The Best Ghost Towns to Visit in Delaware

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As one of the original thirteen colonies, Delaware has plenty of history when it comes to ghost towns. With that history comes older ghost town sites, often including scant evidence of their existence. Nevertheless, there are a few sites with storied pasts that are worth visiting. 
While driving all across Delaware, make sure your car is up for the tour with the best car insurance coverage. When you use the car super app Jerry, you can head to Delaware’s best ghost towns knowing your car is covered the whole way.

Bancroft Mills

Wide shot framed by the wooden construction of a covered bridge looking at a train at a railroad crossing.
Wilmington, Delaware

What’s the story of Bancroft Mills?

Nestled north of Wilmington sits the abandoned mill complex of Bancroft Mills, originally built in 1797. The first mill was a paper mill called Gilpin’s Mill. This eventually became a textile mill in 1831, when it was taken over by Joseph Bancroft, thus becoming Bancroft Mills. 
The mill continued to grow into one of the most famous cotton finishing factories in the world in the 1930s. The Bancroft family devoted themselves to the area, influencing the community through industry and beyond. 
Bancroft Mills closed in 1961 and the building was sold to the Wilmington Piece Dye company. Unfortunately, the company filed for bankruptcy in 2003. Two of the mill buildings were then renovated and turned into condominiums, which are still in operation today.
Several buildings remained untouched until a fire in 2015 tore through some of the remaining abandoned buildings, contributing to their dilapidation. Another fire in 2016 destroyed more of the historic mill buildings, decimating what little there was left.

What makes Bancroft Mills special?

Here are a few interesting facts about Bancroft Mills: 
  • Bancroft Mills is one of the only ghost towns to be converted into modern living facilities. 
  • Historians hope that the riverfront apartments provide an appreciation for the industry and structures that provided for the community for so long.
  • The fire that destroyed the mill remains in 2016 was so enormous that the ruins were still smoldering a week later.

How to Visit Bancroft Mills 

To get a closer look at Bancroft Mills—or what’s left of it—your best bet is to visit Alapocas Run State Park or Rockford Park. In Rockford Park, a trail will take you near the old mill sites—but there may not be much to see since developers have taken over the land to build luxury homes.
Across the river in Alapocas Run State Park, the main trail leads up to a rock climbing wall before leading down toward the mill. There you can see an old industrial bridge with a smaller trail, from which you can see Bancroft Mills.
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Zwaanendael Colony

Landscape shot of a ship in Lewes. Dark blue water, clear skies, ship with white sails, pulled up, town in the background.
Ship in Lewes, Delaware

What is the story of Zwaanendael Colony?

Zwaanendael—or “swan valley” in English—was a Dutch colonial settlement that was built in 1631. Two Dutchmen from the Dutch West India Company won the land in a bargain with indigenous peoples in 1629 and the official purchase was completed in 1630.
With its population remaining under 50, the settlement didn’t survive long. Not only were they unable to keep up with the work it takes to establish a colony, but a massive misunderstanding with the local natives left Zwaanendael with only two survivors
The story goes that a local chief removed a wooden piece from a column that commemorated the settlers’ homeland of Holland. The colonists were offended by the chief’s mistake—who only wanted to make a tobacco pipe from the wood—and made a fuss. 
The native tribe saw that the Dutchmen were upset about this, so they tried to make things right by killing the chief. They brought back a token to the colonists. The Dutch told them it wasn’t necessary and regretted it had been done. To get revenge for their friend, allies of the chief wreaked havoc on the small colony, leaving few survivors. 
A second wave of colonists to Zwaanendael arrived in 1632 to find the settlement destroyed, so they moved onto other Dutch settlements in the area. 

What makes Zwaanendael Colony special? 

Zwaanendael Colony was the first European settlement in Delaware. Here are a few more facts about Zwaanendael:
  • The area later became part of modern-day Lewes, Delaware. 
  • The Zwaanendael Museum was opened in 1931. 
  • The site of the colony has no visible remains but is commemorated by a historic marker.
  • The Zwaanendael Museum was modeled after the town hall in Hoorn, Netherlands to pay homage to the original founders.

How to visit Zwaanendael Colony 

Zwaanendael Colony is located on Pilottown Road (aka SH 267). The spot sits along the western bank of the Lewes and Rehoboth Canal, south of the entrance at the mouth of the Broadkill River. The site is less than two miles northwest of the Kings Highway and Front Street intersection in Lewes. 
To see even more historical spots in Delaware on your way, take the Historic Lewes Byway.


Wide shot of black train passing over Red Clay Creek on railroad bridge. Entire image is framed by forest with the creek lying below.
Red Clay Creek, Delaware

What is the story of Glenville?

The community of Glenville was a post-war subdivision adjacent to Bread and Cheese Island in northern Delaware near Newport. The area gained its ghost town designation in the last 15 years. 
The town sits right behind Red Clay Creek, which empties into White Clay Creek. This makes the area heavily susceptible to frequent flooding—especially after several tropical storms and hurricanes hit around the early 2000s. 
The county suggested that residents raise their homes on stilts to minimize flood damage, but that option was entirely too expensive for most. After a major flood, many homes were damaged beyond repair, and that’s when the residents of the area planned to abandon ship. 
When it was empty, Glenville was bought by the county. The neighborhood was mostly demolished to prepare to turn the community into a park. All that remains are a few foundations or random street remnants, but it’s not much of a park at all.

What makes Glenville special?

Here are a few fun facts about Glenville:
  • At least one resident refused to move when the county took over Glenville. They had raised their house and avoided flood damage, but the county tried to force them out. The homeowner won the lawsuit, but eventually moved from the area.
  • Glenville was once a thriving community. It was within commuting distance to Wilmington and had many nice, middle-class homes.
  • Many residents of the surrounding area were frustrated that tax dollars went to buying out the residents of Glenville when they chose to live in a high-risk flood area.

How to visit Glenville

The neighborhood of Glenville is on Route 4/Mitch Road, just west of Newport. Heading east, you can turn right onto Harbeson Place from Route 4 where Mitch Road becomes W Newport Pike. Harbeson Place is essentially a loop that will lead you back to Route 4.

Owens Station

Wide shot, evening, locomotive at train station, station building on the right, trees on the left, railroad track in the foreground.
Locomotive Station, Delaware

What is the story of Owens Station? 

The community of Owens Station, also known as Owens, used to be a stop on Queen Anne’s Railroad between Ellendale and Greenwood. The railroad shut down, the tracks were removed, and all railroad properties were returned to the original landowners. Small communities that once surrounded the stops disappeared as well. 
Several houses from the town are still standing, but the majority of Owens Station has vanished. The area is now known as just Owens, an unincorporated community east of Greenwood. 

How to visit Owens Station 

The few remaining houses can be found at the intersection of Beach Highway and Owens Road, east of Greenwood. 

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