Skip to main content

Woodlawn Trustees, Inc. records

1880-2005 Majority of material found within 1901-1995
Accession: 2424


The Woodlawn Trustees, Incorporated, is a non-profit real estate development firm incorporated in Delaware on December 12, 1918, by textile manufacturer William Poole Bancroft (1835-1928). Their records include charters, minutes, officer lists, directors' correspondence, real estate records, property maps, reports, drawings and specifications and newspaper and journal articles on the history of the Trustees and of the Bancroft family.


  • 1880-2005
  • Majority of material found within 1901-1995



53 Linear Feet

Historical Note

The Woodlawn Trustees, Incorporated, is a non-profit real estate development firm incorporated in Delaware on December 12, 1918, by textile manufacturer William Poole Bancroft (1835-1928). It subsumed Bancroft's earlier, for-profit venture, The Woodlawn Company which operated from 1901 to 1926. The Trustees are responsible for maintaining affordable housing in the city of Wilmington and for the orderly development of large tracts of suburban land, mostly located in Brandywine Hundred between Concord Pike and the Brandywine Creek and running north from Rockland Road into Delaware County, Pennsylvania.

William P. Bancroft was a founding member of Wilmington's Board of Park Commissioners and donated a large block of family land for Rockford Park. Bancroft was concerned about the orderly growth of cities and convinced that the city would soon outgrow its boundaries. He thus began to buy large tracts of farm land north and west of the city, which he intended to be developed in a planned, rational manner, with ample allowance for parks and other open space. In order to carry out these operations, he formed The Woodlawn Company in 1901. The company's first activities were within the city limits, where it built and rented the "Woodlawn Flats," blocks of row houses and apartments for working people between 1903 and 1914 and the Bancroft Parkway from 1912 to 1932, a tree-lined residential street with a wide planted median running north-south on the west side of town.

To carry out his larger goal of orderly growth after he was gone, Bancroft placed his land in trust. Local charitable organizations were to hold stock in the trust and use the income from real estate development to fund their activities. Active development of the rural properties was put on hold by the Depression and World War II, but thereafter the Trustees constructed a number of housing developments, including Alapocas, Woodbrook, Sharpley, Edenridge and Tavistock. Other land was banked by being leased for farming or as parkland. However, the Trustees discovered that the only way to subsidize their low-cost rental housing in the city and to remain solvent was to seek profits like any commercial developer. This meant constructing conventional suburban tract housing developments and strip malls aimed at middle class buyers.

This tension between the founder's vision and commercial reality came out in the open during the 1960s, compounded by contermporary developments in the Civil Rights movement. Although the Trustees bought out the failing Citizens Housing Corporation, which provided low-cost housing for African Americans on the city's east side, its suburban developments included the customary segregationist restrictive covenants. Pressure for change primarily came from the Wilmington Monthly Meeting of Friends, which sought to hold the Trustees to the founder's Quaker beliefs, and from Martha Ann du Pont, who sued the Trustees in 1972 to 1974 on the grounds that their refusal to sell a suburban house as a home for neglected children constituted racial discrimination. During the same period, the IRS challenged the Trustees' tax-exempt status.

By the mid-1970s, external pressures and the unsettled financial climate of recession and stagflation had pushed the Trustees into considering the sale of their remaining assets. However, beginning in the mid-1980s, renewed growth in the Concord Pike Corridor between Wilmington and West Chester, Pennsylvania, greatly enhanced the value of its holdings, although the development has taken the form of strip malls of national chains and big-box stores, with other land still banked for farming as a green buffer.

he 1960s and 1970s were years of challenge for the Woodlawn Trustees. They prepared volumes of information and documents used in the hearings for the revocation of Woodlawn's tax exempt status, and subsequent suits with the U.S. Government and the State of Delaware for back taxes, the claims of discrimination. The pressure was so great that in the 1970s the Trustees' were preparing plans to sell all of their assets. Woodlawn continues to plan and develop urban and suburban growth.

The growth continued into the next twenty-five years resulting in thorough development with residential and commercial structures. Due to the popularity of a "new" interstate highway with convenient exits to Brandywine Hundred, and with the focus of shopping shifting from Wilmington to the northern suburbs. Woodlawn promoted wise planning in the growth of the new commercial hub. Open space and greenways were integrated with the furious pace of construction of restaurants, hotels, office buildings, and professional businesses on lands leased or sold by Woodlawn.


Series are arranged by function.

Scope and Content

The records of the Woodlawn Trustees include charters, minutes, officer lists, directors' correspondence, real estate records, property maps, reports, drawings and specifications and newspaper and journal articles on the history of the Trustees and of the Bancroft family. Subjects covered include the development of the city park system and the Bancroft Parkway, the building and maintenance of the "Woodlawn Flats," the Citizens Housing Corporation, the development of post-World War II suburbs, the Quaker beliefs of the Trustees and discussions withing the Society of Friends over their development activities and the disputes over racial discrimination in housing and segregation in the suburbs.

The Woodlawn Trustees, Inc. archives is valuable for understanding various historical aspects of social progress. The collection can be used to study the organization's motivation for, and rewards from, preservation and conservation of natural resources. The collection documents the organization's approach to its huge undertaking of real estate and development. While some might decide to study Woodlawn's propensity for honest business management, others might choose to learn Woodlawn's art and science of urban and suburban planning. Researchers will also find signifigant material related to a private-public partnership focused on urban planning as well as land development and conservation.

The Administrative records series is organized into six subseries: Corporate vision and mission; Evolution of the corporate structure; Directors and officers; Minutes of directors' and trustees' meetings; Correspondence; and Organizations of interest to Woodlawn.

Corporate Vision and Mission subseries is a chronological file that contains William Poole Bancroft's vision for urban and suburban planning, recreational parks, and affordable housing. These documents record Bancroft's own words, as well subsequent writings by his successors. This subseries contains Bancroft's letters and speeches, and remembrances by his colleagues and successors. Reports, brief histories by contemporaries, as well as news articles articulating the mission of the Woodlawn Company and the Woodlawn Trustees, Inc.

Evolution of the Corporate Structure subseries is a set of files that reports the need for Bancroft to incorporate as The Woodlawn Company. Then understanding the benefit of a non-profit company he formed Woodlawn Trustees, Inc. in 1918, and finally dissolved the Woodlawn Company in 1926. As Bancroft's property holdings grew, a company was formed to manage a corporate approach to the additional huge acquisition of lands which were to be used for low cost housing and future parks. In 1901 he named the new organization the Woodlawn Company. This subseries is also comprised of records which report the dissolution of the for-profit Woodlawn Company in 1918 and the creation of a new non-profit Woodlawn Trustees, Inc. with the stockholders of the old company contributing all shares to the new organization. The original Certificate of Incorporation and its revisions, the by-laws of the new company and all of its amendments through 1976 are included here.

Directors and officers subseries is comprised of a list of directors and officers of the Woodlawn Company and the Woodlawn Trustees, as well as their miscellaneous correspondence from 1901 to 1981. This subseries includes a list of trustees and officers in Theodore Beck's report "The Story of Woodlawn." It also includes miscellaneous records about various subjects including property holdings, open housing, and other records provided by directors of Woodlawn.

Minutes of directors' and trustees' meetings subseries consists of very few records of the minutes of the Woodlawn Company, there are references to actions taken which affirm the Company's original mission and are included here. Also included here are minutes of meetings of the Woodlawn Trustees, dating from 1936 to 1982, which include much information further described elsewhere among boxes of Trustees' records listed in the finding aid.

Correspondence subseries contains seven letter books. Three contain correspondence of the Woodlawn Company; three contain correspondence of the Woodlawn Trustees, Inc.; and one contains a letter book of Charles Beck, dating from 1912 to 1926. There are also notes and letters to/from the directors and officers of the Woodlawn Company and the Woodlawn Trustees are included here. Letter books of Woodlawn, from 1901 to 1928, and miscellaneous correspondence of directors and officers also appear in this subseries.

Organizations of interest to Woodlawn subseries contains information about various agencies and institutions that had an impact on Woodlawn's mission or that was a charity which Woodlawn supported. Interest extended also to people who influenced Woodlawn and their employees.

Woodlawn collected information about organizations in which they were interested for various reasons. They were interested in organizations which might be competitors for real estate acquisitions, or which had the same interests in conservation and preservation of open space, or which shared Woodlawn's goal of enhancing people's social, educational and recreational quality of life, or which might impact on the welfare of city and county residents. As in all other aspects of their business, their interest in a great variety of organizations in the community was vast. Information about those organizations is collected here.

The Real estate and housing series is arranged into five subseries: Flats; Citizens Housing Corporation (CHC); Brandywine Hundred; Parks; and Leases and deeds.

The Flats subseries includes applications for rental properties and responses from Woodlawn, data about rents, lists of expenses for each building; lists of bidding specifications; furnishings; and information about construction, lists of tenants, and inspections by the Wilmington Department of License and Inspections.

Also contains information about the construction, renovation, furnishings, supplies and maintenance projects for houses in the "Flats" area of Wilmington. Oversize drawings and maps are arranged by date and placed as close as possible to the subjects of the construction and renovations.

Citizens Housing Corporation (CHC) subseries is comprised of records about the beginning of the CHC to provide low-cost housing in Wilmington's African American community. Major investors, financing and all correspondence are included. In addition, there are descriptions of the types of houses owned by the CHC, lists of addresses and rents, financial information, and expenses for maintaining the houses. Information pertaining to repairs and heating of CHC houses, expense ledgers, check stubs, bills collected by Tatnall and Wensing, as well as investment records, shareholders, dividends, tax assessments, City and County tax statements, U.S. tax returns, balance sheets, financial audits for the CHC, and events leading up to Woodlawn's purchase of CHC assets.

Brandywine Hudred subseries include survey books, descriptions of farms and records indicating that in 1922 he commissioned noted civil engineer, landscape designer, and urban planner Charles W. Leavitt to develop a master plan for future communities and thoroughfares in Brandywine Hundred. This subseries also includes lists of properties purchased, expenses for construction and renovation, and communities later developed by the Woodlawn Trustees from the 1950s through the 1970s: Alapocas, Woodbrook Edenridge, Tavistock and Sharpley. Monies from property sales and rental fees were used to maintain and renovate the low-cost housing originally constructed in Wilmington's "Flats" area. Also contains files about properties in which Woodlawn was interested for purchase, or which had an impact on Woodlawn's lands previously purchased.

Parks subseries contains files pertaining to all parks developed in the City of Wilmington and New Castle County by William P. Bancroft, the Woodlawn Company, and the Woodlawn Trustees. Reports, studies, and research papers are arranged by the date of the report. Additional files are arranged chronologically by date of the correspondence or news clippings.

This subseries includes several reports and lists of the lands transferred to the City of Wilmington for parks beginning with the purchase of Brandywine Park in 1886 to 1887. There is evidence in Scharf's History of Delaware of an unsuccessful attempt to create a park in Wilmington earlier in 1868, when funds for a park were not a priority. Much information is included on the development of a park system during the subsequent ninty-three years in the city. Bancroft's creation of the Wilmington Board of Park Commissioners in 1883 is recorded, as well as his subsequent transfer of lands to Wilmington, followed by Woodlawn's later gifts. Also included is Woodlawn's donation in 1981 of 500 acres to the State of Delaware as an addition to the already existing Brandywine Creek State Park. Records are included about the dedication ceremony for BCSP and plans for the development of greenways throughout New Castle County. There are records here also regarding park maintenance, funded by a trust fund in Wilmington created in 1935, and another trust fund for maintaining Brandywine Creek State Park.

Leases and deeds subseries includes deeds written during the period between 1862 and 1915, as well as deed restriction documents for the communities constructed in Brandywine Hundred. The deed restrictions for communities constructed by Woodlawn for seventy-five years were later suggested by a Woodlawn lawyer to be unenforceable once the properties were sold.

Financial records have been arranged into three subseries: Ledgers and journals; Financial records, journal entries, audits, and check stubs; and Staff wages and benefits.

Loose leaf and bound ledgers include segments of time between 1904 and 1985 with information about trial balances, rent accounts in the "Flats," the Citizens Housing Corporation, and the Brandywine Hundred farms. In addition, expenses for buildings in each of the three housing areas are part of this subseries. The trustees also kept records of labor distribution per housing cost estimates, general journals for properties in Pennsylvania, and analyses of net profits and quarterly income comparisons.

Financial records, journal entries, audits, and check stubs subseries contains handwritten financial records, computer generated journal entries, audits, and check stubs. In addition to audit reports, there are confirmation letters to banks for the release of account information, Woodlawn's tax information, land transaction lists, quarterly financial reports for select months, and information on tax credits for rehabilitating low-cost housing. Investment Statements and bank statements are included.

Contains files leading to an agreement with Loomis-Sayles & Company to manage Woodlawn's assets, periodically report and monitor investments, and to project future trends.

Staff wages and benefits includes records for salaries, benefits and labor distribution in select years of employment. The development of a pension plan for employees appears in the form of restatement of the plan to comply with the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1976 (ERISA). Also included is information about staff bonuses, officers' compensation, Delaware's work safety program, labor costs as part of site expenses, and bank statements for pension assets.

Legal issues series is arranged into three subseries: Woodlawn's Tax Exemption Revoked; Woodlawn's Housing Policy Challenged; and du Pont v. Woodlawn Trustees, Inc.

Woodlawn's Tax Exemption Revoked subseries: In April 1966, the Woodlawn Trustees received a notice from the U.S. Internal Revenue Service stating that Woodlawn owed the IRS $103,466 for back taxes. Woodlawn responded that their Corporation was tax exempt, and would not pay the taxes. A long process ensued to determine Woodlawn's tax status, and finally ended with Woodlawn suing the United States to recover back taxes. The following records begin with the original claim from the IRS and then all of the evidence and exhibits collected by Woodlawn during the hearings and trial.

In 1927 the U.S. Internal Revenue Service determined that Woodlawn was exempt from paying taxes. In 1963 the IRS revoked the tax exemption, declaring that the Trust was violating the Internal Revenue Code of 1954 by receiving revenues from a business unrelated to its original purpose--namely, profits from real estate rentals and sales. The revocation was made retroactive to 1951, with more than $1,000,000 owed to the federal government. This subseries contains lengthy records filed with the IRS about Woodlawn's original mission, proof of prior tax exemptions, testimony of officers of Woodlawn, the company's historical documents proving that Woodlawn's history is one of a philanthropic nature, and finally the decision of the IRS in 1972. Having first paid the amount owed to the IRS and the IRS having decided in Woodlawn's favor in the tax exemption issue, Woodlawn sued the U.S. Government for rebates on their payments and won. However, as a result of the tax law of 1969, a portion of which pertained to restrictions on non-profit institutions, Woodlawn decided to avoid the restrictions which would prohibit the company from doing its work and decided to pay all future taxes. Woodlawn continues to pay taxes today.

Woodlawn's Housing Policy Challenged subseries Contains files about Woodlawn's housing policy and the need to integrate the "Flats," as well as their properties in New Castle County. In September 1963 the Wilmington Monthly Meeting sent a letter to Philip G. Rhoads and other Woodlawn Trustees who were members of the Monthly Meeting. The letter proclaimed a need to end discrimination in all housing. The Meeting also established an Open Housing Committee, presumably to discuss open housing with the Woodlawn Trustees.

Concurrent with the 1963 revocation of its tax exemption, Woodlawn Trustees, Inc. was challenged by the Wilmington and Philadelphia Friends Meetings to adhere to the original aims and purposes of William Bancroft, claiming that Woodlawn's expansion to residential and commercial real estate activities in Brandywine Hundred was never intended by their founder. The Friends Meeting in Wilmington was also concerned that Woodlawn's housing policy was too restrictive and did not permit integration of African American families with Caucasians in Woodlawn's developed communities. Correspondence, news clippings, minutes of meetings and final agreements with the Delaware Human Relations Commission are included here.

Du Pont v. Woodlawn Trustees, Inc. subseries: As the issue of integrating Woodlawn's urban housing became more heated in 1972, the State Human Relations Commission, the City of Wilmington, the New Castle County Housing Division and the local media insisted that Woodlawn also look toward integrating Brandywine Hundred and provide homes for African Americans. Woodlawn at one point had even considered selling off all their suburban properties, due to the pressure of building upscale homes in Brandywine Hundred which they knew would either be too expensive to buy or to lease by those for whom they were intended. They decided to prepare a study to determine the feasibility and cost of building homes up to their then-current standards in Brandywine Hundred to serve an eager African-American population. The study coupled with a new Master Plan confirmed that building homes in New Castle County to satisfy the County's housing needs would be too costly and not feasible. As the integration issue was still burning, and as the Wilmington Monthly Meeting seemed more uncomfortable with the current business dealings of the Woodlawn Trustees, a third concurrent legal issue arose with an attempt by Mrs. Martha Verge du Pont to purchase a home from Woodlawn in the upscale county neighborhood of Tavistock to be used for a home for needy children. When Woodlawn refused to sell the property for that purpose, Mrs. Du Pont sued Woodlawn for discriminating against African American children who might inhabit the house. The files which follow describe the law suit of du Pont v. Woodlawn Trustees, Inc.

Woodlawn's house in Tavistock was offered for sale for $75,000, and Mrs. Martha Verge du Pont sent a deposit for $7,500 as a 10% down payment, thereby accepting Woodlawn's offer. Woodlawn, after discussion with Mrs. du Pont who planned to open a home for needy children, changed their mind and rescinded the offer. Legal action by Mrs. du Pont ensued.

Woodlawn's housing policy was again challenged in 1972 by Mrs. William du Pont who sued Woodlawn for discrimination in its housing developments. All of the records filed in the lawsuit are included in this subseries, including testimony, news clippings, and correspondence. The suit was finally dismissed with prejudice in 1974.

Public relations and communications is oranized into two series: Slides and photographs; and News Clippings, brochures and accolades.

Slides and photographs subseries consists of images used for the orientation for new Trustees, or for educating the Board of Directors about the progress of an on-going project. Frequently the slides would be used with scripts for speeches at events at which the Trustees would publicize the long term efforts of Woodlawn to preserve open space, or to tell the story of the vision of their founder William Poole Bancroft. Boxes 29, 30, and 31 contain slides, photographs and slide show scripts which would have been used for all the aforementioned purposes. The slides are arranged by title as much as possible, and by date on which the photos were taken. Only the highlights are listed.

Contains slides used for educating the Board and civic organizations. Also contains photographs of Woodlawn's properties in the City of Wilmington and New Castle County.

Woodlawn's propensity for detail was outstanding. As soon as the technology was available, the Trustees commissioned as many aerial and ground pictures of potential sites for construction, and construction-in-progress as necessary to satisfy their penchant for perfection in planning. There are slides, photographs, and collages depicting most of their construction projects beginning in the 1940s, especially later in Brandywine Hundred. In addition, when renovating the "flats," Woodlawn took full advantage of the use of photography to report progress at Board Meetings, and for presentations to the general public. Historical pictures include reproductions of a painting of William Bancroft, painted in 1906.

Newspaper clippings, brochures and accolades subseries consists of major events, people and places of interest to the Bancrofts and Woodlawn, and their employees. Also included here are records acknowledging Woodlawn's work in providing affordable housing, conservation and preservation of open space, and their donations of park land to Wilmington, New Castle County and the State of Delaware.

Reports, studies, and pamphlets series is arranged into two subseries: Research and comments about Woodlawn and studies prepared for the Woodlawn Trustees; and Materials relevant to conservation and preservation of open space.

Research and comments about Woodlawn and studies prepared for the Woodlawn Trustees subseries contains print materials which were commissioned by Woodlawn to chronicle important people, places, deeds, and events in the history of Woodlawn. Board members and Woodlawn's "neighbors," from time to time, needed chronological clarification of Woodlawn's mission and future expectations. There are reports written by professional information specialists, using board minutes, letter books, and historical correspondence to tell the story of Woodlawn for the company's future officers and employees. Included here also are materials about the Quaker faith written by those who influenced early trustees. There are also white papers developed by officers of Woodlawn's board.

Materials relevant to conservation and preservation of open space subseries are materials which would enhance the Woodlawn Trustees' understanding of better ways to preserve and conserve open space for the benefit of the general public. This subseries is comprised of print materials best describing various aspects of preservation and conservation of open space, and orderly urban and suburban planning.

The papers of William Poole Bancroft, his wife Emma C. Bancroft, and their children include family genealogies, pedigrees, and biographies, including material on the family's antecedents in England, personal correspondence, the material on their charitable activities, particularly their interest in African American education and Quaker schools and colleges, and also Samuel Bancroft Jr.'s interest in collecting Pre-Raphaelite art, which he bequeathed to the Delaware Art Museum.

Access Restrictions

Records less than 25 years old are restricted.

Language of Materials


Additional Information

Additional Description

Separated Material

Woodlawn Trustees, Incorporated photographs (Accession 2010.276), Audiovisual Collections and Digital Intiatives Department, Hagley Museum and Library.

Related Names


Finding Aid & Administrative Information

Woodlawn Trustees, Inc. records
Description rules:
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description:
Script of description:

Repository Details

Repository Details

Part of the Manuscripts and Archives Repository

PO Box 3630
Wilmington Delaware 19807 USA