Main Street – The Street Where Newark Started
Where Newark now exists, Native Americans came and went for thousands of years, following the waterways and the seasons. In the 1700’s Europeans settlers came, establishing mills along the nearby creeks and creating a community along one dirt road. The crossroads village eventually became the market town of Newark and that dirt road its Main Street.
The town grew with the continued agricultural development of outlying lands.In 1758, King George II of England had granted a charter, which came to be seen as the official establishment of Newark. The King’s charter specifically gave Newark the right to hold weekly markets and semi-annual fairs near what is now the Academy Lawn.
Unlike other market towns of its time, Newark’s growth was impacted almost from its beginning by the presence of educational institutions. First was the establishment of the Academy of Newark in the early 1760’s to prepare young men for the ministry and other learned professions. During the 19th century, public schools were established and stood along Main Street. Boarding schools and seminaries for young women sprang up along Main Street for short periods of time. In 1833, the State of Delaware granted a charter for a school of higher learning to Newark College, which soon became Delaware College and was housed in the building now known as Old College. In 1921, Delaware College became the University of Delaware.
Starting with the Civil War era, local manufacturing interests began to predominate in Newark’s economy, leading to the development of more commercial and residential buildings along Main Street and nearby streets. Economic prosperity in the late 19th century led to the construction of more elaborate buildings along Main Street. This economic prosperity and growth continued on Main Street after World War I and up until the Depression. The growth picked up again during World War II and thereafter. In the latter half of the twentieth century,Newark began to grow significantly beyond its center. Factories that had operated in Newark near Main Street, like the Continental Diamond Fibre Company and the National Vulcanized Fibre Company, closed and new factories, including (for example) Chrysler and FMC, were built at a distance. Public institutions, like City Hall, the high school, and the public library, were relocated to the edge of town. Shopping malls, built outside of town, drew businesses and customers away from Main Street. Also beginning in the 1960’s, the University of Delaware, which had grown beyond its original building to cover several city blocks south of Main Street, now began a new era of expansion.
By the mid-1970s, with the advent of a regional mall, competitive pressures increased dramatically, while the area population grew slowly. Therefore, downtown experienced the negative effects of rapidly growing competition in a geographic area that had a slowly growing customer base, and as a result, lost businesses and customers.
This economic environment caused concern because of the role downtown played, and continues to play, in Newark life. Downtown functions as a community focal point, hosting community events and activities; functions as a key anchor that identifies Newark as a special place; and because of its proximity to the University of Delaware’s main campus, has always played a significant role in University life.
Recognizing the need to look beyond our traditional markets and attract more visitors and shoppers to downtown, the City commissioned a study to assess the economic climate and make recommendations for action to insure future success. The result, Commerce in Newark – A Plan for the Future, July 1986, recommended, among other things, an activist partnership to include the City, the University, and the business community to foster positive change downtown through the National Main Street Center’s approach to revitalization.
Consequently, the City brought together downtown businesses, property owners, and University representatives to talk about downtown revitalization, and through these efforts, the Newark Business Association (NBA) was created. The NBA organized loosely along the Main Street 4-point approach, but enjoyed limited success.
In 1998, the Downtown Newark Partnership (DNP) was formed The DNP has created a unique environment in which the University, the City, the residential and business communities work together toward a common goal, the ongoing revitalization of Main Street. Guided by a policy board and energetic and dedicated working committees and volunteers, the DNP enjoyed unmatched success. In 2000, the DNP was recognized as a Certified Nation Main Street Program by the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the Delaware Main Street Program. We are proud to have maintained this designation over the last ten years. In addition, our Main Street Manager Maureen Feeney Roser was recognized as a Certified Main Street Manager by the National Trust’s Main Street Center in 2009.
Downtown Newark is now a thriving commercial area with more than $40 million in new private investment and 30 new businesses over the last 4 years. Newark was recently recognized as SBA Small Business Community of the Year; and named the best city for business start-ups by Business Weekly. It is also a semi-finalist for the 2011 National Trust for Historic Preservation’s coveted Great American Main Street Award.