At one time or another we have all been at this place. It is the centerpiece of downtown Wilmington. It has hosted high profile events and famous people. It tells the story of Delaware’s economic and political history. It’s Rodney Square and it will be undergoing a major renovation so it will once again be the “front yard” of the City.
Over the last few years there has been a lot of discussion about how to reinvigorate Rodney Square and reduce a lot of the negative side effects of having a transit hub located there. Not to mention the issues about public safety. In March, a multi-year project was announced that would transform the existing bus shelters into informational transit kiosks, provide improvements to the existing lighting, and add security cameras. In addition, historic feature of the square including the two fountains that flank the Caesar Rodney statue will be restored. The goal is to once again make Rodney Square the vibrant centerpiece of downtown Wilmington and a regional attraction.
To help increase business activity and attract more people to Rodney Square, Downtown Visions will be taking on a larger role in scheduling events and promoting activities. There are already a number of annual high profile events on Rodney Square, such as the Clifford Brown Jazz Festival in June, which brings world-class musicians to the stage, Caroling on Square in December, and the very popular “Rodney Square Summer Stage,” which brings great music from up and coming local talent for three consecutive weekends in July. In addition, the Downtown Farmers market is open for business every Wednesday and offers an array of fresh local produce, plants, herbs and cut flowers.
The concept of a transit hub in Downtown Wilmington is not forgotten, in fact, the renovation project will seek out ways to expand downtown transit options, but avoid a large number of buses congregating at Rodney Square. Repositioning some bus stops and altering schedules should be able to improve the quality of DART services in and around Rodney Square. At the same time the planned improvements will create a more welcoming public area for downtown employees and residents during the work week and on weekends.
While we may have all been to Rodney Square, what do we actually know about it? How did it all get started? The history of Rodney Square dates back to the 1790s when land was assembled by the Borough of Wilmington for the purpose of establishing a reservoir, which was in use from 1827 until 1877. The former reservoir site was then home to the New Castle County Court House until 1919.
When the DuPont Company started to plan the construction of their new world headquarters in 1905, the company used their extraordinary vision,
community influence, connections and financial investments to start a process that would create a truly unique public space that would be the centerpiece
of downtown Wilmington, and eventually end up on the National Historic Register.
The old court house site was directly in front of the DuPont Company headquarters, so they were very interested in what would happen to the 1.5 acre site. They felt that the best use for the location would be to transform it into a special area of public open space with design features that would serve to unify the entire area. They wanted to build upon the City Beautiful movement that was popular throughout the country at that time, and sought to improve social order by including more beauty in the urban landscape.
Pierre S. DuPont appointed his personal assistant, John Jacob Raskob, to implement the plans to develop the Square. Not only did Raskob wish to follow the principles of the City Beautiful movement, he also wanted to create a more impressive Wilmington. He did this by supporting the efforts to develop the other three sides of the square.
By 1937, the four sides of the square were completed and it was officially named after one of Delaware’s signers of the Declaration of Independence, Caesar Rodney. Adjacent to the square were four large buildings that represented different aspects of the Wilmington community: the public library, the post office, and a new court house. The crowning element of the Rodney Square project was a large statue of Caesar Rodney that was created by James E. Kelly. It stands on the DuPont Building side of the square and has become one of the leading symbols for the City and State.
In the early part of the 20th century, the public and private sector came
together to create the world class public space known as Rodney Square. It seems that history is repeating itself as the public and private sector are coming together again to re-create Rodney Square in the early part of the 21st. Working together, DART, the City of Wilmington, Downtown Visions and the The Buccini/Pollin Group are spearheading an effort to breathe new life into the centerpiece of Wilmington by upgrading Rodney Square. A revitalized public space will offer desirable amenities and activities that will create a wonderful guest experience and create a destination for city workers and residents.
Efforts are underway to maintain ongoing support to re-energize Rodney Square so that it will be a desirable place for the new downtown residents who are moving into the new apartment and condominium units that are being constructed. The movement to support Rodney Square will continue to grow as the private and public sectors work together to support the revitalization effort. The Chamber looks forward to working with the “Friends of Rodney Square” to ensure that this historic public space remains an important part of downtown Wilmington’s future.