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Greenville & Hockessin Life

The transformation of Yorklyn

Nov 24, 2021 07:50AM ● By Tricia Hoadley
By Ken Mammarella
Contributing Writer

From the sensitive reuse of old mill buildings to infrastructure upgrades, and from multiple improvements at Auburn Valley State Park to the surprising clear-cutting of a large tract on Yorklyn Road, big changes are coming to Yorklyn.

“There’s a lot of hope,” said Carol Ireland, a nearby resident who remembers when Yorklyn’s mills were running decades ago and when they were later damaged by flooding. That hope comes when considering comprehensive planning by the state for the park and Yorklyn’s adjacent “downtown.”

“This is a massive conservation effort by a number of organizations,” said Matt Ritter, administrator of the planning, preservation and development section of the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, which runs the state parks.

Yorklyn’s roads meander their way along and over the Red Clay Creek, juxtaposed with railroad tracks. The mills that defined the area’s economy no longer produce lumber, flour, paper, snuff and vulcanized fiber, but their period architecture, with preserved space nearby, is drawing new businesses.

The most dramatic addition was the 2016 opening of Dew Point Brewing Co. In December 2020, Garrison’s Cyclery doubled its space when moving from Centreville to across from Dew Point.

“It’s a good community, very close-knit,” owner Rob Garrison said. “Yorklyn is starting to bubble. A lot of people, a lot of interest.”

62 townhomes planned

The Center for the Creative Arts for four decades has been helping to build, perhaps even create, a community. It’s housed in the old Yorklyn School, built in 1932.

“The school was originally a gathering place for the community, say for picnics,” said Melissa Paolercio, the center’s executive director. “We’re keeping up with that tradition with all types of people gathering, celebrating and learning.”

Yorklyn’s biggest gathering is the annual Yorklyn Day, and activities at the state park, live music at Dew Point and programming at the arts center draw people from Yorklyn and beyond.

DNREC in September presented an update of its plans, which date back to the 2008 donation of the parkland – and the world’s largest operating collection of Stanley steam cars – by the Marshall family.

A big point of contention at that meeting was Quarry Walk, a 12-acre site to the west that was clear-cut for 62 townhomes. It doesn’t look good now, but Ritter said DNREC’s goal is that landscaping will eventually make it blend in well. The quarry that gives the tract its name will be open to the public for fishing, and Ritter hopes for a trail to connect it to the main acreage of the state park.

Conservation and recreation

Shortly after it started thinking about the new state park, DNREC was tasked with leading the way on an 119-acre site, which for more than a century housed various types of mills, last occupied NVF, which had declared bankruptcy several times and finally closed.

“Several portions were set aside as conservation easements or were otherwise acquired by the state,” a meeting poster said, and several portions were marked for development.

Posters prepared for the meeting list more than a dozen highlights at the park, including the construction of a rentable pavilion at the Yorklyn Bridge parking area, the first deer-hunting season and the opening up of the Marshall Bros. paper mill, hastily abandoned, with time cards still in time slots. Tours promise “a rare look at an intact shuttered paper mill.”

There are plans to connect more of the open space, with the possibility of a dramatic bridge running 400 feet across road, creek and track to reach the eastern part of the state park, known as Oversee Farm. Most of the state’s land east of the railroad tracks will remain open space, Ritter said.

In 2016, when the state’s plans had their last five-year update, the state announced multiple “revitalization milestones.” They included several miles of trails for hikers, bicyclists, equestrians and vintage car enthusiasts.

Other improvements are critical but less noticeable. More than 200 tons of contaminated soil and building materials have been removed. Two wetlands have been created; Gun Club Road was shifted out of the floodplain; and other work was done to mitigate the damage of flooding, which NVF said was a major cause in its 2007 liquidation. Sandbags remain in front of some buildings to control water.

DNREC’s plans have evolved. For instance, plans for an amphitheater have been downsized, but it’s still comparable to the outdoor stages at White Clay and Bellevue state parks, Ritter said.

DNREC in 2016 said it was collaborating with the Delaware Symphony Orchestra on plans for the symphony to use the amphitheater as the symphony’s base for summer outdoor concerts and that the symphony would bring other artistic activities to the site.

J.C. Barker said he toured the site shortly after he started as the symphony’s executive director in May of 2020. Having the symphony perform outdoors in Yorklyn “is a terrific idea,” he said. “That falls in line with our strategic planning for outdoor concerts. It’s an exciting project, and we’re still interested in discussing and planning it.”

When asked about the symphony presenting other artists there, he said that question was the first that he had heard about that concept.

For arts’ sake

The arts center’s importance to the community was demonstrated in 2020, Paolercio said, after a violent August storm destroyed its parking lot. “There was a huge outpouring of support” to fix it, she said. “And that’s a huge testament to be part of this incredible community.”

That wasn’t the only problem in 2020. The pandemic forced the school to close for 15 weeks, and a few online classes were not enough to replace the camaraderie of in-person sessions.

When a full schedule resumed this fall, students enthusiastically returned. “We’ve rebounded,” she said. “We’re doing even better in participation. We’re really happy to create and make together again.”

The building includes an auditorium, seven classrooms, a kitchen and office space. The center has two full-time employees and, depending on the season, 15 to 20 teachers.

Paolercio, who starting running the center in 2019, is working on a plan to “sharpen our mission to serve all members of our community. Having quality artistic experiences is everyone’s right.” That’s why the center is exploring the needs and desires of differently abled artists, and it also wants to add classes in Spanish, a language of increasing importance in the Hockessin area and nearby stretches of Pennsylvania’s Chester County.

Yes, there will be development

To handle any development in Yorklyn’s core, the state is planning a second Yorklyn pumping station and other work to increase sewage capacity. The state is also working to construct a cell tower on the hill across Creek Road from the Marshall mansion, to cure the valley’s iffy reception.

A recent informal exploration showed a fair amount of construction equipment and material scattered among the old mill buildings. But it’s unclear how commercial development will progress. Several current business did not want to talk. Other businesses that have been touted in past news releases in articles didn’t talk, either. Adding to the uncertainty is an April arson fire that destroyed much of the Mill One complex.

A sign for an “Auburn Village” promises luxury apartments and 12,000 square feet of retail “coming soon,” but it’s unsaid how soon or what is involved. The sign matches up with, where the most recent map dates to 2017. Requests for comment were not returned.

The state’s 2016 announcement referred to townhomes on the old mill site that do not exist.

Dew Point founder John Hoffman looks forward to smart growth that preserves Yorklyn’s historic charm and natural beauty. Dew Point often hosts food trucks, and he’s talked up the idea of a nearby restaurant without success. “We would love a niche restaurant, something you can’t find somewhere else,” he said.

Noted Wilmington restaurateur Dan Butler said in November that the idea is “still alive” of what the state in 2016 called a “destination restaurant” from him. Butler said that several concepts have been considered and that “the developer is still waiting for everything to come into place.”

Hoffman is patient. “These things always take a long time to coalesce,” he said of Yorklyn’s growth. “One or two moves, and it will happen. The beauty and historic feel will be the key.”

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