1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Wilmington (Delaware)

WILMINGTON, a city, a port of entry and the county-seat of New Castle county, Delaware, U.S.A., in the N. part of the state, near the Delaware river, at the mouth of Brandywine and Christiana creeks. Pop. (1890) 61,431; (1900) 76,508, of whom 10,478 were foreign-born (3820 Irish, 1762 German, 998 English) and 9736 were negroes; (1910 census) 87,411. Area, 10.18 sq. m. It is served by the Baltimore & Ohio, the Philadelphia, Baltimore & Washington (Pennsylvania) and the Philadelphia & Reading railways, and by several steamship lines. Wilmington Harbor includes Christiana Creek for 4 m. above its mouth and the navigable part (2 m.) of the Brandywine, which enters the Christiana about 1¾ m. above its mouth. By 1881 the channel depth had been increased from 8½ to 15 ft., in 1896-1906 it was increased to 21 ft. in the lower part of the harbour, and in 1908 the upper part was dredged to 18 or 19 ft. for widths of 100, 200 and 250 ft. Between 1836 and 1909 $994,404 was expended on the improvement of the harbour. Most of the streets which run from E. to W. are numbered; those which run from N. to S. are named, often in honour of prominent American statesmen. The public parks and squares have a total area of 381 acres; the most important parks are Brandywine and Rockford, which lie along and near Brandywine creek, in the northern part of the city. Among the buildings of interest are the City Hall (1798); Holy Trinity (Old Swedes) Church (1698), probably the oldest church in the United States which has been in continuous use; the building occupied by the Historical Society of Delaware (organized in 1864), which was the old First Presbyterian Meeting House, built in 1740; the County Court House; and the Federal building. In Wilmington, besides other educational institutions, is the Wilmington Friends' School (1748), the oldest preparatory school in the state. The Wilmington Institute Free Library (69,000 volumes in 1910) was founded in 1788, but was not made free to the public until 1894. Wilmington is the see of a Roman Catholic bishop, and of a Protestant Episcopal bishop.

The favourable situation, railway facilities and proximity to the coal-fields of Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Virginia, to the sources of supply of raw materials, and the water-power furnished by the Brandywine, combined with the enterprise of its citizens, have made Wilmington the most important manufacturing centre of Delaware. In 1905 the value of the factory product of the city, $30,390,039, was 73.8% of the total product value of the state.

The principal manufactures are tanned, curried and finished leather ($10,250,842), steam railway cars ($3,597,736), foundry and machine-shop products ($3,432,118), paper and wood pulp ($1,904,556), &c. Shipbuilding ($1,780,904 in 1905) was established as early as 1739, and in 1836 the first iron steamship and in 1854 the first iron sailing-boat built in the United States were built here. On the Brandywine, near the city, are the works of the Du Pont Powder Company, which extend over nearly 1000 acres, the largest powder plant in the world. The company was founded in 1802 by the French refugee, Eleuthère Irenée du Pont de Nemours (1771-1834), who had learned from Lavoisier the modern methods of powder-making, and here introduced them into the United States. Wilmington is the port of entry of the customs district of Delaware, with branch offices at New Castle and Lewes. In 1909 the imports of the district were valued at $463,092.

The city is governed under a charter of 1886, amended in 1893, by a mayor, who is chosen biennially and who appoints the board of water commissioners and the board of directors of the street and sewer departments, and by a unicameral legislature, the twelve members of which are elected by wards (except the president of the council, who is elected at large, and is acting mayor in the absence of the mayor). The council appoints the auditor, the clerk of council who acts as city clerk and various inspectors, &c. The police commission is appointed by the resident associate judge of New Castle county court. A board of education (two members from each ward), the city attorney and the city treasurer are elected by popular vote.

The site of Wilmington was settled in 1638 on behalf of the South Company of Sweden by Swedish and Dutch colonists, under the leadership of Peter Minuit. The fort which they built was called Christina, and the settlement that grew up around it, Christinaham, in honour of Queen Christina, daughter of Gustavus Adolphus. The fort was captured, without bloodshed, by Governor Peter Stuyvesant of New Netherland in 1655, but very few of the Swedes left Christinaham. The Swedish language and Swedish customs persisted, and the religion of the Swedes was tolerated. After the English conquest in 1664, especially after the annexation of the Delaware counties to Pennsylvania in 1682, Swedish influence declined. In 1731 a large part of the territory now included in the city was owned by Thomas Willing, who named it Willingtown. About eight years later, by a borough charter granted by William Penn, this named was changed to Wilmington, in honour of Spencer Compton, Earl of Wilmington (c. 1673-1743). During the War of Independence the battle of Brandywine was fought 13 m. N.W. of Wilmington. In the first half of the 19th century Wilmington was the centre of a strong anti-slavery sentiment and was a “station” of the “Underground Railroad.” In 1809 the borough was enlarged by a new charter; in 1832 Wilmington was chartered as a city. In 1900 the city contained 41.4% of the total population of the state and, under the state constitution of 1897, it elects five of the thirty-five representatives and two of the seventeen senators in the state legislature.

See Records of Holy Trinity (Old Swedes) Church (Wilmington, 1890); Benjamin Ferris, History of the Original Settlements on the Delaware, part iii. (Wilmington, 1846); and Elizabeth Montgomery, Reminiscences of Wilmington (Philadelphia, 1851).