KPA Heritage

Kennett Pike's right-of-way in Delaware was determined in 1810 as a result of a survey, requested by the Freeholders of New Castle County, aimed at finding the shortest route on suitable ground (no marshes; gen- tlest grade; fewest stream-crossings) between the southeasterly side of Orange Street and the state he at Twaddell's Tavern. On January 21, 1811, the State Legislature granted a charter to The Wilmington and Kennett Turnpike Company to build and maintain a "hardsurfaced", two-lane arched road on a 100-foot right- of-way along the previously determined route. Also chartered in that same January session were Delaware's sections of both The Wilmington, Concordville and West Chester Turnpike, and the Newport, Gap, and Lancaster Turnpike.

The Wilmington and Kennett Turnpike Company thrived from the time of its completion shortly after the War of 1812-14 ended until the mid-1870's when rail networks had supplanted most toll roads. Delaware's sec- tion of Ile Kennett Turnpike was often favored (vs Lancaster or Concord Turnpikes) partly because its grades were gentler and there were no significant creeks to ford, partly because the thriving village of Centreville (established in 1750) provided overnight hotel, tavern, and post office facilities an easy day's drive to tidewa- ter at Wilmington, and finally because a tavern was always in sight between Centreville and Wilmington. By end of the first World War, toll roads had become anachronisms. In 1919, W. Pierre S. du Pont bought out the Wilmington and Kennett Turnpike Company's shareholders (paying them double par value), assumed $ 10,000 accumulated debt, widened the Pike fully to its chartered 100 feet by obtaining necessary deeds from adjacent land holders, paved its two lanes at his own expense, and, in 1920 transferred it, in toto, to the State for a token consideration of one dollar.

This was the beginning of a long history of conservation and preservation of the road corridor.

This transfer to Delaware contained these restrictions: "no trolley cars shall be permitted; no advertising signs are to be erected or maintained upon or along the road, without receiving the consent of each and every property owner along its entire length"! Between 1920 and 1945, none of the Kennett Pike's gradient, and little of its roadside appearance had changed except for erection of Atlantic, Esso, Gulf Shell and Tidewater gas stations in Greenville, and Socony/Mobil in Centreville. But, by 1950, most long-time property owners in Northern Christiana Hundred had recognized that, unless they took positive, collective action, the Kennett Pike's bucolic charm could be irreversibly lost to haphazard development, and urban sprawl.

A newspaper from the time said, “He will make the old Kennett Pike a thing of beauty, a highway that will be a priceless gift for the public for all time.” In reconstructing the road he placed great emphasis on the preservation of trees. And later, he inspired and funded the planting of large numbers of elm, sycamore and oak along the 10.5 mile stretch of the Kennett Pike between his home at Longwood Gardens and the City of Wilmington. This string of trees today is often referred to as ‘Alice’s String of Pearls’ because – at his wife Alice’s request – he gave them to property owners one year instead of giving her a pearl birthday necklace.

Mr. du Pont also worked closely with private property owners to remove fencing that obstructed views. Deed restrictions were agreed upon with the State Highway department to proscribe laying rails, operating trolley cars or erecting advertising boards or signs upon or along the road without the consent of every property owner on both sides of the 80 ft wide right-of-way. There was also a provision that the state would “protect by every practical means the ancient pear tree at or near the entrance to the private road of Eugene du Pont.” The Kennett Pike Association (founded in 1961) and Centreville Civic Association (1970) have long worked to carry on this legacy of preservation. More recently, Delaware Greenways has led efforts to preserve the Kennett Pike as a State and National Scenic Byway.

About Links:

History Learn about our rich heritage dating back to 1810
Boundaries Map of area served
KPA Charter The KPA's purpose
Trustees Members of the board
Sponsors Local businesses who sponor medians along the Pike