RG# 5040


Delaware City
RG 9015-028-000: Clinton St, Delaware City c. 1950

The early history of Delaware City as a municipality is integrally connected to that of the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal. The concept of such a canal was being discussed in the eighteenth century but it was not until 1824 that construction began. The Newbold family owned land along the Delaware River and in 1826, they drew up a plot of a Town to be located on this land. When constructed, the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal bisected the area that had been plotted as the Town. By the time the canal was completed in 1829, the area, which was already an operating base for many shipbuilding activities, was already forming as a community.



In 1851, in a piece of legislation entitled An Act for the better regulation of the streets of Delaware City, and for other purposes, a municipal corporation was formed in the corporate name of “The Commissioners of the Town of Delaware City.” A new plot of the Town was to be made and recorded which would define the boundaries and streets of the Town, but only on the north side of the canal. (An earlier plot had shown streets running though onto land that was on the south side of the canal.) Free, white, male inhabitants who could vote for members of the General Assembly were to elect three Commissioners, an Assessor and a Treasurer to serve one-year terms. The Commissioners were authorized to regulate and maintain the streets of the Town, and layout and pave new streets when requested by at least ten resident freeholders. The cost of this work was to be borne by funds raised through an assessment of all persons and estates within the Town. This assessment was to be no more than thirty cents per $100 of assessed value. It was the Treasurer’s responsibility to collect the taxes that were levied.1

Two years after it was enacted, the provisions in the Incorporating Act empowering the Commissioner’s powers to pave the streets were amended, and the amount of monies to accomplish their responsibilities was set at $250 yearly. They were also assigned the power to keep the peace which had previously been held to the Justice of the Peace of New Castle County.2 In 1869, the Commissioners were authorized to erect street lights and the amount of monies that could be levied in taxes yearly was increased to $600. In addition, they were authorized to levy a supplemental assessment of $600 if they were to build a jail, and the Town’s Treasurer was appointed to be the Constable.3 In 1871, the Town’s limits were extended to the north and west, with new streets to be laid. There was also a provision for issuing bonds in the amount of $30,000, and for the Town to be a terminus of the Delaware and Pennsylvania Railroad (although the latter did not happen). In that same year, the General Assembly required the Road Commissioners of Red Lion Hundred to give Delaware City half of the taxes which they collected from the Town’s residents. These funds were to be used to maintain the Town’s streets and roads provided that the Town would also raise $400 in taxes to be used for this purpose. Delaware City was allowed to levy not more than twenty cents per $100 of assessed value in support of the Town’s budget.4 Also in the same year, the Incorporating Act was again amended so that new streets could be laid down or extended at the request of five freeholders.5

Titled, An Additional Supplement to an act entitled, An act for better regulation of the streets of Delaware City, and for other purposes, this law that was enacted in 1875 essentially acted as a re-incorporation. The size of the Town was deemed to match that which was recorded on a plat in 1871 when the Town’s limits were expanded, and the name of the municipal corporation was indicated to be “The Mayor and Commissioners of Delaware City.” This renaming reflects the major change that was taking place in the way in which the Town was governed. There was now a Mayor serving as an executive officer who was to work with the three Commissioners to govern the Town. Also elected by vote were an Assessor and a Treasurer. Those holding public office were to serve for two years. The powers of the Commissioners were outlined in detail. They included regulating, maintaining and paving the streets and footpaths and ensuring proper drainage as well as enacting ordinances to preserve the well-being of the City, and preventing nuisances and promoting the general welfare. The Mayor’s duties included seeing that ordinances were enforced and being a conservator of the peace. The duties of the Assessor and the Treasurer were also specified. No clergy were deemed eligible to hold elected office.6

In 1881, the ten-year municipal bonds came due for redemption, and new bonds, in the amount of $29,000 were issued. The Town was required to raise taxes in order to reduce this debt.7 Two years later the Commissioners were given the power to regulate and tax dogs.8 In 1887, the Incorporating Act was amended to provide a ten-year tax exemption for property under five acres in size that was to be used for manufacturing purposes.9 In 1897, the Town’s Commissioners were authorized to contract with private parties to establish a waterworks and to lay water pipes. A twenty-year contract could be negotiated at the end of which the Commissioners could renew the contract or purchase the water plant.10 A year later, municipal bonds were again redeemed and reissued, and a method to repay the loan, called a “sinking fund” was established.11



In 1903, the day for holding City elections was changed from Saturday to Tuesday.12

In 1907, Delaware City was re-incorporated with the corporate name of “The Mayor and Council of Delaware City.” The boundaries of the Town were defined by using roads and major landmarks. The power to annex land under certain circumstances was authorized. The corporation was given certain powers which included: to acquire property for municipal purposes; to acquire, erect, and maintain public buildings; to lay out, open, grade, extend, widen, improve or vacate streets; to establish public squares; to supply the Town with water; to provide lighting for the streets and all public spaces; to establish a wharf line; to grant franchises; to regulate dangerous materials; to enforce sanitary regulations; to require a license in order to build; to prohibit large animals to stray and to regulate dogs; to enforce fire, police and other regulations related to keeping the peace; to borrow money for municipal purposes; to provide for payment of the expenses of the corporation; to regulate building; to provide for referendum on municipal matters; to prescribe punishment and fines; and to exercise municipal powers necessary for proper administration of the Town. The Council was now to meet on a monthly basis. The Town officials were to be elected by a vote of those over the age of 21 years who have been residents for at least a year. The Act also prohibited certain activities in the Town including circuses, pool or billiard rooms, auctions, and peddling without a license. A three-member Board of Health was appointed as was a Town Constable. The Incorporating Act contained a provision that the Road Commissioners of Red Lion Hundred could no longer collect any road tax from the Town’s residents, and that manufacturing plants within the Town could be exempted from municipal taxes for ten years.13

In 1913, the 1907 Incorporating Act was amended to re-state the Town’s boundaries with some technical corrections. In the same year, municipal bonds in the amount of $10,000 were authorized to improve the streets. Also in the same year, the section of the 1907 Incorporating Act which exempted manufacturing plants from taxation was amended so that the plant must be less than five acres.14 In 1919, the Town was authorized to collect a taxes on telephone, telegraph and light poles.15 Two years later, a number of amendments were made to the 1907 Act which made a number of technical corrections.16 In 1929, three laws were passed which impacted Delaware City. The first was to deed a piece of land to Delaware City for which no previous ownership record could be found. The next provided for redeeming and then re-issuing municipal bonds in the amount of $16,000. The third combined the language in the 1907 Incorporating Act with that in the 1913 amendment in reference to manufacturing plants being exempt from taxation.17 Then in 1933, municipal bonds in the amount of $10,000 were redeemed for those issued in 1913 and were re-issued.18  

The next re-incorporation took place in 1945. No significant changes were made to the structure of government or to governmental powers. Prior approved amendments were incorporated and there was some re-organization of the Act and other minor changes. The only provisions eliminated were those referencing the Road Commissioners of Red Lion Hundred.19


1950 – 1999

Between its re-incorporation in 1945 and the one that followed twenty-four year later, only two laws which amended the Act were passed. In 1956, the law passed in 1897 which established a plant to supply water to the residents of Delaware City was amended by changing some of the terms by which water was supplied to Delaware City by private companies and clearly establishing that the Town was not responsible for any damages to private property.20 In 1958 amendments that would allow houses determined to be unsafe or a fire hazard to be razed were approved, as were amendments related to the election process and minor amendments in other sections of the 1945 Incorporating Act.21 In 1961, amendments were made to the provisions for issuing bonds.22

The next re-incorporation took place in 1969 at which time a Charter was established for the City of Delaware City which was granted the power and authority of self-government and home-rule. This Charter was significantly re-structured from that of the 1945 Act placing less emphasis on the regulation of streets and more on the City’s organization and the collection of taxes and penalties for non-payment of same. A major change reflected in this Charter is the increase in the number of Council members, from three to five. Other changes included increasing the membership of the Board of Health from three members to five, instituting a Bureau of Fire, changing the tax exemption for manufacturing facilities in the Town to a maximum of $1,000 annually for ten years, and allowing the Town to borrow $10,000 without requiring a special election.23

Three years later, in 1972, when some sections of the Charter required amendment, Delaware City republished the entire Charter incorporating the approved amendments as well as instituting the office of Vice-Mayor, increasing the borrowing power without a special election to $50,000, and making some changes in election qualifications.24 Due to the fact that several sections were left out at the time of this update to the Charter, a year later it was republished again in order to remedy this error.25

The next re-incorporation took place five years later, in 1978. The City was defined by specific boundaries with more exact metes and bounds. The powers of the City were referenced as those granted to all municipal corporations rather than being enumerated the powers as in earlier Incorporating Acts. The City officials from the 1969 Charter remained but there was also to be a City Manager. The addition of this position constituted a major change in the way in which the Town was to be administered. Changes in the City’s administration were further discussed in the Charter under the section on City Administration and Planning.26

In 1979, the Charter was amended with new sections related to the Planning Commission and indemnification of city officials.27 In 1987, there were further amendments related to appeals to the Board of Assessment and the sale of municipal bonds.28 Two amendments to the Charter were made in 1988, the first related to the amount of time a resident was allowed in which to file a claim against the City, and the other related to the appointment of and removal from office of various City officials, and members of boards and commissions.29 In 1993, the Charter was amended related to the qualifications of the Mayor and Council members and forfeiture of their office, as well as reasons for supplemental tax assessments.30


2000 – Current

The most recent re-incorporation and revision of the City’s Charter took place in 2013. Although updated to include amendments made since 1978, this Charter made no changes to the way in which the City was governed. Elections are held on the first Tuesday in April. The City’s fiscal year begins in July.31

Two laws have amended the City’s Charter of 2013. In 2017, a change was made to the Charter regarding the requirements for voting in municipal elections indicating that all voters must be registered at least thirty days in advance; the law also increased the length of time for which members of the Planning Commission were appointed from two years to three.32 In 2018 law revised the responsibilities of the City’s Secretary and Treasurer.33

For a fully amended text of the current Charter, see http://www.Charters.delaware.gov/delaware City.shtml

CITATIONS in Del. Laws

1 10 Del. Laws, c. 592 (1851) [pp. 593-97]

2 11 Del. Laws, c. 51 (1853) [pp. 49-50]

3 13 Del. Laws, c. 472 (1869) [pp.464-65]

4 14 Del. Laws, c. 109 and c. 122 (1871) [pp.122-23 and p. 148]

5 14 Del. Laws, c. 541 (1873) [pp. 626-27]

6 15 Del. Laws, c. 154 (1875) [pp. 272-93]

7 16 Del. Laws, c. 491 (1881) [pp. 652-53]

8 17 Del. Laws, c. 179 (1883) [pp. 342-43]

9 18 Del. Laws, c. 165 (1887) [p. 289]

10 20 Del. Laws, c. 539 (1897) [pp. 646-47]

11 21 Del. Laws, c. 93 (1898) [pp. 232-33]

12 22 Del. Laws, c. 416 (1903) [p. 853]

13 24 Del. Laws, c. 199 (1907) [pp. 423-28]

14 27 Del. Laws, c. 221, c. 222, and c. 223 (1913) [pp. 618-19, pp. 620-21, and p. 622]

15 30 Del. Laws, c. 131 (1919) [p. 293]

16 32 Del. Laws, c. 118 (1921) [p. 358]

17 36 Del Laws, c. 154, c. 155, and c. 193 (1929) [pp. 436-37, pp. 438-39, and p. 629]

18 38 Del. Laws, c. 98 (1933) [p. 428-29]

19 45 Del. Laws, c. 191 (1945) [pp. 747-77]

20 50 Del. Laws, c. 582 (1956) [pp. 1333-34]

21 51 Del. Laws, c. 335 (1958) [pp. 725-27]

22 53 Del. Laws, c. 9 (1961) [p. 11]

23 57 Del. Laws, c. 209 (1969) [pp. 691-719]

24 58 Del. Laws, c. 588 (1972) [pp. 2020-47]

25 59 Del. Laws, c. 73 (1973) [pp. 128-30]

26 61 Del. Laws, c. 251 (1978) [pp. 745-94]

27 62 Del. Laws, c. 37 (1979) [p. 43]

28 66 Del. Laws, c. 165 (1987) [p. 360]

29 66 Del. Laws, c. 228 and c. 285 (1988) [p. 468 and p. 426]

30 69 Del. Laws, c. 112 (1993) [pp. 241-42]

31 79 Del. Laws, c. 100 (2013) [http://delcode.delaware.gov/sessionlaws/ga147/chp100.shtml]

32 81 Del. Laws, c. 20 (2017) [http://delcode.delaware.gov/sessionlaws/ga149/chp020.shtml]

33 81 Del. Laws, c. 234 (2018) http://delcode.delaware.gov/sessionlaws/ga149/chp234.shtml]

Delaware Laws from 1935 to present can be found online at http://delcode.delaware.gov/sessionlaws/


City of Delaware City records at the Delaware Public Archives include:

  • Minutes of the Town Commissioners/City Council (1903-1935 and 1957-1986): 5040-000-001
  • Assessment Book (1978-1979): 5040-000-002


jnl/ May 17, 2018, April 15, 2019