Attention: Researchers who wish to perform research on-site may make an appointment by calling (302) 744-5000 or e-mailing More Info logo

Delaware Public Archives (DPA) logo

1540-001 1 of 3

When the U.S. Congress passed the Federal Aid Highway Act in 1916, it stipulated that Federal assistance for road construction could go only to states with an adequate highway department. At that time the State of Delaware regulated automobiles and gave some money to the counties for roads, but was not involved in highway development. The counties had primarily been responsible for road construction, although private turnpike companies and private individuals, most notably T. Coleman duPont, had also built roads. To take advantage of the available Federal Money, and to have an organization to administer the duPont highway as its sections were turned over to the State, the General Assembly created the State Highway Department on April 2, 1917.
The State Highway Department (or Commission) originally consisted of the Governor and four gubernatorial nominees, one each from the City of Wilmington and the three counties.1 (The membership was later raised to seven.2). Upon organizing, the members were to employ the services of a chief engineer for the department. The engineer was to survey all roads within Delaware and make recommendations as to which highways should be brought into the State’s highway system in order to facilitate an improved network of roads.3
At that time, as noted, the individual counties’ still had jurisdiction over their county roads, so the State was required to notify each county’s Levy Court as to which roads were being taken over by the State. In 1935, the State Highway Department was given complete control of all county roads outside the limits of incorporated towns.4
Basically, the initial duties of the new agency were as follows:

1. Survey and appraise existing roads and make plans to upgrade their condition.
2. Determine, lay out, open, widen, straighten, grade, extend, construct or reconstruct all permanent state highways.
3. Provide maintenance for all state highways.
4. Maintain full and accurate records of all departmental meetings.
5. Take over any and all road deemed appropriate for inclusion in the state highway system.
6. Adequately equip and staff itself to accomplish its goals.5
The State Highway Department, either by legislation or implication, had its duties greatly expanded in subsequent years. In 1929, all duties of the Public Lands Commission (RG 1924) were assumed by the Department (these duties were later transferred to the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, RG 16296). Authority was granted to the agency in 1945 to construct “a structure across the Delaware River,” later to become the Delaware Memorial Bridge.7 The Department in that year also assumed the duties of the former Mosquito Control Commission (RG 1640), which had been disbanded in 1935.8
By the 1960’s, the Department duties were as follows:

1. Design, construction, maintenance and operation of highways, bridges, and related sections of the street and highway system.
2. Study, design, construction and maintenance of dams, dikes, tide gates and shore protection (assumed by DNREC (RG 1620) in 19709).
3. Acquisition of land for Department projects.
4. Regulation of motor vehicle usage and operation (assumed by Department of Public Safety (RG 1660) in 197010)

1540-001 2 of 3


5. Preparation of maps for the Department.
6. Planning and implementation of mosquito control measures (assumed by DNREC (RG 1620)in 197011).
7. Control of beach and public lands improvement projects (assumed by DNREC (RG 1620)in 197012).
8. Traffic control, highway research, analysis and testing of materials, landscaping and highway beautification, maintenance of picnic and roadside rest areas, snow removal, etc.
In 1970, the Legislature created the Department of Highways and Transportation, which assumed all duties and responsibilities of the former State Highway Department, with the exception of those duties so noted above.13 This new Department was itself absorbed by the new Department of Transportation (RG 1540) in 1976.14 There presently is a Division of Highways within the Department of Transportation, performing the duties listed above.

1540-001 3 of 3


1 29 D.L., ch. 63

2 42 D.L., ch. 172

3 29 D.L., ch. 63

4 40 D.L., ch. 107; 45 D.L., ch. 270

5 29 D.L., ch. 63

6 57 D.L., ch. 514

7 45 D.L., ch. 274

8 45 D.L., ch. 271

9 57 D.L., ch. 514

10 57 D.L., ch. 382

11 57 D.L., ch. 514

12 Ibid

13 Ibid

14 60 D.L., ch. 503
jrf/June 3, 1988; July 25, 1988; January 3, 1989
(changed from 1549 to 1540 March 21, 1989)

Related Topics: