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RG #5400


RG 9015-028-000-02341: Railroad Station, Townsend

The 1800s

Townsend, located in southern New Castle County in an area of fertile agricultural land and dense forests, was originally an isolated crossroads village called Charley Town, with a store and a few houses. In 1856, when the Delaware Railroad line established a station here, it was renamed Townsend, after the largest landowner in the area. The late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were a period of great prosperity for the Town which would benefit from being a principal shipping point on the rail line, and by 1880, there was a lumber yard, a fruit evaporator facility, a cannery, and a grain dealer. Growth began to slow when, in the 1920s, a divided highway was built nearby and transportation by truck became the preferred method of moving goods to market.  

Townsend was first incorporated in 1885 as “The Commissioners of the Town of Townsend.” Five Commissioners were to be elected with electors being all males and unmarried females, 21 years or older, who were current in paying their taxes.  The Commissioners, who were all to be freeholders within the Town, were elected to two-year, staggered terms and were to meet four times a year to pass ordinances related to governing the Town, improving the streets, repairing watercourses, planting and protecting ornamental trees, and any other matter related to the general welfare of the Town and its residents. One of the Commissioners was to serve as President, presiding at all meetings of the Commissioners. The duties of the Commissioners were to regulate the streets and sidewalks (assisted by an allotment of funds from the Road Commissioners of Appoquinimink Hundred); to remedy dangerous conditions; to prohibit the firing of guns, making of bonfires, or setting off of fireworks; and to prohibit any dangerous sport or other such practice. Appointed Town officials included an Alderman, a Constable, and an Assessor. The Alderman and Constable were to keep the peace in the Town, suppressing all riotous, turbulent, disorderly or noisy assemblages, and preventing all gatherings that could obstruct or interfere with the free use of the streets or sidewalks. The Assessor was to make an impartial valuation and assessment of all real estate and personal property with the Town’s annual taxation on real and personal property not to exceed $100. There was also to be a per capita tax of twenty-five cents placed on all males over 21 years of age, and a tax on the owner of dogs of fifty cents for the first male dog with $1 for each additional and $2 for female dogs.1

Three laws amended the 1885 Incorporating Act. In 1877, the first amendment to the Act increased the allotment from the Road Commissioners of Appoquinimink Hundred to at least $200.2 Ten years later, in 1897, the maximum annual taxation was increased to $200 and the per capita tax was increased to fifty cents.3 In 1898, the allotment from the Road Commissioners of Appoquinimink Hundred increased again, to at least $300.4


1900 – 1949

In 1905, Townsend was re-incorporated; the corporate name remained unchanged. Also unchanged were all aspects of the Town’s governance and the act of re-incorporation mirrored that of the 1885 Act. There were increases in the allotment from the Road Commissioners of Appoquinimink Hundred which was now to be not less than $400, and also in the Town’s annual taxation which was increased to $400.5

It would be sixty-five years until the Town was next re-incorporated. During this time, several amendments were made to the 1905 Incorporating Act. The first amendment was enacted in 1917 when the allocation from the Road Commissioners of Appoquinimink Hundred was increased to $1,000; 6 but in 1921, a law instructed that the allocation should equal the amount of road taxes collected from those living in the Town.7 A law in 1927 authorized the Commissioners of Townsend to borrow up to $15,000 in order to supply water to the Town’s residents. They were to levy a special tax in order to establish a sinking fund and repay the yearly interest on the loan.8


1950 – 1999

For many years the 1905 Incorporating Act remained unchanged, but in 1977, several new provisions were added among which were: to clarify that the Town possessed all powers of a Town government whether or not they were enumerated in the Act; to appoint the Justice of the Peace in the nearest Town to serve as the Town’s Alderman, if none had been so appointed; and also to authorize the Commissioners to appoint a Police Force who would be vested with the powers of a County Constable.9 In 1988, the Town was provided with the authorization to annex contiguous territory following a process which would require referendum approval.10 A 1989 law authorized and established procedures for the creation of bonded indebtedness; it also established a maximum debt limit of 12% of the assessed value of the Town’s taxable real estate.11 A 1995 law allowed the Town to collect a tax of 1% of a property’s selling price at the time of its transfer.12

In 1996, Townsend was re-incorporated in the corporate name of “The Town of Townsend,” and a new Charter was established. The Charter indicated that the boundaries of the Town had not been changed, but also included the provisions of a 1988 amendment, relating to the annexation of contiguous land. The Town was authorized to have all the powers possible to grant to a municipality under the laws of the State of Delaware. There continued to be five Commissioners, elected by popular vote, for two-year terms. The Commissioners were to choose one of their members as President. The age at which any resident could hold elective office or vote in an election was now 18. Appointed Town officials included a Town Clerk, a Town Attorney, a Financial Officer, and if deemed advisable, a Police force. The Town accepted the assessment of the New Castle County Board of Assessment for use in levying local taxes, so no Assessor was required. The amount of taxes to be levied was limited to the sum determined by applying Townsend’s tax rate to the New Castle County assessment. Additional revenue was raised through the real estate transfer tax, franchise fees, and utility services. The Town had the power to borrow up to $50,000 which was required to be repaid in five years when in the opinion of a majority of the Commissioners, the needs of the Town required it. This short term debt did not require referendum approval. Long term borrowing required referendum approval and at any one time was not to exceed, in aggregate, 5% of the appraised value of all taxable real property.13


2000 – Current

Major changes in the governance of the Town meant that Townsend would re-incorporate and revise its Charter in 2004. The Town was now governed by a publically-elected Town Council. It was the responsibility of the Council to elect one of their members to serve as Mayor. The Mayor, who served as the head of Town government for ceremonial purposes, was to preside over Council meetings but could not vote except to break a tie. Meetings of the Council were to be held monthly and quorum had to be established without including the Mayor. Other Town officials remained the same except for adding a Town Engineer and specifically mentioning a Chief of Police. This Charter made significant changes in how annexation into the Town would take place as well as added a section on Remedies for the Collection of Taxes. It also revised the provisions for short term borrowing, defined as being in anticipation of current revenue, which was not to exceed 1% of the assessed taxable real property in the Town or $200,000 whichever is greater. The limit on long term borrowing did not change.14 The 2004 Charter was amended only once, in 2006, at which time clarifications were made to the qualifications for holding elective office.15 Townsend was most recently re-incorporated in 2015. This Charter mirrored that of 2004; however, the sections that had been most expanded in the 2003 Charter, Annexation of Territory, and the one that was added, Remedies for Collection of Taxes, were the most revised by being simplified and shortened. In addition, the Charter indicated that a Town Manager, who need not be a resident of the Town, was now its administrative head. The powers and responsibilities of this position are outlined in the new Charter.16 

For the fully amended text of the current Charter, see

CITATIONS in Del. Laws

1 17 Del. Laws, c. 569 (1885) [pp. 837-42]

2 18 Del. Laws, c. 166 (1877) [p. 289]

3 20 Del. Laws, c. 542 (1897) [p. 650]

4 21 Del. Laws, c. 97 (1898) [p. 236]

5 23 Del. Laws, c. 174 (1905) [pp. 296-301]

6 29 Del. Laws, c. 143 (1917) [p. 446]

7 32 Del. Laws, c. 125 (1921) [p. 378]

8 35 Del. Laws, c. 141 (1927) [pp. 462-64]

9 61 Del. Laws, c. 176 (1977) [pp. 568-69]

10 66 Del. Laws, c. 258 (1988) [p. 491]

11 67 Del. Laws, c. 17 (1989) [pp. 25-26]

12 70 Del. Laws, c. 224 (1995) [p. 567]

13 70 Del. Laws, c. 423 (1996) [pp. 918-31]

14 74 Del. Laws, c. 241 (2004) [pp. 546-60]

15 75 Del. Laws, c. 347 (2006) [p. 467]

16 80 Del. Laws, c. 9 (2015) []

Delaware Laws from 1935 to present can be found online at


jnl / February 27, 2019 | April 23, 2019