Demolition on Hold for Historic Structure on Brandywine Banks

Walker’s Bank, the historic dwelling that housed immigrant powder mill workers and their families along the banks of the Brandywine, has fallen into a profound state of disrepair and is slated for demolition. However, because of the efforts of passionate preservationists and stakeholders who are speaking up, the property owners have agreed to take steps to stabilize the building with tarps and other materials as an interim measure.

The community-wide support for the restoration of the structure was even etched in snow above the frozen Brandywine River this week.

Walker’s Bank in 1972, when it was added to the National Register of Historic Places

Walker’s Bank, which sits on the banks of Brandywine River near Hagley, is an extremely significant example of the industrial village dwelling and the last remaining workers’ housing of its kind.  

It is a “back-to-back” style structure, originally comprising 8 units, with 4 entrances facing east and 4 facing west.  This style construction is not only distinct for the era, but also for the location along the slopes of the Brandywine.  The east and west entrances were efficiently built at different elevations to accommodate the sloped land, which is distinctive among the back-to-back style.  

Walker’s Bank is on the National Register of Historic Places and was well-maintained until the current owners purchased it in 2002.  It has suffered extreme neglect and now this iconic, valuable, enduring local landmark is threatened to be demolished through the owners’ neglect.  All residential and commercial property owners have a responsibility to perform basic repairs and property maintenance. It’s troubling to the community when any property falls into disrepair through sheer neglect, and particularly so when the property is an irreplaceable landmark integral to our local history, and the deferred basic maintenance could have been remedied at reasonable cost had the damage not compounded. The property is an irreplaceable landmark integral to our local history.

Walker’s Bank as it looks today. Large holes in the roof, broken or missing windows, trees and plants growing from within the structure.

This is especially disheartening because of how significant worker housing is to the history of the du Ponts and the immigrant workforce, who profoundly affected our county’s growth and heritage.

The du Ponts are notable in history for their treatment of employees that far exceeded other manufacturing companies of the era.  They actively recruited and retained a strong, predominantly Irish workforce, paying high wages and providing significant benefits including free or low-cost housing.  This reciprocal relationship fostered a sense of trust and loyalty that was critical to the growth and success of the du Ponts, and to promoting the upward mobility of the immigrants who risked their lives in the powder mills for the opportunity to establish a better life than was available in their native countries.  

My great-great grandfather, Patrick McDade, came from Donegal, Ireland, to Wilmington as a young man around 1872.  He worked in the powder mill and was rewarded with rent-free housing because he prevented an explosion in the mill.  In later years, when he needed more space to accommodate his family, he asked to move to the desirable home located at 18 Walker’s Bank.  He was told he could move but would have to pay rent for that home; he agreed. He lived there until he died in 1929, and his daughters and grandchildren resided at 17 and 18 Walker’s Bank until about 1950 when all of Walker’s Bank was intended for eviction and demolition.  


The only reason we still have the last structure is because one other immigrant family, the Ferraros, took a stand to protect their home.  The du Ponts responded and allowed the Ferraros to remain.  The last block of Walker’s Bank was saved once and deserves continued protection.

Another factor that has contributed to the demise of the structure has been the deed restriction imposed by DuPont decades ago, which prevents the building from being inhabited because of the possibility that the ground is contaminated. Councilman Bob Weiner told constituents on Thursday, however, that the DuPont Company is now considering removing the redevelopment deed restriction.

With such a rich history, it is disheartening that the current owners have neglected basic property maintenance such that this 200-year-old landmark has deteriorated from good condition to possible extinction in only 15 years under their care. We show our values in what we care for and what we neglect, what we preserve and what we destroy.

This week artist Ed Taylor shoveled a snow message on the frozen Brandywine River: “Save Walkers Row.”

With the support of the county officials and with the cooperation of the current owners, a reasonable arrangement can be reached to protect to this landmark. An emergency stabilization effort by the current owners could allow the building to be sold (to Hagley, Dow/DuPont or someone else.)

How this story will be told in another 200 years says a lot about our values. I hope in 200 years our descendants will know we preserved the enormous contributions of the industrial era and the immigrant powder mill families that made Wilmington one of the most important manufacturing cities in the country at the turn of the century.  

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About the Contributor

Amy Kania

Amy Kania

Amy Kania is a Wilmington native and a graduate of the University of Delaware (M.A., English). In the mid-to-late 1800s, four of her great-great grandparents left Ireland for Wilmington to live and work in the local du Pont mills. Like her Irish ancestors, Amy talks a lot and spends time with her many cousins in the area. When she's not talking, Amy enjoys genealogy research and freelance writing.

6 Comments

  • Dear Friends of Walkers Bank,

    Tim Ashford dba Walker’s Mill Associates, the current owner, has forthwith committed to New Castle County to:

    1) Install a tarp barrier to prevent further moisture from entering the building;

    2) Place wood or Plexiglass over all openings in windows or doorways to prevent further weather entry; and

    3) Remove all loose debris from around the building.

    We can now visualize the dawn of a rebirth of our beloved and iconic Walkers Bank.

    At the risk of offending anyone, I applaud the collective tenacity and dedication of all stakeholders; including, but not limited to Tim Ashford, Michael Melloy, John Lintner, and Michael Christopher.

    I again publicly thank DuPont Company for its willingness to consider removal of redevelopment restrictions of record, which restrictions currently preclude residential use as part of Walker’s Bank future adaptive re-use.

    In light of the above, I am confident that the New Castle County Historic Review Board will continue to delay the issuance of the Demolition Permit while a restoration/re-use plan can be developed.

    As evidenced by the attached, Tim Ashford listened with compassion and heard our pleas.

    Best wishes to all.

    Bob Weiner, your County Councilman

    Hon. Robert S. Weiner Esq.
    Council District 2, New Castle County, DE
    http://www.bobweiner.com

  • Any- wonderful reporting! It’s remarkable how many Delawareans have a connection with Walkers Row. These homes are historic assets that need to be preserved and properly managed.

    Thank you for this!

  • After four months of active citizen engagement and help from County Councilman Bob Weiner, Mike Christopher and others, a breakthrough last week means we are likely to achieve the first of three phases, the stabilization of Walker’s Bank and the full cooperation of the owner.
    The second and more difficult phase will be to develop an economically viable restoration/re-use plan that makes sense for the owner and is supported by the community.

    This issue has been tracked with additional photographs and comments at
    https://www.facebook.com/HistoricDelawareAtRisk/

    While the News Journal has ignored repeated attempts to have this covered, Tim Furlong with NBC10 did cover this on Thursday night. Here is a link to that clip.
    https://www.nbcphiladelphia.com/news/local/Saving-Walkers-Row_Philadelphia-468873923.html

    There is also a second hearing with the Historic Review Board this Tuesday night from 5 – 7 pm, where people can comment verbally or submit comments in writing. Here is a link to that event:
    https://www.facebook.com/events/390568481378324/

    Comments and suggestions on possible re-use ideas can be e-mailed to the Historic Review Board. If you can not attend the hearing, PLEASE submit comments via e-mail to the Historic Review Board.
    In the subject line, include “Walker’s Bank.”
    Here are the members of the Historic Review Board
    Dr. Barbara E. Benson, Chair.
    John T. Brook, Esq.
    John R. Davis, PE
    Stephen L. Johns, PE, PLS
    Rafeal X. Zahralddin-Aravena, Esq.

    All Board Members can all be e-mailed at [email protected]
    It is helpful to also copy the following elected/appointed officials:

    Matthew S. Meyer, County Executive
    E-mail: [email protected]

    Robert S. Weiner New Castle Councilman,
    E-mail: [email protected]

    State Senator Greg Lavelle
    E-mail: [email protected]

    State Representative Gerald L. Brady
    E-mail: [email protected]

    Mr. Timothy Slavin, Director Delaware Division of Historical & Cultural Affairs
    E-mail: [email protected]

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