RG# 5060

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RG 9015-028-000: Cochran Sq, Middletown

The name Middletown first appears in a 1678 warrant for land patented to Adam Peterson. Near this tract was the intersection of Augustine Herman’s Bohemia Cart Road and the Upper King’s Road, the post road between Philadelphia and Virginia. This road crossing was midway between navigable waters of the Bohemia River and those of the Appoquinimink River, and its location caused the name Middletown to be retained for the crossroads settlement which formed there. Middletown’s advantageous position at the crossing of two of the oldest roads on the peninsula as well as its location in the center of a rich agricultural landscape assured its growth throughout the eighteenth and early nineteenth century. By 1855, the railroad was integral to its continued prosperity and it became a commercial nucleus for lower New Castle County.


1860 – 1899

Middletown was incorporated in 1861 in the corporate name of “The Commissioners of the Town of Middletown.” The five Commissioners were to work with a surveyor to set the boundaries of the Town and to ensure that the plot of the Town was recorded with the New Castle County Recorder of Deeds. The Commissioners were given oversight over the roads within the boundary of the Town and were to be assisted in their maintenance by an annual appropriation of not less than $50 from the Levy Court of New Castle County. They were also authorized to open new streets and to enforce the laying of pavement (sidewalks) and gutters along the edges of the streets as well as to make and enforce regulations regarding the use of the streets in order to prevent their obstruction. The Commissioners were also charged with keeping the peace assisted by the local Justice of the Peace who was to act as Alderman for the Town. Their duties included the power to prevent bonfires and to suppress the firing of guns. They were given the authority to establish a jail in the Town and to arrest those who broke the regulations which had been established. In addition to the Commissioners, voters were to elect a Treasurer and an Assessor to assist in the process of levying taxes on the real estate and personal property of the Town’s residents. They were also to assess a tax on the owners of dogs.1

A year later, Middletown’s Incorporating Act was amended. The amendment clarified that the road funds were to be paid by the Road Commissioners of St. Georges Hundred rather than the Levy Court of New Castle County. The amount was set at between $80 and $100. In addition, the position of Alderman which the Incorporating Act had assigned to the local Justice of the Peace was now to be an elected position.2 In 1863, the Commissioners were authorized to negotiate a loan of $1,000 with which to make repairs to the streets of Middletown.3 A law passed in 1873 which amended the Incorporating Act by changing the process of appealing damages when a new street was to be opened.4 In 1877, the 1861 Incorporating Act was amended so that the Commissioners were to be elected to two-year terms while the other Town officials continued to serve a one-year term. In addition, the Commissioners were given the authority to appoint a Constable.5 In 1883, the allocation which the Town received from the Road Commissioners of St. Georges Hundred was increased to $600. In another law that year, the Commissioners were authorized to borrow $5,000 with which to establish a system to supply water for private use and to fight fires. They were given the authority to condemn land should this power be needed in establishing the water system.6 Four years later, an additional $15,000 was borrowed for the same purpose. Five men, appointed as Water Commissioners, were charged with overseeing the construction of the waterworks and the laying of water pipes. Fees charged for using the water were to support the system’s operation.7 In 1889, Middletown’s Commissioners borrowed $1,000 to pay a debt associated with the waterworks.8 In 1891, Middletown’s Commissioners borrowed $10,000 with which to establish an electric plant or a gas works. As with the water system, they were allowed to charge a fee of those using the utility.9 Two years later, Middletown established a board that would oversee the management and control of both light and water. A Board of Light and Water Commission was established consisting of five men who were to be elected to serve five-year terms. The voting was weighted so that voters had one vote for every $1 paid in municipal taxes. The 1893 Incorporating Act for Board of Light and Power Commission gave it the power to locate, construct, and operate the light plant including erecting poles and to maintain and operate the water system including laying pipes. They could condemn land, establish regulations, and charge fees applying the revenue to operating expenses, the interest on the bonds, and a sinking fund with which to redeem the bonds when due. The Town was to pay them $17 a year for every street light and $25 a year for every fireplug as well as to cover any deficit in operating funds. Also in 1893, in an amendment to the 1861 Town Incorporating Act, a Collector of Taxes was to be appointed; a rebate for early payment of taxes established, and those charged with disturbing the peace were allowed to repair the streets rather than pay a monetary fine.10 In 1895, Middletown was authorized to borrow $4,000 in order to complete the well for the water system, and an additional $2,000 was borrowed with which to repay outstanding indebtedness.11 Technical corrections to the Incorporating Act for the Board of Light and Water Commission were made in both 1895 and 1897.12 A law in 1898 allowed Commissioners of Middletown to borrow $34,000 in order to redeem and refund existing indebtedness and to re-issue bonds at a lower interest rate.13 A year later, the County Treasurer of New Castle County was tasked with re-paying the Commissioners of Middletown all monies which the Town’s Incorporating Act indicated would be paid by the Road Commissioners of St. Georges Hundred.14


1900 – 1949

Technical corrections to the 1861 Act were made in 1901.15 In 1905, a law stated that the boundaries of the Town centered on the crossroads of Main Street and Broad Street with the farthest point being one-half mile in each direction from that crossroad on each street. The one square mile Town boundary formed a diamond.16 In 1907, the municipal bonds that had been issued in 1887 became payable with $13,000 remaining unpaid, and the Commissioners issued new bonds for this amount. In the same year, the Town’s Incorporating Act revised the procedures for collecting taxes.17 In 1911, Middletown’s Commissioners were authorized to borrow $20,000 with which to improve the streets, but unlike previous authorizations for indebtedness, this law required referendum approval and the voting was weighted towards those who paid the most taxes.18 Given subsequent actions taken by the Town, it appears that this referendum may have failed. In 1913, additional bonds became payable and once again Middletown borrowed monies to redeem and refund these by borrowing $12,000 and issuing new bonds. A special tax was to be charged in order to ensure that adequate monies would be available with which to redeem them when these bonds came due. Also in 1913, a 1911 law which indicated that New Castle County would collect money for roads from all county residents and then pay these monies back to the incorporated towns less the expense of collecting these funds exempted Middletown who opted out of this approach.19 In 1917, an amendment to the Town’s Incorporating Act clarified the duties of the Alderman.20 In 1919, the Commissioners of Middletown were authorized to borrow $30,000 to pave, repair, and improve the streets. As with the 1911 authorization for this purpose, this action required referendum approval by a weighted vote tied to the amount of taxes each voter paid. It also set a specific amount of $1,500 a year to be paid by a special tax to redeem the bonds.21 This also may not have received referendum approval because a year later, another law authorized $20,000 for the same tasks with the same terms.22 In 1921 the final change was made to the 1861 Incorporating Act prior to the Town’s re-incorporation. In it, voting privileges were given to females and non-whites for the first time.23

In 1923, sixty-two years after its first incorporation and after many amendments, Middletown was re-incorporated as “The Mayor and Council of Middletown.” The Town’s boundaries did not change from those stated in the law of 1905. The governance of the Town was vested in a Mayor and four Council members, each of which would serve a two-year term. Provision was included in the Act to increase the number of Council members to six when it was determined that there was deemed to be a need. Both the Mayor and the Council members must be freeholders in the Town and residents for at least two years prior to an election. The Mayor presided over Council meetings which were to be held monthly and had the right to approve or veto all actions of the Council. One of the Council members acted as Secretary. The duties and responsibilities of the Mayor and Council included supervision over streets, including opening, widening and vacating streets and alleys; establishing the maintaining public parks and squares; constructing, maintaining or vacating sewers, drains or gutters for the disposition of sewage and drainage; providing water including the construction and maintenance of a water works and requiring hook- up to same;  providing lighting for the streets and all public places and supplying the residents with light to include the erection and maintenance of a lighting plant; granting grant franchises to companies to allow them to operate on public land; regulating and controlling the storage of explosives; making and enforcing sanitary regulations and removing nuisances injurious to the public health; regulating the construction of buildings and the construction of chimneys and party walls; prohibiting the running at large of animals; issuing permits for entertainments of all kinds; making and enforcing fire and police regulations in order to protect persons and maintain public peace; borrowing money for municipal purposes and issuing bonds; paying the Town’s expenses and placing money in a sinking fund to pay bonded indebtedness when due; and assessing property and collecting taxes. In addition to the Mayor and Council, appointed Town officials included the Treasurer, the Assessor, the Alderman, the Collector of Taxes, and a Board of Health. While all real estate and personal property was to be assessed, a corporation which set up a manufacturing plant within the Town could be exempted from taxes for up to ten years. In addition, all citizens residing in the Town who are over 21 were to be assessed a per capita tax, and all dog owners levied a tax for each dog. Wages were to be attached or property sold if a taxpayer is delinquent in paying their taxes. The maximum amount that could be taxed on the Town’s residents annually is $3,000. The maximum amount of indebtedness that was allowable, in aggregate, was 10% of the last assessed value of all real estate in the Town. If the amount of indebtedness being sought at any one time exceeded $3,000, then referendum approval was required. Referendum voting for this was weighted, one vote to be cast for each $1 paid in taxes. However, if the Mayor and Council were refunding and reissuing bonds against the Town’s current indebtedness, no referendum was required.24

The first amendment to the 1923 Incorporating Act was made a year later. It provided that a liability claim could not be made against the Mayor and Council unless notification of the nature of the liability had been made within the first six months after the occurrence. The same year another law updated the procedures for the collection of taxes and assessments.25 In 1937, the Mayor and Council authorized the install a sewer system including all mains and pipes.26


1950 – 1999

In the 1950’s a number of laws amended the provisions of  the 1923 Act: the first, in 1951, established procedures for the repair of sidewalks caused by making sewer and water connections;27 the second, in 1953, determined that unimproved land would not be taxed unless it fronted on a street;28 the third, in 1955, revised the procedures for recovering costs for repair of the sidewalks, curbs, and gutters;29 the fourth, in 1956, gave the Town Council the power to establish a pension fund for the Town Police;30 and the fifth, in 1958, revised the duties of the Alderman and authorized the Council to build or acquire a jail, a power which had been granted in the 1861 Act but not included in the 1923 Act.31 Two additional amendments were made in 1960; the first determined that any personal injury caused by a defective sidewalk was the liability of the property owner, and the second stated that the Council was to determine the level of compensation which was to be provided to the Mayor, the Council, and all appointed officials.32  

In 1968, the re-incorporation of Middletown was proposed in a law which required referendum approval. This Charter, which also proposed that Middletown be called a City, did not receive approval.33 Six years later, in 1974, the same Charter, but without the references to being a City, was proposed. This also required referendum approval which was not received.34

The next amendments still referenced the 1923 Incorporating Act. In 1982, the membership of the Board of Health was increased from three members to nine.35 In 1993, the guidelines for refunding debt were revised.36 In 1995, the Mayor’s role was changed so that they could only vote on Council actions in order to break a tie.37


2000 – Current

In 2001, an amendment set the maximum amount of bonded indebtedness at not more than 15% of the assessed value of the real estate in the Town with the proviso that if it exceeded 10%, the Town could not increase its territory for five years. It also required that sufficient funds must be collected in order to refund maturing bonds. Re-issuing of bonds was allowed only if there were would be savings to the Town in terms of interest. This amendment also provided for the ability to engage in short-term borrowing in advance of revenue as long as the total being borrowed did not exceed one-third of the Town’s total revenue and was repaid from the general fund.38 A further revision to the bonded indebtedness section of the Incorporating Act was made in 2005 when authorization was received to increase the amount that could be borrowed at any one time to $4 million as long as the total indebtedness remained within the set limitation.39

After 85 years, Middletown was finally re-incorporated and a Charter issued in 2008; no referendum approval was required. The 1923 Act is referred to several times and much of this Charter mirrors the clauses in it. Also, the corporate name remains unchanged. The Town limits are referenced as being on file with the Recorder of Deeds of New Castle County. A reference to the Delaware Code indicates that annexation is allowed when two-thirds of the owners of a contiguous territory petition for this action. The Town is to be governed by a Mayor and six Council members who are to be elected to serve two-year terms. Electors must be 18 and a resident of the Town, and absentee balloting is allowed per Delaware law. The Mayor presides over the Council which meets monthly. It is the Mayor’s responsibility to approve or disapprove all actions taken by the Council, although the Council has the right to override any disapproval if two-thirds of their members favor the action. Other positions held by Council members are the Vice Mayor and the Secretary. Appointed officials mentioned in the Charter include a Treasurer, who sits on the Council, and a City Manager. The powers vested in the Council are the same as those that were granted in the 1923 Incorporating Act. One new power is the authorization to charge impact fees in connection with development plans in order to recover the costs of installing municipal improvements. Rather than carry out their own assessment, the Charter indicates that Middletown will use that prepared by the New Castle Board of Assessment. Taxes are to be sufficient to cover expenses but no maximum amount is set. Exemptions from paying taxes are provided to residents who are 65 years or older and also for manufacturing plants for their first ten years. Specific remedies are set for those who are delinquent in paying taxes. The Town has the power to borrow money, both for immediate need against anticipated revenue and for capital expenses. Short-term borrowing, repayable within thirteen months, is not to exceed the maximum allowed under federal law. The maximum that can be borrowed under the terms of bonded indebtedness at any one time is 4% of the assessed value of the Town’s real estate, and in aggregate, is 15% of the assessed value of the Town’s real estate. Referendum approval is required and sufficient funds must be set aside each year in taxes to enable payment of the interest on the bonds and refunding of the bonds upon maturity. Revenue bonds may also be issued as long as the source of the revenue is clearly stated and is sufficient to repay the interest and principal on the bonds.40

In the last ten years, there has been only one amendment to the 2008 Charter. In 2018 the Town instituted a lodging tax of no more than 3% of the room fee.41

For the fully amended text of the current Charter, see http://www.charters.delaware.gov/middletown.shtml



View selected photographs of Middletown



CITATIONS in Del. Laws

1 12 Del. Laws, c. 36 (1861) [pp. 49-58]

2 12 Del. Laws, c. 216 (1862) [pp. 241-42]

3 12 Del. Laws, c. 278 (1863) [pp. 296-97]

4 14 Del. Laws, c. 538 (1873) [pp. 609-10]

5 15 Del. Laws, c. 457 (1877) [pp.571-74]

6 17 Del. Laws, c. 182 and c.189 (1883) [pp. 362-63 and pp. 370-71]

7 18 Del. Laws, c. 158 (1887) [pp. 255-56]

8 18 Del. Laws, c. 643 (1889) [p. 834]

9 19 Del. Laws, c. 242 (1891) [pp. 478-79]

10 19 Del. Laws, c. 745 and c. 754 (1893) [pp. 1024-30 and pp. 1070-71]

11 20 Del. Laws, c. 103 and c. 108 (1895) [p. 165 and p. 170]

12 20 Del. Laws, c. 540 and c. 541 (1897) [p. 648 and p. 649]

13 21 Del. Laws, c. 96 (1898) [p. 235]

14 21 Del. Laws, c. 278 (1899) [p. 515]

15 22 Del. Laws, c. 177 (1901) [p. 366]

16 23 Del. Laws, c. 165 (1905) [p. 278]

17 24 Del. Laws, c. 200 and c. 201 (1907) [pp. 449-51 and p. 452]

18 26 Del. Laws, c. 220 and c. 221 (1911) [pp. 502-03 and p. 504]

19 27 Del. Laws, c. 224 and c. 225 (1913) [pp. 623-26 and pp. 627-28]

20 29 Del. Laws, c. 138 (1917) [pp. 423-24]

21 30 Del. Laws, c. 130 (1919) [pp. 288-92]

22 31 Del. Laws, c. 33 (1920) [pp. 83-87]

23 32 Del. Laws, c. 124 (1921) [p. 377]

24 33 Del. Laws, c. 128 (1923) [pp. 326-49]

25 38 Del. Laws, c. 109 and c. 110 (1933) [p. 446 and pp. 447-53]

26 41 Del. Laws, c. 153 (1937) [pp. 448-51]

27 48 Del. Laws, c. 32 (1951) [pp. 82-85]

28 49 Del. Laws, c. 257 (1953) [pp. 483-84]

29 50 Del. Laws, c. 493 (1955) [pp. 1334-38]

30 50 Del. Laws, c. 580 (1956) [p. 1331]

31 51 Del. Laws, c. 308 (1958) [pp. 667-69]

32 52 Del. Laws, c. 209 and c. 210 (1960) [p. 495 and p. 496]

33 56 Del. Laws, c. 249 (1968) [pp. 827-84]

34 59 Del. Laws, c. 251 (1974) [pp. 811-68]

35 63 Del. Laws, c. 302 (1982) [p. 591]

36 69 Del. Laws, c. 34 (1993) [p. 31]

37 70 Del. Laws, c. 10 (1995) [p. 17]

38 73 Del. Laws, c. 57 (2001) [pp. 96-97]

39 75 Del. Laws, c. 10 (2005) [pp. 8-9]

40 76 Del. Laws, c 230 (2008) [vol. II, pp. 70-76]

41 81 Del. Laws, c. 423 (2018) [http://delcode.delaware.gov/sessionlaws/ga149/chp423.shtml]

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



Town of Middletown records at the Delaware Public Archives include:

  • Minutes of the Commissioners/Town Council (1861-1993): 5060-000-001
  • Minutes of the Board of Light and Water (1893-1924): 5060-000-002
  • Maps and Plots (1937-2007): 5060-000-003


jnl / September 26, 2018 | April 15, 2019