Posts Tagged ‘historic sites’

Local legal historic sites – Midtown Parking Center and Eagle Coffee Shoppe

February 8th, 2012 No comments
Midtown Parking Center

Midtown Parking Center

This ordinary mid-century parking garage once played an important part in the struggle to end segregation in Delaware. In 1958, William H. Burton, an African American and member of the Wilmington City Council, entered the Eagle Coffee Shoppe, a restaurant on the ground floor of the parking garage and was refused service. The restaurant, like most restaurants and theaters in Wilmington at that time would not serve African Americans.  The parking garage was built and maintained by the Wilmington Parking Authority, which had leased space to shops and a restaurant in order to defray the cost of the garage. Burton, represented by Louis L. Redding, filed suit in the Delaware Court of Chancery against the restaurant and Parking Authority. The case was eventually appealed to the United States Supreme Court which found in Burton v. Wilmington Parking Authority 365 US 715 (1961) that because the restaurant was in a government owned building, refusing service to Burton on the basis of his race violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Eagle Restaurant menu

Eagle Restaurant menu from 1956. The restaurant moved to the Parking Authority garage in 1958.

In a 1998 interview, attorney Frank H. Hollis remembered how the case started. Seven African-American Chrysler workers had been arrested and charged with trespassing for trying to eat in the Eagle Coffee Shoppe. Hollis represented the seven. After conferring with Louis Redding and the NAACP, councilman Burton was asked to be a test case. When Burton was also denied service, Redding filed the suit against the Wilmington Parking Authority and the restaurant.

Burton’s attorney Louis L. Redding, was the first African American attorney in Delaware. He had a long legal career in Delaware and argued many important civil rights cases. Besides Burton v. Wilmington Parking Authority he was also the attorney for the plaintiffs in Gebhart v. Belton which eventually was heard as part of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, 347 U.S. 483 (1954).

The parking garage is now closed, though it still stands at the corner of 9th and Shipley. The Eagle Coffee Shoppe has been gone for many years and is currently the location of the Ninth Street Book Shop.

UPDATE: The Midtown Parking Center was demolished in 2013 to be replaced by an apartment complex.


Frank H. Hollis. My Memories of Law Practice in Wilmington, Delaware. Del. Law., SUMMER 1998, at 22

Carolyn D. Mack. The Other Side of Equity: The Court of Chancery and Civil Rights. 5 Del. Law. FALL 1986 at 20 (1986)

Harvey Bernard Rubenstein. Delaware Controversies That Have Shaped the Constitution. 6 Del. Law. 122 (1987-1988)

Robert E. Whiteside. Parking Facilities Developed in Merchant-City Programs. 13 Traffic Quarterly 294 (1959)

and thanks to Jack Buckley, Ninth Street Book Shop

Local legal historic sites — grave of Richard Bassett

January 4th, 2012 No comments

Richard_bassettI’ve reached the end of my short series of local legal historic sites associated with Delaware’s signers of the Constitution. Previously we’ve covered Gunning Bedford Jr., Jacob Broom, George Read, and John Dickinson. Our final Delaware signer is Richard Bassett. One of the biggest difficulties in writing this profile is coming up with a physical historic site related to Bassett. Bassett was once one of the richest men in Delaware, owning estates in Maryland and Delaware and a house in Wilmington. None of these houses remain. The only remaining site is his burial place, in the Bayard-Bassett vault in the Wilmington and Brandywine Cemetery.

Richard Bassett was born in Bohemia Ferry in Cecil County Maryland. His parents ran the Bohemia Ferry Tavern. Bassett’s father left his family. Luckily for Bassett his mother was an heir to Bohemia Manor, a huge estate in Cecil County. Bassett was adopted by Peter Lawson, a lawyer, who was also an heir to Bohemia Manor, which Bassett eventually inherited. Lawson trained his adopted son as a lawyer. Bassett became a member of the Delaware Bar in 1770 and began his practice in Dover, Delaware.

During and after the Revolution, Bassett served at the Delaware State constitutional convention and was a member of the state Legislative Council and House of Assembly and the captain of a troop of cavalry. In 1787 he was chosen as a member of Delaware’s delegation to the Constitutional Convention. He never spoke at the convention but voted in favor of the new Constitution.

He was elected to the United States Senate in 1788 where he supported a strong judiciary. He was governor of Delaware in 1798, resigning in 1801 when he was named a judge of the Third Circuit by John Adams. He was one of the “midnight judges” whose position was eliminated in 1802 by the repeal of the Judiciary Act of 1801 by the new administration of Thomas Jefferson. Bassett published a pamphlet arguing against the elimination of the judges and in favor of judicial independence.

Besides his political and legal activities Bassett was also a strong supporter of the Methodist Church. He converted to Methodism in the 1780s and supported  Francis Asbury and other Methodist ministers. He invited Methodist preachers to Bohemia Manor and held camp meetings there. His religious scruples led him to oppose slavery, freeing his own slaves and trying to convince Delaware to abolish slavery.

Bassett was married twice. He had no sons, but one of his daughters, Ann, married James A. Bayard, who became a U.S. Senator for Delaware and founded a dynasty of Delaware Senators including Richard H. Bayard, James A. Bayard, Jr., Thomas F. Bayard, Sr. and Thomas F. Bayard, Jr. Bassett died in 1815 at Bohemia Manor.

Photo credit: Engraving, by Charles B. J. Fevret de Saint-Memin (1802). From Wikimedia

For more information on Richard Bassett  see:

Robert E. Pattison. “The Life and Character of Richard Bassett.” Papers of the Historical Society of Delaware (1900)

Gaspare J. Saladino. Bassett, Richard. American National Biography. Oxford University Press, 1999, v. 2

Local legal historic sites — burial place of John Dickinson

December 14th, 2011 No comments

John Dickinson markerA small, unassuming stone in the Wilmington Friends Meeting Burial Ground marks the grave of John Dickinson, lawyer and statesman, known for his political writings as “The Penman of the Revolution.” Dickinson was born in Talbot County, Maryland, the son of a wealthy landowner and was raised at Poplar Hall, his father’s plantation in Kent County, Delaware. Dickinson studied law in Philadelphia with John Moland and then went to England to study law at the Middle Temple. He returned to America and began his career as an attorney in Philadelphia. During his lifetime he lived in both Pennsylvania and Delaware.

In the 1760s he wrote his Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania, arguing against the Townshend Acts and for the rights of the colonists. These pamphlets made him famous throughout the American colonies. He was a Pennsylvania delegate to the Continental Congress where he urged moderation and refused to sign the Declaration of Independence. This refusal made him unpopular for a time. He did however, serve  in the Revolution as an officer in the Pennsylvania Militia and a private in the Delaware Militia. During the Revolution he was Delaware’s delegate to the Continental Congress and in 1781 was elected president of Delaware and in 1783 president of Pennsylvania. He wrote the first draft of the Articles of Confederation.

John_Dickinson_portraitIn 1787 Dickinson was chosen as one of Delaware’s representatives to the Constitutional Convention and also was president of the committee that revised Delaware’s constitution in 1791. Although he never formally joined the Friends Meeting, most of his family were Quakers and he was influenced by Quaker ideas. He became an abolitionist and freed the slaves on his plantation in 1777. When he died in 1808, he was buried in the Wilmington Friends Meeting Burial Ground.

Poplar Hall, John Dickinson’s boyhood home and plantation in Kent County is still standing. It is now a museum and is open to the public.

Photo credits: Nate Davidson, the Historical Marker Database and Wikimedia Commons

For more information on John Dickinson see:

Charles Janeway Stillé. The Life and Times of John Dickinson, 1732-1808. Historical Society of Pennsylvania, 1891.

Milton E. Flower. John Dickinson, Conservative Revolutionary. University Press of Virginia, 1983. E302.6.D5 F57 1983

The Political Writings of John Dickinson, esquire. Wilmington, 1801.

Local legal historic sites: Stonum, country home of George Read

November 4th, 2011 No comments

Stonum in 1936

Delaware attorney George Read was a signer of both the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution. Born in Cecil County, Maryland in 1733, his family moved to New Castle, Delaware shortly after his birth. He attended schools in Pennsylvania and studied law in Philadelphia with John Moland. Another of Moland’s students was John Dickinson, another future delegate to the Constitutional Convention. Dickinson and Read were lifelong friends.

After his admission to the bar, Read returned to New Castle, where he started a law practice and lived for the rest of his life. In 1763 Read was appointed attorney general for the three lower colonies (as Delaware was known at the time). He was a representative to the Continental Congress for Delaware. He was initially in favor of reconciliation with Britain and voted against the Declaration of Independence, but when the Declaration was eventually adopted he signed it. During the Revolution, he was a member of Delaware’s Legislative Council and president of Delaware from 1777 to 1778. He was named Judge of the Court of Appeals in admiralty cases in 1782.

George ReadRead represented Delaware at the Constitutional Convention. Like the other Delaware delegates he was concerned with protecting the rights of the smaller states. He was also a U.S. Senator and was Chief Justice of the Delaware Supreme Court until his death in 1798.

He had a town house on the Strand in New Castle, which was destroyed by a fire in 1824. It was on a site next door to the George Read II house, built by Read’s son. The George Read II house is still standing and is open for tours. Stonum (or Stoneham), at Ninth and Washington Streets in New Castle, was his country house and is the only house associated with Read still standing. Stonum is privately owned and not open to the public.

For more information on George Read see: William Thompson Read. Life and Correspondence of George Read. Philadelphia, Lippincott, 1870.

Photos from: Wikimedia Commons.

Local legal historic sites – Jacob Broom house

October 3rd, 2011 No comments

The Jacob Broom House in 1975

Jacob Broom,  a modest and hardworking businessman, is one of the least known signers of the United States Constitution. There is not even a contemporary portrait available of him.

Broom was the only one of the five Delaware delegates to the Constitutional Convention who was not a lawyer. Born in Wilmington in 1752, Broom was a surveyor and conveyor of title.  He also dealt in real estate and operated a number of business ventures, including a machine shop and served as the Chair of the Board of Directors of the Delaware Bank.

Being a delegate to the Constitutional Convention was his only venture into national politics, but he held a number of local offices, including chief Burgess of Wilmington, Justice of the Peace of New Castle County and member of the Delaware state legislature.

He married Rachel Pierce and had eight children. He was a member of Old Swedes Church. He lived originally in the city of Wilmington until 1795 when he built a house for his family near his cotton mills on the banks of the Brandywine. In 1802 he sold the house and mills to Eleuthère Irénée du Pont, who founded his gunpowder mills there. These mills were the beginning of the DuPont Company. Jacob Broom died in 1810 in Philadelphia and is buried in Christ Church Burial Ground.

The Jacob Broom house, also known as Hagley, is privately owned and not open to the public.

Photo by: Jack E. Boucher [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


Jacob Broom genealogy page:

Nomination form of Jacob Broom House for National Register of Historic Places

Signers of the Constitution Biographical Sketches

Campbell, William W. “Life and Character of Jacob Broom,” Historical and Biographical Papers of the State of Delaware, v. 5 (1909)

Drescher, Nuala M. Jacob Broom: A Biographical Sketch. Hagley Museum, 1959

Local legal historic sites: Lombardy Hall, home of Gunning Bedford Jr.

September 20th, 2011 No comments

Lombardy Hall, country home of Gunning Bedford Jr.

Three miles south of the Widener Law campus, just off route 202, is Lombardy Hall, farm and country home of Gunning Bedford, Jr., Delaware attorney, judge and signer of the United States Constitution. Bedford was born in 1747 in Philadelphia and attended what is now Princeton University where he roomed with James Madison. He studied law with Joseph Reed and eventually moved to Delaware, first to Dover and then to Wilmington. He represented Delaware at the Continental Congress, was a member of the Delaware legislature and was Delaware’s attorney general. Bedford had a cousin, confusingly also named Gunning Bedford, who was also an attorney, an officer in the Continental Army and governor of Delaware.


Gunning Bedford, Jr.

At the Constitutional Convention, Bedford spoke strongly for the rights of small states like Delaware. Another delegate, William Pearce, described him as “… a bold and nervous Speaker, and has a very commanding and striking manner; -but he is warm and impetuous in his temper, and precipitate in his judgment. Mr. Bedford is about 32 years old, and very corpulant.”

Bedford was selected by George Washington to be federal district judge for Delaware. He held this position until he died in 1812.

Lombardy Hall was Bedford’s country home; he also had a town house in Wilmington at 606 Market St. After his death Lombardy Hall went through several owners and eventually became vacant. In 1967 it was purchased by the local Masonic Lodge (Bedford was the first Masonic Grand Master of Delaware) and restored. It is open to the public by appointment only.

Photos from: Wikimedia Commons

For more information: Conrad, Henry C. Gunning Bedford Junior. Papers of the Historical Society of Delaware, vol 26, 1900.

Local Legal Historic Sites – Home of John Biggs Jr.


Biggs House, Wilmington

This house at 1310 W. 14th St in Wilmington is today an apartment building near Trolley Square. But in the early 1900s it was the boyhood home of John Biggs Jr. Biggs, born in 1895, was a Wilmington attorney who eventually became chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. After his marriage, Biggs moved from the house on 14th St to Wooddale, an estate west of Wilmington.

Princeton Tiger board

Editorial board of the 1917-1918 Princeton Tiger. Biggs is center front, Fitzgerald behind him

But perhaps Biggs’ most interesting claim to fame is that he was F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Princeton roommate. Biggs and Fitzgerald shared an interest in literature and writing, working on the Princeton literary magazine together. Biggs later wrote several novels and short stories.


Ellerslie, Edgemoor Delaware

In 1927, Fitzgerald was having trouble concentrating on his writing. Biggs convinced him that he should move somewhere quieter and less literary than New York or Hollywood. Somewhere boring. Somewhere like Delaware. Fitzgerald and his wife Zelda rented a mansion near Wilmington called Ellerslie. However, Fitzgerald was still distracted from his writing, taking the train to New York for the weekend and throwing raucous house parties at Ellerslie. Zelda took ballet lessons in Philadelphia. They lived in Delaware for two years off and on until they moved to Europe. Ellerslie was eventually torn down and is today the site of the DuPont Edge Moor plant. When Fitzgerald died in 1940, Biggs served as executor of his estate.

Much of this information is from the only biography of Biggs: Seymour I. Toll. A Judge Uncommon: A Life of John Biggs, Jr. Legal Communications, Ltd, 1993.

Local Legal Tourist Attractions – Faunbrook, Home of First Woman Attorney in Chester County

April 27th, 2011 No comments

Smedley_Darlington_HouseToday’s local legal history site is not exactly a tourist attraction. It is currently a bed and breakfast. Faunbrook, in West Chester, was the home of the Darlington family, including Isabel Darlington, the first woman admitted to the Chester County Bar and one of the earliest woman lawyers in Pennsylvania.

Isabel’s father Smedley Darlington was a Congressman and a wealthy man but an economic panic in 1893 cost him a large part of his fortune. Isabel seems to have decided it would be a good idea if she entered a profession as an independent means of support. She started attending law school at the University of Pennsylvania in 1896, finished the three year course in 18 months, and was admitted to the bar on October 4, 1897.

She went into practice with her brother in law, Thomas Butler, in West Chester, handling estate, property and commercial cases. Probably her most prominent client was Pierre S. du Pont. Ms. Darlington handled the transaction when P.S. du Pont purchased Longwood. She practiced law for many years until her death in 1950.

Much of the information in this post comes from this Philadelphia Inquirer article.

Local Legal Tourist Attractions – New Castle County Courthouse Museum

April 19th, 2011 No comments

New Castle County Courthouse MuseumIf you have a little spare time why not take a local legal history tour? The New Castle County Courthouse Museum located in historic New Castle, Delaware is one of the oldest surviving courthouses in America. It was built in 1732 and served as New Castle County’s Courthouse until 1881 when the courts moved to Wilmington. It also served the federal courts and was Delaware’s original state capital building.

The cupola of the New Castle County Courthouse was used as the center of the 12 mile circle that created Delaware’s unique circular northern border.

Probably the most famous trial held in the Courthouse was the 1848 trial of abolitionists Thomas Garrett and John Hunn on a charge of aiding fugitive slaves. They were found guilty and heavily fined, but both were undeterred and Garrett declared in court, “I say to thee and to all in this court room, that if anyone knows a fugitive who wants shelter send him to Thomas Garrett and he will befriend him.”

The Courthouse Museum has limited hours, so be sure to check before you go.

While you’re in New Castle you can also visit the George Read House, built by the son of George Read, attorney and signer of the US Constitution. The New Castle Common has a statue of William Penn holding a key, a turf and twig and a container of water. These are symbols used in the ancient common law ceremony of “livery of seisin” which was used to convey land.