History of the Waterfront at New Castle, DE
The Dutch chose the location of New Amstel (New Castle) in the 1650's for its good harbor at a bend in the South (Delaware) river. The street they laid out between the site of their fort and the marshes next to Delaware Street has had wharves ever since. What has changed is its name (Front, Water, The Strand), the location of the waterline, the size and number of wharves, businesses, utilities, sail and steamship lines and the commercial importance of an unusual landmark -- the 'ice piers'. These stone on top of wood-crib foundations are listed on the National Register. They were first built by public subscription in the late 1700's, then, the new federal government again chose New Castle, along with Port Penn, Marcus Hook and Chester as sites to protect shipping during severe winters when 'ice runs' threatened wooden-hulled vessels. They were added to and maintained until 1890, when they were no longer of importance.
According to the 1879 report of the Corps of Army Engineers, three of the original 1803 piers were already on fast land due to silting. Pier B is now adjacent to the Laird's yacht basin, and pier C is just off-land at the foot of Alexander's alley. By 1879, the low water line was near or past the 600 ft allowance built into the original deeds at the time of William Penn, and shown on the Latrobe Survey. Since then, silting in occurred in the area east of Harmony, and land has eroded in the industrial area to the west of Delaware. This map was created by overlaying on top of a 2002 aerial photo shorelines traced from the Latrobe Survey (1805) and Sanborn insurance maps of 1885 and 1901.
Land based maps, for example the Beer's atlas of 1868 and the 1885 insurance map give a view of the heavily industrial area on the west edge of town -- including the gas works, railroad piers, a cotton mill, steel mill and woolen mill. The woolen and cotton mills were relatively short lived.
On an 1835 Corps map, just after the completion of the New Castle and Frenchtown Railroad, the wharves occupy 100% of the waterfront from Harmony to past Delaware, and are from the north: County, Bond's, McCullough's, Jefferson's, Riddle's, and railroad, railroad, railroad! Unfortunately all of the waterfront was now silted in, apparently due to building a sluiceway in the harbor, and something that can't be blamed on the late 20th century jetty that runs to Pea Patch Island.
CURRENT CONDITION: The ice piers are now partly or severely damaged. Calls have arisen for many years for their repairs. A state appropriation paid for divers to to examine their condition. Based on their report, repair was estimated to cost $1 million/per pier, and so repair is unlikely.