1994: The Society Celebrates 130 Years With a Triumphal Arch

The Society’s 130th birthday would prove to be full steam ahead as it dived into transforming the recently acquired old Woolworth’s building at 504 North Market Street into a state-of-the- art, modern museum space. It would be a year consumed by construction activities, not only in the Woolworth’s building but also in the Market Street space outside as the Society approved plans for a proposed sixteen-foot-tall wrought iron archway. Designed by architect Eldon Homsey, the arch would span Market Street between the Society’s Research Library and the new museum space, and provide a historic link back to the year 1824, when Delawareans welcomed the Marquis de Lafayette (1757-1834) to their state during his grand tour through America.

At the invitation of President James Monroe, the sixty-seven-year-old Marquis de Lafayette embarked on an extended tour through United States between July 1824 & September 1825 to help the young nation gear up to celebrate its fiftieth anniversary. The grueling trip would cover twenty-four states and over 6,000 miles but, as a former Revolutionary War general and trusted friend of George Washington, the Marquis was warmly welcomed wherever he went, including in Wilmington, Delaware, which he visited between October 6 & 12, 1824. To celebrate his visit, five temporary arches were erected in Wilmington; one across Naaman’s Creek and four along his processional route on Market Street. Two of these arches, heavily garlanded with festive greenery and ribbons and adorned with portraits of Lafayette and Washington, stood in front of Old Town Hall. The Marquis would later make another brief stop in Wilmington on July 25, 1825 before heading back to France on the USS Brandywine. Like its predecessors, the Society’s new arch would celebrate history, but would take things one step further by becoming a notable permanent Wilmington landmark going forward.

Market Street arch 2
Drawing of the Market Street Arch by Eldon Homsey

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