The image below was broadly circulated in the Diamond State a century ago as a proposal for a Delaware roadway. Who originated the proposal, and was the roadway ever constructed?
In the 18th and 19th centuries, Delaware’s roads were considered some of the worst in the nation. As most of the state consists of a flat plain of sandy soil not much higher than sea level, the land does not dry quickly, especially a century ago when large stands of timber covered vast stretches of the state. There were several north-south roads established as “King’s’ Highways” by the Levy Courts in the late 17th century. Delaware typically called north-south routes a “State Road” or King’s Highway and east-west routes a ‘”County Road.”
In the late 1800s, with the development of the steam carriage, electric carriage, and eventually the motor carriage, the need for improved roads became increasingly important. The Roosevelt administration pushed for federal aid in constructing better roadways throughout the country. In 1911 the National Highways Association was established with Board Chairman T. Coleman du Pont leading the organization. The organization established a national “good roads everywhere” movement with a vision that the U.S. would have a network of well paved roads, including Delaware.
By 1910 there were nearly 1,000 registered vehicles in Delaware. The image above was generated in 1912 as T. Coleman du Pont’s vision for a boulevard he was willing to fund and construct the length of the state. Du Pont is quoted in a 1912 Scientific American article as desiring the road to be “constructed of water bound macadam or concrete base, on top of which will be laid asphalt and stone mixed; or a surface composed of water bound macadam with a half-inch covering of asphalt and trap rock to make it dust and water proof.” An objective of du Pont’s boulevard would be the elimination of “twists and sinuosity” of most existing roads by following the principal that a “straight line is the shortest distance between two points.”
Du Pont’s new company, Coleman du Pont Road Incorporated, would acquire a 200-foot right-of-way through each of Delaware’s counties (later reduced to 60-foot). After constructing the boulevard, each 10-mile segment completed was to be turned over to the state to maintain. Eventually known as the Du Pont Highway, it was designated U.S. Route 13 north of Dover and U.S. Route 113 south of Dover. Fully completed in 1923, it became the nation’s first divided highway.
For more photos and a detailed history of the Du Pont Highway’s construction, the U.S Department of Transportation’s National Transportation Library has “Historic context for the DuPont Highway U.S. Route 113, Kent and Sussex County, Delaware” (https://rosap.ntl.bts.gov/view/dot/40800 ) from which the images were obtained.