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The Town of St. Georges was settled in the first half of the eighteenth century and would develop along both sides of St. Georges Creek. In the nineteenth century, a plan was implemented to connect the Delaware Bay to the Chesapeake Bay by constructing a canal which was opened in 1829. The canal utilized natural waterways wherever possible and one such case was the St. Georges Creek. A bridge was maintained linking the northern part of the state with the southern as a major north-south highway, first established in 1762, passed through the Town. This juxtaposition of road and waterway was an important element in the economy of the Town. When, in the 1940s, the Federal government took possession of the canal and an adjoining strip of land to each side and then encouraged only through traffic on the waterway, and a new elevated bridge was constructed causing the road traffic to by-pass the Town, all growth on the Town was halted. It was at this time that the Town’s status as a corporation was revoked.
Although not specifically identified as an Incorporating Act, subsequent laws would make clear that the law enacted by the General Assembly in 1825 was to be considered such. Five Commissioners were appointed to carry out a survey of the Town and to mark the streets. Other duties of the Commissioners were to guard against encroachments into the streets; to lay out footpaths and gutters; to regulate the thickness of party walls, and to regulate partition fences. They were to assess the costs of accomplishing these tasks and to levy a tax on the Town’s residents in order to raise necessary funds. They were given the authority to sell the goods and chattels of those who did not pay their assigned share. New Commissioners were to be elected within a year to take the place of those appointed.1
It would appear that the 1825 law may not have been fully complied with, as in 1863, the General Assembly passed a law that indicated that they acknowledged the 1825 incorporation of the Town and stated that it was revived and in full force. The Town was to be re-surveyed. The duties of the Commissioners which were part of the earlier law were re-stated. In addition to the duties stated in the 1825 Act, the Commissioners were given the authority to examine chimneys and stove-pipe and other matters dangerous to the Town; to prohibit the firing of guns and pistols, the making of bonfires, and setting off of fireworks; to identify and prevent nuisances; and to prevent the noisy or turbulent assemblages of persons. As in the 1825 Act, the Commissioners could assess a tax on property and voters within the Town. In addition they could raise funds by charging a licensing fee of $5 against any person or persons who, for money, “exhibit[ed] any image or pageantry, sleight of hand, tricks, puppet shows, or circus, any feats of balancing, personal agility, strength or dexterity, or any theatrical exhibition;” literary, scientific or musical exhibitions were to be exempt from this fee.2 In 1867, a law revoked the terms of the 1825 Act of Incorporation and its 1863 amendment from being applied to any land located to the south of the C and D Canal.3 This is likely because the citizens south of the canal felt that they were not being represented in Town government.
In 1877, the Town was re-incorporated as “The President and Council of the Town of St. George’s,” and a Charter was established. The powers of the Town was vested in a Town Council and six Councilmen were appointed with one to be chosen as President. They were to re-survey the Town and record the survey with the New Castle County Recorder of Deeds. The following year, the white, male citizens of the Town who had paid their taxes were to elect a Council President and five Council members to serve one-year terms. It was required that two of the Council members be chosen from and represent the part of the Town that was situated on the south side of the canal; thereby addressing the concerns they may have had which caused them to have the 1925 Act not apply to this part of the Town. The Council, the legislative branch of government in the Town, was to meet at least once a month. The President of the Council, who acted as the Town’s executive, was also the conservator of the peace and was required to ensure that all Town laws were enforced. Appointed officials included an Assessor, a Tax Collector, a Treasurer, and a Constable; all were required to be Town residents. It was the duty of the Council to provide for the regulation of public amusements, shows, and exhibitions; to define and remove nuisances; to regulate party walls and partition fences; to erect lamps and provide for lighting the streets; to ascertain and fix the boundaries of the streets; to open new streets and to repair, curb and pave all streets and footways; to construct gutters and sewers and to clean and repair these; and to prevent the introduction of infectious diseases by organizing a Board of Health. Annually, the Town Council was to determine the amount of monies to be raised to support carrying out the responsibilities outlined in the Charter. The Council was also given the power to borrow money to be used for grading, curbing, and paving the streets and footways provided that procuring such a loan was approved by two-thirds of the Council members.4
The 1877 Charter was first amended two years later. The law required the local Justice of the Peace if requested by the Town Council, to appoint a Special Deputy to serve as Constable in the Town. It also provided for a tax on dog owners of fifty cents for male dogs and $1 for female dogs and called for the Road Commissioners of Red Lion Hundred to allocate $250 annually towards the repair of the streets in the Town.5 In 1883, the allocation of the Road Commissioners of Red Lion Hundred was changed so that all funds collected by them from Town residents were to be allocated to the Town.6 In 1885, the term of the President and members of the Council were increased from one year to two years.7 Technical corrections were made to the Charter in 1893.8 In 1895, the 1883 law which required the Road Commissioners of Red Lion Hundred to turn over all of the taxes they collected from the Town of St. Georges was revised to indicate that only half of the road taxes collected would be allocated to the Town.9 This is likely because it was still the Road Commissioners responsibility to maintain the major public road which ran through the Town.
In 1913, the Town of St. Georges was re-incorporated in the corporate name of the “Town of St. Georges.” A survey of the Town was said to have been on file at the New Castle County Recorder of Deeds office. Six Council members and an Alderman were to be elected to serve two-year terms with at least three of the Council members to be freeholders in the Town. The Council was to meet monthly and was to choose one member as President and one as Secretary. A tie vote on any matter before the Council could be broken by the vote of the Alderman, and, in the absence of a Council member, the Alderman could also vote to decide a matter before it. In addition to the powers authorized as part of the 1877 Charter, the Town Council was given the right to take and hold property and other goods in the name of the Town as well as to remove privately-owned obstructions, such as buildings, fences, walls or embankments and charge the owner for such removal; to regulate traffic in the streets including the speed of motor vehicles or operating them at night without lights; to prevent wagons with animals from being left unhitched or unattended; to franchise companies which would provide water and electricity; to franchise those companies which would provide lighting for the streets, and to franchise companies which provide public conveyance. The appointed Town officials included a Treasurer, an Assessor, and a Tax Collector; these positions could be held by any of the Town’s elected officials. Within the Town, the Alderman was given the full and like power and authority of a Justice of the Peace with jurisdiction to decide all cases of breach of the peace or disorderly conduct of any person or persons. The Town Council could appoint a Town Bailiff or Bailiffs to serve as a Town Constable. The Assessor was to assess all real and personal property and to tax all town residents in equal proportions. In addition, all male residents above the age of 21 years were to be levied a per capita tax of $1, and each dog owner was taxed $1 for a male dog and $2 for a female. New manufacturing plants were exempt from taxation for seven years. The amount which the Road Commissioners of Red Lion Hundred must allocate annually was increased to $300.10
There were minor corrections made to the 1913 Charter in 1915;11 but the only significant amendment to the Act was in 1917 when the Town Council was authorized to borrow $8,000 with which to improve the streets.12 In 1941, the Charter of 1913 was rescinded and the corporation revoked. The Alderman and Town Council members that were in office at the time were appointed as a Board of Trustees for the purpose of closing the affairs of the Town; they were to serve for two years and then turn any remaining matters over to the Levy Court of New Castle County.13
CITATIONS in Del. Laws
1 6 Del. Laws, c. 285 (1825) [pp. 522-29]
2 12 Del. Laws, c. 318 (1863) [pp. 350-51]
3 13 Del. Laws, c. 179 (1867) [p. 183]
4 15 Del. Laws, c. 460 (1877) [pp. 588-98]
5 16 Del. Laws, c. 108 (1879) [pp. 159-61]
6 17 Del. Laws, c. 198 (1883) [p. 398]
7 17 Del. Laws, c. 570 [pp. 842-43]
8 19 Del. Laws, c. 760 [p. 1081]
9 20 Del. Laws, c. 104 (1895) [pp. 165-66]
10 27 Del. Laws, c. 227 (1913) [pp. 630-51]
11 28 Del. Laws, c. 133 (1915) [p. 408]
12 29 Del. Laws, c. 137 (1917) [pp. 419-22]
13 43 Del. Laws, c. 183 (1941) [pp. 805-06]
Delaware Laws from 1935 to present can be found online at http://delcode.delaware.gov/sessionlaws/
In 1943, the Trustees appointed to close out the affairs of the Town of St. Georges were instructed to turn over to the Levy Court of New Castle County all property related to it. No records are on file at the Delaware Public Archives.
jnl / April 24, 2019