The sight of high piles of gravel and the beeping sounds from heavy equipment vehicles are part of an ongoing construction boom in Townsend.

The sight of high piles of gravel and the beeping sounds from heavy equipment vehicles are part of an ongoing construction boom in Townsend.

Current projects include new streetscape along Main Street and the construction of a new Dollar General across from the Walgreens on the corner of Main Street and Summit Bridge Road.

“The businesses are coming back,” said Alison Matsen, a member of the Middletown Historical Society and a resident of Townsend. “The town is reviving to some extent.”

Townsend’s early days

Once upon a time, life in Townsend was convenient and businesses were plentiful. The town offered residents more job opportunities and places to shop for items such as groceries and other necessities.

“If you look at the old maps, like from the 1860s and 1890s there were quite a few businesses in Townsend because it was hard for people to travel so they stayed in town,” Matsen said.

Small towns like Townsend began changing in the 1900s. People were lured by the bigger cities, and cars provided people with greater mobility. As the population of these towns shrunk, the mom-and-pop businesses that once catered to these residents began to fold one by one. Those folks who stayed chose to shop elsewhere in places like Dover and Wilmington. Many beloved mom-and-pop businesses in Townsend vanished more than two decades ago, including the Buckworth market.

“Buckworth sold the freshest meat,” said Mary Homan, a resident of Townsend for 39 years. “Albert Buckworth had a slaughter house and you could even take your own animal and they would slaughter it for you. He was a great butcher.”

Growing pains

The latest business boom in Townsend has been mostly driven by new housing developments in the MOT area. An influx of higher income residents who commute to Wilmington and Philadelphia for work, but want the feel of a peaceful, small-town life are changing things. Ironically, things may not be staying “small” for long.

Barbara Ruhmann, 51, moved from Glasgow to Townsend 17 years ago. Her home isn’t too far from where the new Dollar General will be located. She has mixed emotions about the town’s new growth. “I moved here 17 years ago because I wanted the small-town charm, but now traffic has increased on this street,” Ruhmann said. “I’m not sure I like it.”

Residents like Ruhmann have also been impacted by the construction of the town’s streetscape project which was supposed to be completed last month. The mostly federally-funded project has a price tag of $589,000 and consists of adding new sidewalks along Main Street from South to Chestnut Streets to make the town more pedestrian friendly and wheelchair accessible. Street lights, benches and trees will also be added.

Completion of the project has been delayed due to an unexpected layer of concrete the contractor discovered under the old sidewalks when construction started. The process of removing it has been painfully slow and just one side of the sidewalk has been paved.

“I told them there was concrete under those sidewalks, but nobody would listen,” said Jack Fitzchugh, 68, a Main Street resident who moved from Wilmington 14 years ago. “It’s been a mess.”

Goals of streetscape project

Mayor Jermaine Hatton hopes the new sidewalks will encourage residents to go out and visit restaurants and other businesses on Main Street. The mayor also expects that the beautification project will attract new visitors.

“What I’m hoping and what the council is hoping that once we get the sidewalks done we will continue other phases. First, we want Townsend to be a more walkable and accessible town with the wheelchair ramps which we never had before. Adding more street lighting we’ll make it also a bit safer for people to walk. The street bumps will stop people from speeding,” Hatton said.

Additional funding is needed for the next phase which is to extend the streetscape project all the way to Summit Bridge Road where the new Dollar General is being built and where the Walgreens that came to the area seven years ago is located.

As of now, very few people are taking advantage of the nearly-completed sidewalk, according to some residents.

Danny Smallwood, 16, Casey Alexander, 16, and Francis Teel, 17, enjoy getting around the town on their scooters.

“We like to go to the skate park and this sidewalk makes getting there really fun,” Alexander said.

The boys and people walking their dogs are just about the only ones using of the new sidewalk, according to Fitzchugh.

“I haven’t seen anyone on a wheelchair yet,” he said.

Though not a resident of Townsend, Kirk Benton of Middletown believes that improvements to roads and infrastructure are important for progress. Benton is an inspector with DelDOT and has been visiting Townsend regularly to check up on the construction of the new Dollar General driveways.

“I think these changes are a win-win for the residents of Townsend,” Benton said. “With the new store they won’t have to travel all the way to Middletown as much. It’ll benefit seniors who probably don’t want to drive or have a car. The sidewalks will add charm to the town, too; we had them done in Middletown a couple of years ago.”

Completion date for Dollar General

The standalone Dollar General will have its grand opening on Sept. 27 and will add six to 10 new jobs to Townsend, according to the company’s spokesperson Dan MacDonald. He also said that his company is focusing on opening stores in promising small towns.

“We do really well in small towns where there is great need of our value proposition which is everyday low prices across the board plus convenience,” MacDonald said. “People can get in, get what they want, and save money. This is what people in these communities want and we think the store will be well-received by Townsend residents.”

The construction of the Dollar General will also bring one more change to Townsend – a new location for its historical marker. According to Benton, the current location of the marker will be too close to the driveway’s curb and the sidewalk and will have to be moved. Townsend unveiled its historical marker on Main Street back in December 2008.

More changes on the way?

Economic development in Townsend will not end with the Dollar General.

“The Dollar General will bring more options to our residents,” Hatton said. “In the near future we’ll be hopefully talking to some folks who would look to coming to Townsend. We have additional commercial space in the area and it would be great to get a retail store or offer other services to our community.”

But there are a few other things that some residents like Fitzchugh and Homan would like to see in the near future aside from more stores, including getting their own police force to patrol the streets instead of leaving it to state police, and having more town festivals.

“I also wish people would help keep the small town charm by taking better care of their homes,” Homan said. “The sidewalks would look better if people cleaned up their front yards.”