1948: 150th Anniversary of Old Town Hall

In 1948 the Historical Society of Delaware celebrated the 150th Anniversary of Old Town Hall. Old Town Hall was constructed in 1798 and served as central meeting spot in the city.  When construction was finally completed after many delays and design debates, the building was ranked as the largest building in Wilmington with its tall cupola. The building’s size and central location on Market Street insured that Town Hall would be a central meeting spot.

Old Town Hall Interior ca. 1927

The interior of Old Town Hall was built to support a variety of functions. The underground cellar included two jail cells, the first floor served as a community hall, and the second (less public) story was divided into rooms. The second story served to host meetings, and one of upstairs room functioned as the borough council’s meeting chambers. Other non-municipal groups and individuals also made use of the property and space over the years.

For example, the Philosophical Society, an amateur science organization, rented the space in Old Town Hall for their meetings. They also received permission to create a small room in the storage area of the cellar to conduct scientific experiments. According to legend, the Philosophical Society was attempting to demonstrate a volcanic eruption during one of their meetings, and it caused an explosion in the basement. No official record of this event exists; however, the Philosophical Society lost all permission to experiment in Old Town Hall and briefly lost permission to use the Hall as a meeting space.

By the 1850s Wilmington built alternate meeting spaces and halls. Overtime, the rentals of Old Town Hall diminished and despite additions in 1875, the space was aging. By 1916 a new city building was constructed and Old Town Hall was sold at auction. Fortunately, the Historical Society of Delaware purchased the property, later restored the building, and it remains in the Society’s possession today.

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