SHIPBUILDING ON THE BROADKILL
Like the Native Americans before them, the European settlers of the 17
th and 18
th centuries utilized the Broadkill River as a means of transportation. Clearing
of lands resulted in an abundance of grain and wood products. To transport these
products to market, local craftsmen fashioned small vessels from the timbers of the
prime hardwood forest that covered the land. Expanding settlement and the resulting
increase of exports led to the construction of larger vessels capable of sailing
to more-distant ports. As the number and size of these vessels increased, the reputation
of local builders began to grow as well.
Located at the highest point of navigation, the tiny village of Milton offered the advantage
of proximity to the inland forests, and by the early 1800s a majority of the shipyards
were located here. While earlier vessels had been built for local commerce, the Broadkill
industry’s reputation for quality fueled a demand for ships by outside interests.
The size of vessels grew steadily, and local shipwrights were routinely producing
ships for the coastal and Trans-Atlantic trade by the mid-19
th century. Increasing preference for steam-driven ships, the physical limitations
of the river, and the lack of quality timber, resulted in the rapid decline of the
industry in the 1890s. By the dawn of the 20
th century the Broadkill’s “golden age” as a center for shipbuilding
Governor’s Walk, behind the library on Broadkill River and Union Street, Milton.
The Delaware Public Archives operates a historical markers program as part of its mandate.
Markers are placed at historically significant locations and sites across the state.
For more information on this program, please contact
Katie Hall at (302) 744-5036