TSD: Delaware’s best take on events, community and local life
Harry G. “Hal” Haskell, Jr., who helped steer Wilmington out one of the city’s most difficult periods, died on Thursday. He was 98.
Haskell was the last Republican to lead the city, serving one-term from 1969 through 1972, a tenure that followed riots and nine months of National Guard deployment in the state’s largest city. Together with Governor Russell Peterson, also a Republican elected in 1968, Haskell ended the Guard’s role in the city.
Elected Delaware’s lone member of the US House of Representatives, Haskell defeated Harris McDowell (father of the current state senator) in 1956, but served only one, two-year term before losing to McDowell in a 1958 rematch.
Haskell was a businessman and conservationist who was a major shareholder and chairman of the preppy retailer Abercrombie and Fitch and spearheaded efforts to create the Brandywine Conservancy. Haskell decision to protect 194 acres of his Hill Girt Farm in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania through creation of a conservation easement was a catalyst for the Conservancy’s protection of more than 40,000 acres.
Haskell and Peterson were quintessential Rockefeller Republicans – progressively minded politicians firmly in the mainstream of their party’s eastern wing through the 1950s, 60s and 70s. The term was particularly apt for Haskell, owing to the fact he grew up spending summers with members of the Rockefeller family in Mt. Desert Island, Maine.
Haskell’s first major job in politics was serving as a deputy to future New York governor and vice president Nelson Rockefeller when Rockefeller led the then-Health, Education and Welfare Department under President Dwight D. Eisenhower.
Mayor Haskell’s father, Harry G. Haskell, was an expert in high-explosives who joined the Du Pont Company and quickly rose to senior executive positions, ultimately serving as a member of the board of directors and executive committee.
Haskell’s father purchased Hill Girt Farm in Chadds Ford in 1912. In an interview for a family website, he recalled growing up on a working farm.
“There were several families with children on the farm, and we all had jobs,” recalled Haskell. “The really little kids got a nickel per hour. The bigger ones got a dime. We had to hoe every row of corn to keep the weeds down. The older children pitched hay for the 12 horses. There were no tractors until the mid 1930s.”
“We had a dog kennel with about 50 schnauzers and a big water wheel to generate electricity. To turn the wheel, there was a surface viaduct that brought water down from the pond. There was no fire department back then, so we pumped water to two big tanks for a huge fire control system. The water pressure from those tanks was tremendous. You could fill the swimming pool in two hours.”