Dwelling was once considered for historical preservation.
The news that the 166-year-old brick mansion sitting on the southeast corner of U.S. 301 and Levels Road will be demolished to accommodate the construction of a new Royal Farms is not sitting well with some MOT-area residents.
Last month, Nicole Squitiere, a social studies teacher and a resident of Townsend, stirred some discussion on social media about the property’s importance and its history. Over the years, the house had come to mean a lot to her and many others, she said.
“People in Middletown who have been here for a great period of time know the significance of that house, so it touched a nerve that a piece of that history will be demolished,” Squitiere said. “When I was a student at Middletown High School taking driver’s ed, we understood that seeing that house marked the end of town and that we had to turn around. We all knew that.”
But aside from serving as a marker for students learning to drive, not much else was known about the history of that property.
As it turns out, the mansion was built around 1850 and was known as Summerton. It was part of the Cochran family dwellings on Middletown-Warwick Road which also included other properties – Cochran Grange, Hedgelawn, and the Charles Cochran House.
According to historical records, Summerton sits on 5.5 acres and was commissioned to be built by John P. Cochran, a wealthy landowner who went on to become Delaware’s 43rd governor.
Summerton was a mid-19th century, two-and-half story high-style dwelling, which boasted many rooms, a neatly landscaped front yard and great vistas. The land was farmed, but unlike other Cochran properties, not with peaches. Instead, it was geared towards mix farming – wheat, Indian corn, Irish potatoes and more.
CAPTION: This undated photo taken of Summerton shows a little bit of how the property once looked before it sat vacant. U.S. 301 PROJECT DEVELOPMENT IMAGE
After John P. Cochran died, he left Summerton to his daughter Eliza Green and it remained in the Green family until 1953. The property and its farm would exchange owners several times after that, until it became vacant.
According to historian Allison Matsen of the Middletown Historical Society, there was an attempt in 1985 to create a historic district – the Levels Historic District – which would include historic mansions and farms in the area.
Properties such as Cochran Grange and Hedgelawn had already been listed on the National Register of Historic Places, but Summerton along with many others hadn’t.
“A lot of the farmers in the area did not want to have it listed in the National Register of Historic Places as a district because they thought that it would restrict their use of the land and so it was voted down,” Matsen explained. “Summerton and some other 30 houses and farms had been nominated to be in that district and now there are only about 10 houses that are still standing today – a whole lot were torn down. It’s such a shame.”
Summerton is now owned by Bluegrass Investments, LLC which acquired it in 2012, but the property has remained vacant for over 10 years, according to land broker FSC Management.
In the past year, the house’s windows have been vandalized. The Transcript could not verify if the structure’s condition was still sound or not.
Engineers hired by Royal Farms will break ground on the property sometime this year. The town approved the company’s plans for gas and diesel dispensaries, a convenience store and a parking lot last November.
The Royal Farms will become part of a larger project – the Middletown Levels Business Park.
Matsen said that she hoped that the mansion would one day be turned into office space instead of being completely demolished to make room for a gas station.
“It really looks to be in good shape. The walls look fine, the roof looks fine. It’s not like it’s unsalvageable,” Matsen said. “It could have been office space for doctors’ offices – a psychologist or psychiatrist, dentist or something like that because it does have a good location.”
As for residents like Squitiere who know that the project can’t be stopped, she said that she would like at least the chance to see the inside of the house before it’s torn down.
“It should be open for at least one day for the people who live in the town. It would be great to have an opportunity to experience it,” she said. “I don’t know what the condition is inside, so maybe that would not be possible, but just giving the community a chance to say goodbye to the house I think would be significant.”
The Transcript requested comment from Becker Morgan Group – the firm handling the engineering of the Royal Farms – but it did not respond by deadline on Wednesday at 1 p.m.