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DuPont’s Drive towards Delaware’s Modern Highways

DuPont Highway Concept Plan 1912 / Hagley Museum

1912 Concept Plan for DuPont Boulevard envisioned a multi-use 200 foot wide roadway.

T. Coleman du Pont was among the first Delawareans at the turn of the 20th century to anticipate the future of highway traffic. He had repeatedly dealt with the substandard roads of southern Delaware during his travels between Wilmington and his estate in Cambridge, MD. 

DuPont’s Early Insights

“With the advent of the automobile,” he wrote in a letter to the State Highway Department, “I realized the wonderful development of which our little State is susceptible and that the first essential for this development is a well laid out system of highways traversing all the sections of the State. It was obvious from the beginning that the backbone of such a system must be a main North and South highway.” 

And so, in February 1911, du Pont publicly announced his willingness to advance the state $1,000,000 to construct just such a road. 

Spurred by du Pont’s offer and the support of other citizens who championed public infrastructure, the General Assembly passed the groundbreaking Boulevard Corporation Act that spring. 

The Act enabled a private corporation to build a state road. Once a section of the road, at least ten miles long, was finished, it would be transferred to the state, free of charge. The state would then maintain the road, including bridges and culverts, indefinitely. 

Instead of granting any individual or group authority over any state road, the Act provided a pathway for interested benefactors to undertake state projects that had not yet been initiated. 

Smoothing concrete along route 13

The Act opened the way for du Pont to form the DuPont Boulevard Corporation.  

His sweeping vision and meticulous planning created DuPont Boulevard, a groundbreaking design meant to stretch the state’s entire length.  

From the outset, the Boulevard Corporation, staffed by men of unyielding integrity, pledged to construct roads of enduring quality. Undeterred by the potential for shortcuts, they commenced construction in Georgetown on January 24, 1912. 

Such a bold and transformative project was bound to encounter resistance. Sure enough, the not-in-my-back-yard (NIMBY) protesters materialized in New Castle County within days of the Corporation announcing plans.  

The town of Arden objected to having the highway run so close to their village, “inasmuch as tramps would follow the course of the smooth boulevard rather than the present rough highway, and that the peace and quiet of Arden would be disturbed,” reported the ‘Morning News.’ 

Overcoming Resistance

Wilmington detractors argued that the boulevard would necessitate additional policing, increase the cost of their city governance as well as risk an increased volume of accidents. 

This NIMBYism only added to difficulties in securing rights-of-way both in New Castle and Kent County as well. The Corporation instead was compelled to commence work in Sussex County.  

Du Pont and his associates exhibited remarkable courage and patience despite facing such relentless headwinds. 

DuPont Boulevard Corporation in 1915 successfully completed a twenty-mile stretch from the Maryland line to Georgetown. The organization then conveyed the said road to the state. 

The Boulevard Corporation in September 1917 proposed that the newly formed State Highway Department integrate the Boulevard into the larger state road system. The General Assembly had reached the point of accepting responsibility for a state road system. The already completed twenty miles of concrete road in Sussex demonstrated to every Delaware business owner and farmer the potential value of a state-long boulevard. 

The transfer came with three conditions: (1) The state would continue the Boulevard’s construction from Appenzellar Farm to Milford according to the pre-established width and plan, (2) the state would extend the trunk-line from Milford to Wilmington according to its own plans, and (3) these two projects would be the first ones completed by the Department. 

line drawing of 1930's Packard whizzing along Route 13

Despite several years of labor shortages, economic disruption, and legislative delays related to World War I, du Pont remained committed. He agreed to cover all trunk-line costs, which in turn freed the state’s road funds for other sections. 

A section of the road between Georgetown and Milford remained incomplete for four years. The Appenzellar Farm, south of Milford, put up fierce resistance and instigated continuous legal actions to prevent their land holdings being cut in half. Builders finally finished the disputed segment in 1919. 

Legacy in Concrete

DuPont Boulevard’s design accommodated future high-speed, high-volume traffic. The visionary standards, including a 200-foot wide right of way and curves and grades suitable for fast-moving traffic, became a benchmark for modern highway design. 

T. Coleman du Pont’s financial contribution is the most significant personal gift to highway construction ever. He paid $2,600,000 for a 75-mile stretch, equivalent to roughly $783 million today. 

DuPont Boulevard, which went on to be known as DuPont Highway (Route 13), in combination with its many branching roads, forged the basis of modern transportation connections, both within Delaware and beyond. 

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