Bridgeville Historic District
Peter E. Kurtze and Gabrielle Lanier (August 1993). "National Register of Historic Places Inventory/Nomination: Bridgeville Historic District"
The Bridgeville Historic District comprises a cohesive collection of resources within the limits of the town of Bridgeville, a community located at the intersection of U.S. Route 13A (Main Street) and State Route 404 (Market Street) in the northwestern corner of Sussex County, Delaware. The architectural resources comprising the Bridgeville Historic District primarily reflect the period from the second quarter of the 19th century through the Depression era of the 1930s. During this period, the town achieved its present plan and experienced its principal period of growth as a center of agricultural commerce. Resources within the Bridgeville Historic District are primarily residential in character, and reflect a broad range of architectural styles and vernacular building forms characteristic of the region and period. Several of the earliest resources within the Bridgeville Historic District may incorporate elements of 18th century construction. Vernacular forms represented in Bridgeville include the "I-house" type, two stories high, two rooms wide by one room deep, often with a service ell to the rear; this type is widely encountered in the Tidewater region both in towns and in rural contexts during the eighteenth, nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Another vernacular building type represented in the Bridgeville Historic District is the one-room wide, two-story, gable-fronted house, sometimes called "shotgun" for its similarity to the one-story form of that name which commonly occurs in the Southern states; this form was often used for workers' housing in rural towns in the region around the turn of the twentieth century. In addition to these types, Bridgeville is characterized by houses reflecting the progression of popular and academic architectural styles during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries; examples show the influence of Greek Revival, Queen Anne, and Colonial Revival, Dutch Colonial, and Tudor Revival trends. Popular turn-of-the-20th-century forms including the American Foursquare and Bungalow house types are also represented. Few commercial or industrial resources survive, due to extensive redevelopment of the commercial and industrial areas of the town.
The Bridgeville Historic District is primarily residential in character, with a few commercial resources and one former religious building. The Bridgeville Historic District comprises most of the land within the town of Bridgeville, as laid out by William Cannon ca.1856. Main Street (U.S. Route 13A) runs north-south and basically defines the eastern limit of the district; Market Street (State Route 404) extends to the west from Main Street. Both of these thoroughfares were in place well before the 1850s, when the land southwest of their intersection was subdivided by William Cannon. Cannon's plat established a grid pattern of roughly uniform-sized lots fronting on principal avenues running east-west; narrow alleys bisect the blocks, running between and parallel to the avenues. House are located toward the fronts of the lots, with a consistent slight setback from the street. The rear yards frequently contain domestic outbuildings including various sheds, stables, or garages.
Generally, the earliest, largest and most prominent buildings are located in the eastern section of the Bridgeville Historic District, from William Street east to Main Street; the remainder of the Bridgeville Historic District is characterized primarily by more modest, vernacular examples of late 19th and early 20th century house types. A few historic commercial buildings survive with good integrity near the east end of Market Street; much of the commercial area of town, however, has been subjected to redevelopment and extensive remodeling. Housing is primarily located south of Market Street; a small group of late 19th and early 20th century dwellings is located at the northwest corner of the district, in the area of North Cannon Street and Mill Street.
As the town grew through the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, a broad variety of architectural forms chronicled its development. Although several resources within Bridgeville apparently incorporate elements of 18th and early 19th century construction, these elements have been obscured by subsequent alterations; as a result, the architectural character of Bridgeville primarily reflects the period from approximately the second quarter of the 19th century through the early 1930s. Several houses constructed in Bridgeville during the early part of this period conform to traditional building types characterized by single-pile, hall-parlor or center-passage plans. In addition, the influence of popular architectural styles is well represented by examples expressing the Greek Revival and Queen Anne styles of the nineteenth century, as well as Colonial Revival, Foursquare, and Bungalow types which achieved wide popularity after the turn of the twentieth century.
The "I" House
Throughout the Bridgeville Historic District, regional vernacular building types are interspersed among houses reflecting more academic influences. Common among these is the one-room-deep, three to five-bay wide, two to 2-1/2-story "I house." This form remained constant from the eighteenth century well into the twentieth; a noteworthy early example in Bridgeville is None Such Farms, located at 201 South Main Street, a frame two-story I-house with exterior gable end chimney incorporating late 18th century construction. The property is especially significant for its complement of early outbuildings including a privy and washhouse, and for its retention of 6 acres of what originally was an 80-acre parcel; it reflects Bridgeville's early history as an agricultural community, prior to the increasing density of the mid-19th century. (see more on the privy at end of this document)
Another early example of the I-house form is the Rawleigh House, located at 109 North Main Street. The present building is the culmination of at least three periods of construction, beginning in the late 18th century as a log cabin. The house was expanded around the second quarter of the 19th century and raised to 2-1/2 stories, with typical Greek Revival attic windows in the frieze. In the late 19th century, the several additions were unified under a jerkinhead roof with a central cross gable and decorative stick work. The building has recently benefited from a thorough restoration, and is currently operated as a bed-and-breakfast inn. Late 19th century I-houses in the Delmarva region often display a front-facing central cross-gable, derived from the Gothic Revival style of the post-Civil War period; in Bridgeville, particularly noteworthy groupings of such buildings occur on the south side of Delaware Avenue, west of Cannon Street and at 102 and 106/108 Edgewood Street. Another important vernacular form is the two-story, one-room-wide gable-fronted house, often used for workers' housing in rural towns in the region after the Civil War; several examples of this type are located on the north side of Walnut Street, west of Cannon Street.
Several houses in Bridgeville express the influence of the Greek Revival style, which spread rapidly across America between 1830 and 1850, as migrants from the northeastern states built houses in new territories. It is especially common in areas that were settled rapidly during this period, notably the Western Reserve, Kentucky and Tennessee. Archaeological excavations during this period increased public awareness of ancient Greece, and citizens of the new American republic sympathized with modern Greece's involvement in a war for independence (1821-30). Distinguishing characteristics of this style include a low-pitched gable or hipped roof, sometimes with a front-facing gable; a porch across the entrance or the entire facade, supported by square posts or classical columns; and pilasters or board trim at the corners of the building. The entrance is usually framed with a rectangular transom and sidelights, and the roofline may feature a broad frieze below the cornice, sometimes with rectangular attic windows. A regionally distinctive variation on the attic window is a pair of small rectangular windows at the gable ends; this feature persists throughout the late 19th century. Examples of Greek Revival buildings in Bridgeville include 115 Delaware Avenue, built ca. 1832; in 1860, it became the parsonage for the Union Methodist Episcopal Church, the oldest Methodist congregation in Northwest Fork Hundred. A five-bay- wide, symmetrical I-house with an original service ell, the building reflects a regional response to the emerging Greek Revival style of the mid-19th century in its Classical detailing including a broad cornice, corner pilasters, and small rectangular windows in the gable ends lighting the attic. The Dr. Lawrence Cahall (Sr.) House, 119 North Main Street, is another noteworthy example of mid-19th century, Classical-influenced domestic architecture in Bridgeville; in addition to the elements identified for the parsonage, this building features a slightly projecting gabled pavilion encompassing the two northernmost bays of its five-bay west facade.
The Gothic Revival, which drew upon the architecture of Medieval English country houses, was popularized in America through a series of publications by Alexander Jackson Davis and Andrew Jackson Downing beginning in the 1830s. The style achieved its peak of popularity between the 1850s and 1870s. It was a manifestation of a broader movement in architecture and landscape design, which rejected the classical ideals of symmetry and order and sought instead to create a "picturesque" effect through the use of exotic forms and romantic compositions. The Gothic Revival style was considered particularly appropriate for church buildings, and for houses in rural settings. In Bridgeville, the former Presbyterian Church (sold to Union United Methodist Church in 2009 for use in outreach ministries) exemplifies the style through its steep gabled roof forms and lancet-arched windows. Gothic influence is also manifested in the central cross-gables which are found on many vernacular I-houses in Bridgeville.
The Queen Anne style of the late 19th century is derived from medieval English architectural forms. Houses in this style are characterized by asymmetrical plan and massing; variety of surface treatments, textures, and colors; elaborate decorative trim, shingles, and brickwork; an irregular roofline with multiple steep gables; often, a conical-roofed tower at a corner of the facade; the facade may have various projecting bays; a porch may span the facade, sometimes wrapping around a corner of the building; double-hung windows often have multiple small lights in the upper sash, sometimes forming a border around a single large pane. Later Queen Anne houses usually appear somewhat simplified in comparison with earlier examples of the style; they retain the characteristic irregular massing, but their surface decoration tends to be less elaborate. Constructed in 1894 for Wilbert Layton, the house at the northwest corner of South Main Street and Delaware Avenue is a well-restored example of the Queen Anne style featuring a large conical-roofed turret, a steeply sloping gable roof, an integral entrance porch with a broad arched opening, and a variety of wall cladding materials including beveled weatherboards and patterned shingles creating a richly textured surface. The turret motif is also seen on several other properties in Bridgeville, including 203 South Main Street and 123 Market Street; the latter property achieved its Queen Anne appearance in a ca.1890s remodeling of a mid-19th century structure. Other buildings in Bridgeville reflect vernacular interpretations of the Queen Anne influence, primarily through steeply pitched, multiple gable roof forms and polygonal projecting bays; these buildings range in complexity from large, elaborate examples on South Main Street through simplified expressions located throughout the western section of the district. Examples include the house at the northeast corner of North Cannon and Mill streets, and 202 Delaware Avenue.
The American Centennial of 1876 prompted a revival of interest in the nation's heritage, and architects began to study the building forms and detailing of the Colonial period. The return to these historical precedents was partly a reaction against the unrestrained exuberance which characterized Victorian period architecture. Colonial Revival houses often combine "modern" turn-of-the-20th-century building forms with decorative elements derived from eighteenth-century architecture. Some examples are relatively accurate copies of historical sources, and may be categorized accordingly, as Georgian Revival, Spanish Colonial, Dutch Colonial, etc., but in many cases decorative detailing may be mixed from various colonial traditions. This detailing is often over-scaled, and sometimes incorporates features of the Queen Anne style, whose period of popularity overlapped with that of the Colonial Revival. The ca.1900 George W. Willin House, located at the southwest corner of Delaware Avenue and William Street, is an exceptionally large building reflecting the combined influence of the Queen Anne and Colonial Revival styles: Queen Anne elements include the overall massing, with projecting bays, broad gable forms, and a large wraparound porch; wall coverings combine beveled siding with patterned shingles, and decorative cresting defines the roof ridges. Other aspects of the building's detailing are drawn from the Colonial Revival, including such features as arched Palladian windows and a bold modillion cornice. Such interaction of these two styles occurred frequently at the turn of the twentieth century, but is seldom as clearly evident as in this example. Another building showing similar design influences is 200 Market Street.
Most of the Colonial Revival houses in Bridgeville are based on Georgian prototypes. Their characteristic features include a central or side entrance framed with a transom and sidelights, often of leaded glass; multi-pane sash windows; various Classical decorative details such as molded cornices enriched with modillions or dentils; frame buildings are usually sheathed in bevel-profile balustrades with square or turned balusters. Several houses on the east side of South Main Street in Bridgeville reflect the influence of the Colonial Revival. The Wright House, built in 1915 at 210 South Main Street, is an unusual structure combining Bungalow massing with extensive Neoclassical detailing, featuring Palladian windows in the gables and a wraparound porch with modillion cornice.
The Bridgeville Historic District also contains several Dutch Colonial houses. A subtype of the Colonial Revival, the design of Dutch Colonial houses is derived from buildings constructed by Dutch settlers in New York and New Jersey in the 17th and 18th centuries. Houses of this style are generally 1-1/2 stories in height with a broad, sloping gable or gambrel roof; the front slope of the roof extends to create a porch across the facade. Examples include 207 Delaware Avenue, 203 Market Street, and 104 South Main Street. The house at 115 Walnut Street is a unique example of a vernacular I-house to which a steep, bell-cast gambrel roof was added, probably early in the 20th century.
The Tudor Revival style was popular from about 1900 up to the World War II era. Houses in this style exhibit a combination of forms and details derived from late Medieval English architecture, most particularly steep, front-facing gables, false "half-timbering" (geometric board patterns simulating exposed structural elements), stucco or masonry exterior walls, and casement windows. In Bridgeville, 206 Market Street and 104 Walnut Street are typical examples.
A very popular house type in the early twentieth century, the American Foursquare reflects turn-of-the-century trends toward increased economy and efficiency. The square plan enclosed large living spaces, and the relatively plain exteriors reduced the costs of construction and maintenance. These houses were built throughout America, from designs published in popular magazines, architectural pattern books, and mail-order plans; entire prefabricated buildings were manufactured and distributed nationwide by companies such as the Aladdin Company of Bay City, Michigan, Montgomery Ward, and Sears, Roebuck. The basic characteristics of this house type include a boxy, "Foursquare" shape; a steeply-pitched, near-pyramidal hipped roof with dormers; deep overhanging eaves; and a porch across the facade. Foursquares were built in a wide range of materials, including frame with weatherboard siding or wood shingles, brick, and ornamental occur in combination. Frame or masonry structures often were finished with stucco. Compared to their Victorian predecessors, Foursquares are relatively plain, but their basic form supported the use of decorative detailing derived from a variety of styles. Colonial Revival motifs are found most commonly, with sash windows (6-over-6, 6/1, or 1/1 lights are common configurations, but there are many other variations), heavy turned "Tuscan" porch columns, and other details. An outstanding example of the American Foursquare type in Bridgeville is Trinity House, located at 201 Market Street, a large masonry dwelling built in 1907. It exemplifies the Foursquare house type in its blocky, cubical proportions and steep hipped roof, and features Neoclassical decorative detailing significance from its construction material: it is built of locally produced rock-faced concrete bricks, a highly unusual material. Distinct from the larger cast concrete block frequently employed in early 20th century construction, the masonry units employed in Trinity House are approximately the size and shape of customary clay bricks, and are gray-brown in color with a granular texture. The property also has an outbuilding of the same material. [“Trinity House” named by 3 new owners in late 70s-80s (Donald & Claire Kirby and Daniel Webster)]
Numerous other examples of the Foursquare house type contribute to the streetscapes of the Bridgeville Historic District; several especially large and elaborate examples are located in the area of South Main Street, and smaller, simpler versions of the type are scattered throughout the western part of the district, particularly along Walnut Street and North Cannon Street.
The Bridgeville Historic District contains several examples of the early 20th century Bungalow house type, 1-1/2 stories in height with a broad overhanging gable roof. This style is derived from prototypes in India, where the shading eaves and veranda open to the breeze were adapted to the tropical climate; it became widespread in America in the first quarter of the twentieth century. Bungalows are usually of frame construction, with bevel siding, wood shingles, or stucco covering the exterior. The posts supporting the porch roof are usually square in section and tapered, and simple stick work brackets or rafter ends may appear under the eaves. One or more dormers commonly occur on the roof slopes. Houses of this type, like Foursquares, often were built from published plans or prefabricated kits. An exceptionally large example is located at 403 South Main Street; instead of the customary dormer, this building has a large cross gable spanning the entire width of the west (front) slope of its roof, creating a broad porch. Numerous smaller bungalows are located in the western section of the district, along Delaware Avenue, Walnut Street, and North Cannon Street.
The Bridgeville Historic District includes an exceptional example of the early 20th century Craftsman Bungalow style, which is unique among the resources of Bridgeville and highly unusual in the broader Delmarva region: Cannon Manor, 106 North Main Street, was built in 1904 by a grandson of the late Gov. William Cannon for his bride; it is a large 2-1/2 story frame building with broad overhanging eaves and a wraparound porch supported on battered posts. The building has been carefully restored, and retains a high degree of integrity.
The only religious structure within the Bridgeville Historic District is the former First Presbyterian Church of Bridgeville (1866), which was reused as the Bridgeville Public Library and is individually listed in the National Register.
Mid-twentieth century redevelopment has resulted in the removal or extensive remodeling of most of Bridgeville's historic commercial structures. Early store buildings remain at the intersection of Market and William (The survey reporters should have said Mechanic St.) streets; these buildings are of frame construction, two stories high, with a gable roof oriented perpendicular to the street; on the ground story, a recessed central entrance is flanked by large display windows. Examples of this building type which retain substantial integrity are 106 and 111 Market Street. (111 Market burned in 2008)
The ca.1904 bank building on the north side of Market Street east of Cannon Street is the most prominent surviving historic commercial structure in Bridgeville. Old photographs of the bank show a two-bay Queen Anne facade with a projecting entrance; the slate-roofed brick building was remodeled in the 1920s with the addition of a symmetrical Neoclassical front in cast stone. Doric columns flank the central entrance, with a three-part, semicircular-arched fanlight; the outer bays hold 1/1 sash with decorative transoms, below recessed panels. Doric pilasters mark the corners of the facade; the building has a simple entablature and brick parapet. The bank was later renovated for use as the headquarters of the Bridgeville Police until 2020.
Prior to the renovation of the bank building, the police department was housed in the former water works building on Railroad Avenue at the west end of the district. This is a one-story frame building with a steeply pitched hipped roof. It is rectangular in plan, three bays wide with a central entrance sheltered by a small gabled hood; a shed addition spans the south elevation. The water works building was constructed ca.1909, in connection with the provision of public water service to Bridgeville.
The Bridgeville Historic District is significant as a largely intact representative example of the type of community which characterized southern Delaware in the late 19th and early 20th century. The town began in the 18th century as a scattered agricultural settlement at the crossing of Bridge Branch; major land routes ran north-south (present Main Street) and to the west (present Market Street). It achieved its present layout in the late 1850s, when local businessman and developer William Cannon laid out a portion of his extensive real estate holdings into a series of rectilinear blocks defined by a grid pattern of streets and alleys, containing uniform-sized lots. These lots were subsequently improved with a variety of building types reflecting vernacular forms and academic styles of the period; both the historic development pattern and the architectural resources retain a high degree of integrity, resulting in a strong sense of time and place within the district. Architectural resources within the Bridgeville Historic District contribute to its significance; the Bridgeville Historic District is characterized by well-preserved examples of houses reflecting popular architectural styles, including Greek Revival, Queen Anne, Colonial Revival, American Foursquare, Bungalow, and vernacular house forms including side-passage, I-house, and shotgun types. In addition to these principal resources, the residential lots contain a variety of secondary structures typifying domestic outbuildings of the late 19th and early 20th century, and several historic commercial buildings survive on Market Street. The Bridgeville Historic District derives additional significance under from its association with William Cannon, a local entrepreneur and effective founder of the present town, who became Governor of Delaware in 1862. Finally, it is significant under Criterion A for its reflection of the influence of rail transportation on the agricultural economy of the region in the latter half of the 19th century; the town boomed following the arrival of the railroad in 1856, and became a prominent center for the shipment of agricultural produce from the surrounding region; it retained this status well into the early 20th century.
The portion of Sussex County in which Northwest Fork Hundred is located was originally part of Maryland; it became part of Delaware in 1776, when the boundary line dividing the two states was settled. The disposition of land grants in the area began as early as the 1680s, although actual settlement may not have occurred for some time.
The Town of Bridgeville is the oldest community in western Sussex County. Records of land transactions which were made in the first quarter of the 18th century suggest that a significant agricultural community already existed in the area by that period. A small group of houses had been built along the present Main Street by the turn of the 19th century; this settlement was known as "Bridge Branch" for the nearby stream, which was crossed by a bridge as early as 1730. By 1804, the community had grown sufficiently to merit the establishment of a post office. The village was formally recognized in 1810, when an Act of the Assembly was passed to establish its name as "Bridgeville." Over the ensuing decade, the town grew rapidly, to become the largest community in Northwest Fork Hundred; it boasted 29 houses, two stores, a tavern, three carriage shops, a blacksmith shop, three granaries, a store house, and a tan yard by 1816, and served as a center of political and commercial activity. Early 19th century industries included a water-powered mill, tan yard, charcoal furnace, and fruit-drying business. (Several properties on Main Street appear to incorporate elements which were constructed during this period; these properties, however, achieved their present configuration as the result of building campaigns which took place later in the 19th century, so that their overall architectural character is primarily reflective of the latter period.)
The growth of the town accelerated greatly upon the arrival of the railroad in Bridgeville in 1856. At that time, local businessman William Cannon (1809-1865) established the pattern of development in the town by laying out his extensive land holdings south of Market Street into lots fronting on the principal east-west avenues. A series of parallel streets, named William, Laws, and Cannon streets, intersected the avenues, running north-south; these streets were named for the developer's son, William Laws Cannon. Development through the remainder of the century followed this plat.
A native of the Bridgeville area, William Cannon began preparing for a career in business at an early age by assisting his father, a successful merchant. In adulthood, Cannon's interests included a store in Bridgeville, lumber, grain, peaches, grist and saw mills, banking, and newspaper publishing. He also served as a director of the Delaware Railroad. He amassed land holdings totaling 3800 acres, including 16 farms. These various interests contributed to his status as the wealthiest individual in Sussex County by 1864, when his annual income was $5000.
In addition to his business interests, Cannon pursued a career in politics, beginning in 1844 as a Democratic representative to the State House. He was reelected in 1846, and served as State Treasurer from 1849-51. He subsequently changed party affiliation, and ran as the Republican candidate for governor of Delaware in 1862. He was elected by a slim margin. As a Republican with strong Unionist views, Cannon found his term in office difficult, encountering constant opposition from a hostile legislature.
Cannon died on March 1, 1865, and was buried in the Methodist cemetery on William Street in Bridgeville. Cannon's residence, which was located on the west side of North Main Street just outside the Bridgeville Historic District boundary, was destroyed in 1939; the street pattern of Bridgeville therefore represents the surviving resource most directly associated with his interests in the town.
Bridgeville's town plan exhibits a typical pattern of development shared by railroad-influenced communities on the Delmarva peninsula in the latter half of the nineteenth century. Preexisting through routes became the principal commercial and residential streets, and new streets were laid out in a grid pattern parallel to these thoroughfares. Railroad tracks define one edge of the town. These general characteristics are evident in towns of the period in lower Delaware and adjacent Maryland; Bridgeville presents an exceptionally well-preserved example of this development pattern, which remains clearly expressed with remarkably little alteration.
A boom in building construction in Bridgeville followed the arrival of the railroad and continued through the remainder of the century. By 1868, ten years after the completion of the railroad, some 77 structures were indicated on a map of the town (Pomeroy and Beers, Atlas of the State of Delaware, 1868).
The area supported a variety of large and small industries through the 19th century. These enterprises reflected the agricultural productivity of the community. The cannery of Prettyman & Robbins, formerly located on the southwest corner of Main and Market streets, began operations in 1867. At the time the Town of Bridgeville was incorporated in early 1871, its commercial resources included six general stores, two hardware stores, one drug store, one clothing store, one shoe store, three grocery stores, three millinery stores, and a newsstand. Wroten & Morris opened a cannery in the late 1870s.
By 1881, an observer reported that "the spirit of enterprise and progress...now seems to pervade [the town]." It boasted about 500 inhabitants, ten stores, three steam mills, two canning factories, one fruit dryer, three mechanic shops, a phosphate factory, two hotels, three churches, and three school houses. In the same year, Henry P. Cannon and Philip L. Cannon, sons of William Cannon, established an extensive canning plant in Bridgeville; this enterprise remained in operation for a full century. [Subsequent expansion and redevelopment have resulted in the removal of the original structures associated with this facility.]
By the early 20th century, Bridgeville's importance as a center of agricultural commerce was well established, and its growing population enjoyed a number of important community services and organizations. The railroad station at Bridgeville offered an important trans-shipment point for large quantities of produce from the surrounding fields and orchards. Notable crops included peaches, apples, strawberries, cantaloupes, watermelons, and sweet potatoes. The increasing economic prosperity of Bridgeville motivated the establishment of a branch of the Baltimore Trust Company in the town in 1905; prior to that date, Bridgeville residents had relied on the banks of Seaford. Several fraternal societies had been organized by the 1890s; in the same period, a public reading room began operation, the predecessor of a circulating library organized in 1919. A municipal Water Works was constructed in 1909, and a volunteer fire company was organized the following year.
Later in the century, around the end of World War I, motor trucks began to replace railroads as the preferred mode of transport for agricultural products; by the Depression of the 1930s, trucks had gained clear ascendancy over railroads.
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Hancock, Harold B. Bridgeville: A Community History of the Nineteenth Century. Bridgeville, DE: Bridgeville Historical Society, 1985.
Herman, Bernard L. Architecture and Rural Life in Central Delaware, 1700-1900. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1987.
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McAlester, Virginia and Lee McAlester. A Field Guide to American Houses. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1984.
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