History of Beaver Valley

Rolling hills with a house to the right on a bright sunny day.
Rolling hills with a house to the right on a bright sunny day.

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While the Swedes, Dutch, and Finns were settling in the lower areas of the state, Beaver Valley was home to local tribes that cleared small fields for agriculture. Other than the fields, the site consisted of thick forest and marsh areas, which made traveling by foot difficult and time consuming. Water transportation was much easier as the Christian River was navigable as far as the Brandywine Creek in present day Wilmington.

Seven years after the English captured the Swedish colony in Wilmington from the Dutch, King Charles II granted approximately 45,000 square miles of land to William Penn as repayment for a loan made to the Crown by his father. King Charles II did not want to encroach upon land owned by his brother, the Duke of York, so he determined that the southern boundary of Pennsylvania would be a twelve-mile arc from New Castle. However, Penn feared that the lands of Pennsylvania might become landlocked over time, and petitioned the British Crown and the Duke of York to add the “Lower Counties” (New Castle, Kent, and Sussex) to his patent.

After the land was granted Penn established two colonial assemblies one for the “Upper Counties” and one for the “Lower Counties”. In order to clarify boundaries of the two assemblies Penn ordered a survey of the arc to be completed. The twelve-mile circle runs directly through Beaver Valley, crossing a farm. The survey line was measured multiple times before it was demarcated with stone markers, or merestones, between 1892 and 1893.

In 1684, Penn signed a treaty with the Lenape that transferred land owned by the tribe to Penn but reserved one mile along the Brandywine Creek for Lenape use. Unlike the Dutch and Swedish colonial settlers who engaged in extensive trade with the Lenape, the English generated income primarily through land sales for settlement. In time, however, the European settlers encroached upon the Lenape's Brandywine Creek reservation breaking there trust and resulting in an unwillingly removal. In 1699, Penn sold 2,000 acres of the Brandywine Hundred to the Pennsylvania Land Company, which in turn sold the land to settlers, predominantly Quakers, who had begun to settle in the area in the late seventeenth century.

In the early eighteenth century, first and second generation Quaker immigrants established farms and built mills bordering creeks, as they provided irrigation for fields, power for the mills, and transportation routes. Moving outwards from the creek banks, they cleared land and built stone farmhouses similar in size, materials, layouts, and vernacular styles of their former British Homeland. By the mid 1800’s farmers cultivated the best agricultural land in the valley, and produced wool, cloth finishing, paper, and clover seeds for planting. By the second half of the nineteenth century, water powered mills along the Creek were becoming outdated, and by the early twentieth century the mills were stopped and fell into ruin.

Beginning in 1906, William Poole Bancroft began to purchase property in the Brandywine Valley from farmers and small-scale industrialists to hold in reserve for the health and well-being of the public. Heir to the Bancroft textile mills on the Brandywine, Bancroft eventually amassed over 1,300 acres, including the 1,100 that would become the Beaver Valley tract of First State National Historical Park. He formed the Woodlawn Company in 1919, later renamed the Woodlawn Trustees Inc., to create affordable housing and the acquire land for parkland and open space. Since then, it served as a privately owned park until donated to the National Park Service in 2013.


Last updated: November 30, 2018

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Mailing Address:

New Castle Court House Museum
Attn: First State NHP
211 Delaware Street

New Castle, DE 19720


(302) 544-6363
This phone number is not staffed. You can leave a message on the park's main phone number (302-544-6363) and we will return your call as soon as possible. If you are visiting one of the seven sites, and need specific information, please refer to the "Places to Go" page for phone numbers and addresses of each site.

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