New historical marker brings history of prison farm back to life
What’s now one of the most popular sites in New Castle County’s park system was a prison farm not too long ago.
The land occupied by the Delcastle Recreation Center and Golf Course at one time provided work for more than 150 inmates of the Greenbank New Castle County Workhouse on a prison farm.
The Delaware Public Archives Historical Marker Coordinator Kevin Barni says the original farm stretched across many acres surrounding the park and down Duncan Road.
“The farm itself not only sustained the inmate population, but surplus was sold to the community and other institutions within the state," Barni said. "Other institutions like the Delaware Orphans Court benefited from the profits at the farm.”
The farm raised livestock such as cattle and pigs, produced dairy and a variety of vegetables.
At the marker’s unveiling Monday, Jeff Seamans offered stories he heard about the farm growing up. The grandson of the farm’s superintendent Roy H. Burkey says they included his grandmother making shoofly pie and occasionally sharing it with her favorite inmates.
“She would have these prisoners come up and help her at the house," Seamans said."And then they would get served these pies and cakes that she would bake – she was just a phenomenal baker – and then the story was that when their time was up they would go out and commit some other small, minor crime just to be able to come back on the farm and keep working for her.”
The land for the agricultural program was purchased in 1915, and the farm operated through 1968.
“What’s really cool about this site is that it’s part of this agriculture and reform movement that Delaware has always had a really big part of," Barni said.
Retired New Castle County policeman George Williamson became fascinated by the farm while conducting research for the police force’s 100th anniversary - and began compiling its history.