George Read I (1733-1798) rented a house on the property from 1766 to 1798, purchasing it just months before his death. He resided here when he signed both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, and also when he served as U.S. Senator, Chief Justice of Delaware, and, for a brief time, President of Delaware. On the first floor, his house, after remodeling, included three or four rooms: a parlor, Read’s law office, a kitchen, and perhaps a dining room. George Read II spent his childhood years in this home. In 1798, the elder Read participated in designing the floor plan for his son’s home, which when completed in 1803 contained over twenty-two rooms and 14,000 square feet of living space.

George Read II (1765-1836), like his father, studied law. In 1786 he married his cousin, Mary Thompson, and they lived in New Castle and began a family. It was not until 1797 that George Read II purchased the lot immediately adjacent to his father’s home to build his grand mansion. Although the cornerstone for the foundation was laid in 1797, active construction of the house occurred between 1801 and 1803. Read consulted leading Philadelphia horticulturists, including Bernard McMahon and David Landreth, about installing a garden with ornamental qualities on his property; however, surviving evidence suggests he maintained little more than a kitchen garden.

In 1824 a devastating fire claimed most of the buildings on the southern half of Front Street (The Strand). George Read II’s empty river lot stopped the fire on the river side of the street, and Wilmington fire companies servicing his home arrested the fire on the land side of the street. His father’s house next door, which George Read II rented to tenants in 1824, was claimed by the fire. Shortly before his death in 1836 Read purchased the lot to the south of where his childhood home stood, thereby enlarging the property surrounding his home.

 

George Read II’s son George Read III died just a few short months after his father, leaving only two siblings: William and Mary, of the original seven. The house remained in the ownership of the Read family for ten years and was rented periodically, most notably to statesman John M. Clayton, while his home Buena Vista was being constructed.

Delaware History Museum   |  Mitchell Center for African American Heritage   |   Old Town Hall   |   Research Library   |   Willingtown Square    |   Read House & Gardens  

(302) 655-7161  deinfo@dehistory.org
505 N. Market Street, Wilmington, DE 19801
copyright 2017
 
The Delaware Historical Society is the statewide, non-profit organization that explores, preserves, shares, and promotes Delaware history, heritage, and culture to strengthen our community.