Thomas Jefferson reportedly called Delaware the Diamond State, a nod to its strategic location on the Eastern Seaboard. The First State in a new nation, Delaware remains on the cutting edge, sparkling with vibrant cities, charming towns and storied rural communities. For a peek at some of the most sought-after places to settle, walk this way.
Named for Shakespeare’s storied forest, Arden is unique in that land cannot be sold. Instead, there’s a renewable 99-year lease. The village was founded in 1900 as a utopian retreat by sculptor Frank Stephens and architect Will Price, with such artistic draws as Gild Hall—which hosts community dinners and big-name performers—and an outdoor theater. The entire community is on the National Register of Historic Places.
Madeline Dobbs, a Realtor with More Brandywine Valley Homes, lives in Arden with her husband, architect Chuck Dobbs.
“Arden fulfills my childhood fantasy of being Snow White in the woods, enjoying the flora and fauna that is not easy to find in traditional developments,” she says. “Creatives like my husband found their place in the world here that allows them the freedom to express what home means to them without the oversight of a complicated HOA—although if you want to cut down a tree in Arden, be prepared for the tree committee.”
Architecture includes Tudor-style half timbers, English Arts and Crafts houses and Storybook cottages. Updated homes fetch top dollar. A 1920s Cape Cod retains its beamed ceilings, built-in cabinets and other vintage charms, with a new kitchen and baths. The asking price: $519,000.
Cathy Bautista found a house that stole her heart, with the bonus of a guest cottage. She embraces village life, attending dinners prepared by neighbors at Gild Hall and enjoying the annual Arden Fair.
“The Arden Community Recreation Association’s pancake breakfast in the woods is magical,” she says.
Think of Bellefonte as Wilmington’s quirky little sister. Incorporated in 1915, the town was connected to Wilmington by a trolley line on Brandywine Boulevard through the 1950s.
Today, Brandywine Boulevard is an avenue of arts and crafts. Founded by Valerie White, Bellefonte Arts sells wares created by more than 40 artists and artisans, and offers classes in stamp-carving and other artsy endeavors. Across the road, Bellefonte Café serves up local brews and home stews, plus open mic nights and live music ranging from bluegrass jams to swing.
Jewelry maker Cathy Osberg Codding looks forward each May to the Bellefonte Arts Festival, a celebration of the visual, performing and culinary arts, and “a fun, inspiring and exciting time.”
Michael DiFonzo of Re/Max has been selling homes in Bellefonte for 34 years. With a population of 1,183 and a land area of 1.18 miles, it’s a close-knit community.
“It’s a town where people wave,” he says.
Local taxes are low—about $300 a year—and include trash pickup and snow removal. Affordable housing makes Bellefonte attractive for first-time buyers.
“You might pay $120,000 for a nice little rancher that needs work,” he says, “all the way up to $350,000 for a very large newer house.”
Nestled in the city of Wilmington between Brandywine Park and Route 202, the Triangle blossoms with urban gardens and communal energy.
“The Triangle just seems to attract very sociable people,” says resident Misty Seemans, who often rides her bike to her law office downtown.
“It is the only place I have ever lived where, when you walk around the neighborhood, you actually talk to your neighbor, and even get invited over for a drink.”
“The Triangle is very diverse, with people with all types of jobs and interesting backgrounds,” she says. “We even started a salon with some of our neighbors where someone will cook dinner and we’ll talk about art, books and ideas.”
Residents can also join the neighborhood association, which for a small fee offers a community newsletter and events, as well as volunteer surveillance, so neighbors can feel safe knowing everyone is looking out for one another.
Most homes were built in the 1920s, a pleasant mix of tidy semi-detached homes in red brick or stone, with a few single-family residences built in Craftsman style, with angular, columned porches.
Current prices range from around $230,000 to $475,000.
The Highlands is an upscale community in the city of Wilmington, home to such landmarks as the Delaware Art Museum, Rockford Park and Ciro Forty Acres, where on weekend mornings neighbors often spill out onto the bistro tables to share breakfast hash and conversation.
Cathleen Wilder of Long & Foster grew up here, and her mother still lives in the family home.
“It’s a fabulous community, with recreation, shopping and the art museum,” she says.
Real estate includes brick townhouses from the 1890s and grand stone homes constructed in the 1920s, with a sprinkling of newer construction. Prices range from the mid-$300,000s for a semi-detached home to mansions priced at more than $2 million. The median home value is $460,346, according to the market tracker Niche.
Susan Sullivan lives in a townhome near the museum, home to the world’s largest collection of pre-Raphaelite art. She downsized from a two-story colonial in North Wilmington, parked her Prius and embraced city life, walking or riding her bike to most destinations.
“The Highlands is a wonderful combination of good restaurants, beautiful trails and parks, plus easy access to major metropolitan areas,” she says.
Sullivan attends weekly summer concerts in Rockford Park. In May, the Wilmington Flower Market, a three-day annual event with amusements, crafts, foods and an array of plants, marks its centennial.
“The neighborhood is a great mix of families, retirees and young professionals who work downtown,” Wilder says. “There’s a unique blend of green spaces and urban energy.”
With 600 year-round residents, South Bethany lives up to its reputation as a quiet resort. Life revolves around the water, with a beach ranked one of the cleanest in the nation and a 5-mile network of canals conducive to boating, crabbing and fishing.
There are about 1,400 properties, mostly summer getaways for owners in Wilmington; Washington, D.C.; Maryland and New Jersey.
New construction is expected to spur growth, with more than 150 vacant lots. Ocean-block property commands top dollar; a 0.01-acre lot two houses from the beach on Sixth Street is listed at $970,000.
Canal-front homes west of Del. 1 typically exceed $1 million. Recently, a furnished four-bedroom, three-bath home with an elevator, two master suites and a patio with a bar was priced at $1.23 million.
Scott Edmonston of SEA Studio Architects has designed several contemporary homes in South Bethany, inspired by sweeping views of water and wetlands.
“Buildable land is attracting people who want to park the car and walk straight to the beach or the bay, or relax on the canal, with your kayak right there,” he says.
Tucked in Chateau Country, a verdant swath dotted with du Pont mansions and other estates, Centreville’s roots date to 1711, when Friends Centre Meeting House was built from logs. Today, Kennett Pike, the main thoroughfare, is lined with 18th-– and 19th-century buildings that house businesses.
“Centreville is beautiful and historically rich, with so many layers,” says Amber Durand of Patterson Schwartz. “Just outside
town, the kids and I used to pretend to be in the wilderness at night. With no artificial lights for miles around, you can really watch the night sky.”
In town, there are art galleries and antiques shops. You can buy flowers at Wild Thyme and indulge in gourmet goodies, to dine in or take out, at Centreville Café and Montrachet Fine Foods.
Kelsey Abernathy is partial to Buckley’s Tavern, built in 1871 and remodeled just a few years ago.
“The staff is incredibly warm and welcoming,” she says. “It’s great for comfort food and meeting friends for happy hour.”
On the housing front, recent listings range from Marimon, an 8.5-acre estate with a lavish 17,588-square-foot mansion at $9.8 million to a 3,200-square-foot replica of an historic Williamsburg, Virginia, home at $695,000.
Reflecting the trend toward pedestrian-friendly locales, Middletown is on the comeback trail.
A long-vacant bank is now La Banca, an Italian restaurant. There are gift shops, a tailor, a karate school and a spa. Thespians tread the boards at The Everett Theatre, featured in the film Dead Poets Society.
Construction of new housing continues at suburban developments like The Ponds at Bayberry, with prices in the $300,000s and $400,000s. In town, inventory is tight, with prices starting in the $200,000s for a fixer-upper. Many homes were built in the Victorian era, including the 6,000-square-foot manse on Cass Street that was the home of Benjamin Thomas Biggs, elected governor in 1887.
In mid-August, the town hosts its Annual Middletown Old-Tyme Peach Festival. Throughout the year, shops and dining spots promote events like Yappy Hours, where patrons are invited to bring their dogs for a mingle downtown.
Events draw folks in, and friendly merchants keep them coming back, says Daneya Jacobs, executive director of Middletown Main Street, a nonprofit dedicated to revitalizing the district while preserving its historic character.
“People like coming into a business and being greeted by the owner,” she says.
Nika Hipsher owns UNika Customs on Green Street, a seller of home goods and host of workshops for ascendant DYI decorators.
“Downtown, everything is available in the immediate area,” she says. “You can go to the florist. You can buy flooring. You can go to lunch. You just start walking.”
From a historic perspective, Claymont is a tale of two cities.
Robinson House, built in 1723, was the home of Col. Thomas Robinson, who hosted George Washington. John Jakob Raskob, a DuPont executive and builder of the Empire State Building, lived in the mansion that is now Archmere Academy, a celebrated Catholic prep school.
“This was high-class territory,” says Frances West of the Naamans Heritage Association, the nonprofit that maintains Robinson House, now owned by the state.
The other half of this community on Philadelphia Pike was centered on the steel mill. Modest housing was constructed for workers, with grander homes for managers. President Joe Biden dreamed of attending Archmere from his boyhood home, an apartment building across the pike. (He made it.)
Today, Claymont is evolving. Instead of working at the mill, workers are heading to the train station.
“It’s an easy commute to Philadelphia and has great tax advantages over living in Pennsylvania,” says Shane Pezick of Re/Max. “Claymont is undergoing a renaissance, moving toward a place where people can live, shop and play.”
Vintage housing, including meticulously restored homes from the 1920s and 1930s, also is part of the mix. Expect to pay $150,000 to $550,000, Pezick says, “depending on the size of the house, the size of the lot and the location.”
Wyoming, population 1,313, calls itself “the best little town in Delaware.” Most homes in the central district are on the National Register of Historic Places, built soon after 1856, when the community was established as a stop on the Delaware Railroad. In 1975, the town merged with nearby Camden. Today, greater Wyoming is a blend of farms and housing developments.
“Wyoming is known for its quaint charm,” says Shalini Sawhney, a real estate agent at Burns & Ellis. “The housing ranges from modest to magnificent.”
Recent listings include a three-bedroom house in town built in 1880, priced at $189,000, and newly constructed homes in the Estates of Wild Quail starting at $500,000.
Wyoming maintains roots in Kent County agriculture and celebrates its own Peach Festival each August. At Fifer Orchards, a fourth-generation farm, locals enjoy family days, the u-pick experience and festivals and events throughout the year.
Mike Fennemore, the latest in the family to lead Fifer, says Wyoming is a great place for families who enjoy fishing, hunting, biking and other outdoor activities.
“Our location makes it easy to get to Washington, D.C.; Baltimore and Philadelphia in just a couple hours,” he says, “but it’s always nice to have a quiet retreat to call home.”
The First Town in the First State, downtown Lewes appeals to people with an appetite for history and food, from maritime art at the Mercantile Antique Gallery to a scoop of butter brickle at King’s Homemade Ice Cream.
Anne Barnett, who grew up in Florida, says Lewes Beach reminds her of soft Gulf Coast sands. She loves the town’s relaxed vibe.
“I enjoy having year-round neighbors and being able to walk to the library, Station on Kings, Agave, Raas, Puzzle Store, Canal Front Park, Lewes Farmers Market and the post office,” she says.
Shipcarpenter Square is a community of centuries-old homes transported from Virginia and Maryland, including a repurposed lifeguard station. Inventory in town is limited, with restored homes fetching more than $1 million.
“Lewes has it all—historic charm, award-winning restaurants, scenic waterways, still-quiet beaches and one of the most beautiful coastal state parks in the country,” says Lee Ann Wilkinson of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Gallo Realty. “With the addition of the Gordon’s Pond and Junction and Breakwater trails, you can bike easily to Rehoboth and the boardwalk.”
Remote and beautiful, Yorklyn’s fortunes waxed and waned with those of industry, from snuff mills in the 1800s through the National Vulcanized Fibre Corporation (NVF) plant, which closed in 2008.
Work is in progress on Yorklyn Village, which will include retail, restaurants and housing on the NVF site. The goal of the public-private partnership is to clean up contaminated areas and expand tourism with a trail system that will connect the village with the nearby Marshall Steam Museum and the Delaware Nature Society.
Current housing includes modest but picturesque rowhouses built in the 19th century for mill workers, a lane of artfully restored semi-detached homes and a few stately manor houses. Listings are rare and range from about $200,000 to more than $2 million.
Yorklyn has taken on a mantle as a cultural destination with the Center for the Creative Arts, which supports visual and performing arts and hosts a summer camp for kids. The center is the site of the annual Yorklyn Storytelling Festival. Michael Wright co-founded the festival with photographer Carlos Alajandro.
“The combination of the natural beauty and history makes Yorklyn a special place,” Wright says.
More than a mile from the Atlantic, Ocean View was so-named because residents in the late 19th century could see the sea from their second-story windows. In 1923, Delaware’s fledgling poultry industry was hatched there.
Today the only birdies in the community are on the golf course. At Bear Trap Dunes, Brian Rashley, the general manager, posts videos on the club website promoting events like Black Friday specials in the pro shop, a swanky New Year’s Eve party, and food and drink specials for sports-watching enthusiasts in The Den.
“People like Ocean View because it’s quaint. It’s not overbuilt with hotels,” says Emma Payne, of the EXP Realty Delmarva Group.
Prospective buyers are coming from south and north for homes priced from the low $200,000s to high $400,000s.
“It’s accessible for people from Maryland and Washington, D.C., coming across the Bay Bridge,” Payne says. “I also see an increase in people from New Jersey and Connecticut who want to save money on property taxes.”
Settled in 1675 on the Broadkill River, Milton is part of the burgeoning Cape Region. Once a center for shipbuilding, the town has 198 buildings in a federally designated historic district.
Hairstylist John Potocki moved to Milton 15 years ago as an alternative to more expensive housing closer to the beach.
“At first, part of me wanted to be in Lewes or Rehoboth. But I fell in love with Milton, where people really care about their community,” he says.
On Union Street, the new pollinator garden is buzzing, vibrant with plants that attract bees and butterflies. It took a lot of human worker bees to bring the garden to fruition, including volunteers from the Women’s Club, the Garden Club, the historical society and nearby Dogfish Head Brewery. Milton Theatre, built in 1910, hosts films and theatrical productions.
It’s an eclectic housing market. Recent listings include a three-bedroom Victorian in need of TLC priced at $259,000, a two-story colonial with a white picket fence in the mixed-used community of Cannery Village for $374,000, and a 3,950-square-foot retreat with views of Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge, listed at $799,000.
As Potocki sees it, Milton offers the feeling of a beach community, without the traffic.
“If the traffic gets really high on Route. 1 or Route 9,” he says, “we can still run to the grocery store.”
Known as America’s Summer White House, Rehoboth Beach has evolved to a year-round destination, an energetic blend of homes, galleries, shops, bars and restaurants.
The closer properties are to the beach, the higher the price tag, says Brian Donahue of Long and Foster.
“East of Route 1, it’s a seller’s market, with not a lot of inventory,” he says. “Expect to pay even more in the city limits. People want to walk outside and go to a restaurant without having to fight for a parking space.”
Recent listings include a four-bedroom, six-bath home on Silver Lake for $2.75 million, an oceanfront penthouse condo for $4.4 million, and a new 2,500-square-foot home and pool tucked behind the Sands Hotel on the boardwalk for $2.7 million.
Known internationally as a gay-friendly community, the town is the home of CAMP Rehoboth, a nonprofit dedicated to creating a positive environment inclusive of all sexual orientations and gender identities.
Long and narrow, Dewey Beach has the distinction of offering both ocean and bay views, sometimes from the same location.
With a reputation as a party town for college kids, Dewey boasts large, loud venues, including concert hot spot the Bottle and Cork and the Rusty Rudder, with a bayside deck for al fresco imbibing. Check out The Starboard for its signature Bloody Mary smorgasbord.
The north end of town is more family-oriented, with new construction of 5,000-square-foot-plus homes.
“Dewey isn’t just for kids,” says Carol Materniak of Long and Foster. “Families love bonfires on the beach and watersports on the bay.”
With only 371 year-round residents, most of the housing is vacation homes, rentals and combinations thereof. Residential inventory increased significantly when three hotels were converted to condominiums.
A nine-bedroom, nine-bath house with two screened porches and multiple balconies is listed for $2.75 million. In the Rehoboth by the Sea neighborhood, where some lots are leased, a midcentury modern cottage with carport is $530,000. The price tag on a 980-square-foot condo on Del. 1 is $385,000.
Home to the University of Delaware, downtown Newark is an exuberant blend of academia and culture. The tradeoff is a paucity of parking and chronic construction.
Southwest of campus, just beyond student housing, lies Old Newark, a tranquil pocket of homes that is walkable to downtown.
“It’s a lovely area where the age and architecture of the homes varies,” says Deborah Sweeney of Patterson Schwartz.
The mix includes federal-style homes built in the 1920s, midcentury modern houses constructed in the 1960s and a few properties that went up in the last decade.
Mike Logothesis has lived in Old Newark for 22 years and enjoys theater, music, art, nature, athletics, festivals and socializing in a compact town that merges university and community cultures.
“Although traffic often snarls, pedestrians and cyclists can go to the bank, a restaurant, the market, a park, a UD event, or favorite watering hole using the town’s network of sidewalks and trails,” he says.
Character and convenience come at a price. Expect to pay more than the $270,000 median sales price for greater Newark.
“In Old Newark, the price would be $400,000 to$425,000,” Sweeney says. “Inventory is low because people are happy there.”
Captain John Smith sited Seaford in 1608, when he sailed the Nanticoke River as part of his mission to explore the Chesapeake Bay. In 1939, the DuPont Company built its first nylon plant there, making Seaford the Nylon Capital of the World.
Jay Deputy’s parents came to Seaford in 1970, part of a wave of DuPonters who were transferred in and out of Sussex County. They bought a red brick Ccolonial-style home built in 1968.
Deputy inherited the property from his mother in 2009 and decided the elegant house on a large, shaded lot would make a peaceful retreat from his other homes in North Wilmington and Manhattan.
“It’s a lovely, tranquil place to entertain small groups of friends,” he says.
Buyers are discovering Seaford in the midst of a community initiative to restore the city to its former glory. The median home price is $169,000. Newer homes in developments are listed from the mid-$300,000s to mid-$400,000s.
“The charm and scenic views that made a Seaford a destination during the textile manufacturing days are being brought back to life,” says Clifford McCall of Masten Realty. “Homes are being restored and families are returning for their share of this historic Delaware town.”
Nena Todd talks a lot about history. She also walks the walk—from her office on Dover’s Historic Green to the Old Statehouse to the Johnson Victrola Museum.
The historic sites supervisor for the Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs, she appreciates the pedestrian-friendly vibe of streets laid out in 1683 by William Penn, “which explains why downtown parking is limited.”
Todd lives in the historic district, within walking distance of Biggs Museum of American Art and the Golden Fleece Tavern, where legislators voted to ratify the Constitution in 1787 and patrons can still hoist a mug of Fordham & Dominion beer.
“I love living in Dover; it’s a state capital without the confines of a big city,” she says. “You can walk to shops and restaurants and our historic main street.”
Housing prices start in the low $100,000s for homes that require renovations, says Peter Shade of Burns and Ellis Realtors.
“There’s a spark among people who want to live downtown,” he says. “We’re experiencing a surge in investors and homeowners who are doing beautiful renovations on unique properties. First-time buyers are finding great properties at a price point that allows them to become homeowners. There’s pride of ownership downtown and the trend is growing.”
Published as “Won’t You Be Our Neighbor?” in the March 2020 issue of Delaware Today magazine.