History: A Town Called Blades, Delaware

The Town of Blades is one of Sussex County’s last incorporated areas — but in point of time, the town itself is possibly as old as its sister community–Seaford.

In the early years of this century, when Concord to the East was developing as a village, this area which is now Blades had become sparsely settled with farmers. The soil was sandy and the shoreline was marshy. The early farmers chose to clear the land a mile or so back from the river. Trade was attracted to stores at Concord and at Laurel.

In 1832 Samuel Laws, Jacob Wright, Henry Cannon, Henry Little, Dr. John Gibbons and Curtis Ross were authorized by an Act of the State Legislature to build a bridge from Seaford to the South bank of the Nanticoke River. This 1st bridge — which was a toll crossing — proved to be unsuccessful; and in 1843 Capt. Hugh Martin purchased it from its original builders and the bridge became profitable commercially. The bridge itself became public property shortly after the Civil War.

During this period, the Pennsylvania railroad arrived in Seaford. This was in the middle of the 19th century (about 1850). One of the early railroad pioneers — an employee named James Blades — purchased a tract of land that roughly embraces the present causeway and the area corresponding to our High and Market Streets.

James Blades parents were Mr. and Mrs. William Blades who had been residents of Seaford for several years. The name of the town, Bladesville, as it was first known, comes from the Blades family ownership. The original James Blades operated a small store for the convenience of the fledgling community at what is now the intersection of Market and High Streets.

By 1870, Bladesville had acquired a church and a school. The church was of Methodist denomination and it was located on Concord Road (now known as High Street). The first school consisted of few elementary grades — it was founded at E. 2nd and Cannon Streets in 1870.

The town of Bladesville at first generally attracted artisans who worked in Seaford. Old timers in the town still recall memories of the quiet, tree-lined streets, graded with oyster shells and the neighborliness that persisted in the closely knit village.

By 1910 the town had been charted as a Delaware community. Henry Riggin became the 1st mayor — and the town’s name as listed in the Charter as Bladesville. In 1915, the Town was incorporated as the Town of Blades.

By that time (1910) a new school had been built to replace the original one room building on 2nd Street. This new school was erected on a hill at the site presently occupied by the Town Hall. Originally a two room building, it was later enlarged to three rooms. Students were given the equivalent of seven grades of schooling, after which they transferred to Seaford for the 8th grade and their high school classes.

One rather unusual civic attraction — one that was proudly hailed and proclaimed at the time — was a musical group known as the Blades Concert Band. This band predated Seaford’s Band, and the Blades organization was organized, trained and conducted by Mr. Charles Robinson, a merchant who later lived in Seaford. Mr. Robinson was the father of the renowned Wright W. Robinson, former editor and publisher of the Seaford Leader.

As the town of Blades grew, its business expanded. At one time, there were seven grocery stores in Blades including those owned and operated by Luther Clifton, Caleb Cannon, Clarence Chipman and later his son Alan, Charlie Gordy, Lee Lloyd, and several others. An interesting aspect of this proliferation of groceries is the fact that one Blades merchant, C.D. Chipman and later his son Alan, operated stores in the community for a period of 76 years.

Just outside the town limits, on the Concord Road, a brick kiln had been established in the late 19th Century. W. O. Johnson, its final owner, became active in the Blades community as a property owner and businessman. He built a large 3-story building on Concord Road which at one time was used to store native holly before shipping it to Philadelphia and Baltimore.

Another large building — this one a clothing manufacturing firm — was erected along the causeway between Blades and Seaford. This plant, under the management of L. C. Longfellow was struck by lightning and burned to the ground but the large labor force of skilled sewing operators served to attract other sewing interests.

For a time Mrs. Florence Hastings operated a small sewing factory in Blades. Later Hartzell Walker, a Sharptown, Maryland native, opened a sewing factory on Market Street. Mr. Walker formed a partnership with Edward Gilbert of Seaford and eventually opened the handsome sewing plant on Market and 9th Streets.

A concrete burial vault plant was opened in the late 1920′s by Jennings H. Moore and continued in operation for 50 years.

Along the South shore of the Nanticoke River a strawberry capping plant was put in operation around 1919. Later this was changed to an oyster shucking plant. Then it became a restaurant, a bus station and finally it was converted into the Peninsula Oil Co. which now dominates the riverfront on both sides of this causeway.

In the early days Blades had its own post office — but this was discontinued in 1929. At the time the office was located in the store of Caleb Cannon at Market and 2nd Streets. Loss of this office was deplored by many Blades residents who feared that the identity of the community would suffer as a consequence.

The Blades Post Office (circa 1929) was consolidated with Seaford in 1929 when home delivery of mail was begun by the Post Office.

A business which was operated along Concord Road for a number of years was the Pollitt Bottling Works. This operation, which made and bottled soft drinks, ceased operation in 1939.

About the same time, a furniture factory was opened on River Road near the railroad tracks. Then directly across the tracks from this older building which later became a machine shop, the firm of Webb and Turner was established.

Historically, Blades has produced many fine craftsmen, who were well known in this area. Prior to Webb and Turner, other pioneers included Walter Culver, W. B. Venables, Charles Achy and Elwood Larrimore, carpenters; Vernon Stanton, Martin McCue, and Martin Brown, masons; Arthur Hatfield, painter; and James Moore, well driver.

When the trucking industry started to replace the railroad as a method of hauling freight, many Blades citizens entered the field of trucking. Some of these early truckers were Norris A. Davis, Dale and Joseph Holt, Oscar E. Peterson, Ira and Ed Merritt, Leon Short, Edward Riggin and Harry I. Truitt.

In 1934, the Blades Volunteer Fire Department was organized. Soon thereafter, a firehouse and a fully equipped fire department came into being. The first firehouse, located on E. 2nd Street served until 1974, when a larger and more modern structure was dedicated on E. 5th Street. So the new quarter of a million dollar fire house was built and dedicated in 1974.

The new fire company building is located near the Blades School, which was built in 1952. This new school was constructed at a cost of $200,000 with the district of Blades itself raising $20,000 and the remainder paid for with a special state appropriation. Today, Blades school is a part of the Seaford Special School District; it provides kindergarten classes and has complete facilities including a cafeteria, recreation hall and ample outdoor recreational facilities.

Delaware’s first woman mayor was elected in Blades. Mrs. Margaret Hastings was elected mayor in 1947 and assumed office after a lively campaign.

In 1956, the congregation of Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Seaford established a cemetery at the southern edge of town. This new Catholic cemetery adjoined the old Blades cemetery which has existed since the turn of the Century.

In 1981, the citizens of Blades voted to improve the water and sewage facilities by establishing a central water supply and tying in all town properties into the Seaford Sewer System. In February 1982, these projects were completed and since that time the town has enjoyed a modern, safe, clean and sanitary municipal water supply and sewer system.

Today, the Town of Blades is a tranquil, mostly residential community keenly interested in pursuing the good life that is a tradition in Sussex County. As we have seen, our Town of Blades, has had an illustrious history, and with the continued efforts of its good citizens we can expect a better tomorrow.