In 1716 the seeds of a tiny village sprouted on the southern bank of Duck Creek, the crooked river that defines the boundary between Kent and New Castle counties, near the fork of Green’s Branch. It was known to its inhabitants as Duck Creek Crossroads. The hamlet grew up along the King’s Highway that ran north and south through the Colonies and soon it was a thriving community of merchant vessels. 

Duck Creek Crossroads, so the story goes, almost became the State capital in 1792. When repairs were being made to the Courthouse at Dover the General Assembly was unceremoniously put out on the street and at the tavern of Thomas Hale in this town to the north proposed a resolution to make the move permanent. At the end of the session a calmer Assembly repealed the resolution.

In 1806, the Delaware Assembly again butted into the town business with another change of far-reaching consequences, this time one that took. The name of the Town was changed to Smyrna, presumably after the chief seaport of western Asia. 

By the 1850s the transport of grain, lumber, and peaches from the wharves at Smyrna Landing, a mile down the creek, made Smyrna the most important port between Wilmington and Lewes. The spectre of the new railroads threatened Smyrna’s prosperity and in 1855 a proposed line into Town was denied. Progress was inevitable and a branch line was run into Smyrna in 1861. Its decline as a shipping center was assured by then, however.

The next transportation marvel did Smyrna no favors, either. The DuPont Highway came through east of Town in 1923 leaving the businesses on Main Street, scarcely 100 yards from the highway, to go about their days in almost complete secrecy. But that road and its successor, Delaware 1, transformed Smyrna into a commuter town, 12 miles north of the State Capital of Dover and 30 miles south of the major business centers of Newark and Wilmington. 

This walking tour will begin at the most striking building in Smyrna, the Opera House, one-time container of all public services, fire survivor and Town symbol...

1.     
Smyrna Opera House
7 South Street

In the final decades of the 19th century most communities boasted an opera house although its function was often for just about everything except opera. Townsfolk would come to enjoy lectures, watch pageants and graduations and patronize live performances. Among those who graced the stage at the Opera House were abolitionist Frederick Douglass; suffragettes Grace Greenwood, Lucy Stone, and Olive Logan; entertainers General Tom Thumb and Ada Gilman; musicians Frank Corbett and his Boston All-Star Orchestra and the Amphion Male Quartette; and, William Jennings Bryan, who spoke here while campaigning for president in 1900. The Smyrna Opera House, erected in 1870 in a blend of Italianate and Second Empire styling, also provided space for town services, including the jail. The structure seen today is a restoration of the original. On Christmas night 1948 a fire swept through this block of downtown Smyrna, consuming the third floor and bell tower. Rather than raze the entire building it was decided to roof over the remnants. For a half-century the wounded hulk was little more than storage space. But in 2003 a $3.6 million makeover brought the Opera House back to its 1887 appearance. 

WALK A HALF-BLOCK SOUTH ON SOUTH MAIN STREET AWAY FROM SOUTH STREET(THE OPERA HOUSE WILL BE ON YOUR RIGHT).

2.     
Sage Cottage
147 South Main Street

This Victorian house, with elements of Stick Style architecture in the gables and woodworking on the full-length porch, was built in 1883.

RETRACE YOUR STEPS AND WALK NORTH ON SOUTH MAIN STREET.

3.     
Van Gaskin Brick Houses
44 Main Street 

The two brick Greek Revival buildings (one single and one duplex) located at the corner of South and Main Streets were designed by local architect Van Gaskin. Several notable Smyrna citizens resided in these dwellings including John Bassett Moore, an internationally-known judge. This corner is peppered with several Greek Revival structures. 

4.     
Jones House
36 South Main Street 

Although widely known as the Jones House, the frame Greek Revival house was actually built by John D. Perkins, a local doctor, in the 1840s. Unlike its brick classical revival neighbors, the Jones House is a frame interpretation of the style. 

5.     
Odd Fellows Hall
34 South Main Street

In the Middle Ages most of the common trades had their own guilds, the tradesmen who did not have so many compatriots banded together to form their own association known as the Odd Fellows. This frame structure was built as the Morning Star Lodge No. 6 IOOF and carries an eagle motif. Smyrna’s first books were lent here when the Hall housed the Smyrna Library Association (formed 1858) on its first floor. The library moved into the Opera House in 1870. 

6.     
Old Post Office
22 South Main Street

This Colonial Revival brick survivor, built as a post office, dates to 1916. President Warren Gamaliel Harding spoke briefly from the steps in June 1923 as part of his cross-country “Voyage of Understanding” tour to meet ordinary people and explain his scandal-tarnished administration. Harding suffered a severe stroke on the West Coast during the trip and died shortly afterwards in August. He was only 57.

7.     
The Barracks
11 South Main Street 

This core of this longtime Smyrna landmark was constructed by Robert Holliday in the late 1700s, presumably for the family of his daughter, Susannah Holliday Wilson. Historians know it was called “The Barracks” around town early on but nobody knows why - use by the local militia during the War of 1812 is one guess. A parade of subsequent owners included Presley Spruance, a United States Senator from 1847 to 1853 and for nearly a half-century between 1859 and 1905 James P. Hoffecker, who ran the town’s most popular apothecary. In an historical footnote, Smyrna became the headquarters for the enrollment of Union troops in Delaware and on August 12, 1863 the state’s first Civil War draft lottery drawing was held on the porch of The Barracks. Since 1989 this has been home to the Smyrna Museum, on the grounds is the restored Plank House, a 300-odd year old structure.

8.     
National Bank
7 South Main Street 

This boxy Neoclassical vault was designed for the National Bank in 1925. The entranceway is framed by fluted Doric columns and the steel frame is sheathed in yellow brick.

9.     
Four Corners
Commerce and Main streets 

The intersection of Commerce and Main streets marks the historic crossroads of King’s Highway and the Maryland Road. The historic commercial center of town has seen all of its buildings get a facelift over the years. 

10.     
Delaware House
36-38 North Main Street

The Delaware House began life as a double house for the daughters of Henry Stevens. Sometime around 1830 Samuel Fisler acquired the brick building and opened the Steamboat Hotel inside. The hostelry was expanded with a perpendicular wing in the 1850s and business travelers checked in here until 1944 when the hotel was converted into a nursing home.

11.     
Governor William Temple Mansion
106 North Main Street 

The William Temple House represents a fusion of two distinct building styles: Federal and Italianate. The two and one half story, side-gabled Federal portion of the home was expanded circa 1845 to include a three-bay, three-story Italianate structure sporting trademark heavy bracketing.  Temple was born in Maryland and came to Smyrna at the age of 18 in 1832 to begin a career as a merchant. He quickly became involved in politics and was elected to the State House as a member of the Whig Party in 1845 and on May 6, 1846 he became the youngest Delaware governor ever. He died in 1863 just after being elected to the United States Congress and was buried in the St. Peter’s Episcopal Church Cemetery. The grave was unmarked until 1979 when a stone was placed where he is believed to have been interred.  

12.     
John Cummins Mansion
116 North Main Street 

One of the most prominent figures in Smyrna’s history, John Cummins made his fortune as a grain dealer, beginning in 1798, at the age of 21. The appendage to the south was the original home of John and his wife Susan before he became the greatest grain merchant in the state. The Federal-style main brick house shows off massive end chimneys and a fanlight over the entrance. 

13.  
John Black Mansion
1
15 North Main Street

The three-story, Greek Revival-flavored brick house was erected for John G. Black in 1845.

RETRACE YOUR STEPS A HALF-BLOCK ON MAIN STREET AND TURN RIGHT ON MT. VERNON STREET.

14.     
Asbury United Methodist Church
20 West Mt. Vernon Street 

The slender octagonal spire of this 1845 church rises 135 feet, well above the surrounding streetscape. The original church burned in 1869 and the brawny, two-towered Italianate brick facade was added at that time. The Victorian age of the 1880s brought numerous fancy decorative elements but all were removed by the middle of the 20th century.   

15.     
Hudson Mansion
southeast corner of Mt. Vernon Street and Market Street

In the 1800s Mt. Vernon reigned at Smyrna’s most fashionable street. This rambling Second Empire-style house was built in 1887.   

16.     
McLane-Spearman-Gootee House
35 Mt. Vernon Street

The McLane-Spearman-Gootee House underwent three distinct building phases since its first incarnation over 200 years ago. Upon returning to Smyrna after the American Revolution, Allen McLane and his family took up residence in this three-bay Georgian home, fashionably crafted with courses of Flemish bond laid brick and a belt course facade. By 1791, Simon Spearman purchased the house and added the two story wing to the west sometime in the early nineteenth century. In 1871, Dr. B. S. Gootee acquired the property and promptly popped a Victorian-style mansard roof on top of the confection.

17.     
McLane House
40 Mt. Vernon Street

For many years this was the property of Colonel Allen McLane, a statesman and influential player in the American Revolution. McLane was a Philadelphia native but moved to Delaware in his early twenties. He was commissioned as an officer in the state militia at the age of 29 in 1775 and spent a large chunk of his inheritance to raise and outfit a company of troops. He fought beside General George Washington in most of the early engagements of the war and was rewarded with a captain’s commission. Off the battlefield McLane was credited with being one of the first to suspect Benedict Arnold’s treachery and helping to convince the French to blockade the Chesapeake Bay in 1781. After the war McLane was active in the church and state politics. He lived here from 1785 until he received an appointment to be the Wilmington Port Collector in 1797. McLane retained the property until selling it in 1828, one year prior to his death. 

18.     
The Pope-Mustard Mansion
204 West Mt. Vernon Street 

Originally Colonel Charles Pope, who served in the Revolutionary War, built this two-story dwelling with wing leading to a kitchen in 1790. John Mustard, co-owner of the Peterson-Mustard Tannery, purchased the home in 1837. The tannery was about one block north of the house. Teh house morphed into its current size in the 1850s, taking on a Greek Revival appearance. The lintels highlighted by keystones over the windows ware crafted to resemble expensive stone.   

TURN LEFT (SOUTH) ON NORTH UNION STREET.

19.     
Fisler Memorial Chapel
22 North Union Street

The Fisler Memorial Chapel was built in 1872 to do duty as St. Peters’ Sunday School. It is one of the best board-and-batten Carpenter Gothic structures in Delaware. 

20.     
St. Peter’s Episcopal Church
22 North Union Street

The congregation formed in 1740, gathering in a small brick church at Duck Creek Village beginning in 1744. This church came online in 1827 on land donated by the Cummins family, a gift memorialized in the altar window. It was enlarged into a cruciform plan in 1859 and other alterations followed but parishioners from a century ago would readily recognize their church today. 

TURN LEFT ON COMMERCE STREET. 

21.     
First Presbyterian Church
118 West Commerce Street

The original Duck Creek Presbyterian Church began on the site of the current Holy Hill Cemetery on Lake Como in 1733. The congregation showed up in town in the 1800 and this Gothic Revival flavored meetinghouse was erected in 1884. The stone used was a striking green-tinted serpentine limestone that was quarried in Chester County, Pennsylvania. Serpentine is not the strongest of building materials and when it was used often required side buttresses. First Presbyterian did not have the money to do so at the time of construction but buttresses were added in 2009.   

22.     
Citizens’ Hose Company No. 1 Inc.
103 West Commerce Street

The history of Citizens’ Hose Company No. 1 began on January 6, 1886, one year after Smyrna installed water pipes and fire hydrants. The Opera House was expanded to accommodate the Company in 1887. In 1921, delegates from Citizen’s Hose joined with representatives from eight other companies to establish the Delaware Volunteer Firemen’s Association. In 1924 the members purchased this site, then known as the McDowell property and raised this firehouse, bringing along the original fire bell from the Main Street location.

23.     
J.R. Clements Mansion
56 West Commerce Street

J.R. Clements, a prosperous businessman and landowner, began construction on this Italianate brick house in 1862 and reportedly took 10 years to finish it. It boasts such hallmarks of the style as slender windows, ornamental window hoods and heavy brackets. Through the years the building has done duty as a doctor’s office, apartment house and even contained a stained glass business. 

WALK SOUTH THROUGH MARKET PLAZA. 

24.     
Town Hall
27 South Market Street Plaza 

Smyrna government offices moved out of the fire-compromised Opera House into this Colonial Revival building in 1976.

25.     
John Bassett Moore Intermediate School
South Street 

In June 1885, the first senior class graduated from Smyrna High School, built two years earlier on a lot adjacent to the current John Bassett Moore school. The cornerstone for this Colonial Revival school building was laid in 1923 and the first classes held in 1925. Over the years it has served the community as a High School, Junior High School, Middle School and currently is as an Intermediate School.

TURN LEFT ON SOUTH STREET TO RETURN TO THE TOUR STARTING POINT, ONE BLOCK TO THE EAST.