Delaware 52 continues the Pennsylvania 52 designation along Kennett Pike into New Castle County near Centerville. The state route begins in downtown Wilmington from U.S. 13 Business via the one-way couplet of Eleventh Street (southbound) and Twelfth Street (northbound). The two components merge at Delaware Avenue and Twelfth Street before crossing over Interstate 95 & U.S. 202 between Adams and Jackson Streets. North of there Delaware Avenue parts ways with Delaware 52 as the highway becomes Pennsylvania Avenue. At the city line Pennsylvania Avenue becomes Kennett Pike en route to a partial-cloverleaf interchange at Delaware 100 & 141 (Barley Mill Road). Kennett Pike travels through some of the more posh suburbs of Wilmington between Greeville and Centerville. The route becomes more rural in nature as it climbs into the Appalachian Piedmont toward Delaware County, Pennsylvania. Delaware 52 dates back as far as at least 1938.
A History of the Kennett Pike by Rush Wickes
The construction of much needed safety improvements were completed on this heavily traveled road at the Powder Mill Square Shopping Center in Greenville during the early 2000s. Residents in that area who live adjacent to the 186 year old route feared that the work would only bring about more traffic, moving at a higher speed through their community. Route 52 has been designated by the national 'Last Chance Landscapes' land preservation group as one of the twelve most endangered scenic roadways in the nation. One cannot disagree with their assessment of it's beauty, for it runs seven miles northward from Wilmington, where it is known as Pennsylvania Avenue into Chester County, terminating at the junction with U.S. 1. Along the way it passes through a region known widely as 'chateau country', an area marked with large estates and rolling open fields.
The road was started in 1811 when citizens of Christiana Hundred (does it still exist?) obtained a charter from the Delaware state government to build what was then a seven mile toll road. Some one hundred and seventy five individuals served as investors into the Wilmington and Kennett Turnpike Company, including members of prominent Delaware families such as the du Ponts, Rodneys, Tatnalls and Bayards. Construction of the road took two years and required $30,000 in funding. As a privately operated turnpike, two tollhouses were constructed alongside the route -- one of which is located at what is today part of the Winterthur museum complex.
Tolls were collected from 1813 until 1919. The income from tolls sustained the families who lived in the tollhouses. Drivers paid tolls based on the number of cattle, pigs or sheep they were guiding along. Travelers and wagon drivers paid a toll proportionate to carriage width, the number of passengers in their party as well as the number of horses towing the carriage. People attending funerals or regular church services didn't pay any toll.
In 1919 public sentiment for better, free roads spelled the end for the privately owned road. Pierre S. du Pont (not the one who build what is today Route 13) proposed to the state that his family company be allowed to buy the turnpike and convert it to a modern concrete roadway 24 feet in width.
In his proposal, du Pont wrote,
"This should provide plenty of room for the normal growth of this road for generations to come."
The state agreed to the proposal and du Pont bought the turnpike for $60,000. A 200 member crew began paving the route from the Pennsylvania state line to Breck's Lane on May 5, 1919. It required 137 days for 5.5 miles to be resurfaced at a cost of $125,000. After work was completed, du Pont sold the road back to the state for the sum of $1, but made several stipulations as part of the sale.
It was specified that the sale would only take place if the highway department, "not authorize, suffer or permit the laying of rails or the operation of trolley cars, street cars or similar cars upon or along said road."
He also stipulated that no advertising billboards or signs be erected without the consent of every landowner on both sides of the road. In addition, du Pont wanted the highway department to "protect and preserve by every practical means, the ancient Colonial pear tree at or near the entrance of the private road of Eugene E. du Pont."
The tree in question no longer exists. It died in 1979 when it was hit by a truck. An offshoot of the now deceased tree thrives in that location. The importance of the original tree isn't clear, but legend suggests that George Washington and his troops rested beneath it in the midst of the Revolutionary War, making use of the adjacent artesian wells as a source of clean drinking water.
Since the 1900's traffic volumes on the route have actually decreased. At the turn of the century some 12,411 vehicles passed along the route on a daily basis, compared to 11,937 on Philadelphia Pike in northeastern Wilmington and 2,464 on State Road south of Smyrna. A traffic count survey taken in 1998 measured an average of 11,341 cars passing through Centreville on a daily basis. Nevertheless the needs of modern traffic have dictated improvements over the years, such as shoulders, traffic signals and turn lanes.
Residents and specialty store owners along Route 52 in Centreville have actively sought to preserve it's rural character. Plans to bring in chain store development have been successfully thwarted. In 1998, residents were able to have the Kennett Pike designated as a greenway, a natural area for wildlife and for low-impact recreation such as hiking and bicycling. Today, members of the 1,000 Friends of Greenville, an ad-hoc group formed to oppose the Powder Mill Square intersection improvements are trying to get the road listed on the National Register of Historic Places. That would protect it from future development and road-widening projects.
It is my opinion that the Powder Mill Square improvements are sorely needed as a four lane wide Route 52 passes through that area and there are a high number of vehicles seeking to turn left into the shopping area without the protection of dedicated turn lanes. Accidents are quite frequent in that area as a result of shifting speeds and limited clearance spaces. At the same time, I don't support nor believe that development will occur above the Jansens' shopping center along Route 52.
Delaware 52 Mileage Table
|U.S. 13 Business northbound (Walnut Street) - Wilmington
||Pennsylvania state line (Pennyslvania 52)
||11th Street, 12th Street, Delaware Avenue, Pennsylvania Avenue, Kennett Pike
Delaware 52 2002 Annual Average Daily Traffic (AADT)
- 11,721 - Pennsylvania state line to Nest Road
- 20,546 - Buck Road to Delaware 141
- 19,137 - Greenhill Avenue to Union Street
- 34,972 - Van Buren Street to Interstate 95
- 33,081 - Washington Street to Tatnall Street
- 10,002 - Tatnall Street to King Street
- 5,450 - King Street to U.S. 13 Business/Walnut Street
Delaware 52 Terminus Collection
||The southern terminus of Delaware 52 resides at the Eleventh Street east intersection with Walnut Street north (U.S. 13 Business north). No end sign is posted as traffic continuing along Eleventh Street enters a residential area. 11th Street intersects U.S. 13 (Spruce Street) in six blocks. Photo taken 04/10/04.
||An older set of mast arm traffic light assemblies remain at the U.S. 13 Business northbound intersection with 11th Street. 11th Street carries Delaware 52 southbound between Jefferson Street and Walnut Street through downtown. The multi state route ends at the pictured intersection. Photo taken 03/30/04.
||One block north of the Delaware 52 southern terminus is the Delaware 52 northbound beginning. A trailblazer exists for Delaware 52 on the block between 11th and 12th Streets for the north-south route. The one-way couplet of the state highway merges to form Delaware Avenue at Jefferson Street north of downtown. From there Delaware Avenue crosses over Interstate 95 and splits from Pennsylvania Avenue at Van Buren Street. Delaware 52 continues northward along Pennsylvania Avenue into the Hill Top neighborhood of the city before departing Wilmington for Greenville and Centreville. Photo taken 03/30/04.
|| The Northern terminus occurs at the Pennsylvania state line near Centerville where Delaware
52 (Kennett Pike) transitions into Pennsylvania 52 en route to U.S. 1 (Baltimore Pike) and Longwood Gardens. A concrete state boundary marker is present at the transition. Photo taken 12/19/01.
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Page Updated June 22, 2004