Frozen in the 18th century – New Castle, Delaware
Hidden away only 5 miles or so from the I-95 artery of the East Coast, the small town of New Castle, Delaware (pop. ~ 5000) has more colonial buildings packed into it than any other American town I know of. Not a single structure within the historic center seems to have been put up after the 19th century, and never have I seen so many pre-Revolution buildings so immaculately intact in one area. The only things in town that look of this century are the cars and the people. Most of the streets retain their original paving stones, and especially since it’s such a quiet place, it really is easy to forget Modernity..
What is best about New Castle, though, is that it’s an actual town and not a museum piece as many other colonial areas have become. Regular families inhabit the centuries-old houses, and people still frequent pubs that have remained largely unchanged since the 18th century. One can still visit the house where, in around 1680, William Penn supposedly spent his first night in America, the homes of two signers of the Declaration of Independence, a house where the Marquis de Lafayette attended a wedding, and the modest 1832 ticket booth for the New Castle-Frenchtown Railroad, which was the 2nd railroad built in the United States.
Founded by the Dutch West India Company’s Peter Stuyvesant (whose more famous post was that of governor of New Amsterdam), its strategic location on the Delaware River meant that it changed hands a number of times in its early days- the main players, of course, were the Dutch and the English, but surprisingly it was also controlled for some time by the Swedish, who once held a bit of sway in this region. In fact, the Old Courthouse, built in 1732 (and one of the oldest still standing in the country) still flies the Swedish flag. Its situation and initial influence had New Castle poised to become a city of some significance. However, despite having one of the first railroads, sometime around the mid 19th century, the main freight routes shifted to Wilmington and the town stopped completely in its tracks. It failed to keep up with industrialization and missed the train, so to speak-
And this is where the town just froze in time. A more upward moving town would have destroyed its old buildings as it marched into the modern age. A town with less initial influence and history would have receded into poverty. New Castle, however, just stayed right where it was, and largely remains there today, even as millions of travelers on the highways bypass it by with only miles to spare, completely unaware.