A Brief History of Bridgeville and the Society
Bridgeville is one of the oldest, surviving communities in western Sussex County. Originally the site of a Native American village, the land on which Bridgeville was founded was part of the original land grant given to Lord Baltimore by the English Crown. This land was identified at the time as part of Maryland, but in 1776 the boundary between Delaware and Maryland was reconciled. The Town of Bridgeville began in 1730 as an English settlement known as “Bridge Branch,” the name given to a few scattered homes built along what is now Main Street. The name was retained until January 30, 1810, when an act of the Delaware General Assembly changed the name of the village in Northwest Fork Hundred to “Bridgeville.”
In the early 1800s, the town had become a local commercial center for the region. Prior to 1816, Bridgeville was the largest town in western Sussex County, purporting to have two taverns, three stores, a carpenter’s shop, and a tailor’s shop. In 1812 the town became the center of political activity, as well, when a tavern in the village was selected as the voting place for the people of Northwest Fork Hundred, which included the area of northwestern Sussex County that lay west of the Northwest Fork of the Nanticoke River.
Bridgeville was politically prominent in the 1800s when residents of the town became quite involved in state politics at the highest levels. No fewer than five Delaware governors have hailed from this small town or nearby: Captain John Collins (1821-1822), Charles Polk (1827-1830), Peter Causey (1855-1859), William Cannon (1863-1865), and Simeon Pennewell (1909-1913).
It was William Cannon who gave the Bridgeville “downtown” its current layout. In the years before he became governor during the Civil War. Mr. Cannon was a local businessman and land developer. In the late 1850s he laid out part of his sizable real estate holdings into a series of rectilinear blocks and alleys. Lots of equal sizes were sold, and a variety of buildings were subsequently constructed. The lots for sale and development were were east of the new railroad tracks, and south of the road (now Main Street) going through Bridgeville from Dover to Salisbury, MD.
Bridgeville, possessing some of the best soil in the county, was chiefly an agricultural area. However, prior to the introduction of the railroad Bridgeville farmers had no way to conveniently ship their products, since there were limited navigable waterways. The town’s economic status was further enhanced when the railroad came through the town in 1856. The railroad brought new commerce to the area, and the town began to develop steadily afterwards. In 1871 Bridgeville was incorporated as a town. At the time of its incorporation Bridgeville had two schools, six general stores, two hardware stores, one drug store, one clothing store, one shoe store, three grocery stores, three millinery stores, and one newsstand.
Ten years later the Cannon family organized the H. P. Cannon & Son produce packing plant, which continues to occupy a prominent place in the industry of the town. Much of the acreage in northwestern Sussex County is involved in the production of crops that the plant packs and ships. The town earned national recognition as a produce growing center, and was once known as the “June Strawberry Capital of the Nation.”
The truck replaced the railroad as a means of transportation for farm produce, and the nature of Bridgeville’s industry began to change. Bridgeville farmers began to grow a larger number of perishable goods, such as sweet potatoes, peaches, and apples. Eventually, the advent of refrigerated trucks led to much of the industry that is present in Bridgeville today, including the famous Rapa Scrapple Company. Today, Bridgeville remains an agriculturally oriented community, with the majority of its industry dedicated to the processing and distribution of agricultural goods.
Bridgeville’s residents have an appreciation for the valuable history of their town and have taken steps to preserve it. The Bridgeville Historical Society, established in 1976, maintains a museum in the restored firehouse at 102 William Street. In the early 1990s the group was instrumental in applying to the National Park Service for the creation of the Bridgeville Historic District. The District was approved in April 1994 and placed on the National Register of Historic Palaces. Bridgeville’s Historic District encompasses a large area of residences and some commercial structures centered on the area southwest of Market Street.
In addition to the Historic District, there are three individual structures on the National Register. They are the Sudler House on North Main Street, which dates to the 1730s; the old Library building on Market Street, which was originally a church and dates to 1866; and the restored Fire House on William Street, which dates to 1911 and now serves as the BHS Museum.
The Town continued to grow with the expansion of its town limits to incorporate commercial property along Route 13, and to bring within the town limits Heritage Shores, a planned 55+ residential community which will evidently incorporate more than 1300 homes.
Bridgeville holds two annual community events to highlight its unique history. The Apple Scrapple Festival is held on the second full weekend of October. The festival highlights the town’s nearby apple orchards and scrapple production with a variety of food vendors, crafts, musical performances, and other entertainment. There have been as many as 35,000 people attending the event in some years.
The annual “Christmas in Bridgeville” is held on the first Saturday in December. This event is a large craft show sponsored by the Bridgeville Historical Society (BHS) as a major fundraiser.