Harrington takes a nostalgic look at its 150 years

Doug Poore, curator of the Greater Harrington Historical Society, and his mother Viva shared memories of the Burton’s soda fountain Thursday at the society’s museum on Fleming Street. (Delaware State News/Andrew West)

 

HARRINGTON – Doug Poore seems to genuinely love his hometown.

Now retired, he is spending his time serving as curator for the Greater Harrington Historical Society — researching, reminiscing and reveling in the city’s 150th anniversary.

“As a kid growing up, you just kind of ran around town and I was exposed to all the things people talk about – trains in my backyard and all that,” he said. “I have always enjoyed history and I have learned a lot more as I have become active here.”

The railroad, of course, is what made Harrington.

Or, perhaps, it was really a Delaware jurist by the name of Samuel Harrington who made “Clark’s Corner” what it is today.

In the 1840s, Judge Harrington had the vision that southern Delaware needed the railroad as a means of getting produce to the cities and growing the economy.

Without it, Clark’s Corner had just been a stop on the stagecoach route coming from Frederica.

About seven years before its incorporation in 1869, the townsfolk took a vote on what the name should be, Mr. Poore said.

Of course, Clark’s Corner was an option. In the 1700s, that name came about when Benjamin Clark opened a tavern and inn. Harrington was the second option, given the growth the city enjoyed once it became a railroad junction.

The other was Tuttleville.

“Whoever thought of Tuttleville is beyond me,” said Mr. Poore with laughter. “That was actually the third choice on the ballot. Thank God that didn’t pass. We do have the documentation for that. I don’t know that I could have lived in Tuttleville.”

This week, the Greater Harrington Historical Society will receive the first shipment of 50 books with photos of the area. Mr. Poore collected the photos and historical info for Arcadia Publishing’s “Images of America” book on Harrington.

The photos tell the story of the city, from the railroad’s arrival in 1859 to the major canneries and basket mills, the state fair to Wheeler’s amusement park, churches and schools, and more.

Mr. Poore said one of the big surprises to him was just how much impact the railroad and local agriculture had. Peaches were big business. To the south, strawberries and Delmarva seafood were big, too.

And, the way you could measure success was counting the dozens of freight trains passing through each day and the multitude of grand Victorian homes that were built on Commerce Street.

Within a short walk, the people in the community enjoyed entertainment at the Harrington Opera House and Reese’s Opera House in the early 1900s.

As an aside, an amazing find in the attic of the Reese Opera House before its demolition were 1922 movie posters for Rudolph Valentino’s first romantic film, “Tango.” The historical society hopes to have those preserved for a future display.

 

The opera house proprietor was E.C. Reese. His grandson, Reese Harrington, later opened a movie theater.

Viva Poore, Doug’s mother, was in the historical society museum Thursday reminiscing about her first jobs in the theater. She worked her way up from the popcorn machine to usher to ticket seller and an hourly wage of 75 cents an hour.

That theater, along with a soda fountain joint called Burton’s Sports Shop, were places where teens could go for entertainment.

Nothing in Harrington seems to inspire more nostalgia than that soda fountain. The historical society has the counter, mirrored backdrop and booths in its museum. After the fountain was restored, the museum offered sodas during Heritage Day last summer.

Mr. Poore talks about the Blue Hen record label in Harrington. Among its legendary tales is turning down a chance to record country great Patsy Cline.

“We had a line wrapped all the way around this building,” said Mr. Poore. “It was not that they wanted the soda so much. It was the memories.”

Another well-known spot in the photo book is a grocery owned by Sam and Ethel Short. In the back of the store, Mr. Short produced records under the Blue Hen label for Honey Voshell and other artists in the 1950s.

Oddly enough, the Blue Hen label turned down a young country singer by the name of Patsy Cline.

Among the prominent Harrington business people named in the book are Edward Taylor and Bobby Messick. Photos of their early John Deere dealership will certainly evoke memories.

***

Mr. Poore said all of the photos used in the new book, with a few exceptions from the Hagley Museum and Delaware Public Archives, were from the Greater Harrington Historical Society’s collection.

The book will sell for $21.99. He said those interested should buy the book at the historical society museum on Fleming Street.

Proceeds will go to the historical society’s building fund.

Plans are in the works to double the size of one of their buildings. It will include an archival room for research of genealogy, deeds and more.

Visit ghhsociety.org for more information.

***

There is one photo that Mr. Poore wished he could find — if it exists.

In his research, he was surprised to learn German prisoners of war were held at the fairgrounds in Harrington.

“Somebody’s got to have a photo,” said Mr. Poore. “I have begged for one.”

Not much exists about that time, except for some stories passed down. He knows of only one artifact from that time.

“We have a little tiny bunny rabbit that was carved by a German soldier,” he said.

***

The city of Harrington put together a 150th anniversary committee last fall and have several events planned this year.

“We decided we want to make a year of celebrations,” said Chad Robinson, chairman of the committee in an interview with The Chronicle. “We’re really looking back and thinking about the things that made Harrington strong.”

The next big event on the city of Harrington’s 150th anniversary year calendar is the Incorporation Day Dinner. It will be March 23 at Harrington Raceway and Casino.

“It is literally 150 years to the day that the city of Harrington was incorporated by the state of Delaware,” said Mr. Poore.

The event will have a Victorian theme and formal clothing styles of the period, or today, is requested.

Get information at harrington150th.org and RSVP by Friday.

On Memorial Day, the city has planned a parade and will lay wreaths for veterans for a D-Day glider pilot, a World War II nurse and others. We will share more details on those Harrington heroes in a future edition.

The celebration continues with Heritage Day in August and a Farm to Table event on Commerce Street in September.

Reach Executive Editor Andrew West at awest@newszap.com

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