The Never-Ending Boom

Middletown continues to grow like there’s no tomorrow. Watch carefully: It could become the model for a small town near you.



 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

Middletown Mayor Ken Branner has taken pride in keeping
taxes down over 20 years of unprecedented growth, due
largely to accommodations made by developers, who help
pay for municipal improvements.

Photograph by Pat Crowe II

Former insurance commissioner David Levinson remembers his hometown, Middletown, as a place where people didn’t lock their doors or cars and the crime rate was one a year. When his father was mayor in the 1930s, the town of 1,500 was hailed as a model. In the midst of the Great Depression, it had lights, sewers, paved streets, trash collection, public schools, police and low taxes.

Now southern New Castle County is home to thousands who commute to New York, Washington, D.C., and points between. The Middletown-Odessa-Townsend area is projected to exceed 48,000 residents by 2025 and 96,000 by 2030.

It’s a trend repeated in small towns across the state. Attracted by low taxes and inexpensive housing, people are sinking roots near places like Smyrna and Bridgeville, which, not long ago, were mere dots on the map. State planning office director Constance Holland says growth is not haphazard. Most has been in targeted areas so “that small towns don’t lose their character” in the rush to suburbanize.

Middletown is such a place. MOT’s largest municipality, it has grown by more than 66 percent since the 2000 census. Its footprint has grown almost tenfold in the past 20 years, and its budget has expanded from $2.9 million in 1989 to $33 million this year.

Growth has been a fact in Middletown since Colonial times, when it consisted of a lone tavern at the crossroads halfway between Odessa and Maryland’s Bohemia River. When the town incorporated with 368 residents in 1861, it measured a mile square, making it the “Diamond Town in the Diamond State.”

By 1962 it had lost its diamond shape with the annexation of a housing development, and its population had grown to 2,200. Downtown thrived. A sign on U.S. 301 west of town proclaimed “Middletown—Hub of the East,” but the telephone exchange Frontier hinted otherwise. As late as 1980, the first glimpse of Middletown’s eastern edge from the road was the high school ag teacher’s cows grazing a mile from the center square.

Students still take ag classes and belong to 4-H. Yet nowhere is growth more telling than in school statistics. The Appoquinimink district has opened five new buildings in the past decade, and it is poised to add eight more over the next seven years. The system is now the area’s largest employer.

As mayor for 20 years, Kenneth Branner Jr. has promoted annexation in order to regulate growth. “If you want to control your own destiny, you have to do it, or you’re at the whim of other people,” he says.

But growth is expensive, demanding new schools, roads, libraries, sewers and other infrastructure, which creates a tug of war among residents over cost and quality of life.  Over the past year, the town has had to grapple with some big-city issues. It established a police force, built an upgraded communications tower for emergency responders, expanded town council and instituted a taxpayer-accountable community grant program in place of interest-free employee loans.

Branner is proud that on his watch, town taxes came down and stayed down. That’s partly because developers pay impact fees to cover sewer and water connection and provide lights and roads as a condition for annexation and approval of their projects. They are also required to donate land for schools and parks.

But taxpayers district-wide have to pay for schools. Chuck Mulholland, who lives outside Middletown, has watched his taxes double over the past 10 years. Past president of the Appoquinimink school board and current president of the Southern New Castle County Alliance citizen watchdog group, he says newer residents, accustomed to higher taxes elsewhere, don’t notice. But “the longer they are here, the more they realize that what we had is being taken away.”

The last school referendum passed, but with no industry to share the tax burden, voters had little choice but to dig deep for needed improvements. Residents outside the town’s boundaries complain they are penalized by Middletown’s low taxes. Topping the list of concerns Mulholland and others raise at public meetings are traffic, environmental degradation, loss of farmland and the place’s changing character.

When Wal-Mart wanted to build a superstore, some residents balked. Town council approved the plan, then realized it violated zoning. A new location was found, and despite lawsuits over a zoning change, potential traffic problems and excessive paving of a water recharge area, Wal-Mart won. It joins a parade of auto dealerships and other development that is replacing farmland on the U.S. 301 commercial corridor that bisects the west side of town.

“The biggest joke in town was that you couldn’t buy a pair of socks in Middletown,” says Scott Lawrence, a fourth-generation resident and former editor of The Middletown Transcript. “But I think the older residents would rather drive the half hour to Dover or Wilmington.”

The Wal-Mart superstore is part of the Westown development area of homes, businesses, a golf course, a school and spray fields for wastewater. The spray fields form part of the town’s greenbelt, a key in Branner’s plan to create a border between the town and county sprawl.

Townsend has also grown through annexation, but less aggressively. Odessa has maintained its boundaries for years, in part because it lies near sensitive marshlands, some of which are preserved, along with farmland. Yet neither Odessa nor Townsend is immune to sprawl, traffic, high taxes or the risk of dropping well water levels due to overdevelopment.

Michael McGrath, manager of Delaware Agricultural Lands Preservation Foundation, jokingly told Branner that if any more land were annexed, the town would have a Maryland ZIP code. The MOT area has the best farmable soil “in the world,” he says. “The conundrum of the farmers is that they love the land, but they are always confronted with financial reality. I don’t blame developers. They do what we let them do.”

Arguably the largest single landowner outside of town is holding on to its 2,000-plus acres. Saint Andrew’s School was founded on 360 acres of farmland in 1929 by A. Felix du Pont precisely because of its isolated setting. Over the years, the school, on Noxontown Pond, purchased nearly all the adjacent waterfront properties. Surrounded by woods and fields, it is an oasis in an otherwise suburban landscape and the southeastern corner of the town greenbelt. A letter to the editor of the local paper expressed the feelings of many toward the school: “Thank heaven Saint Andrew’s owns land here.”

While the limits of Middletown expand, the town has poured money into the downtown district to make it an attractive destination for local folks. The town has buried utilities, planted trees and spruced up the original crossroads, Cochran Square, with brick pavement and benches around the veterans’ monument. Main Street has been narrowed to discourage through traffic, and big rigs are outlawed.

Older businesses such as Buckworth’s Hardware, Hatton jeweler and Immediato’s Subs and Steaks give Main Street an air of familiarity. The Everett, a 1920s movie theater, shows first-run films once a month. In the former auto parts store next door is The Gibby Center, a community arts center and gallery, and around the corner is The Academy, an 1824 school the Middletown Historical Society is making into a museum.

Main Street Middletown, Inc., a non-profit revitalization group, helps businesses improve their looks and marketing skills and courts new businesses. In the summer it organizes art loops to encourage families to wander downtown and visit the galleries. Director Lorraine Dion says that when residents come home, “they don’t want to drive back to Wilmington. They want entertainment, to see the arts. They want to have a meal at a restaurant.” Main Street is making those things possible.

“We know we’ll never be a little farm town again,” says Helen Alford, president of the historical society. For better or worse, that’s true.

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow TagsEdit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags Edit ModuleShow Tags

January 2017

January 3 - 28  “Winter Group Show” Rotating Group Show features a variety of art in different styles and media. Custom Framing & Gift Certificates are always available. Gallery Hours:...

Cost: free

Where:
The Station Gallery
3922 Kennett Pike
Greenville, DE  19807
View map »


Telephone: 302-654-8638
Website »

More information

January 14, 15, 16 – Saturday, Sunday, and Monday – 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Invention Convention Lights, camera, action! This year’s Invention Convention features hands-on video...

Cost: $8 for adults, $6 for children between 4 and 14, and free for children under 4 a

Where:
Hagley Museum
201 Hagley Creek Road
Wilmington, DE  19807
View map »


Sponsor: Hagley Museum
Telephone: (302) 65802400 x 238
Contact Name: Jessica Eisenbrey
Website »

More information

Belly Dance Classes with Zahra Beginner & intermediate classes open to teens and adults Sundays in January starting Jan 8th Beginner: 2:30-3:30 p.m. Intermediate: 1 - 2 p.m (must get...

Cost: $15-$42

Where:
Take the Lead Studio
320 Lantana Drive
Hockessin , DE  19711
View map »


Sponsor: Take the Lead
Contact Name: Zahra
Website »

More information

Join Rachel Binkley of Rocker Soaps + Herbals for a fun and information filled class. We will make soap, learn how to make a soap recipe and get tips and techniques to make it easier for you at...

Cost: 40

Where:
Elements of Nutrition
4710 Kirkwood Hwy
Wilmington, DE  19808
View map »


Sponsor: Rocker Soaps + Herbals
Telephone: 302-544-0391
Contact Name: Rachel Binkley
Website »

More information

Come give curling a try! At this 2-hour intro-to-curling event we'll provide a basic lesson then coach you through a mini-game.  Whether you just want to cross #curling off your bucket list or...

Cost: $35

Where:
The Pond Ice Arena
101 John Campbell Rd
Newark, DE  19711
View map »


Sponsor: Diamond State Curling Club
Website »

More information

The Rehoboth Beach Film Society will present its popular What Makes Us Tick? program during the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday weekend, January 13-15. This analytical film and discussion series...

Cost: $9 - $10

Where:
Cinema Art Theater
17701 Dartmouth Drive, #2
Lewes, DE  19958
View map »


Sponsor: Rehoboth Beach Film Society
Telephone: 302-645-9095
Contact Name: Jeri Kaplan
Website »

More information

BROKEN ARROW: A NEIL YOUNG TRIBUTE Broken Arrow delivers the music of Neil Young; both the rockin' electric guitar driven favorites and the more country flavored classics with pedal steel and...

Cost: $12 ADV- $14 DOS

Where:
World Cafe Live Wilmington
500 N Market St
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »


Telephone: 215-222-1400
Contact Name: MP Intern
Website »

More information

Learn how climate change affects our world with hands-on activities that can relate to explorers of all ages. Arctic Adventure and Rainforest Explorer visitors can take on the role of an Arctic...

Cost: Adults: $9 Children (3-17): $7 Seniors (60+): $8 Under 3: FREE Members: FREE

Where:
Delaware Museum of Natural History
4840 Kennett Pike
Wilmington, DE  19807
View map »


Telephone: 302-658-9111
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

When the kids have a day off but the parents don’t, let them spend the day off of school doing something really cool…having fun at DMNH! Enjoy games, crafts, activities, and even a hot dog...

Cost: $20 for Members, $25 for Non-Members.

Where:
Delaware Museum of Natural History
4840 Kennett Pike
Wilmington, DE  19807
View map »


Website »

More information

January 3 - 28  “Winter Group Show” Rotating Group Show features a variety of art in different styles and media. Custom Framing & Gift Certificates are always available. Gallery Hours:...

Cost: free

Where:
The Station Gallery
3922 Kennett Pike
Greenville, DE  19807
View map »


Telephone: 302-654-8638
Website »

More information

Science is for everyone! Join us for hands on crafts and activities that highlight science contributions to natural history from scientists all around the world. Learn how YOU can make a difference...

Cost: Free with Admission

Where:
Delaware Museum of Natural History
4840 Kennett Pike
Wilmington, DE  19807
View map »


Telephone: 130-265-89111
Website »

More information

January 14, 15, 16 – Saturday, Sunday, and Monday – 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Invention Convention Lights, camera, action! This year’s Invention Convention features hands-on video...

Cost: $8 for adults, $6 for children between 4 and 14, and free for children under 4 a

Where:
Hagley Museum
201 Hagley Creek Road
Wilmington, DE  19807
View map »


Sponsor: Hagley Museum
Telephone: (302) 65802400 x 238
Contact Name: Jessica Eisenbrey
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

January 3 - 28  “Winter Group Show” Rotating Group Show features a variety of art in different styles and media. Custom Framing & Gift Certificates are always available. Gallery Hours:...

Cost: free

Where:
The Station Gallery
3922 Kennett Pike
Greenville, DE  19807
View map »


Telephone: 302-654-8638
Website »

More information

Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9:30AM-12:00PM Fall session: Thursday, Dec 1st thru Thursday, December 15th Winter session: Tuesday, January 17th thru Thursday, March 30th   Drop in on Nature is...

Cost: see description

Where:
The Annex
501 Chandler Mill Rd
Kennett Square, PA  19348
View map »


Sponsor: The Land Conservancy
Telephone: 610-347-0347 ext.104
Website »

More information

East Coast Garden Center Indoor Farmers Market Nov 8, 2016 - April 11, 2017  11 am- 2 pm 25 vendors Location:  East Coast Garden Center 30366 Cordrey Rd Millsboro, DE 19966 302-945-3489

Cost: frr

Where:
East Coast Garden Center
30366 Cordrey Rd
Millsboro, DE  19966
View map »


Sponsor: East Coast Garden Center
Telephone: 302-945-3489
Website »

More information

East Coast Garden Center Indoor Farmer's Marke 25 vendors

Cost: Free

Where:
East Coast Garden Center
30366 Cordrey Rd
Millsboro, DE  19966
View map »


Telephone: 302-945-3489
Website »

More information

A four-week series of ballroom dancing classes taught by teachers from the BlueBallroom. Tuesdays starting Jan. 10. Classes are $30 a lesson for Non-Members. Non-Member slots are limited. For...

Cost: $30

Where:
University and Whist Club
805 N Broom St
Wilmington, DE  19806
View map »

More information

The Cinema & the Arts film series proudly presents a screening of the documentary ART BASTARD on  Tuesday, January 17, 7:00 pm, at Cinema Art Theater, 17701 Dartmouth Drive in Dartmouth Plaza,...

Cost: $9

Where:
Cinema Art Theater
17701 Dartmouth Drive, #2
Lewes, DE  19958
View map »


Sponsor: Rehoboth Beach Film Society
Telephone: 302-645-9095
Contact Name: Jeri Kaplan
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

January 3 - 28  “Winter Group Show” Rotating Group Show features a variety of art in different styles and media. Custom Framing & Gift Certificates are always available. Gallery Hours:...

Cost: free

Where:
The Station Gallery
3922 Kennett Pike
Greenville, DE  19807
View map »


Telephone: 302-654-8638
Website »

More information

The Division of Public Health offers its annual free flu vaccination event in the Legislative Hall Library, ground floor, 411 Legislative Ave., Dover, DE, on January 18, 2017, from 11:00 a.m. to...

Cost: FREE

Where:
Legislative Hall Library
411 Legislative Ave.
Dover, DE  19901
View map »


Sponsor: Division of Public Health
Telephone: 800-282-8672
Website »

More information

Do you want to learn how to make soap? This is your chance! Join me for a fun and informative class @ Liquid Alchemy. I will teach you how to create your own recipe and the in-and-outs of soap...

Cost: 45

Where:
Liquid Alchemy
28 Brookside Dr.
, DE  19804
View map »


Sponsor: Rocker Soaps + Herbals
Telephone: 302-544-0391
Contact Name: Rachel Binkley
Website »

More information

Do you want to learn how to make soap? This is your chance! Join me for a fun and informative class @ Liquid Alchemy. I will teach you how to create your own recipe and the in-and-outs of soap...

Cost: 45.00

Where:
Liquid Alchemy
28 Brookside Dr.
Wilmington, DE  19804
View map »


Sponsor: Rocker Soaps + Herbals
Telephone: 302-544-0391
Contact Name: Rachel Binkley
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

January 3 - 28  “Winter Group Show” Rotating Group Show features a variety of art in different styles and media. Custom Framing & Gift Certificates are always available. Gallery Hours:...

Cost: free

Where:
The Station Gallery
3922 Kennett Pike
Greenville, DE  19807
View map »


Telephone: 302-654-8638
Website »

More information

Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9:30AM-12:00PM Fall session: Thursday, Dec 1st thru Thursday, December 15th Winter session: Tuesday, January 17th thru Thursday, March 30th   Drop in on Nature is...

Cost: see description

Where:
The Annex
501 Chandler Mill Rd
Kennett Square, PA  19348
View map »


Sponsor: The Land Conservancy
Telephone: 610-347-0347 ext.104
Website »

More information

Guest speakers Patty Dailey-Lewis, executive director of the Beau Biden Foundation, and Delaware Family Court commissioner Loretta Young will discuss how participation in social media can too...

Cost: Free

Where:
Wilmington University - Doberstein Admissions Ctr.
320 N DuPont Highway
New Castle, DE  19805
View map »


Sponsor: Wilmington University College of Social & Behavioral Sciences
Telephone: 302-295-1164
Contact Name: Dr. Johanna Bishop
Website »

More information

Thursdays from 4:00PM-5:30PM Fall session: December 1st, 8th and 15th Winter session: Starts January 19th, every other Thursday until March 30th This program is based entirely outdoors and is...

Cost: Cost: $30 for TLC members / $40 for non-members

Where:
Bucktoe Creek Preserve
432 Sharp Rd
Avondale, PA  19311
View map »


Sponsor: The Land Conservancy
Telephone: 610-347-0347 ext.104
Website »

More information

The 3rd Place and Bike Lane Cafe along with WestSide Grows and Delaware Permaculture bring you the West 7th Street Bazaar.  Happening EVERY 3rd Thursday of the month from January through May,...

Cost: Free Admission

Where:
The 3rd Place
1139 W. 7th Street
Wilmington, DE  19805
View map »


Sponsor: West Side Grows
Telephone: 302-690-9459
Contact Name: Delaware Permaculture
Website »

More information

January 19 – Thursday – 6:30 p.m. Research Seminar: Amyrs Williams (Wesleyan University) – Reimagining the Modern Farm The seminar is open to the public and is based on a paper that is...

Cost: $0

Where:
Copeland Room, Hagley Library
298 Buck Road
Wilmington, DE  19807
View map »


Sponsor: Hagley Museum & Library
Telephone: (302) 65802400
Contact Name: Carol Lockman
Website »

More information

The Resident Ensemble Players, Delaware’s professional acting company performing at the University of Delaware, presents The Bells by Theresa Rebeck. During the great Yukon gold rush of the...

Cost: $15 - $30

Where:
Thompson Theatre, Roselle Center for the Arts
110 Orchard Rd.
Newark, DE  19716
View map »


Sponsor: Resident Ensemble Players
Telephone: (302) 831-2204
Website »

More information

HIGH & MIGHTY BRASS BAND There’s a reason that musical trailblazers from Galactic to DJ Logic have recently chosen to collaborate with High and Mighty Brass Band! and legends such as Dr. John,...

Cost: $15

Where:
World Cafe Live Wilmington
500 N Market St
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »


Telephone: 215-222-1400
Contact Name: MP Intern
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

January 3 - 28  “Winter Group Show” Rotating Group Show features a variety of art in different styles and media. Custom Framing & Gift Certificates are always available. Gallery Hours:...

Cost: free

Where:
The Station Gallery
3922 Kennett Pike
Greenville, DE  19807
View map »


Telephone: 302-654-8638
Website »

More information

Formed in 1992, Splintered Sunlight quickly became the most popular Grateful Dead Tribute band in the Philadelphia area, gaining praise from Dead Heads and Non Heads alike. Since that time,...

Cost: $10

Where:
World Cafe Live At The Queen
500 N Market St.
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »

More information

Meeting every Friday, Bayhealth Kent General Hospital, 640 s. State Street, Dover, 7:30 pm., Private Dining Room #3 in the basement. For those who have, or think they may have a gambling problem....

Cost: 0.00

Where:
Bayhealth Kent General Hospital
640 S. State Street
Private Dining Room #3
Dover, DE  19901
View map »


Telephone: 800-855-2CALLGA
Website »

More information

Ah, typecasting—the baritone is always the bad guy! In Devils, Drunks & Dastardly Dudes, we’ll go on an operatic journey of men behaving badly. We’ll add a tenor to the mix, too… but we...

Cost: $29-$59

Where:
OperaDelaware Studio
4 South Poplar St.
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »


Sponsor: OperaDelaware
Telephone: 302-442-7809
Contact Name: Mary Wilcosky
Website »

More information

The Resident Ensemble Players, Delaware’s professional acting company performing at the University of Delaware, presents The Bells by Theresa Rebeck. During the great Yukon gold rush of the...

Cost: $15 - $30

Where:
Thompson Theatre, Roselle Center for the Arts
110 Orchard Rd.
Newark, DE  19716
View map »


Sponsor: Resident Ensemble Players
Telephone: (302) 831-2204
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Amateur and professional creators from the Wilmington community and beyond will sketch, paint and sculpt side-by-side with DCAD students, alumni, faculty and staff as nude and costumed male...

Cost: $30 per person

Where:
Delaware College of Art and Design
600 N. Market St.
Wilmington, DE  19081
View map »


Sponsor: Delaware College of Art and Design
Telephone: 302-622-8000 x 123
Contact Name: Mark Tajzler
Website »

More information

January 3 - 28  “Winter Group Show” Rotating Group Show features a variety of art in different styles and media. Custom Framing & Gift Certificates are always available. Gallery Hours:...

Cost: free

Where:
The Station Gallery
3922 Kennett Pike
Greenville, DE  19807
View map »


Telephone: 302-654-8638
Website »

More information

From foxes and beavers to cats and dogs, all mammals benefit from open space! Discover the signs of mammals in winter and learn about human impact on mammal habitat and population survival. Join...

Cost: FREE for TLC members / $10 for non-members

Where:
Bucktoe Creek Preserve
432 Sharp Rd
Avondale, PA  19311
View map »


Sponsor: The Land Conservancy
Telephone: 610-347-0347 ext.104
Website »

More information

The Rehoboth Beach Film Society and the Cape Henlopen Educational Foundation are proud to present The Metropolitan Opera’s live broadcast of Charles Gounod’s ROMÉO ET JULIETTE on Saturday,...

Cost: $15 - $25

Where:
Cape Henlopen High School Theater
1250 Kings Highway
Lewes, DE  19958
View map »


Sponsor: Rehoboth Beach Film Society
Telephone: 130-264-59095
Contact Name: Jeri Kaplan
Website »

More information

The Rehoboth Beach Film Society announces the next play in the exciting series of National Theatre Live screenings. National Theatre Live is a groundbreaking project that presents the best of...

Cost: $18-$20

Where:
Cinema Art Theater
17701 Dartmouth Drive, #2
Lewes, DE  19958
View map »


Sponsor: Rehoboth Beach Film Society
Telephone: 302-645-9095
Contact Name: Jeri Kaplan
Website »

More information

Coastal Concerts in downtown Lewes will host a presentation by one of the most recognized, honored and versatile musicians in the world, the legendary two-time Grammy Award-winning clarinetist...

Cost: $30. Ages 10-18 and one adult per youth.

Where:
Bethel United Methodist Church Fellowship Hall
Fourth & Market Streets
Lewes, DE  19958
View map »


Sponsor: Coastal Concerts, Inc.
Telephone: 888-212-6458
Contact Name: Edna Ellett
Website »

More information

Ovations Dinner Theatre hosts an interactive Mafia Murder Mystery dinner. Ticket includes a 3-course Italian dinner and the performance. Tickets are $45 for Non-Members and Non-Member seating is...

Cost: 45

Where:
Ballroom at University and Whist Club
805 N. Broom St.
Wilmington, DE  19806
View map »

More information

Bethany Beach – When local businessman Tim Hill was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (“ALS”) in 2014, he set on a mission to help other people who were diagnosed with...

Cost: $20 General Admission

Where:
Frankford Fire Hall
7 Main Street
Frankford, DE  19945
View map »

More information

The Resident Ensemble Players, Delaware’s professional acting company performing at the University of Delaware, presents The Bells by Theresa Rebeck. During the great Yukon gold rush of the...

Cost: $15 - $30

Where:
Thompson Theatre, Roselle Center for the Arts
110 Orchard Rd.
Newark, DE  19716
View map »


Sponsor: Resident Ensemble Players
Telephone: (302) 831-2204
Website »

More information

AM RADIO Have you ever perked up when the radio plays a song that first hit popular stations when you were young? Do you turn the volume up to obnoxious levels and sing along? Music can bring us...

Cost: $10 + FEES

Where:
World Cafe Live Wilmington
500 N Market St
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »


Telephone: 215-222-1400
Contact Name: MP Intern
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...
Edit Module