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New Castle Ice Harbor

New Castle, Delaware, United States
Completed 1795

In 1794, the Delaware legislature authorized a lottery to fund the erection of ice piers in the harbor at New Castle. The ice harbor was designed to protect anchored ships from storms and ice. At the time, New Castle served as the principal winter port for ships from the Port of Philadelphia because ice on the Delaware River posed such a serious hazard to the wooden-hulled vessels.  

The harbor was the first of its type on the river and the last one to be maintained as the need for them declined. It served as a model for the other four harbors constructed in the area. Congress also funded a portion of the pier construction, providing one of the earliest public works expenditures by the U.S. government. 

Once steam-powered ships were invented, they could navigate up the Delaware to Philadelphia in one day. As a result, the harbor became obsolete by the end of the 1800s. Today, the oldest piers are no longer visible. Some dating to the 1830s remain as a symbol of New Castle's early days as a thriving commercial port.

Claim to Fame

Because of the peril of ice crushing the wooden hulls of ships using the Philadelphia area harbors, a special protected harbor, the New Castle Ice Harbor, was authorized by the state of Delaware, and three piers were built. These innovative harbor structures were prototypes for others.