museum, whose exhibits range from the story of the Nanticoke Indians to the tale of the notorious Patty Cannon who kidnapped free blacks and sold them into slavery in the early 19th century. She was believed to have killed more than one slave dealer for his money, using impartially a gun, a knife, or a club while the victim ate, drank, or slept. Her victims, black and white, male and female, murdered for various reasons, were supposed to number a score or more. When she was finally arrested in 1829 it was the local Seaford magistrate that committed her to the Georgetown jail, where she died shortly thereafter before trial. Patty Cannon was buried in the jail yard.
TURN LEFT ON SOUTH CONWELL STREET, TOWARDS THE NANTICOKE RIVER.
George A. Hall House
110 South Conwell Street
This brick house was raised just after the Civil War in in 1866 by Reverend George A. Hall while he was in charge of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church.
RETRACE YOUR STEPS TO HIGH STREET AND TURN LEFT.
Sussex National Bank
northwest corner of High Street and Conwell Street
The Sussex National Bank of Seaford organized in 1887 and that year moved into this low slung Queen Anne-influenced building. Since its days as a bank it has served many uses, including as a business and church.
114 High Street
Willie Ross, son of Governor William Ross, built a picturesque Victorian house here in 1880 with steep gables and decorative chimneys. On December 18, 1901, the Seaford Volunteer Fire Department fought its first fire in a building next door. Ross was so impressed by the company’s efforts, despite inadequate water that he changed his opposition to construction of the Seaford’s water and sewer system and sent a check to help defray expenses for new fire fighting equipment. William F. Allen, a produce broker and future United States congressman, bought the house in 1916 and made significant changes, most notably a two-story Ionic portico and a full-length porch finishing in a porte-cochere.
High Street and Cedar Avenue
When industrialists began covering America with railroad tracks in the 1830 one obvious route was down the Delmarva Peninsula from the Delaware River to the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay. In 1836 the General Assembly chartered the Delaware Railroad to accomplish just that. The road was planned to link the New Castle and Frenchtown Railroad with the Maryland border. Money proved problematic, however, and the first iron was not laid until 1854. On December 11, 1856, a large crowd gathered here for the formal opening of the line to the banks of the Nanticoke River basking in the promise of impending riches. The tiny hamlet of Seaford indeed experienced unprecedented prosperity in the coming years. Tracks were extended to the state line in 1859, and in 1884 the dream of uniting Delaware with the peninsular portions of Maryland and Virginia was realized when the rails finally reached the shores of Cape Charles, Virginia. The last passengers rode the line, since assumed by the Pennsylvania Railroad, in the 1960s.
RETRACE YOUR STEPS TO CONWELL STREET AND TURN LEFT (AWAY FROM THE RIVER). TURN RIGHT ON KING STREET.
Seaford Volunteer Fire Company
302 East King Street
On November 14, 1901, when fire-fighting apparatus was still pulled to fires by man and beast, a group of concerned citizens met in the Seaford town council room for the purpose of discussing the organization of a fire company. By the end of the month, over 50 persons had volunteered under the direction of first chief T.H. Scott. The Seaford Volunteer Fire Department acquired its first motorized vehicle, a Seagraves pumper, in 1921. In 1933 a First Aid Squad was created and ambulance joined the garage the next year. For many years the Department was housed in a frame building at this location which was replaced with this brick firehouse in 1950 and expanded in 1972.
St. Luke’s Episcopal Church
King Street and Front Street
The parish can trace its roots to 1704 when a log chapel known as St. Mary’s was constructed on Chapel Branch in Northwest Fork Hundred where services continued for over 100 years. In 1835 the Episcopal Diocese dispatched Reverend Corry Chambers to Seaford and he built St. Luke’s from the scattered remains of the St. Mary’s congregants, conducting services in the Union Meeting House at High and Church streets. Construction of this meetinghouse began in 1838 on grounds donated by John Gibbons, the town doctor. Bishop Alfred Lee formally dedicated the new church on May 28, 1843. A facelift and enlargements came along in 1886. Prominent Delawareans interred in the adjoining cemetery include William H. Ross, Governor of Delaware (1951-1855); and Edward L. Martin, member of the United States House of Representative (1879-1883).
WALK SOUTH ON FRONT STREET, TOWARDS THE NANTICOKE RIVER, AND TURN RIGHT ON HIGH STREET TO RETURN TO THE TOUR STARTING POINT AT CITY HALL.