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History Matters: Preservation Delaware's vision for the future of historic preservation

A number of historic buildings – from the Thomas England House, to Summerton Mansion in Middletown – have been demolished in recent months.


Historic preservation advocates are rallying to change that, and nonprofit Preservation Delaware is willing to help organize such efforts in the First State.

Delaware Public Media’s Megan Pauly sat down with the group’s Executive Director James Hanby.


After the Thomas England House was demolished last month, Michael Emmons decided to write an open letter to the local community of preservation advocates to call a meeting.

The PhD student in preservation studies at the University of Delaware says the Thomas England House isn’t the only recent demolition of a historic First State property.

“I can think of at least 10 properties that have been demolished since I moved here five years ago to Delaware that are high-profile, landmark-type properties that were demolished, not just insignificant things," Emmons said. "And a huge amount more than that that are threatened.”

Emmons adds some homes are threatened simply because they aren’t maintained, and are starting to deteriorate. He and others worry the First State is reaching a crisis point.


“There’s no regulations to speak of especially in unincorporated areas that prevent developers from irresponsible demolitions," Emmons said.


Advocates like Carolyn Roland with Pennsylvania’s Chester County Historic Preservation Network used the meeting to discuss ways to change the cycle of demolition and deterioration. She says she’s had luck negotiating with developers in New Castle County.  


“You can get a developer who is interested in developing, building a dozen houses – but you can educate them to preserve the historic house as the centerpiece of the community, and it works," Roland said.

Others discussed possible grant funding available for restoration projects, and creating a statewide alliance to better advocate for historic preservation. It's possible that Preservation Delaware will exist as the umbrella organization to help create that network.


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