Work is scheduled to begin this spring on a 'streetscaping' project intended not only to spruce up an historic Wilmington neighborhood but also provide the impetus for accelerating a revitalization movement already underway there.

"What we're talking about is perception," said Karen Marshall, project manager for Greater Brandywine Village Revitalization Inc., a civic partnership involving the Junior League of Wilmington, the Episcopal Cathedral of St. John and Wilmington Senior Center.

The initial project, due to be completed by summer, will include the installation of new sidewalks, lighting and landscaping on the west side of Market Street between 18th Street and Concord Avenue. That is to be followed in 2004 by a similar project on the east side of the thoroughfare.

If present plans hold, that will be followed by an intensive effort to improve the façades of the buildings in the commercial areas on both sides of the street. "We want to bring grant money [to help

finance the improvements] up through 22nd Street," she said. That, she explained, is in recognition of work being done on behalf the neighborhood north of Vandever Avenue and east of Market Street by Harriet Tubman United Methodist Church.

While Delaware Department of Transportation in recent years has made similar improvements to several other sections of the city, this project differs in that it fits into a considerably more extensive master plan for extensive commercial and residential development of a large area on Wilmington's near north side.

Although part of the city since 1869, 

Karen Marshall points to the key intersection of Concord and Vandever Avenues with Market Street at the heart of the Brandywine Village master plan area.

Historic mansions line the 1800 and 1900 blocks on the west side of Market Street

Next step will be to improve the façades of buildings in the commercial strip.

Brandywine Village has had a much older individual identity, which it still retains even in a visible way. Before Wilmington was, the village, the lower tip of Brandywine Hundred, was a mill town supporting as many as a dozen Quaker-owned flour mills powered by the swift-flowing Brandywine.

Focal point around which the redevelopment effort has evolved is the row of stone mansions in the 1800 and 1900 blocks of Market Street, parts of which date back to the early and mid-1700s. It was the threatened destruction of one or more of them in the early 1960s to make way for an office building and parking lot, which led to the formation of Old Brandywine Village Inc., a civic organization typical of the kind that were being established in those early years of awakening public interest in urban historic preservation.

Interest has ebbed and flowed during the intervening years, but Marshall said there remains an active group of about 45 people promoting the future of the area. The majority live there and most of the others have close ties through such things as membership in the cathedral parish.

Their common goal, she said, is "to become an active, vital village again."

The vehicle being used is the Main Street Program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Brandywine Village is the only urban Main Street site in Delaware. The Market Street commercial corridor also has been designated an urban renewal area by the city of Wilmington.

Marshall cautioned that implementation of the area's master plan should not be regarded as entirely future tense. Its development has been accompanied by significant progress toward achieving the initial goals. "The tide has already turned," she said.

Recent completed by DelDOT were renovations to the Market Street Bridge, which links Brandywine Village to downtown Wilmington. A national Job Corps training center is being built on Vandever Avenue just east of Market. The city has acquired a long-abandoned gasoline service station at the foot of Concord Avenue, which will initially be converted into a landscaped parking lot and eventually become the location for commercial development. Billboards that were considered eyesores have been removed from that intersection. Wilmington Senior Center is now conducting a capital campaign to finance conversation of two of the historic mansions into apartment buildings for low- and moderate-income seniors.

Perhaps most significant of all in a symbolic way, she said, is the hiring, through the senior center's employment service, of George Galmore as street monitor. His job is to pick up liter. He's enthusiastic about carrying out his duties and his efforts have inspired imitation by private property owners.

"It may be a little thing, but the decrease in the volume of trash lying around has been very noticeable in just the few months that I have been here," Marshall said.

Posted on January 14, 2003

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