Ready for the Challenge

The new mayor faces a lot of old problems in Wilmington. Here, Mike Purzycki tells Out & About how his administration will address them.

After leading the redevelopment of the Christina Riverfront for more than two decades, on Jan. 3 Mike Purzycki will take on a much broader challenge—serving as mayor of Wilmington for the next four years.

Purzycki, a lawyer, former New Castle County councilman and onetime pro football prospect whose career ended when he injured his knee during the New York Giants’ preseason 49 years ago, scored a resounding victory in the November election, securing 82 percent of the vote while topping Republican Robert Martin and Independent Steven Washington.

Despite that overwhelming number, Purzycki takes over what is in many ways a fractured city. He got less than 24 percent of the vote in an eight-way Democratic primary in September that, in this heavily Democratic city, is tantamount to winning the general election.

Contributing to Purzycki’s victory were about 1,250 city voters who heeded a suggestion from Jane Castle, wife of former Republican Gov. Mike Castle, that they change their affiliation from Republican to Democrat so they could vote in the primary. Those switches likely provided Purzycki with the edge he needed to top youthful runner-up Eugene Young by 234 votes and former City Councilman Kevin F. Kelley by 415 as he ended the controversial Dennis P. Williams’ bid for a second term. (Williams finished fourth.)

Purzycki becomes the first white mayor in this majority black city since the late Daniel Frawley concluded his second term in January 1993.

Williams’ term was marked by repeated debates over policing strategies, an ongoing struggle to reduce shootings and violent crime, staffing battles between firefighters and their chief, and the move of the headquarters of the DuPont Co., the city’s most prominent business for more than a century, into suburban New Castle County.

Those episodes overshadowed some of the positives of the last four years, including the first steps toward development of a Creative District downtown, forward movement in community revitalization efforts called West Side Grows Together and Eastside Rising, and the launch of co-working spaces downtown that offer the promise of filling the void created by the departure or downsizing of larger business entities.

As Purzycki puts it in the following interview, “One minute we’re the Chemical Capital and the next minute we’re Murder Town,” a label pinned on the city by a highly critical December 2014 article in Newsweek.

As he prepared to take office, Purzycki sat down with Out & About to discuss key issues facing the city and how he plans to address them.

(This interview has been edited for clarity and space considerations.)

What will the first year of the Purzycki administration look like? What are the key priorities?

I think I’d like to change the aspirations and the culture of the city and city government. I think we have a fine workforce that just needs direction, and I’d like to get them focused on a mission that’s a lot bigger than all of us and go to work every day excited about reaching it.

Are you suggesting that there has been complacency within city government?

I don’t know if there is complacency as much as it is a lack of direction. I hear there are morale issues. I’m not sure where that comes from. If you have direction, if you have goals, everybody doesn’t have the time to indulge every little irritation.

Who will be on your team?

I can’t say right now. I know 60-70 percent of it. I want to bring in people who are genuinely committed to seeing the city turn around.

(Since this article was originally published, members of the new administration have been announced.)

Will any members of the Williams administration stay?

There are people there who have talent. It’s irresponsible to change personnel just to change them.
You have a new council president (Hanifa Shabazz) and major turnover on city council. There’s going to be a lot of “new” in city hall. What are your expectations for getting started right away?

Hanifa and I have been friends for a long time. We share a mutual respect. I know a number of people on council and I have met every single one of them. I don’t expect to agree with them all the time. What is important is how we disagree. Respectful disagreement is good. We’re going to work together. Everybody shares a deep concern for the wellbeing of the city.

Why did you decide to run for mayor? You had the Riverfront, you had plans mapped out. It was a safe position for you.

The concern is that if the Riverfront thrives and the city falters, the Riverfront can only go so far by itself. Watching the city fail while the Riverfront was progressing would not have been very satisfying.

The second thing is the Riverfront, like everywhere, was suffering from the reputation the city had to deal with. One minute we’re the Chemical Capital and the next minute we’re Murder Town. This restrained economic growth. We had to create a cause for optimism. I believe in my abilities to lead the city. I think my skills are right for being mayor at this time.

Since November, the Fire Department has been using brownouts and staffing changes to cut overtime spending. The union says this impacts response time and public safety. What are you going to do about it?

Today there is absolutely no confidence between the rank and file and the chief. There have been a lot of hard feelings that have not been productive for the smooth operation of the fire department. I don’t have to ascribe blame. For me to weigh in (before taking office) would be counterproductive. I intend to have a new chief one of these days. I’m going to select a chief in whom I believe in his or her judgment and that chief will tell me what we should be doing.

By “one of these days,” do you mean soon?

Yes, I expect to have a new fire chief.

The police department has taken its share of criticism over crime problems and varying approaches to community policing. Do you have any preferences on deployments and strategies, and what will your relationship be with the police department?

I have no interest in telling my police chief how to run the department. My sense is, it’s your department. If the department succeeds, you succeed. If it fails, you fail. I intend to hire the best police chief that I can.

I have no particular expertise on how to evaluate the department. Some of the problems have to do with administration, and some of them are structural. We are not competitive with other departments. We have acquiesced to our financial realities and have not acknowledged the impact that has on the performance of our officers. Every time we have negotiations we say “we can’t afford to pay you.” The state and county and University of Delaware continue to outstrip our officers by something on the order of 20 percent. Morale is poor. The pay scale is corrosive and really hurts the functioning of our department. It’s hard for me to make a judgment on leadership. Everyone weighs in on community policing. I believe the job of the mayor is to hire the very best individual to run the department and to be guided by his or her judgment.

I’m going to find the finest police chief around. It could be the incumbent. I’m not going to make that selection on my own. I’m going to be guided by professionals and get recommendations.

The fire and police departments have significant impact on city budget, which has been stressed by the loss of the DuPont headquarters, uncertainty over Chemours and vacancies in downtown office space. Where do we go next? Are we going to have a property tax increase?

The mayor hasn’t raised taxes in four years. We keep getting farther and farther behind. Our deficits aren’t just financial deficits. Our baseline can’t be what it’s going to take to pay this year’s bills; it has to be what it’s going to take to run the city properly in the future. We will put everything on the table. I’ll be as transparent as possible. There are things that are costing us money. We can’t have $45 parking tickets, we can’t have $110 red light fines … everything can’t be directed at raising revenue. My ideal budget is going to be scaling back on some of those punitive revenue measures.

The situation is not dire, but it is daunting. But the variable is the ability of the administration to create such optimism in the minds of the business community and in the residential community that they believe that the people who are running the city can really bring it back and make it something terrific.

The Creative District is aiming to bring cultural entrepreneurs into town. You’ve had experience at the riverfront. How do you see the Creative District having an impact? How big a deal is it?

I think it’s potentially a very big deal, or potentially a lot of noise and nothing much else. If we can support the Creative District, it can be a very big help to redevelopment of that part of the city. If we ignore it, if we just do one or two houses at a time, it will collapse of its own weight. What’s been missing with every little redevelopment in the city has been a coordinated plan to buttress the efforts of the people who have been working hard on it.

You have to concentrate resources. We’re going to identify a very small number of parts of the city that we believe are receptive to concentrated effort by virtually all of our agencies, that can help create some progress, and focus our efforts in those areas. Licensing and Inspections, Parks and Recreation, Public Works—if those resources are concentrated in specific areas, and we take advantage of the land bank that’s being established, we can have an impact.

You have community-based planning initiatives under way—West Side Grows Together, Eastside Rising, Blueprint Communities and others—but there is no strong coordination at the top. Do you need that coordination?

If you don’t have coordination at the top you’re going to wind up achieving very little. If we try to do everything, we’ll get nothing done. Too often we spread out our assets in a way that nothing really meaningful gets achieved.

The Riverfront had four different development areas on the original plan. There were four places we could have gone. We concentrated on one area, to the chagrin of those on the Brandywine, on the Seventh Street peninsula. You’ve got to take an area and work hard and bring your assets together.

Will all these community plans underway go forward, or will they be cut back?

They can all go forward, but everybody has to manage expectations.

There’s a police chief in Charleston, S.C., a former military guy, who says it’s just like the military. You have to take one hill, and hold it, and then you go on to the next one. If you try to take every hill, you’ll get beaten every time. We’re going to take one hill at a time, and right now we’ve got too many hills.
We have to take one or two neighborhoods where we have the best chance of succeeding. I haven’t made up my mind which ones. There are pluses and minuses in a lot of these neighborhoods.

But if you look at what which ones have it most together now … doesn’t that put others who need more help farther behind?

The question is not who needs it more, the question is who is closer to success. We have to go to areas that will be most receptive to our work. Do they have community organizations, nonprofits and private developers working together? Is it a community that wants to support the police? There are a lot of factors. I have no emotional preference for one neighborhood over another.

A racial divide impacts the city. You’re the first white mayor since Dan Frawley left office in 1993. This is a majority black city. How will you address this issue?

I’ll do it head on. I think I understand race in America as well as most people. I have remarkable sympathies with people who have to deal with the wrong side of racial issues all the time. When people get to know me, I think (they’ll see) I can be trusted.

I got a letter from a 17-year-old Howard High student who was worried that I would gentrify her neighborhood. She is genuinely concerned. I’m impressed. I wrote back to her. I want to meet with her and her parents.

Race is a deeply felt division in our society. I don’t expect to walk in the door and change that anytime soon. Over time, you’ve got to prove to people by your actions how you feel about things.
Wilmington cannot be immune to those very powerful national currents about race. If something happens in Missouri, it reverberates throughout the entire country. Wilmington is subject to that. We have to keep the frustration level low enough—by providing jobs and opportunities, by respecting communities, by building community centers and paying attention to people—so when something national happens people aren’t inclined to take it out on local government and on their own neighborhoods.

You’ve worked with Hope Commission, helping ex-offenders when they are released from prison. You’re familiar with the problems of recidivism and structural unemployment. Does that give you more credibility on the East Side?

It does with some people. With some people I don’t think it means much at all.

In a city like this, I think race can be dealt with at a very personal level. You can get out every day to where people live. You can pay attention to people’s concerns in their neighborhoods. You can get licensing and inspections and police out to neighborhoods where people are having problems. You can show up at their homes and talk to them. In a city this small, in a year you can touch a whole lot of people.

You know University of Delaware professor Yasser Payne pretty well. He drew much attention with “The People’s Report,” studying structural unemployment in Southbridge and on the East Side. How will you address this issue?

At the local level we can be so much more effective at incentivizing people to provide jobs (than at the state and national levels). I intend to have an executive to do high-level job creation for people who are generally unemployable. I think you have to be very aggressive about it.

Private employers always have a reason not to hire people with poor employment records but now people are beginning to understand that the only way to restore our city’s health is to get people working. Every restaurant is a potential service job provider. The hospitality business needs to hire. We can talk to our large employers and ask them for their support, to either provide jobs or to fund jobs. We have to go to the state as well, and say you have to help provide some energy around the job situation. I look at this as a very important function of our government. I think Yasser Payne will be very happy with it.

As for the business community, DuPont is largely gone and we don’t know where Chemours will be in a couple of years. You have a lot of things in transition. What are you expecting?

We want to be competing for our young entrepreneurs. We want to build that infrastructure.

I have not given up on large employers. If we build an attractive enough environment, we can attract strong employers. We have lost large employers to the county. People made the easy decision to move to the county. I think we can get them back in time.

We are much more business friendly in many ways than Pennsylvania. If you create an environment that people are drawn to, we can get businesses to come here.

You mentioned the change in labeling from Chemical Capital to Murder Town. The last two years the city has taken a tremendous PR hit. What are your thoughts on changing that story line?

I think there are two sides of it. One, you have to improve the fundamentals, and then you tell your story. The people who say it’s the News Journal’s fault, I think they’ve got it wrong. The newspaper has a responsibility to tell the truth. If someone is getting shot, that’s a story.

People are very afraid to come to the city. All you need is an occasional incident to occur and it reawakens every bad story that people have heard about.

I believe leadership is very infectious. If people believe the people in charge can really manage the city and that there’s a bright future, they will be positive. If people see that there’s a problem solver in charge, with energy, I think there will be optimism about what we can do.

A divided school system has harmed the city. Although the mayor has no control over education, can you offer suggestions and solutions?

Except for the governor, I don’t think anybody has a bigger platform to effect change on any issue that impacts the city than the mayor. You have to advocate.

Part of the dissolution of our city has been because of busing; they have taken all of our kids and scattered them to a dozen high schools all around the county. They’ve lost the stability and the identity that a community school brings. It’s a devastating problem. I hope that we can bring a high school back to within the city.

But we do have the Charter School of Wilmington.

Please.

You’ve got several charters in the Community Education building.

They’re not public high schools.

So charters are not public schools?

For my purposes, no. To me, a public high school is when all the kids in the area can go to the same school. The Charter School of Wilmington has its purpose, and that’s fine. But we’ve got kids getting on the bus at 6 in the morning. Instead of getting an additional hour of sleep, they’re getting up an hour early to take a bus to the suburbs. That’s just wrong.

For the Purzycki administration, what are the yardsticks you will use to determine whether your administration is successful?

One of those measures has to be the incidence of violent crime, not necessarily the number of fatal shootings, but the number of incidents. We’ve got to reduce the violence. We have to build communities so violence is not normalized.

If you start to look at your community, and you reduce blight, you reduce the poverty rate. It would have a tremendous effect to start getting people off the poverty rolls, to build good housing stock.
Objective measures are difficult. I’m not afraid of being accountable, but it’s sometimes difficult to quantify things that are qualitative in nature.

Hockessin: Affluence and Activism

The unincorporated community near the Pennsylvania border thrives through a sense of harmony, maintaining an ‘old town feel’

OUR TOWN SERIES: This is the third in a series of profiles about communities throughout Delaware

Joe Lake has a pretty good memory, which is what you’d expect for the president of the Hockessin Historical Society, but he can’t remember which national magazine, way back in the 1960s, labeled Hockessin as one of the “10 best places to live” in the nation.

Chances are that a good number of the community’s 13,000-plus residents would accord Hockessin that same honor today.

Hockessin, if it were incorporated, would be the fifth most populous city or town in Delaware—ahead of Smyrna and behind Middletown, Newark, Dover and Wilmington.

It would be ranked number one in terms of affluence. According to figures posted on City-Data.com, Hockessin’s median income is more than double the state’s median, and median home value is 79 percent above the state median. And, save for the ubiquitous Walgreen’s and Wawa logos, it can boast a business community that is almost entirely locally owned and operated.

“It’s close to Wilmington. It’s close to Kirkwood Highway. But it’s not Kirkwood Highway. It’s very suburban without being far away from the city,” says Kenny Wynn, who has lived in Hockessin for 48 of his 54 years and has spent a good part of the last 25 years organizing the community’s signature event, the Fourth of July parade, fireworks and community relay races.

“It’s great to see everyone come together. Sometimes I think you see 16,000 people,” says Wynn. Overcast skies and the threat of thunderstorms kept the crowd down this year, but the parade attracted at least one resident of nearby Greenville, Vice President Joe Biden.

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Seventh-generation farmer Jim Mitchell, with Woodside Creamery’s Jersey cows. (Photo by Tim Hawk)

Agriculture – and Aromas

Longtime residents like Lake and Wynn remember a different Hockessin, an agricultural community occasionally susceptible to the overpowering aroma emanating from the mushroom farms along Valley Road and north to the Pennsylvania line.

“In the summer, a lot of high school kids got jobs on the farms, baling hay and picking corn,” Lake recalls. “We’d work all day in the fields, then after dinner go for a nice cool swim” at the pool the NVF Co. built at its plant in nearby Yorklyn. The pool’s operations were underwritten by NVF and the Hockessin-Yorklyn Lions Club—and a pass good for the entire summer cost only a dollar, he remembers.

Plans to develop the area’s last remaining mushroom farm—a 20-acre property on the north side of Valley Road—were filed with New Castle County last month, says Fran Swift, president of the Greater Hockessin Area Development Association (GHADA), an umbrella group that comprises representatives from 40 or so civic associations in the area, many of them constructed since 1967, when Swift’s father, Francis, became GHADA’s first president.

The development boom in the last quarter of the 20th century filled in most of the prime acreage in Hockessin – bordered roughly by Barley Mill Road on the east, Limestone Road on the west, the Pennsylvania border to the north and plenty of zigs and zags on the south.

For much of that time, GHADA was a reactive organization—one that battled developers as they sought to put more homes and shops in the area, says Ken Murphy, the group’s president from 1998 to 2006.

But, as development subsided, civic leaders adjusted their focus and helped create an informal governance system that well serves an unincorporated community that has no elected officials of its own.

Murphy is the head of the Hockessin Planning Partnership, whose members include Swift, representing GHADA; Lake, as head of the historical society; and Peg Castorani, president of the Hockessin Business Association, a hyperlocal version of a chamber of commerce. They meet periodically to discuss community needs, and to keep each other up to date on their activities.

John Sherman, owner of Creations Gallery, sits on a hammock chair outside his shop. (Photo courtesy of Creations Gallery)
John Sherman, owner of Creations Gallery, sits on a hammock chair outside his shop. (Photo courtesy of Creations Gallery)

“Strength in Individual Units”

The Partnership itself tends to keep a low profile. “If we do anything, the mother hen cannot take the credit,” Murphy says. “It’s better to do things through the member organizations. Our strength lies in the strength of those individual units.”

In addition, Murphy, Swift and Lake serve  on the Hockessin Design Review Advisory Committee, an arm of the New Castle County government responsible for reviewing land development applications to make sure they comply with Hockessin’s master plan.

This collaborative approach has helped Hockessin develop two thriving business districts—the old village core along Old Lancaster Pike and the Lantana Square Shopping Center, a mile to the west at the intersection of Limestone and Valley roads.

“The population is very conducive to the business we have,” says Brody Glenn, manager of the Harvest Market, a natural foods retailer that opened on Lancaster Pike in 1995.

“We tend to have people who care about their health, and Hockessin and Greenville are among the wealthier parts of Delaware,” he says. On top of that, “the Hockessin Athletic Club is down the street, the Kennett YMCA isn’t far, and we catch a lot of traffic from commuters between Pennsylvania and Wilmington.”

One of Hockessin’s biggest business boosters is John Sherman, owner of Creations Gallery in Hockessin Corner, a rustic shopping area off Old Lancaster Pike. He has come and gone twice—and regrets both departures. In 1992, he opened his shop, which features American-made handcrafted gifts, furnishings and accessories in wood, metal, glass and ceramics, in the old Garrett Snuff Mill in Yorklyn. After three years, he moved to Powder Mill Square in Greenville, staying there until 1999, when he left after a dispute with his landlord. Dan Lickle, owner of both the Snuff Mill and Hockessin Corner, convinced Sherman to relocate to Hockessin. After 10 successful years, he says, “I had a brain fart” and decided to move to the Shoppes at Louviers in Newark. “It turned out to be a disastrous decision.”

The Hockessin-Newark “Wall”

It didn’t take him long to discover that “there might as well be a concrete wall between Hockessin and Newark.” Hockessin residents seldom go to Newark to shop, and Newark residents seldom shop in Hockessin. Sherman estimates that the move cost him 80 percent of his customers.

“Dan [Lickle] made me a great offer to come back” three years ago, and Sherman didn’t hesitate. “I love Hockessin. It’s a great community. It’s definitely my customer base,” he says.

However, he admits, somewhat sheepishly, that while the Newark-Hockessin route may not work for shoppers, he makes that jaunt every day between home and work.

Rebecca Dowling, owner of the Hockessin Book Shelf, also on Lancaster Pike, finds the area’s demographic ideal for her shop, and she broadens her reach by hosting reading groups and partnering with other businesses.

Dowling, one of the first employees when Paul and Maureen Piper opened the shop in 2001, bought the business when the Pipers retired to Hawaii in 2008. “We have spectacular readership,” she says, citing two major demographics: the abundance of families who buy board books for toddlers and summer reading assignments for teenagers and the senior citizens living comfortably in the area’s retirement communities.

She organizes book groups for fans of mysteries, romance novels and contemporary fiction, and regularly hosts book signings for local and nationally published authors.

Through the Hockessin Business Association, she partners with other retailers and nonprofits, often by featuring books tied to the interests of whomever she is partnering with. One of her most popular activities is a summer story hour for children at the Woodside Farm Creamery. “We’ve been doing that for five years,” she says. One session in early July drew more than 100 people.

William Hoffman, head chef of the House of William & Merry.
William Hoffman, head chef of the House of William & Merry.

Fun for the Kids

While some of the business association’s greatest contributions to the community have come through its collaboration with other groups and participation with the New Castle County government and the state Department of Transportation in planning safety and beautification projects along Lancaster Pike and Old Lancaster Pike, Castorani happily talks about activities that put smiles on the faces of local residents, especially the children.

Before Halloween, the association sponsors a three-day weekend of activities. Then, in December, at the Hockessin Library, they present an interactive version of How the Grinch Stole Christmas. With the animated film playing on a large screen, business owners take on some of the roles themselves, and they invite the audience to join in.

“It’s ‘the Grinch meets the Rocky Horror Picture Show,’”says Greg Vogeley, owner of the Drip Café, a breakfast and lunch destination in Lantana Square that has grown so popular in three years that he is now doubling his seating space.

He made the decision to expand because his family-dominated Saturday and Sunday morning breakfast crowd kept coming in earlier and earlier “to beat the rush” and it has gotten to the point that the waits have become too long for parents with fidgety kids.

“We’re confident in our growth,” says Vogeley, even though he faces competition from nearby Starbucks and Brew HaHa! coffee shops and two eateries somewhat similar to his, the Perfect Cup and Quinn’s Cafe.

“We want to make this the best it can be. That’s the most important thing right now,” he says. “We don’t want to get ahead of ourselves.”

While Drip Café has become one of Hockessin’s popular destinations for those who eat out early in the day, the community has plenty of options for fine dining in the evening.

The Back Burner has long been a popular destination, and newer additions include the Redfire Grill, Six Paupers and Two Stones Pub. Down Lancaster Pike to the south is Capers and Lemons.

After three years of looking for a building where they could live and operate a restaurant, William Hoffman and Merry Catanuto homed in on an old farmhouse on Old Lancaster Pike that had most recently been used as a hair salon and rental property.

It was just what they wanted—an upscale community ideal for raising a family with a location that could attract local residents but also diners from Greenville, Centreville, Wilmington and Kennett Square. So, in 2011, they opened the House of William and Merry.

Bridget Sullivan with Vice President Joe Biden at the 2016 Hockessin Fourth of July parade. (Photo by Ryan Alexander)
Bridget Sullivan with Vice President Joe Biden at the 2016 Hockessin Fourth of July parade. (Photo by Ryan Alexander)

Carving Their Own Niche

“Every year we’re growing more and more,” says Catanuto, who runs the front of the house while her husband is in charge of the kitchen. Her only lament is that the community isn’t busy enough in the middle of the day to generate thriving lunch traffic.

Offering seasonal new American cuisine prepared by French-trained chefs—“fine dining but not in a pretentious way”—Catanuto says “we’ve carved out our own niche” in a competitive dining environment.

And she relishes the competition. “It’s good for everybody’s game,” she says, “and it brings more people to the area.”

In addition to diversity in retail and dining, some of Hockessin’s appeal comes from its recreational options—notably its library, the county-owned Swift Park, the Hockessin Athletic Club, the PAL Center and a series of bicycling and walking trails developed in the past 10 years.

The community’s significant contributions to Delaware and national history also cannot be overlooked.

For history buffs, Lake says, “this town is a pot of gold, with so many nuggets in it that it’s unbelievable.”

In September 1775, British troops marched up what is now Limestone Road from Cooch’s Bridge south of Newark to Chadds Ford for the Battle of the Brandywine. British officers commandeered the use of the David Brown farmhouse just over the state line for use as a temporary headquarters.

Fifteen years later, priests from Maryland established the Coffee Run Mission, later known as St. Mary’s Church, the first Catholic church in the state, on Lancaster Pike. The old church was gutted by arson in 2010, but Trinity Church, an independent Christian denomination, hopes to preserve the structure as it builds on the site.

Tweed’s Tavern, an 18th-century inn where George Washington once dined, was threatened with demolition in the 1990s by a state plan to widen the intersection of Limestone and Valley roads. Hearings before New Castle County’s Historic Review Board slowed the demolition process. Eventually, the tavern was moved twice, and it now sits in a park on Valley Road, a short distance east of Limestone Road. The Hockessin Historical Society owns the building and broke ground last winter on a meeting and exhibit center next door.

Hockessin also played a significant role in the historic Brown vs. Board of Education decision in 1954 that found racial segregation in public schools unconstitutional.

Not far from the original Tweeds Tavern site once stood the home of Shirley Bulah, an African-American child who had to travel past white schools in order to reach Hockessin School 107C, on Millcreek Road, the site of a state historic marker. Shirley Bulah was identified as the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit that started in Delaware’s Court of Chancery and eventually became part of the Brown decision.

More recently, Lake notes, two of the first subdivisions in suburban New Castle County, North Star and Horseshoe Hills, were built in the early 1950s near Hockessin to meet the demand for convenient housing for DuPont Co. engineers working at the Louviers facility in Newark.

Hockessin may have many more residents than it did a generation ago, Castorani says, “when you could literally pull out of Sanford School onto Lancaster Pike without looking left or right.”

But, through all its changes, its essence hasn’t changed. As Catanuto puts it, “it still has the old town feel.”