A Merger Offer Declined

In 1906, the Board of Trustees of Rodney Presbyterian Church proposed “amalgamating the two churches and their respective interests,” and locating on Hanover grounds. They believed a “strong and vigorous church combination” would result from the union. Hanover elders considered the offer and thanked Rodney Presbyterian church for its interest and the spirit in which it was offered but felt “the time has yet arrived to take up so serious a question with our congregation, considering a strong effort at present is being made to procure a pastor and with an intense desire on the part of the majority to rehabilitate our long-established church, and greatly encouraged by the fact that our various branches are very completely organized, notwithstanding we are without a pastor.” In November 1906, a new pastor, the Rev. Robert L. Jackson of White Plains, N.Y., was called to Hanover Church.

In 1907, Hanover’s congregation made several decisions that helped shape a new direction for the church. In February, members accepted the recommendation of a special congregational committee and abolished the pew rental system as a means of raising revenue, adopting instead an envelope contribution system similar to that used today. The envelope system allowed more flexibility, with annual, semi-annual, or quarterly contributions. At a congregational meeting in September, a joint finding was made by the Session and Trustees that “the present and future outlook” for Hanover Church at 6th and King Streets “had seen its very best days as many of the eastern side residents were Polanders, Italians and foreigners generally and that the congregation was being reduced by some of our members moving away and losing others by death.”

Hanover had always been a neighborhood church, with most of its members living within walking distance. But the growth of Wilmington in the half-century after the Civil War had altered the demographics of both the city and the neighborhood. Newcomers to Wilmington, including immigrants from Europe and blacks from the South, were moving into the East Side, near the factories and tanneries where they worked. The population of Wilmington reached 60,000 by 1890 (compared to about 70,000 today), and most of its residents still lived between the two rivers and east of what is now Interstate 95. But the growth of trolley lines allowed the move to the “suburbs” to begin, and the more affluent residents of the city were spreading out, first west along Delaware Avenue, and by the turn of the century, north across the Brandywine.

So in 1908, only 16 of Hanover’s members lived east of Market Street, and the church had a deficit of $600. The Board of Trustees discussed moving the church north of the Brandywine to the developing residential section. Discussions became more serious when Samuel H. Baynard, a Hanover member who was active in developing the Boulevard area, offered to deed to Hanover sufficient land at 20th and Van Buren Streets to build a church, chapel, and manse. After this offer, the congregation struggled in a series of meetings with the idea of relocating. Meanwhile, Rev. Jackson and the women of Hanover proceeded with mission work among the poor. New member recruitment also continued with Rev. Jackson actively seeking “newcomers” from the neighborhood and maintaining the interests and endeavors of existing members and attendants.

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