Historic Jehu M. Reed House demolished: Kent County loses two historic homes in span of days

LITTLE HEAVEN — Kent County has 151 sites listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

But recently, the list got two entries lighter.

In the span of a few days, Kent County lost two houses listed on the National Register: The historic Jehu M. Reed House, located at the junction of Del. 1 and Bowers Beach Road in Little Heaven was demolished last weekend. It joined Smyrna’s Thomas England House, demolished a few days earlier, in the dust of the past.

A demolition permit was issued by the county for the building on Jan. 26. Like all buildings on the National Register of Historic Places, their status does not obstruct property owners’ rights to demolish them.

Jeff Pardee, the property owner, said demolishing the house wasn’t a decision he took lightly.

“My grandmother, who died in the early 90s, owned and lived in that house and my father grew up in it — no one is sadder to see it go than me and my family,” he said.

The now demolished Jehu M. Reed House was added to the National Register of Historic Places when Charlotte Pardee applied for the addition in 1973. As part of its addition to the list, it was photographed and seven-page description was documented and put on file with the National Park Service — who administers the list. For more than 200 years, from 1685 until 1912, the property in Little Heaven maintained an association with the Reed family, a well-known and prominent Central Delaware family. The original portion of the house was built in 1771 by Henry Newell. It was eventually expanded in 1868 by Jehu Reed, an agricultural pioneer and benefactor whose advances and techniques in farming helped foster Delaware’s peach and apple industry. (National Register of Historic Places photographs)

Mr. Pardee noted that because of the home’s status on the National Register, he’s been subject to frequent trespass and abuse over the past several years he’s owned it.

“People try to come on to the property and take stuff, I get a lot of calls telling me I should be ashamed of myself and I get bashed on social media too — it gets tiresome because this is harder for my family than it is for them,” he said.

Termites were responsible for virtually 100 percent of the damage that brought the house to a point of no return, he added.

“They started in one half of the house, but by the time we noticed them it was too late — it only took a few months,” Mr. Pardee said. “It quickly got to the point where it would have been to expensive to restore. The house was huge, it would have cost millions of dollars for us to fix it up.”

Additionally, Mr. Pardee said he was contacted by the county and told the deteriorating house was becoming a hazard. He decided that demolishing it in a controlled fashion — rather than letting it collapse — was the safest option.

The historic house had been slowly falling apart for the past several years. In February, this newspaper reported that a Nor’easter over the winter had already caused significant damage to the front facade of the house — resulting in a large cave-in. Even at the time, its days seemed numbered.

Although the county wasn’t able to get formal documentation, such as measured drawings, officials did get some photographs on file before the demolition.

“We have documented photographs of the Jehu Reed House taken about a year ago, but no formal documentation because it wasn’t safe to be inside,” said Sarah Keifer, director of Kent County planning services.

A detailed description of the house and accompanying photographs remain on the National Register from when it was added by Charlotte Pardee in 1973.

Gwen Davis, deputy state historic preservation officer, said in February it was sad to see the state of the crumbling historic home which once sat on a vast tract of land that encompassed 950 acres.

“Of course, it’s heartbreaking to see a property that was considered very significant go through such a period of loss,” Ms. Davis said. “Unfortunately, it does happen. I would be hard pressed to say how common it is but when it does occur, it is very heartbreaking.”

Rubble from the demolished Jehu M. Reed House.

Mr. Pardee noted the parcel the house sat on is 5 acres.

For more than 200 years, from 1685 until 1912, the property in Little Heaven maintained an association with the Reed family, a well-known and prominent Central Delaware family.

The original portion of the house was built in 1771 by Henry Newell. It was eventually expanded in 1868 by Jehu Reed, an agricultural pioneer and benefactor whose advances and techniques in farming helped foster Delaware’s peach and apple industry.

According to J. Thomas Scharf’s “History of Delaware,” Mr. Reed was an “enterprising merchant, agriculturist, and horticulturist of Kent County” and a “man of considerable force of character, [who] obtained some notoriety in his day.

“He is said to have been the first person who introduced the culture of the peach in this country for profit by putting out a large orchard in 1830, and adding thereto from year to year.”

The house was a three-story Italianate brick structure — a brand of rural architecture that melds the original fabric of a Georgian structure with a Victorian plantation house. All of the outbuildings associated with the property have also either deteriorated or were removed.

Mr. Pardee said that he has no immediate plans for the property.

Mike Finney contributed to this report.

Reach staff writer Ian Gronau at igronau@newszap.com

You are encouraged to leave relevant comments but engaging in personal attacks, threats, online bullying or commercial spam will not be allowed. All comments should remain within the bounds of fair play and civility. (You can disagree with others courteously, without being disagreeable.) Feel free to express yourself but keep an open mind toward finding value in what others say. To report abuse or spam, click the X in the upper right corner of the comment box.