Development has finally begun on the site of what was the oldest building built for free public education in the United States.
The Forwood School, which was built before 1800, was knocked down months ago, and plans are to use its stones in a leasing center.
The development is on 11.7 acres in the heart of Brandywine Hundred, on Silverside Road, across from Branmar Plaza, and just west of Marsh Road.
Forwood Commons, according to plans prepared by an engineering firm, will include 38 townhomes, all with two-car garages, and four buildings for retail. Almost 5 acres will be paved, according to county records.
The retail includes a 7,000-square-foot restaurant with outdoor dining; a 13,400-square-foot site for a pharmacy or retail; a 4,000-square-foot bank; and a building with a 5,920-square-foot retail space and a 1,920-square-foot coffeeshop.
Developer Joe Setting bought the property in 2014 and by 2015 had proposed 35 three-story townhouses and five commercial buildings with the same mix of tenants. Various governmental reviews ran from 2015 to 2019.
Setting did not return requests for updates.
Neighbors complain about development
When crews began clearing the site, a thread on nextdoor.com generated dozens of comments, complaining about the green space and wildlife habitat lost and the traffic congestion gained.
“I felt sick to my stomach looking at the destruction of that beautiful wooded area where all our innocent wildlife once lived. So sad,” Dawn Groover wrote, ending her post with a broken heart.
Also partly lost: the historic school. “Too much history is thrown in the dumpster,” said James Hanby, a descendant of the Forwood and Hanby families. The school closed in 1939, and it was sold to a Forwood family member, and he was the one who placed the old school in its historical context.
Elementary and junior high schools named Forwood were later built less than a half-mile to the north. The junior high has closed, and it’s now the site of Forwood Manor, a residence for seniors.
The area where Silverside, Marsh and Veale roads intersect is a hub of retail and offices surrounded by mostly fully detached homes.
People on nextdoor.com pointed out that these nearby shopping centers already have multiple coffeeshops (Brew HaHa, Dunkin Einstein’s Bagels and Starbucks), pharmacies (Walgreens and RiteAid), banks (M&T, Citizens and PNC) and vacancies. An empty building at Marsh and Silverside roads was last occupied by TD Bank; before that, the site was an Eckerd’s drugstore.
The yellow redevelopment sign for the property gives its address as 2212 Silverside Road, but along the way, the land has been remapped, and all the lots have been given addresses on Joe Way, Jay Way and Forwood Boulevard. The boulevard lines up with the Silverside Road entrance to Branmar Plaza.
Local fans of wildlife do have something to be hopeful about: Delaware Public Media in 2022 reported on a $250,000 state grant to improve Forwood Preserve Park, 16 undeveloped acres that front Marsh and Veale roads.
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