~by Patrick Dyer~
~A History of the Town of Camden~
On September 17, 1680, Alexander Humphreys was given a land grant of 600 acres which was bordered on the north by Isaac’s Branch and extended southward in what is now the Town of Camden. This land was mostly around the four corners of the Town. The land changed hands several times and eventually Warner Mifflin bought 436 acres in 1780 from the estate of John Vining.
Mifflin then sold 112 acres to his brother, Daniel Mifflin, in 1783. This land was on both sides of South Main Street and the east side of North Main Street and the land on the corner of North Main Street to Center Street. In 1786, Warner Mifflin sold 249 acres to Thomas Edmondson. This land was on the north side of the 200 block of Commerce Street (now East Camden-Wyoming Avenue) to the lands of what is now Brecknock Park. Also, in the same year, Warner Mifflin sold seventy-four acres to John Edmondson. This land was on the south side of the 200 block of Commerce Street and ran to approximately South Street, behind the Daniel Mifflin land on the west side of South Main Street. This area would make up the Town of Camden for the next two hundred years.
The crossroads consisted of two roads, one leading east-west, called the Forrest Landing Road, later called Commerce Street, and now Camden-Wyoming Avenue, and the other, the north-south road, called Upper King’s Road, now Main Street. The crossroads were most likely an Indian trail originally.
The Forrest Landing Road led to Lebanon where farmers and merchants could ship their products to various markets and in return merchants received goods that could be sold to farmers and other area merchants. The Upper King’s Road led northward towards Dover and to the south to communities downstate. Also, to get to Maryland, Main Street turned on to South Street to Willow Grove Road and then to Maryland. Camden- Wyoming Avenue did not connect to the Willow Grove Road until a later date.
Daniel Mifflin began selling lots of one to eleven acres around the four corners. Mifflin also built a tavern on the northwest corner which was also a stagecoach stop for towns north and south. It was later called the National Hotel. This hotel later became a grocery store before it was torn down in the 1960s, and is now the Town parking lot.
The Town was originally called Piccadilly, then Mifflin’s Crossroads. The name Camden first appeared in a deed dated December 11, 1788, in which George Truitt and his wife deeded a lot to Zadock Truitt. It is not known why the name of Camden was chosen.
Camden developed rapidly and by 1800, according the Census of 1800, contained 56 houses and had 323 residents, mostly Quakers and Methodists. The Methodists were the first to build a house of worship having acquired land on the south end of town, where they constructed a small church about twenty feet by thirty feet which contained a balcony for blacks to worship. A small cemetery exists where the fist church stood. The Quakers then built a Meeting House in 1805 on Camden Wyoming Avenue. It is still in use today.
Camden and the surrounding areas had fertile ground which was good for growing wheat and other grain crops. Timber was also plentiful and was cut and purchased by the merchants of Camden who transported it to Lebanon and Forrest Landing to be shipped up and down the coast and to the West Indies, where the timber was in demand for shipbuilding. Lebanon became a large and successful port. In return, the merchants received manufactured goods and fertilizer which could be sold to the farmers and others in the area.
By 1856, changes began to occur in Camden with the coming of the railroad. The railroad tracks were laid about a mile west of Camden. Some say the reason the railroad was built west of Camden was because the people of Camden did not want the smell and noise of the railroad. Others have speculated that if the railroad came through Camden it would have had to cross Howell’s Millpond which was located at Brecknock. This might have been more costly than going around the pond. No information has been found to support either idea. The dam creating this pond broke in the 1920s and was never rebuilt.
With the coming of the railroad, crops could reach the markets of our large cities faster than by water. Lebanon continued to be a port of importance until the first part of the nineteenth century. Peaches became the major crop for the area during the second half of the nineteenth century. The area was covered with peach orchards. One report had over 500,000 bushels of peaches shipped by rail out of Wyoming in one year, with many of these peaches bought by merchants of Camden. One of these merchants, Samuel Speal, was known as the “Fruit King of Delaware.” Eventually a disease called “Peach Yellows” destroyed the peach trees and the industry never recovered.
In 1856, the canning industry came to Camden. Two gentlemen by the name of George Stetson and William Ellison started a vegetable canning factory on North Main Street. This factory may have been the first canning factory in the State. This factory and Ellison’s house burned down in 1884 and the factory was relocated to Commerce Street, where the Camden-Wyoming Fire Company is now located. Canning continued into the twentieth century with farmers continuing to sell their crops to the canning factory.
This fire led to the formation, in 1885, of the Camden Rescue Hook and Ladder Company with William Ellison as the president. The original fire house was located where the entrance to the Town Hall parking lot is now. In 1926, the towns of Camden and Wyoming formed a joint fire company. At first, the company had one truck that was to be housed for six months in Camden and six months in Wyoming. However, the fire truck would not fit in the Wyoming Fire House so it was kept full-time in Camden. The original by-laws also called for the company to consist of twenty men from each town. This was later changed. In 1952, a new building was erected on the site of the present fire house. The building served the communities well until 2007, when a new and much larger building was erected to serve the ever-expanding communities.
Camden’s claim to fame was as a station on the Underground Railroad. Since the town had a large Quaker population, it was only natural that the Quakers would be involved in the Underground Railroad. Houses in and around Camden became stations or houses used to hide the slaves on the escape route.
Two houses in Camden are mentioned as places where slaves could be hidden, 11 and 15 North Main Street. One of the buildings has a room above the kitchen where slaves were supposedly hidden. Also, there is allegedly a tunnel connecting these two houses, but no evidence has ever been found to substantiate the idea. Information concerning the Underground Railroad is not readily available as any written information could be used in court cases involving slaves since harboring slaves was illegal.
As Camden moved into the twentieth century, a number of changes took place. In 1905, the Diamond State Telephone Company began to install telephones in Camden. Dial telephones were installed in 1940. In 1910, the Phoenix Electric Company ran electric lines throughout the Town and in 1911 water and gas mains were installed. In 1918, the towns of Camden and Wyoming purchased a water plant and system.
In 1922, the State Highway Commission installed sixteen foot wide concrete roads through two major roads in the towns of Camden and Wyoming. Camden- Wyoming Avenue ran from the railroad tracks to Rising Sun and Main Street had concrete for one mile.
Camden has been the home of several important people of there than the ones mentioned previously. L.D. Caulk was the founder of the L.D. Caulk Company which moved to Milford around 1900. General H.H. Lockwood was a Civil War General who was instrumental in the founding of the U.S. Naval Academy. Charles. L. Terry was born in Camden and later became Chief Justice of the Delaware Supreme Court and, in 1964, and was elected Governor of Delaware. Walton H. Simpson, owner of Simpson Lumber Company, served as Secretary of State under Governor Russell W. Peterson. George Truitt was a landowner who became Governor in 1808. Thomas Iron was a poet who wrote The Blue Hen’s Chickens, which contains several poems about Camden. Isabella Kast was a local artist who created many paintings and drawings of Camden.
The towns of Camden and Wyoming now share joint services in some areas such as the sewer and water lines and a joint fire company. Efforts to merge the two towns have been rejected by one or both of the towns several times.
The twenty-first century has brought many changes to the Town of Camden, with many boundaries increasing through annexation and the population increasing rapidly due to new housing developments in the area. Most annexation has occurred in the south with the area along US Route 13.
Information for this brief history has been taken from Scharf’’s History of Delaware, A Tricentennial View of North Murderkill Hundred, Report on the Intensive Level Survey of the Town of Camden, The Camden Town Minutes, and the author’s personal collection of information on the Town of Camden.
© Friends of Historic Camden 2015, all rights reserved
Photos courtesy of Richard Maly and Rebecca Gibbs