University of Delaware Library

Special Collections Department

Wilbur T. Wilson
Map Collection

c. 1886 - 1941

Manuscript Collection Number: 377
Accessioned: Gift of the Estate of Wilbur T. Wilson, 1942
Extent: 4 linear ft. and ca. 500 maps
Content: Maps, notebooks, ledgers, directory, and narrative.
Access: The collection is open for research.
Processed: August 1998 by Arthur Siegel; completed by Tabitha Groh, February 2000

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Table of Contents

Biographical Note

Wilbur T. Wilson was born on May 4, 1856 in Newark, Delaware, to William Wilson and Martha (Mitchell) Wilson. Very little is known about his life or that of his family, though it is known that his father was a shopkeeper in Newark, and that Wilbur had one sister, named Annie, who died several years before him. In Delaware directories of 1894 and 1900, Wilbur T. Wilson is listed as a bookseller, an activity in which he may have been engaged, though some of his surveying work clearly comes from this period. By 1908, however, he was listed as a civil engineer, a profession he maintained for the remainder of his life. By the 1930s he had also become a landlord, collecting rents from properties he owned throughout Newark.

According to an obituary in the July 23, 1942 edition of the Newark Post, "Mr. Wilson served the town of Newark as town engineer for a number of years and served, at one time, on the Town Council. Always interested in Newark's growth and development, he was admired and respected by all who knew him. It has often been said that Wilbur Wilson knew more about Newark property and real estate than any other man.

"Mr. Wilson maintained quarters at the Deer Park Hotel for 41 years, but recently had lived with Miss Jane Maxwell, 257 W. Main Street, a cousin who is the nearest and only relative surviving. He was a life-long Democrat but never actively participated in party politics."

Wilson died on July 18, 1942 after a brief illness, and at the time of his death he was one of Newark's oldest residents at age 86.


Cooch, Francis Allyn. Little Known History of Newark, Delaware and its Environs. Newark, Del.: The Press of Kells, 1936.

Delaware, Maryland, & West Virginia State Gazetteer & Business Directory. vol. 1. Baltimore: R.L. Polk & Co., 1884.

The Delaware State & Peninsula Directory for 1899-1900. Wilmington, Del.: Delaware State Publishing Co., 1899.

Peninsula Directory of Delaware, Eastern Shore of Maryland & Virginia. Wilmington, Del.: R.L. Polk & Co., 1908.

The Newark Post, July 23, 1942, p.1.

Note: Additional biographical information found within the collection.

Scope and Content Note

The Wilbur T. Wilson Map Collection concerns the work of the prominent Newark, Delaware, engineer and surveyor Wilbur T. Wilson (1856-1942). Dating from the late 1880s to 1941, the collection comprises four linear feet of notebooks and files, and approximately 500 maps. There are maps, plans, and cross-sections; blue prints and Van Dykes; graphite and ink on linen, paper, and tracing paper. The collection is divided into four main series: I. Maps, II. Survey notebooks, III. Newark residence and property directory, and IV. Ledgers and narrative drafts.

The first series spans the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries, though most maps are undated. Included are maps and survey notes of properties and streets in the Newark area, drafted in pencil and ink on various forms of tracing and linen paper. Also included are several blueprints and Van Dyke prints.

Seventy-three survey notebooks in the second series span the period 1889-1921. An index is available for the maps and survey notebooks found in Series I and II.

The third series includes an undated, hand-written resident and property directory for the town of Newark. The fourth series spans the years 1886-1941, and includes ledgers and narrative drafts.

Wilson's maps provide a very large and detailed survey of the Newark area for the several decades on either side of the turn of the twentieth century. They provide valuable information regarding topography, local history, and the development of the community, as well as a record of property ownership and boundaries. Many of these maps are accompanied by detailed survey notes and measurements, and many of the individuals named on the maps and in the notes are mentioned anecdotally in Francis Cooch's Little Known History of Newark, Delaware and its Environs. (Spec DEL F174.N58 C65x 1936)

Personal properties and building sites provide important documentation for the local history of Newark. For example, Map 166 shows the Diamond Ice and Coal Company was located at the corner of Main and Haines Streets; Map 119 shows the plat of land owned by the Continental Fibre Company; Map 9 is a map of the plant of the American Vulcanized Fibre Company; and numerous maps show properties owned by Curtis family members, proprietors of the Curtis Paper Company on Paper Mill Road. Two atypical "maps" document building interiors: Map 14 is a pew chart of the Episcopal Church and Map 124 is a seating plan for the Newark Opera House.

Racial segregation is reflected in Map 58, the Newark Board of Education's "Plan of Colored School Site" (1920) and Survey Notebook volume 67 (Folder 109) in a "Description of Colored School property conveyed from Delaware School Auxiliary."

Some of Newark's earliest history is reflected in a copy of a 1786 survey for the Welsh Tract Meeting House (Map 436) or the 1928 map of Newark and vicinity that is annotated with information about the Revolutionary War battle at Cooch's Bridge, and Mason and Dixon. The growth of the University of Delaware campus, so closely related to the history of Newark, is represented on maps throughout the collection.

Twentieth-century suburban growth is documented in several maps: Map 207 is a 1922 proposed development along Orchard Road and Park Place Road in Newark, Map 169 shows Newark Development Company projects on Lincoln Highway, and Map 20 concerns Belmont and Oaklands, two neighborhoods in Newark.

Information for travel and transportation is found throughout the collection. In addition to roads, many maps show railroads in New Castle County; a list of these follows this scope note.

Travel distances to Conowingo, Maryland, and Pennsville, New Jersey (via the New Castle ferries), are shown on Map 22, using the Deer Park Hotel on Main Street in Newark as the point of measure.

There are several aspects to this collection which make its use somewhat challenging, not least of which is the organization of the collection. An early, arbitrary arrangement has been maintained because of the assigmment of map numbers and the continued use of these numbers in the collection index. It is highly recommended that researchers continue to browse the collection. The index will provide limited name access to people and places, but careful perusal of the entire collection will reveal thematic information such as surburban growth. (Only a few maps related to this topic were highlighted in the preceding description.)

Another challenge is found in the journals of survey notes collected by Wilson to be used in drafting his maps. The notebooks contain a large corpus of data that was gathered by Wilson for an accurate rendering of his maps, recorded in surveyor's terminology. The data typically are measured from the station (a point of reference established by the surveyors), and include the following:

Rod -- wooden pole 16.5 feet long used to measure horizontal distances
H.I. -- height of instrument above the datum
Bearing -- direction of a line based upon the clockwise or counterclockwise angle formed between that line and either pole of a meridian
B.S. -- back sight, which is the opposite direction from the bearing

However, these measurements are not clearly labeled according to project, and there is no clear way to associate the names and measurements taken in the survey notes with the maps themselves.

Though the residence directory, assumed to have been compiled by Wilson, is undated, it provides an excellent resource for names and addresses of Newark residents. Wilson's name is listed as the landlord for several properties, and the account of rents paid by his tenants is found in the ledgers. As the list is primarily concerned with tenants and landlords, however, it is not a complete rendering of all the town's inhabitants. Nevertheless, it may be used as a supplement to the official directories available for Newark during the early twentieth century, which often provide occupations, but not addresses.

Railroads Cited in the Collection

           (Use the Index to Maps and Survey Notebooks)
        abbreviations and names as cited in the collection

          Baltimore and Delta Railroad
B & ORR   Baltimore and Ohio Railroad
B & PRR   Baltimore and Philadelphia Railroad
          Baltimore Chesapeake and Atlantic Railroad
D& PRR    Delaware and Pennsylvania Railroad
D & SRyCo ? Railway Company
          New York Philadelphia and Norfolk Railroad
N & DCRR  Newark and Delaware City Railroad
P & NRR   Pomeroy and Newark Railroad
PB & WRR  [or]  PW & BRR
          Philadelphia Wilmington and Baltimore Railroad

Series Outline

I.   Maps ( 1 - 493 )
     Map Catalog and Index

II.  Notebooks ( Vol. 2 - 74 )
     Index to Maps and Survey Notebooks (Series I and II)

III. Residence and Property Directory

IV.  Ledgers

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