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Great Places to Live

There’s more to a great neighborhood than great homes. Include top-notch schools, easy transportation, stellar shopping, cultural and recreational diversions, and a palpable pride of place. Here are 11 areas that stand out.



Click here to download the entire real estate chart (112KB). This chart compares home sales from 2005 through 2009. Average price is indicated in thousands, rounded to the nearest thousandth. Range refers to the lowest and highest selling prices during the year indicated. Also included is the number of houses sold during the year. NA indicates that no homes were sold. Figures were compiled by Steven Sachs, Brian Sachs and Jeffrey Schoch of Steven Sachs Appraisal Access, 3654 Silverside Road, Wilmington, 477-9676.


Michael and Linda Ratchford moved to Old New Castle 28 years ago because they liked the town’s historic feel. “Honoring the historical integrity is important to us,” Michael says. “That’s why Old New Castle looks the way it looks.” Photograph by Jared Castaldi

OLD NEW CASTLE

There’s No Place Like It

Back in the 1940s, Old New Castle was identified as the site for a Colonial Williamsburg-like historic village. It didn’t work out, but thanks to an aggressive program of preservation ordinances, residents still enjoy living in one of the most authentic Colonial towns in existence, an island unto itself.

“Be prepared for high-maintenance living,” local Realtor Tim Scully warns. “Some people discover that the unique lifestyle offered here is not for them.”

What Scully means is that historic homes can be challenging: low doorways, narrow staircases, low ceilings, dirt basements, lack of storage, etc.—not to mention unique upkeep issues. In the historic district, such easy-maintenance marvels such as vinyl siding are strictly prohibited. If the materials don’t fit the period, you won’t see them. You will see historically authentic materials such as brick, cedar, wood clapboard and ship lap. That means regular pointing and painting (in appropriate colors, of course).

But to Linda Ratchford, who moved to Old New Castle with her husband, Michael, 28 years ago, a house that’s historically preserved “has soul,” she says.

“The New Castle Historical Society does a blog about repairing old houses, contractors live here and work on houses, and your neighbors have contacts and referrals, too.

“The exteriors have to be historically accurate, but the interiors are up to the owners,” says Ratchford. “Honoring the historical integrity is important to us. That’s why Old New Castle looks the way it looks.”

The area offers 18th-century homes mixed with classic Victorians, more modern row homes and townhouses. Prices range from $200,000 to seven figures.

In-town conveniences are limited to the essentials. Yes, there is a Happy Harry’s, a liquor store, good pizza at Portofino’s and casual fare at Jack’s Bistro. There’s fine dining at The Arsenal on the Green, Jessop’s Tavern and Prince on Delaware. But for all else—including most Colonial District schools—you’ll have to journey a bit beyond the city line.

“Old New Castle is actually a great place to raise kids,” says Ratchford. “We have Battery Park, plus a little park on Bull Hill. You can walk down the street and get an ice cream cone or walk to the library.”
 

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Residents live among the town’s historic courthouse (the state’s original capitol building), beautiful Immanuel Episcopal Church on the Green (with a cemetery full of Revolutionary War patriots), the octagonal Old Library (designed by the famed Frank Furness), and more significant structures than any town in the state. The Strand, a street that runs along the Delaware River shoreline, is home to the famous George Read House and museum, as well as the Gunning-Bedford house, a circa 1730 artifact.

New Castle is, naturally, home to proud families who trace their roots back generation after generation. They display their pride through such celebrations as A Day in Old New Castle, when visitors can tour many of the homes and gardens, and Separation Day, when the state won independence from Pennsylvania. When you’re invited to join the planning committee, you’ve arrived—no easy feat in so traditional a place.

New Castle is the place where William Penn “bought” the lands that would become Penn’s Woods from the Lenape Indians. How much history can a person stand?
 

The Bakers moved into their home in Wilmington’s Triangle neighborhood in 1975. Photograph by Jared CastaldiTHE OTHER WILMINGTON

Laid-back Living in the City

Hear that? It’s silence. To think that you’re right in the middle of Wilmington.

So even if Trolley Square still gets all the buzz, young urban professionals have alternatives that are every bit as gentrified, every bit as convenient and much, much quieter.

“I’m assisting lawyers moving to Wilmington coming to work for the big law firms, and it seems all of them are saying, ‘I want to live in the Triangle,’” says Steve Mottola of the Mottola Group.

It’s not hard to see why. In the area bounded by 18th Street, Broom Street-Miller Road and Baynard Boulevard, house-hunters can find quaint turn-of-the-century housing stock for up to $100,000 less than that in Trolley Square, yet with all of Trolley’s charm—lots of mature trees, brick sidewalks, classic homes, and the neighboring Brandywine Park and Brandywine Zoo. Trolley Square restaurants are a mere 15-minute walk, as is your office downtown.

“You can find vintage 1920s homes with fireplaces and off-street parking,” says Mottola. “The Triangle is very attractive for professionals willing to sacrifice square-footage for location.”
 

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Neighborhood traffic is local only, hence the quiet. The most noise you’ll hear is the beginning and end of the school day at Salesianum and Warner Elementary. Diversion? Take a walk, or satisfy your jones for Friday night lights at Baynard Stadium. Access center city via the Washington Street Bridge.

Tom Baker has lived in The Triangle since 1975. “Our children were 2 and 6 years old when we moved here,” he says. “I worked downtown, so I walked to work for many years. Having bus transportation as an option in bad weather was great, too.

“We liked the diversity of the neighborhood, and the kids grew up with a mix of friends. Our kids went to Wilmington Friends. Our daughter had started there before we even thought of moving here. I think one real advantage of living here is that our kids grew up colorblind.”

One more key point: You’ll be involved with an active, tight-knit, totally wired civic association that counts a few key city officials among its membership. Triangle Neighborhood Association president Howard Sholl describes the place this way: “Beautiful, well-built homes that actually have some character and great neighbors you actually get to meet and know.”

Shannon and Lisa Stevens have lived in The Triangle for three years. They cherish the fact that their two small children can play with several other kids on their block. “They play out front and go to each other’s houses,” says Shannon, a marketing consultant. “We can even hear the marching bands and the games at Baynard Stadium. 

“The interesting thing about The Triangle is that you live in the city, yet you have the feeling that you’re outside the city, largely because we’re so close to Brandywine Park,” says Stevens. “It’s just a nice little pocket.”

Hop across Pennsylvania Avenue from Trolley Square to find another neighborhood that rivals The Triangle for novelty and tranquility. Cool Spring-Tilton Park is chock-a-block with beautiful Queen Anne homes and other beautiful options in the vicinity of the renovated Cool Spring Reservoir—now a giant urban park—to be had at prices from $100,000 to $650,000.

“I bought a 2,800-square foot home here in Cool Spring for the same amount of money that would have purchased about 1,500-square feet in Trolley,” says Ed Weirauch, vice president of the Cool Spring-Tilton Park Neighborhood Association. “We have plenty of green space to go along with the reservoir. And many of our homes feature large backyards, by urban standards.”

Sending your daughter to Padua or Ursuline Academy? She can walk. Dinner out on the neighborhood? You’ll have to join the swanky University and Whist Club. Best party in the neighborhood? The annual Greek Festival at Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church.

Weirauch points out that about 100 homes are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. “We’re a diverse community of artists, musicians as well as craftsmen,” says Weirauch, “all of whom are within easy walking distance of downtown.”

 

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The Everharts and their three young ones moved to Newark because of the area’s sense of community. Photograph by Jared CastaldiNEWARK

The Place That Has it All

Newark may have started as an agricultural center, but it has matured into a place that feels laid-back and 21st-century sophisticated at the same time.

Benchmark Builders moved into the area 20 years ago in part to build starter homes for the cadres of workers flocking to now-defunct MBNA card services and other credit companies. Now Benchmark is building communities that appeal to retirees who don’t want to leave the area.

“The Village of Long Creek is an example of one of our active adult communities located in Newark and near the kinds of amenities, shopping, parks and attractions that allow residents who enjoyed those features while raising their families to continue enjoying them throughout their retirement years,” says the company’s Steve Bamberger.

Between homes for young professionals and retirement communities beats the heart of a true American small town. “I like the interconnectedness of the people here,” says resident Megan Everhart, who moved to the Fairfield neighborhood from Bear three years ago with her husband and three young children. “It’s a reminder of what is important in life: people and friends.”

Everhart enjoys what she calls Newark’s “walkability.” Its Main Street has thrived, even as main streets in other towns have lost significance as commercial centers. Main Street Newark offers everything from jewelry stores to bike shops to a variety of fine dining and ethnic fare. (There are more than 200 shops and restaurants in town.)

The final word on Newark, however, may be the university. The University of Delaware offers the cultural attractions that have the weight and dimension of those in much larger urban areas. There’s the world-class Master Players Concert Series featuring virtuoso musicians, along with internationally acclaimed artists and ensembles who perform at the university’s Center for the Arts. The Professional Theatre Training Program, one of the most respected graduate-level drama conservatory programs in the country, produces a regular schedule of classic plays, as do the Resident Ensemble Players. There are regular series of films, lectures and readings on campus for anyone’s enjoyment. And there is UD football and other sports.
 

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The university’s recent purchase of the former Chrysler automotive assembly plant means a host of new high-tech research and development for both the defense industry and consumer applications. That’s great news for the local job market, which is already rich on opportunity through such nearby employers as W.L. Gore and Associates, Dade-Behring, Air Liquide, AstraZeneca, Christiana Care Health System, the university itself, and others.

Did we mention community spirit? Newark residents express theirs through such popular events as the annual Memorial Day parade and Trick or Treat Main Street, as well as Community Day in September and Newark Night in June, when Main Street is closed to vehicular traffic so locals and visitors can enjoy musicians, a car show, sidewalk sales and more en plein air. Nature lovers have 600 acres of municipal parks. Large natural areas such as Iron Hill County Park, Middle Run Natural Resources Area, beautiful White Clay Creek State Park and Fair Hill, Maryland, are within a 10-minute drive or bicycle ride.

One of the town’s most ambitious efforts has been to bring the new urban idea of live-work-play communities to downtown. The completion of the upscale Washington House, located on Main Street, is a step in that direction.

Washington House consists of 64 condominiums ranging in price from the mid-$300,000s up to just over $900,000. Overall housing prices in the city range from $85,000 to almost $1 million, making Newark both affordable and attractive to those looking for more upscale living.

With a town center a mile off I-95, major cities to the north and south are easily accessible. Commuters, take heart: Amtrak and SEPTA make stops at the Newark train station. And Del. 896 speeds you to the beaches and other points south in short order.
 

The entire Wittig family loves the wide open spaces in and around Middletown.  Photograph by Jared CastaldiMIDDLETOWN

The Quintessential Hometown

Mayor Kenneth Branner believes Middletown’s continued appeal rests with its commitment to maintaining hometown feel, in spite of what is arguably one of the most explosively growing regions in the state. Pop Warner Football is still a big, big deal here, and nowhere else is there such a hometown celebration as the Hummers Parade, a local spoof of Philadelphia’s famous Mummers, on New Year’s Day.

“Our planning and zoning officials are committed to expanding our retail and commercial base in the traditional model that includes adequate setbacks, no parking lots abutting major roads and no big box outlets in the center of town,” Branner says.
 

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Indeed, those types of commercial developments exist, but mostly along the U.S. 301 corridor on Middletown’s western edge. In the town center, the large, well-maintained stock of Victorian homes is bordered by Main Street improvements that include buried utility lines and other streetscape initiatives. The historic Everett Theatre is home to children’s arts programs, the Delaware Theater Association’s annual play festival, movies, concerts and other events. The Gilbert W. Perry Jr. Center for the Arts also offers a busy program of concerts and shows.

“Our appeal is also the result of a great diversity of residential choices,” Branner says. “That includes everything from townhomes and condominiums up to single-family dwellings listing at $1.7 million.”

Robert Wittig, who moved to Middletown with his family 11 years ago from Newark, has been most impressed with the quality of the school system that now boasts two modern high school campuses—Middletown High School and the new Appoquinimink High School. Appoquinimink District schools are, in fact, the best in the state, so they draw new residents to the area from far and wide.

“Middletown is very much geared to youth and youth programs,” says Wittig, who lives just off the fourth tee at Back Creek Golf Club. “There’s a lot of open space here to support activities, and there’s a lot of pride among our youth in those two high schools.”

Middletown’s sports programs are a highlight for Connie Wittig. “Middletown has one of the largest Little League groups in the nation,” she says. “Our son does the football and soccer leagues as well, which are also quite large.”

The Wittigs’ daughter is an equestrian, so Middletown, given its pockets of lush open space, offers her a place to enjoy riding as well as riding instruction. The Wittigs keep their horse at Rowan Farm, which boasts a huge indoor ring, but there are several other equestrian facilities in Middletown.
 

The Nowaks like the old-time charm and rural feel of the Camden-Wyoming area. Photograph by Jared CastaldiCAMDEN-WYOMING

A Little Bit Country

Kent County is home to the surprising expansion of two historic sister towns that began as a rail depot in the 1800s. Camden and Wyoming—two distinct municipalities linked by the same zip code—have several homes listed on the Register of Historic Places, some that date to the Colonial era.

Those properties coexist nicely with more recent—but still old—clapboard homes, subdivisions such as the Wild Quail golf course community, and remnants of that railroading past, such as the station house in Wyoming. Iconic Fifer Orchards, host of the popular annual peach festival, is a living testament to the area’s agrarian roots.
 

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Retirees from Dover Air Force Base and state employees make up a large share of the residents, according to Realtor Ed Hammond, and there is a good number of New Castle County transplants. Residents are drawn by a true small-town spirit and lifestyle—your backyard on Camden-Wyoming Avenue may abut a soybean field—as well as affordable housing. Townhomes range from $130,000 to $170,000. Single-family homes start at $170,000. The upper end is in the low $300,000s. Examples of civic pride: Camden’s fire house—the local country club—and the brand-new town hall-municipal building, a three-story edifice built in the Federal style.

“We’re accessible to the major cities and the beach, and if the children are still up in New Castle, seniors looking for that affordability here know they will still be close to their kids,” says Hammond.

The reputation of the Caesar Rodney School District in both academics and athletics attracts families with school-aged children. Shopping in Dover is a short hop up New Burton Road or U.S. 13.

Andy Nowak and wife Jen purchased and renovated majestic Buckson Mansion in Camden in 2006. Now named Spruce Acres, the building is rented as elegant office space. “The town still has that old, real Colonial feel,” Andy Nowak says. “It’s done a good job maintaining the overall structure of the historical district while at the same time gaining growth.”

Still, that old-time charm is inescapable, he says, pointing to places like famed neighborhood butcher and deli Witt Brothers, and Rural Route 10, where cornfields line the road.

“It’s definitely a unique part of the state,” says Nowak, a New York transplant. “I could pick up on that as an outsider.”

Also up New Burton Road: office and industrial parks with major employers such as Kraft Foods, Procter & Gamble and Playtex. Dover proper is home to Bayhealth Medical Center and, of course, state government. Camden-Wyoming’s proximity to the capital means rural living with easy access to attractions such as the Biggs Museum of American Arts and The Johnson Victrola Museum.
 

Milford resident Gwen Guerke enjoys the town’s scenic Riverwalk. Photograph by Jared CastaldiMILFORD

A River Runs Through It

The largest town in Sussex, Milford is home to three districts listed in the National Register of Historic Places. The Mispillion River, which runs through this maritime village, was the main highway for transportation to cities as far away as Philadelphia.

Two trails, the Mispillion Greenway Walking Trail and the Historic Loop, connect residents and visitors with Milford’s parks, natural areas, historic sites, cultural centers and open spaces. The Milford Riverwalk may not rival the size of Wilmington’s Riverwalk, but it is every bit its equal in beauty. As testament to the charm and attractiveness of Milford, Baltimore Air Coil scrapped plans to move away when officials decided the quality of life for its workforce here was too vital to give up.
 

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That quality of life is enhanced by an active parks and recreation department that organizes an annual Halloween party for kids, the Riverwalk Freedom Festival after each Labor Day (fireworks), and busy soccer and field hockey leagues for kids. Public parks such as Bicentennial and Marvel offer plenty more recreational opportunities. The Delaware Nature Society manages nearby Abbott’s Mill Nature Center.

Gwen Guerke, a lifelong Milford resident, lives on Walnut Street, downtown’s main artery. She lauds the town’s outdoor options, especially the Riverwalk. “I like to get out and run, to see the changing of the seasons,” she says.

Guerke, editor of the weekly Milford Chronicle, says an invigorated arts community, town festivals, a renovated library, and active parks and recreation programs make Milford an ideal spot for families with young children. Though the town is comprised of many lifers like Guerke, Milford has also become an attractive retirement destination.

“I think a lot of people have recognized there’s a lot quietly going on here,” she says.

In addition to employers committed to remaining here, the presence of a Perdue poultry facility, Bayhealth Medical Center and 50 new small businesses, “Milford is also a magnet for out-of-state retirees because of its proximity to the Delaware beaches, but with lower housing costs,” says Jo Schmeiser of the Milford Chamber of Commerce.

Your home choices range from ranches on neatly gridded streets where you can safely ride a bicycle to sprawling ramblers on Haven Lake Avenue, a wealth of mature trees on the shore of Haven Lake.

While 55-plus communities are still a few years away, Milford’s Heartstone Manor, with its villas, condos and single homes with small lawns nevertheless attracts retirees looking for low-maintenance living. The contemporary Dogwood Meadows and Southfield developments offer more traditional single-family homes with half-acre lots priced from $190,000 into the mid-$200,000s.

Young entrepreneurs, this is your town. The city is selling commercial lots along Airport Road—all infrastructure already in place—for as little as $125,000. A little luck and hard work will make you a member of Shawnee Country Club.
 

LEWES

Forward Thinking About the Past

Most first-timers to historic Lewes compare it to a New England maritime town like Nantucket. “We are surrounded by the bay, have homes dating back to the 17th century, and a floating lightship [Overfalls] stands guard as well,” says Betsy Reamer of the Lewes Chamber of Commerce.
 

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In a state that appreciates the charm of old mixed with new, Lewes may be the best example of keeping a past alive and well in a very modern present. Aficionados of historic homes appreciate the Colonial and Victorian houses, as well as Shipcarpenter Square, where historical structures from across the Eastern Shore—and one old U.S. Lifesaving Service station—were moved to be restored as comfortable homes.

The Zwaanendael Museum, an adaptation of a Dutch city hall, commemorates the founding of the whaling community here. The Fisher-Martin House is another example of 18th-century Dutch architecture.

The main commercial area, Second Street, offers a diverse collection of shops for antiques, home accessories, quilting, puzzles and toys, art, jewelry and more. It is also home to some of the best restaurants in the state, Notting Hill Coffee Roastery and King’s Homemade Ice Cream Shop.

Ruth Edwards has a unique perspective on Lewes. As proprietor with her husband, Jim, of the John Penrose Virden House Bed and Breakfast on Second Street, Edwards is a resident in the business of welcoming tourists. “I think Lewes is a destination,” she says. “Probably the majority of people come for our beach, then they stay for our restaurants and shops. There’s a lot here to offer, and you don’t have to leave town.”

The annual Blessing of the Fleet, July Fourth games on Second Street, fireworks at the UD College of Marine and Earth Studies, Lewes Farmer’s Market, Delaware Kite festival, the Summer Music Series and the Cape Henlopen State Park bike trail are among Lewes’ most popular celebrations and attractions.

Live theater, symphony, chamber music and the annual Chatauqua Tent performances featuring historic reenactments are some of Lewes’ best-known indoor attractions. And the town’s Little League fields are located along the Lewes-Rehoboth Canal.

But all is not about living in the past. Lewes is also a resort community with family friendly beaches in Cape Henlopen State Park. The Cape Henlopen School District is the second-largest geographically—and one of the best academic performers. The district, along with Beebe Medical Center, are the town’s largest employers.

Starting a dozen years ago, an influx of residents from the Washington, D.C., area drove a surge of renovations and property values that has finally plateaued. Beautiful single-family homes in subdivisions such as Wolfe Pointe and Wolfe Runne offer a bit of luxurious country living on Gills Neck Road (though the area is developing quickly). More modest new communities can be found along New Road. All are a quick drive to Lewes’ historic center.

Resort style living here is an exceptional value, making Lewes attractive to New York and New Jersey residents looking for an inexpensive second home.

“Heron Bay features single-family homes on half-acre sites starting as low as $159,000,” says builder John Long. “The community includes a clubhouse and pool, and about 15 percent of the residents are living there year-round.”
 

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GREENVILLE-CENTREVILLE 

Good Living at its Best

Still the most desirable address in all of Delaware, Greenville and Centreville—situated nicely between the Brandywine and Red Clay valleys—did not happen by accident. “The early residents here took pains to protect open spaces through their own initiatives,” says resident Charlie Copeland.

It no doubt helped that many of those early residents—can you say du Pont?—developed into major political and commercial power brokers. Greenville soon became a most convenient and leafy bedroom community to those executives who commute to and from Wilmington each day.

Copeland moved back to the area after the birth of his son in 2000. He found a home in the same community he and his wife grew up in. “If you drew a line from Governor Markell’s home to Joe Biden’s, it would cut straight across my neighborhood,” says Copeland, former leader of the state’s House Republicans. The list of other neighbors is equally illustrious.

But power resides very comfortably among the common folk. “During any happy hour, you might find the prosperous owner of a local horse farm sitting shoulder to shoulder at the bar with someone who works as a laborer on one of those farms,” says David Weir, owner and operator of the well-known Buckley’s Tavern for the past 22 years. Weir’s menus have been illustrated with drawings depicting Rolls-Royces parked next to pickup trucks in his parking lot. Other local hangouts include Cromwell’s Tavern, the ever-popular Pizza by Elizabeths, and the resurrected BBC Tavern and Grill.

They’re housed in two shopping plazas that are among the most exclusive in the state. On the southbound side of Kennett Pike is Powdermill Square, which includes Chico’s, Somethings Unique, A.R. Morris Jewelers, Houppette and more. Headed north are Greenville Center, Two Greenville Crossing and One Greenville Crossing. You’ll find fitness gear at Delaware Running Company, clothing at Ellie Boutique and Wilmington Country Store, Carl Doubét Jr. Jewelers, and gifts, stationery, and more at Apropos, The Enchanted Owl and Social Butterfly. Sherif Zaki Salon & The Oasis Day Spa, Elayne James Salon and Covet Day Spa keep the locals looking good.

Of the beauty of the area, Weir only has to point to the trip his wife made daily to Arden to drop off their child at the Montessori school there. “She told me how much driving past the herds of Belted Galways and covered bridges along Center Meeting Road made the commute most enjoyable.”

And good schools abound. Red Clay District’s A.I. duPont High School and its middle schools are top public performers. The Tatnall School on Barley Mill Road is an institution. Good schools such as Wilmington Charter sit on Dupont Road, just across from Greenville proper.
 

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Let’s not forget cultural diversions. Who wouldn’t want to live near the Delaware Museum of Natural History, the Hagley Museum, Mount Cuba or Winterthur (or serve on their boards)? Say hi to the neighbors during July Fourth fireworks and Point-to-Point. Picnic in Valley Garden Park at Hoopes Reservoir. Pick up your lunch at P.U.F.F. fine foods or the wonderful Janssen’s Supermarket. Your golf courses include Greenville Country Club, DuPont Country Club, Wilmington Country Club, and Fieldstone.

Though Copeland admits that the area is home to great wealth, “There are also communities affordable to residents of more modest means.” Wendy Bunch, owner of Brandywine Fine properties, agrees. Stone Colonials can be found for about $350,000 in Westhaven, which borders classic Westover Hills, near Wilmington Charter. Anglesey, off Lancaster Pike, features larger, half-acre lots priced in the $400,000s. She notes Breeze Hill, alongside Biderman Golf Course, as a “divine location.”

“Homes are priced in the $300s, but all the upscale amenities of the 19807 zip code are present,” she says. “The area remains very appealing to young professionals, who can live near the city but not have to pay Wilmington payroll taxes.”
 

HOCKESSIN

Accessible Country Living

The beauty of Hockessin is this: the feeling of country living—even in the quaint town center.

“Give me a location where I can be in Wilmington [a straight shot down Del. 41] in 10 minutes, the Philly airport in 35 and home for dinner on Friday,” says Jeff Bartos, a division president with Toll Brothers. “The quality of life here is second to none. You have the peace and quiet of country living with beautiful rolling topography, but with easy access to Wilmington, King of Prussia and Baltimore.”

Hockessin Chase, the Reserve at Hockessin Chase and North Star Chase are neighborhoods of traditional single-family homes. And Toll Brothers’ Hockessin Mews development of townhomes at Del. 7 and Brackenville Road were a “runaway success” when they were completed. “Hockessin Mews proved the old adage that all real estate is location, location, location,” Barto says.

Location is why the town center around Del. 41 and Yorklyn Road offers everything from pizza and steak places to the classic Back Burner restaurant and Six Paupers. There is upscale shopping at Everything But The Kitchen Sink and Mix Makeup Studio in Hockessin Corner.

Family is the operative word here. Yours will benefit from such good Red Clay District schools as Henry B. Dupont Middle School, two Montessori programs, private North Star Elementary, beautiful Sanford School and Wilmington Christian School. (For homework time, send the kids to the newly renovated Hockessin Library.) For your aging parents, there is Cokesbury Village, a continuing care community of active seniors that offers both cottage living and apartments (a community bus system makes local transportation a cinch), as well as Coffee Run condominiums for those who aren’t ready for assisted living just yet.
 

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Attorney Eric Boyle and his wife, Mary, a marketing consultant, moved to Hockessin five years ago to accommodate their growing family. “We were looking for the type of childhood neighborhood I had as a young girl,” says Mary. They found it in the Westwoods, a 12-year-old subdivision that boasts beautifully landscaped lots. Most of its homes offer open floor plans and large finished basements.

“Coming from an older home in Wilmington, we were interested in new construction that didn’t require lots of work,” says Boyle. “But what really mattered to us was a sense of community. Here our son has other playmates in the neighborhood, and everybody just comes together. No matter where I go in Hockessin, I run into somebody I know.”

Hockessin Soccer Club is one of the most active in the county. And everyone will enjoy The Hockessin Athletic Club, a 110,000-square-foot health and fitness facility that features fitness equipment and programs of every description, as well indoor swimming and lap pools, a waterpark and adult whirlpool. The HAC is the best thing to have happened to Tweed’s Park, where the historic Tweed’s Tavern is being turned into a museum. “It’s a true, family-centric destination,” says Boyle, “with fabulous exercise classes for the adults, and a huge indoor waterpark—among many other things—for the kids.”

Not Hockessin proper, but close enough to count: beautiful Ashland Nature Center and more great shopping and dining in Lantana Square on Limestone Road. Also nearby is Woodside Farm Creamery, where you can stop for a scoop any time in season.
 

SMYRNA

Affordable, Convenient, Growing

Longtime resident and businessman Ron Sayers has seen Smyrna grow from a small rural community to a city-size population of 10,000 since he moved there in the 1950s.

“We have a good school system, and even with all the growth, there’s still a small-town atmosphere here,” Sayers says.

In town, houses from the mid-19th and early 20th centuries can be found in the classic Federal, Italianate, Queen Anne and other traditional styles. On the outskirts, a building boom has produced several new communities of detached single-family homes such as Wicksfield, Southern View and Twin Willows, plus townhouse communities such as Eagle’s View. What were low prices when construction started are even lower now. Value is still the magnet here. Worthington is a community of two- and three-story townhomes priced below $200,000 that appeals to first-time buyers, who can also take advantage of the $8,000 first-time buyer federal tax credit.
 

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“But we’re finding that Worthington also appeals to active adults who are drawn by the affordability and a community that has families and children,” says builder John Long.

Young parents will appreciate Smyrna High School’s 2008 Governor’s School of Excellence Award. Principal Anthony Soligo believes winning represents the high school’s broad focus on all groups of students.

One parent who’s taken advantage of Smyrna’s excellent schools is Mercedes Rooks, who lives in the Estates of West Shore with her husband and two children.

The Rookses seek out fun and education at nearby Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge and the Delaware AeroSpace Education Foundation Environmental Outpost. They do all this while soaking in the town’s closely knit vibes. “We take advantage of all the activities the town offers, and we’re at every homecoming football game,” Rooks says. “The best part is that everything is within walking distance.”
 

WEST OF THE BEACHES

‘The Essence of Small-Town Living’

This part of Sussex County is known as the “land of 25 jewels” for the many small towns that gush with the charm of times past. “The people may change, but the essence of small-town living does not,” says Scott Thomas of the Southern Delaware Tourism office.

From the area’s nationally renowned Punkin Chunkin contest to the Bridgeville Apple Scrapple Festival to the Seaford Heritage Weekend and the Holly Festival in Milton, local celebrations make Sussex’s small towns a real-life version of “Our Town.”

The region features several historic districts in Georgetown, Milton and Laurel. The town of Bethel, once a busy shipbuilding center, is home to the Bethel Heritage Museum. National Geographic described the museum as a “toy village come to life.”

Rural Sussex now finds itself a center for development of environmentally friendly and energy efficient homes. Two years ago Insight Homes began designing and building communities near towns such as Milton, Bridgeville, Seaford and Dagsboro that are guaranteed to be in the top 1 percent of energy efficient homes in the country, meeting requirements of the American Lung Association Health Home and the EPA, as well as the U.S. Department of Energy. Insight has built in a total of eight communities in Sussex so far.

Paula Gunson, director of Seaford’s Chamber of Commerce and a Seaford resident for more than 40 years, lauds the town’s commitment to community service and civic interaction—a trend found in many Western Sussex towns.

“Service to the community is very important to me,” she says. “As a single parent, I appreciated the support and encouragement I received from the people in the area and feel that it is important to pay back the community for that support.”

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