Beyond Its Limits: A Case Study in University Expansion and Gentrification in Newark, DE

Posted on July 13, 2021 at: 1:59 pm

by Collin Willard
Ray Callahan Experiential Learning Fund Fellow, Spring 2021

Anyone who has ever set foot in Newark, Delaware could tell you that it is a college town. Positioned in the center of town, the University of Delaware’s vast campus dominates Newark’s built environment. Businesses along Newark’s Main Street cater to student tastes, and students make up a sizable portion of Newark’s population. Large real estate management companies offer a variety of off-campus housing options in just about every part of Newark, from apartment complexes to single family homes, and nearly everything in between.

However, Newark was not always like this. Prior to the 1970’s, University of Delaware students primarily either lived on campus or commuted to class. Newark had several distinctive neighborhoods within its core that housed working-class families. One such neighborhood was home to the New London Road community, where Newark’s Black population lived throughout the 20th century. This neighborhood, shown in the figure below, encompassed most of the northwest portion of Newark’s core, including New London Road and Avenue, West Cleveland Avenue, Ray Street, Church Street, Corbit Street, Rose Street, and Terry Manor. Today, however, this area of Newark is largely student housing and university property.

“The New London Road Community and Newark, 1961 Aerial Photograph”

I first learned about the New London Road community through my fellowship with the Ray Callahan Experiential Learning Fund. My mission was to analyze an aspect of the University of Delaware’s historical role in racial inequality for the University of Delaware’s Anti-Racism Initiative. Early on in the fellowship, we partook in a “treasure hunt” activity to acclimate ourselves to the scope of topics that may fall under our purview. I chose to research the New London Road community for this activity, with no prior knowledge. I listened to interviews from a set of oral histories recorded from 2004-2006 by Dr. Bernard Herman, a former professor at the University, after members of the New London Road community reached out for assistance in documenting the community’s history and culture. Along with a group of student researchers, Dr. Herman interviewed former residents on key aspects of the community’s history and culture in order to preserve and commemorate the community. Through these oral histories, I learned about the community’s close-knit culture, which prominently featured religion, family, and sports. I learned about the key figures and institutions that supported the community, despite the systemic racism and discrimination its people were subject to.

My biggest takeaway from these oral histories was the love that residents had for the community. In several of the 23 total interviews Dr. Herman and his team conducted, residents talked about how great a place it was to grow up in, and how special the community’s culture was. The oral histories have since been used for two books: People Were Close, an oral and photographic history of the community, and Food Always Brings People Together: Recipes, Poems, and Stories from the New London Road Community, a community cookbook. In 2011, the University of Delaware Department of Art Conservation used the oral histories to create the New London Road Walking Tour, a self-guided audio tour that covers the community’s spatial arrangement and cultural roots.

These are fantastic resources that help those unfamiliar with the community understand its history and culture. But ultimately, I was left wondering how such a vibrant, close-knit community could seemingly disappear. It was quite a shock to learn about the community, given that this area of Newark is now home to mostly student housing and University property. I decided that for my project, I wanted to investigate the degree to which the University of Delaware contributed to the displacement of the New London Road community.

Two questions guided my research:

  • What was the relationship like between the University of Delaware and the state of Delaware’s Black population during the mid-20th century?
  • How did the University of Delaware’s policy changes and real estate acquisitions during the 1960’s and 70’s contribute to the gentrification of the New London Road community?

Understanding the University of Delaware’s conduct and relationship with Black Delawareans, particularly during the mid-20th century, was an important piece of context for this body of research. Using census household data, I discovered that 23 residents of the New London Road community worked for the University of Delaware in 1940, in a variety of service occupations. One resident, 39 year-old Nelson Jackson, is listed as a “House Boy” employed by an unspecified fraternity house. Many other men and women in the community held housekeeping/maintenance positions with private homes and families, so it is possible that others were employed by fraternities or sororities as well.

The University of Delaware began allowing Black students to enroll in the early 1950’s, though they were still met with discrimination from peers, professors, and administration. But by the late 1960’s, the University, influenced largely by student activists, made changes. The Black Student Union formed in 1968, and worked collaboratively with faculty and administrators to craft the Scarpitti Report, written by sociology professor Frank Scarpitti. The report acknowledges the University’s moral responsibility to be responsive to the needs of Black students, and calls for a number of reforms, such as the establishment of a Black culture center on campus, for at least 5% of each incoming class to be Black, and more Black academic staff and faculty. The Black Student Union hosted a Black Awareness Week in the spring of 1969, and the report was published just a few weeks after.

Though the Scarpitti Report’s recommendations were transformational in one sense, they seem to have been largely oriented towards diversifying the experience for white students, rather than uplifting and empowering Delaware’s Black population, including the New London Road community. Notably, the Scarpitti Report does not focus on the University’s moral obligations to Delaware’s Black community as a whole. The enrollment quota of 5% seems low, given that Delaware is nearly one quarter Black. The University was also notoriously uncooperative in establishing a Center for Black Culture, and looked to poach prominent Black professors from HBCU’s in the south to jumpstart its Black Studies program. Generally, my research into the University’s relationship with Delaware’s Black communities shows that while the University made some changes to diversify the campus, it was largely uninterested in anti-racism efforts, and did not really build any relationships with local Black communities.

After learning about the University’s relationship with Black communities, I turned my attention to analyzing the University’s policy changes and property acquisitions during the 1960’s and 70’s. During this period of time, the University underwent significant growth, as enrollment grew by an average of 11% per academic year. University administrators essentially created this issue by admitting more and more students, meaning that the University would be in need of additional property in Newark. Given the University’s growth during this period, I identified 2 major growth and development decisions made by University administrators and trustees that had a major effect on the New London Road community.

First, the University acquired and developed several parcels of land within the community’s immediate vicinity, bringing an influx of students into the area. By analyzing deed records, I discovered that from 1962-1968, the University received land donations from DuPont executive William Winder Laird Jr. and his wife Winifred in the area just north of the New London Road community, which is home to the University’s Laird Campus today. It is likely that Laird understood the University’s real estate needs because  Henry F. du Pont, another prominent member of the du Pont family, sat on the University’s Board of Trustees as Chair of the Grounds and Buildings Committee in the 1960’s.

By 1972, the Laird Campus housed 2,000 students. This project stripped the New London Road Community of Green’s Field, an open space where residents hunted, grew vegetables and produce, and where children played. It also brought an influx of students into the area; as shown in the image below, the New London Road community sat directly between the Laird Campus and the Green. The University also built two parking lots in the community’s vicinity, adding spaces for 1,300 cars.

“1971 University of Delaware Property Map, University property shaded in red, blue added to show New London Road community”

Secondly, the University continued to increase enrollment without building additional dorms, instead encouraging students to live off-campus. The facilities constructed on the Laird Campus were the last dormitory facilities built by the University of Delaware until 1991, but the University grew by over 4,000 students during the 70’s and 80’s. Beginning in 1968, the University rolled back housing policies and encouraged students to live off-campus. By 1969, Vice President John Hocutt recommended allowing all students to live off-campus to President Trabant. The 1971 Development Plan stated that, “the University also wishes to encourage the development of off-campus housing, and intends to reduce gradually the percentage of students housed on campus from 60% to 40%.” In the Fall of 1971, assistant director of residence Stuart Sharkey echoed this sentiment, announcing that “We anticipate a trend where upperclassmen will live off-campus.” By 1974, the University began running into housing shortage issues, and hired Randy Christian as an administrative assistant to specifically focus on identifying off-campus housing opportunities signalling the University’s commitment to off-campus housing.

The University’s decision to force students off-campus created a demand for student housing in Newark that previously did not exist. The New London Road community was uniquely exposed to this phenomenon, and more vulnerable than other areas. The University’s increased presence in the area, combined with its close proximity to campus, likely made it a more attractive area for developers, and certainly facilitated sudden changes for residents. In addition, the community’s housing stock was relatively substandard in quality, and in some cases residents even struggled to find buyers for homes. This meant that developers could acquire these homes at little cost, and quickly transform them into student rentals or knock them down completely to build “luxury apartments.”

Ultimately, the University of Delaware acquisition of property in the New London Road community brought an influx of students into the area. Further, the University’s refusal to construct additional dormitories to house an expanding student body created a demand for off-campus housing in the neighborhood where one did not exist before. University administrators did not express any sort of responsibility, nor did they extend any moral obligations to the New London Road community. They acted without regard for how their actions would affect the New London Road community, and the community lacked the power and influence necessary to resist the University’s projects in a textbook manifestation of systemic racism. And while the University took some significant steps to diversify the student population in the late 60’s, they centered around diversifying the white student experience at the University of Delaware rather than helping Black communities. The University’s growth and property acquisitions, which contributed to the displacement of the New London Road community, make it clear that administrators did not truly reckon with the University’s historical role in the carrying-out of racial oppression.

Image Credits, in Order Shown

 USDA Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service, “Delaware 1961 Orthophotography,” 1961. (Edits made to image by author)

John Carl Warneke & Associates, “University of Delaware Development Plan,” 1971, University Archives, p. 10. (Edits made to image by author)




1940 Census. New Castle County, Delaware, Newark, population schedule, enumeration district (ED) 02-29, sheet 1A-4B. Digital image, Accessed 1 April 2021.

University of Delaware Board of Trustees, 1968 Meeting Minutes. University Archives, University of Delaware. Accessed 10 May 2021.

Hollingsworth, Reba. 2007. “Growing Up in Segregated Delaware.” University of Delaware Lifelong Learning Center, Wilmington DE.

John Carl Warnecke & Associates, “University of Delaware Development Plan, 1971.” University Archives, University of Delaware. Accessed 10 May, 2021.

Jones, Jim. Interview with author, 12 May 2021.

MSS 0642, New London Road/Cleveland Avenue oral histories and research materials, Special Collections, University of Delaware Library, Newark, Delaware.

Newark Post (Newark, DE.) Vol. 28-29, 1969.

New Castle County. Deed Book G-70, p. 115. Sept. 20, 1962.

New Castle County. Deed Book K-74, p. 310. Jan. 11 1965.

New Castle County. Deed Book N-71, p. 637. July 22, 1963.

New Castle County. Deed Book T-81, p. 585, Dec. 19 1968

“Institutional Data on Diversity,” (2019). Institutional Research and Effectiveness, University of Delaware.

“Introduction to the New London Road Community,” University of Delaware Department of Art Conservation.

“Real Estate Index,” University Archives, University of Delaware, Newark DE

The Review (University of Delaware, Newark, DE). Vol. 90-97, 1968-1974.

Syl Woolford, interview by the author March 31, 2021.


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Cassman, Vicki. 2014. “Women and Diversity: Then and Now.” 100th Anniversary of the Women’s College.

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Foote N.S. 2017. “Beyond Studentification in United States College Towns: Neighborhood Change in the Knowledge Nodes, 1980-2010.” Environment and Planning A 49 (6): 1341–60.

Gumprecht, Blake. 2009. The American College Town (version 1st pbk. print.) 1St pbk. print ed. Acls Humanities E-Book. Amherst, Mass.: University of Massachusetts Press.

“Henry B. du Pont, Industrialist, 71.” April 15, 1970, New York Times.

Hoffecker, Carol, 2000. Familiar Relations: The duPonts and the University of Delaware. University of Delaware.

Maguire, Ryan, 2011. “UD celebrates New London Road’s African-American Community.” UDaily, University of Delaware.

U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Common Core of Data (CCD), 2019. “State Nonfiscal Survey of Public Elementary and Secondary Education.”

Woldoff, Rachael A, and Karen G Weiss. “Studentification and Disorder in a College Town.” City & Community 17, no. 1 (2018): 259–75.

Woolford, Syl. “African Americans at Newark High School, 1955-1975.” Slideshow presentation.