(Text copyright 2002, Donata Lewandowski Guerra, B.A. Swarthmore
The Wilmington, Delaware of the New
Century that began in 1901 can rightly be viewed as a city unfolding in The Age of Confidence. Although
one native son (Henry Seidel Canby) gave that title to his self-absorbed 1934 memoir of growing up in Victorian-era Wilmington,
the city's own coming-of-age as it expanded and profited from the Industrial Revolution -- indeed, its very ethos -- exemplified assuredness
(and even, at times, an undeniable smugness). At its best, confidence is a virtue that Wilmington could reflect from
its Quaker founders, incorporating their plain-spoken simplicity and directness. At worst, a narrow provincialism,
the bane of all small towns, could turn this virtue into an impediment. (I myself am tempted to claim that Canby embodied
that very narrowness, despite the supposed "broadening" that might have come with his Yale education.)
MARKET STREET, RAILROAD, AND RIVER
|BUSTLING MARKET STREET - 1912
|"DOWNTOWN" DURING THE LAST CENTURY
lower numbers of Market comprised the commercial heart of Wilmington during the first part of the Twentieth Century. Wilmington
merchants had had their start on these streets from the earliest times, and according to John A. Munroe, in his History
of Delaware, as time progessed, the Eighteenth century Wilmington merchant gave way to the Nineteenth century manufacturer
until, by mid-Twentieth century, the Wilmington bureaucrat superceded both to dominate the city.
However, as the New Century dawned in 1901,
these postcard views demonstrate that the merchant class was still thriving on the lower end of Market Steet.
The Five Cent Store at 221 Market was a convenience for the shoppers pictured, and at 106 W. Second Street, M. Smith
Watchmakers and Jewelers helped with non-electronic time-keeping.
L. Fellheimer, Dealer in Mens' and Boys'
Clothing and Gent's Furnishing Goods occupied 308 Market while N. Lieberman, the Popular Clothier presided at the S.E.
Corner of 5th and Market. Both names attest to the important contribution of proprietors of German and Russian Jewish
origin to the strength of the mercantile community in cities like Wilmington and throughout the land in this period.
|1912 - FRONT STREET
|By 1900, the city was manufacturing leather goods, vulcanized fiber, and railroad cars and wheels.
Not only did the Pennsylvania Railroad employ a good number of Wilmingtonians,
but noted manufactureres Jackson and Sharp, Harlan and Hollingsworth, and Pusey and Jones (first employer of this web
author's father) fabricated railroad cars for an industry that was the equivalent of the airline in our own present