RG# 5090


RG 1540-000-009: Construction of the Newport Bridge, Newport

Newport is one of Delaware’s oldest communities. In the 1730s, building lots were laid out along the Old Kings Road from Philadelphia to Baltimore at a place where the road neared the Christiana (Christina) River. The village became a stage stop along the road and before the end of the eighteenth century, a post office was established. In the nineteenth century, Newport became a commercial crossroads with a thriving port, and service linking it to larger cities. However, its role as a center of trade ebbed as roads, rather than sea or rail, became the favored method of moving crops.


1850 – 1899

Newport was incorporated in 1873 in the corporate name of the “Commissioners of Newport.” On the south side the Town’s boundary was formed by the Christiana River and to the north, the Town’s limits extended beyond the Wilmington-Christiana Turnpike from Mary Street on the west to the east of St. James Church Cemetery. Those male citizens of the Town who were 21 years of age and a taxable were able to vote in the election for five Commissioners, an Alderman, an Assessor and a Treasurer who would serve one-year terms. The Commissioners were to meet at least twice yearly to pass ordinances for the good government of the Town. The Commission meetings would be presided over by a President who would be chosen from among them and recorded by a Secretary, also a member. One of their major tasks was oversight of the streets with the power to make repairs for which purpose a tax was to be raised. They were also to receive $150 annually from the road taxes of Red Lion Hundred. However, the Wilmington and Christiana Turnpike (Old Kings Road) and bridges across the Christiana were to continue to be maintained by New Castle County. The Incorporating Act provided specific guidance to the Commissioners on the process under which new streets could be opened. They could also be petitioned by the Town’s citizens to require that pavement (sidewalk) be laid along existing streets; the costs of which would be borne by the property owners along the portion of the street which they adjoin. Flagstones were to be laid at street crossings at the expense of the Town. Another requirement of the Commissioners was to provide sanitary measures for the health of the citizens of the Town and to abate nuisances. The Assessor was to assess the value of all real estate in the Town as well as assess a per capita tax on all those eligible to vote. The maximum amount of taxes to be levied on the Town was set at $500 a year, exclusive of the dog tax. Dog owners were to be taxed at fifty cents for one male dog and $1 for each additional and $3 for every female dog with $5 for each additional. The Alderman was charged with keeping the peace in the Town. In accomplishing this he was to act in the same capacity as a Justice of the Peace and was to be assisted by the Town Bailiff, who would serve as the Town’s Constable.1

The first law to amend the 1873 Incorporating Act was passed ten years later. It included a number of revisions among which were: the Commissioners were to elected to serve two-year terms; the Commissioners must annually make available a financial statement of the Town; the Town officials could be fined for neglect of their duties, and the dog tax was eliminated. Immediately thereafter, the 1873 Incorporating Act was re-published to include these changes.2 Two years later, in 1885, there were additional changes made to the election process.3 In 1889, the Act was amended again to exempt from taxation for a period of ten years, any property within Newport not exceeding five acres which will be used for manufacturing or industrial purposes.4 In 1898, the road tax allocation from Red Lion Hundred was increased to $250 annually.5 A number of amendments to the Incorporating Act were made in 1903. Included in these were decreasing to five years the tax exemption for manufacturing businesses; exempting Newport from paying any road taxes to the Road Commissioners of Red Lion Hundred; increasing the annual maximum of levied taxes to $1,500, and re-establishing a tax on dog owners and a registration process for dogs.6


1900 – 1949

In 1907 Newport was re-incorporated. The Town’s boundaries remained the same. The 1907 Incorporating Act closely mirrors that of the 1873 Act but seeks to clarify that Act and include the provisions of all approved amendments. There are still five Commissioners who serve two-year terms. The Commissioners now are to meet monthly. They are to make ordinances for the improvement of the streets, the paving of the sidewalks, the planting, and protection of ornamental trees, the abatement of nuisances, the repair and making of public pumps or waterworks, and are given the power to prosecute with fines and penalties anyone who violates these provisions or any aspect of the Act. The Alderman, Tax Collector, and Treasurer are still elected to serve one-year terms. Their duties and responsibilities have not changed significantly. The maximum annual tax to be levied was increased to $5,000 annually with separate taxes charged for dog ownership. Those assessed were awarded a tax abatement for early payment and fined for tax delinquency. The 1907 Act called for one or more Auditors to be appointed and charged with auditing the Town’s accounts each year.7

The 1907 Incorporating Act was amended many times in the over fifty years until the next re-incorporation. The first law to make amendments was passed in 1909; it addressed a number of technical issues.8 In 1915, Newport was authorized to borrow $25,000 with which to construct a water and sewer system including laying all piping and mains and installing the drains. The Commissioners were assigned the power to oversee tapping into the system and all water rents were to be used for its operation and maintenance. In order to repay the loan, the Town was required to add to its general tax an amount sufficient for the yearly interest and $1,250 yearly for a sinking fund to redeem the bonds when they reach maturity. Approval by referendum was required. Also in 1915, an amendment to the 1907 Incorporating Act established a process for vacating a street, after which Water Street between Mary and John Street was vacated to make way for the construction of a chemical plant along the river in this location.9 In 1917, the powers of the Commissioners were expanded. In addition to those included in the 1907 Act, the Commissioners could clean the docks and regulate the wharves; regulate amusements; regulate party walls prescribing their thickness and materials; provide proper lighting for the streets, and regulate the storage of gunpowder and other combustible materials. In the same year, the Commissioners were authorized to borrow $35,000 for establishing a waterworks and sewer system. The increase in the amount of money for this work which had first been authorized in 1915 indicates that the initial sum may have been found to be inadequate. This law did not change the terms under which the municipal bonds were to be issued for the project in any significant way.10 In 1935, delinquent water payments were added to the Act as a category which would be considered a lien on real property.11 The Town of Newport expanded in 1941, extending its boundaries on all but the river side of the Town.12 In 1945, there were some technical changes made to the 1907 Incorporating Act.13 In 1947, the maximum tax was increased to $50,000 annually, and revisions were made to how the Commissioners regulated the streets.14 In 1947, four laws were passed which amended the 1907 Act which increased fines, decreased bonds and made other technical changes.15


1950 -1999

In 1953, Newport was authorized to borrow $10,000 in anticipation of revenue with which to extend and improve the water pipes and the sewer system. No referendum was required.16

The Town of Newport was re-incorporated in 1960, and a Charter established. The territorial limits of the Town as laid out in the Charter are the same as those included in the 1941 amendment to the 1907 Act. The 1960 Charter also gave Newport the power to annex contiguous territory if a majority of the real estate owners petitioned for such an action. Elections procedures were outlined. Voting was open to all residents of Newport who were citizens of the United States, a resident for at least three months, over 21, and a non-delinquent taxpayer. The structure of the Town’s government was vested in five elected Commissioners who served two-year terms. The Commissioners met at least monthly, choosing one member who was given the title of Mayor to preside over the meetings. The Mayor was considered a voting member on all Commission actions. A second member of the Commissioners served as Secretary. Other elected officials were the Treasurer, the Alderman, and the Assessor. Appointed officials were the Commissioner of Police and the members of the Board of Health. The Charter contained specifics on the duties and responsibilities of each official. The new Charter expanded the powers of the Town to include all those which could be granted to a municipal corporation. In addition to retaining powers vested in them by previous Incorporating Acts, this Charter expanded the enumerated powers of the Commissioners to include the power to provide police and lighting of the streets at the expenses of the Town; to make rules and regulations for the prevention of fires; to adopt municipal zoning; to adopt traffic regulations to regulate itinerant peddlers and canvassers; to regulate signs and billboards; to provide for the regulation of auctions; to regulate the sale of merchandise on the sidewalks; to license the conduct of business; to provide for measuring coal, lime and grain; and to create a Community Welfare Fund and to pay into it a maximum of 2% per year from tax revenue for community projects and organizations. The Commissioners retained oversight over Town streets, but in addition were authorized to acquire property and also to own and operate a sewer system and sewage treatment plant, a water system and waterworks. They could levy a special assessment associated with these municipal projects in addition to the general assessment for the purposes of supporting the Town government. The general tax to be levied on the Town was not to exceed $50,000 annually. The Commissioners were also authorized to borrow money and issue bonds. If these were revenue bonds, then money from the undertaking would repay the loan; if not, then it was necessary to add a special assessment to the Town’s general assessment which would require referendum approval by the Town. Borrowing for current needs was also authorized, but could not exceed 0.5% of the assessed value of Newport’s taxable real estate. Non-payment of taxes, whether part of the general assessment, a special assessment, or fees for water rents would result in a lien on real estate and possible sale to recover these costs.17

Two laws amended the 1960 Charter. In 1967, changes were made to the procedures on balloting; non-resident property owners were allowed to vote in Town elections; compensation for the Mayor and Council was increased; the amount of revenue which could be assigned to the Community Welfare Fund was increased to a maximum of 4% of the general tax assessment annually; and the amount of money which could be borrowed for current expenses was increased to 1% of the assessed value of the Town’s real estate.18 Two years later the Alderman, Assessor, and Treasurer were changed to appointed rather than elected positions.19

The Town of Newport was again re-incorporated in 1985. Newport had exercised its right to annex territory and the Charter reflects that five parcels had been added to the Town’s territorial limits. The Town continues to have the right to annex contiguous territory upon petition of a majority of the property owners. The Charter reflects a Mayor and Commissioners form of government with the administrative duties delegated to a Town Manager. In addition to a Town Manager, other appointed Town officials include a Town Secretary, Assessor, Town Solicitor, Town Fire Marshall, Town Building Inspector, and Police Chief. Optional officials include a Town Clerk (if there is no Town Manager), Town Plumbing Inspector and Alderman. Appointed boards and commissions include a Board of Health and a Planning Commission. The Commission must yearly prepare both an operating budget and a capital budget. Revenue to operate the Town is provided by taxes which are limited annually to no more than 2% of the assessed value of taxable real estate which is supplemented by a tax on utilities and fee for licenses and permits, and must include an amount necessary to service bonded indebtedness. The annual assessment of real estate may be carried out by the Town independently or they may choose to accept New Castle County’s assessment figures. Newport’s authorization to borrow money for current needs is unchanged from the 1960 Charter except that a provision is added which allows for the 0.5% cap to be raised to 1% if there is a declared emergency. Bonded indebtedness is now limited to 15% of the assessed value of Newport’s real estate. A new category of borrowing has been added for cases for situations in which a capital asset is being financed allowing the Town to borrow up to 5% of the total assessed property value. The 1960 Charter includes a section on planning and requires that a comprehensive development plan be prepared and kept current.20

Ten years after the Charter was enacted, the first law amending it was passed. This included numerous corrections and small changes, but the most significant revisions were: the addition to the Town’s boundaries of three parcels of land; the change from a Commission to a Town Council form of government; the elimination of the Assessor’s position unless the Town does not accept New Castle County’s assessment; and the elimination of a Town Fire Marshall.21 In 1996, the duties and responsibilities of the Alderman, as found in the Charter, were revised.22


2000 – Current

In 2012, the Alderman was no longer appointed locally. They were recommended by the Town but appointed by the Governor and confirmed by the State Senate and their duties were again revised.23

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

CITATIONS in Del. Laws

1 14 Del. Laws, c. 539 (1873) [pp. 611-22]

2 17 Del. Laws, c. 191, c. 192, and c. 196 (1883) [pp. 372-73, pp. 374-86, and p. 396]

3 17 Del. Laws, c. 565 (1885) [p. 821]

4 18 Del. Laws, c. 465 (1889) [p. 567]

5 21 Del. Laws, c. 94 (1898) [p. 234]

6 22 Del. Laws, c. 420 (1903) [pp. 861-63]

7 24 Del. Laws, c. 195 (1907) [pp. 400-20]

8 25 Del. Laws, c. 177 (1909) [p. 337]

9 28 Del. Laws, c. 127, c. 128, c. 129, and c. 130 (1915) [pp. 392-98, pp. 399-400, pp. 401-02, and p. 403]

10 29 Del. Laws, c. 140 and c. 141 (1917) [p. 430 and pp. 431-40]

11 40 Del. Laws, c. 174 (1935) [p. 652]

12 43 Del. Laws, c. 174 (1941) [p. 758-59]

13 45 Del. Laws, c. 181 (1945) [pp. 680-81]

14 46 Del. Laws, c. 242 and c. 274 (1947) [p. 650 and pp. 787-91]

15 47 Del. Laws, c. 90, c. 132, c. 243, and c. 244 (1949) [p. 143, p. 202, p. 508, and p. 509]

16 49 Del. Laws, c. 304 (1953) [p. 634]

17 52 Del. Laws, c. 283 (1960) [pp. 603-42]

18 56 Del. Laws, c. 207 (1967) [p. 687-90]

19 57 Del. Laws, c. 68 (1969) [pp. 119-20]

20 65 Del. Laws, c. 214 (1985) [pp. 415-39]

21 70 Del. Laws, c. 4 (1995) [pp. 3-12]

22 70 Del. Laws, c. 321 (1996) [p. 729]

23 78 Del. Laws, c. 244 (2012) [http://delcode.delaware.gov/sessionlaws/ga146/chp244.shtml]

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


City of Newport records at the Delaware Public Archives include:

  • Minutes of Commissioners/Town Council (1874-1991): 5090-000-001
  • Minutes of Town Council Executive Committee (1982-1991): 5090-000-002


jnl / October 23, 2018 | April 15, 2019