Collecting Delaware Books
The Churches of Delaware by Frank R. Zebley is a desirable collectible and an important reference. Privately published by Zebley in 1947 and sold for $5, a nice copy with a dust jacket now brings several hundred dollars.
There is a story that Zebley burned the unsold copies of this book as well as his Along the Brandywine (1940) in a fit of pique. If true, this would explain the rarity of both books.
Zebley said The Churches of Delaware was the result of 12 years of travel and thousands of hours of research in deed records, newspapers, histories, and other sources. The 363-page book describes nearly 900 churches, half of which were still active at the time of writing. Hundreds of excellently printed photographs are also included.
The book is divided into five numbered parts on Wilmington, New Castle County, Kent County, eastern Sussex County, and western Sussex County. The first two parts are by far the largest.
Thumbing through the book, one is struck with the variety of edifices and congregations described and pictured from grand cathedrals to humble storefront churches and country chapels. Perhaps a sampling of these entries will give the flavor of the book.
Zebley was an avid photographer. The Delaware Public Archives has a link to a collection of about 1,000 Zebley photographs in fairly high resolution, including many church pictures . Click on this link and look on the page that appears for the Zebley link.
One of the oldest congregations listed is a Mennonite church founded by Peter Plockhoy in Lewes in 1662. It was destroyed by the English in 1664. One of the newest is St. Edmond's Roman Catholic Church in Rehoboth Beach, which was dedicated in 1940 by Bishop FitzMaurice.
Some camp meetings are included. Wesley Methodist Episcopal Church, a black church on the edge of Clarksville, maintained a camp ground which Zebley tells us was the last Delaware camp lit by wooden fire-stands. They were replaced with electric lights in 1943.
Christ Protestant Episcopal Church, "Old Lightwood," three miles east of Laurel, gets an extensive description as fine colonial architecture. At the time of writing it was used for two services a year by the congregation of St. Philip's Church in Laurel.
Photographs and text describe the shingle roofs built over burials at abandoned Bethel Methodist Church south of Gumboro. These roofs were said to be common at one time, probably as protection for shallow graves.
Asbury Methodist Church at Smyrna is said to have been named to commemorate the preaching of Francis Asbury in an orchard between Duck Creek Crossroads and Duck Creek Village. The congregation and a succession of edifices are traced from 1780 to the dedication of a new organ and chimes in 1947. Wesley Methodist Church in Dover also had ties to early religious figures, including Francis Asbury, Freeborn Garrettson, and Bishop Whatcoat, since it was organized in 1778.
The major churches and synagogues of Wilmington and New Castle County are covered in detail with, perhaps, Holy Trinity Episcopal ("Old Swedes") and St. Peter's Roman Catholic getting the most space. A listing of black churches is extensive.
Also listed are small groups in Wilmington and the suburbs, such as the Arden Branch, First Independent Church, which was founded in a schoolhouse in 1941 and moved to the Odd Fellows Hall in 1942.
Red Clay Creek Presbyterian Church on McKennan's Church Road north of the Delcastle Recreation Area dates from 1722. Examining its list of pastors, The Reverend William McKennan served from 1755 to 1809, explaining the name of the road.
Churches have been an important part of Delaware history and Frank Zebley's The Churches of Delaware is the best available reference on the subject.