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Governor Calls It 'a Special Place' : Among Delaware's 'Hundreds,' Strong Roots Run Deep

Charles Hillenger's America

December 14, 1986|CHARLES HILLINGER | Times Staff Writer

NORTH MURDERKILL HUNDRED, Del. — Delaware, the nation's second-smallest state, is the only one that has Hundreds.

"People have very strong ties to their Hundreds. They all know in which Hundred they live," said Carol Hoffecker, 48, history professor at the University of Delaware.

Delaware, 96 miles long, 9 to 35 miles wide, half the size of Los Angeles County, is divided into 33 Hundreds.

What's a Hundred?

A Hundred was a unit of English local government between a village and a shire, or county, dating back to King Edmund I (939-946) that continued to be used in Great Britain into the 1800s.

There are different theories as to how the name Hundred originated. One is that it was an area with enough people to provide 100 men for battle in wartime.

Hundreds, the British import to this tiny state, no longer have the political importance of earlier years in Delaware when there were Hundred constables, Hundred courts, Hundred school districts, Hundred tax assessors and Hundred tax collectors.

"Today in Delaware there are Hundred polling places, but other than that a Hundred is primarily a geographic term, a location," said Barbara Benson, 43, director of the Historical Society of Delaware Library.

Hundreds have colorful names like Appoquinimink, (Indian for Wounded Duck), North and South Murderkill (from the Dutch Moeder (Mother) and Kill (Creek), Dagsboro, Gumboro, Blackbird and Red Lion.

Blue posts with yellow letters mark the boundaries of the Hundreds throughout the state.

The Largest City

Delaware, population 600,000, in the middle of the East Coast megalopolis corridor, is mainly a rural oasis. Its largest city, Wilmington, has only 70,000 people.

"Most Americans have never visited Delaware. They know little about this state," said Gov. Mike Castle, 47. "It's a quiet place, out of the fast lane. Unemployment is low, education standards are very high and the quality of life outstanding.

"Delaware people for the most part are deeply rooted. We know each other so well. We know each other's families. It's a special place."

Until Castle was elected governor two years ago, the state's chief executive was paid only $35,000 a year. The salary has been doubled. The 21 state senators and 41 state representatives are paid $20,000 a year. Castle's official desk in the Capitol is the same one used by every governor since John McKinly was inaugurated in 1777.

The state is so small it doesn't have a full-time regular commercial television channel. Television stations in nearby Philadelphia, Baltimore and Salsbury, Md., cover Delaware news.

Only One TV News Crew

WNS-TV cable Channel 2, Wilmington/New Castle, is the only Delaware TV station with a full-time news operation. It is headed by news director John Hartshorn, 26, the oldest member of the news team, with anchor/reporter Sheila Saints, 23.

"We cover the entire state for a daily half-hour news show. We know all the politicians from the governor on down on a first-name basis," said Hartshorn, who is paid $13,800 a year. Saints gets $14,000 a year, and the station's cameraman, Tom Krakowiak, 22, earns $10,500.

Ten percent of Delaware's work force commutes daily from Maryland, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

Since there is no medical school in Delaware, Thomas Jefferson University's Medical School in Philadelphia, through an agreement with Delaware, sets aside 20 places each year for Delaware students.

Delaware provides financial assistance to students who have to go outside the state to study medicine and any other subject not offered at local schools.

Delawareans in general and the athletic teams of the University of Delaware in particular are called the Blue Hens. The nickname dates back to Revolutionary days when Delaware militiamen carried Blue Hen fighting game cocks with them into battle.

"Something that really strikes a stranger about Delaware is the great number of people with red hair living here," said Elizabeth Eichler, 25, a reporter for the Newcastle Weekly Eagle.

"I'm originally from Pennsylvania and lived in New Jersey," she added, "but in all my life I've never seen so many men with red hair. I married one of them."

One of Delaware's many peculiarities is its northern border, a 23-mile arc. It isn't based on a geographic phenomenon, a river, mountain range or anything like that. It was a survey line drawn up by the Duke of York in the 1600s to separate Pennsylvania from the three lower counties of Delaware. Every point on the arc is exactly 12 miles from the spire, weather vane and cupola on top of the 1732 New Castle Courthouse.

New Castle was founded in 1651 by Peter Stuyvesant, the one-legged Dutch colonial governor of New York. New Castle was Delaware's colonial capital from 1704 to 1777.

Delaware's license plates read "The First State" because on Dec. 7, 1787, Delaware became the first state to ratify the U.S. Constitution.

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