Dupont Building under construction, showing the use of steel-framing. Hagley Museum Collection
The Equitable and Ford Buildings Era
The American architectural landscape experienced a significant metamorphosis in 1885, marked by the completion of the Home Insurance Building in Chicago. This 10-story edifice established a paradigm for what was considered a skyscraper. In its wake, Wilmington witnessed the construction of two notable establishments, the Equitable and Ford Buildings. While these adjacent towers loomed over Market Street’s skyline, they did not achieve the height of the Chicago landmark.
Finished in 1892 and 1900 respectively, the Equitable and Ford Buildings, standing side by side at nine stories each, were not seen as bona fide skyscrapers.
Wilmington’s skyline would be further modified with the 1908 addition of the DuPont Building. Rising to a height of 12 stories and occupying the entire block of Market between 10th and 11th Streets, it confronted and overshadowed the Equitable and Ford Buildings just across the street. The DuPont family designed their building’s final height to compete with the standard set in Chicago. In doing so, they solidified their skyscraper’s place in history as Delaware’s ‘first’.
Despite the dominance of the DuPont Building, the Equitable and Ford Buildings, among others, had already significantly altered Wilmington’s commercial landscape along Market between 5th and 11th Streets. These pre-1908 structures were among the city’s first to adopt three new architectural technologies that became standard skyscraper features.
The Baynard Building at 5th and Market, completed in 1883, and the Crosby & Hill Building at 6th and Market, erected in 1888, both stood at four stories. They incorporated the steel-frame architecture in their design. Additionally, they used the safety elevator, an innovation that first appeared in New York City’s Equitable Life Building (1870).
The Wilmington Savings Fund Society’s 1886 edifice also showcased these newest technological advancements. Philadelphia architect Addison Hutton’s cathedral style two-story Gothic Revival building concealed his iron and steel frame skeleton behind a heavy stone façade. He artfully combined cutting-edge techniques with a traditional castle-like appearance.
Legacy of a Trailblazing Period
Hutton’s bank, at 9th and Market Street in the heart of Wilmington’s commercial sector, was among the pioneer establishments to incorporate central steam heating. Operating like a geyser, the pressurized system ensured effective heat distribution from floor to floor.
This trio of contemporary improvements helped lay the groundwork for the creation of dramatically taller structures. The towers under discussion here are standout examples from a trailblazing period in Wilmington’s architectural history.