Bancroft Mills

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For the former weaving shed in Barnoldswick, Lancashire, United Kingdom, see Bancroft Shed.
Bancroft and Sons Cotton Mills
Inside Bancroft.JPG
Bancroft Mills in 2005
Location Rockford Road, Wilmington, Delaware
Built 1787
Governing body Private
NRHP Reference # 84000439
Added to NRHP 1984-12-20

Bancroft Mills is an abandoned mill complex along Brandywine Creek in Wilmington, Delaware, United States. It has been the site of some of the earliest and most famous mills near Wilmington and was the largest and longest running complex along the Brandywine.

"Gilpin's Mill on the Brandywine" attributed to Thomas Doughty circa 1827

Gilpin Mills was opened on the site in 1787 and was the first paper mill in Delaware. Bancroft Mills was opened in 1831 by Joseph Bancroft (1803 – 1874), an English immigrant who had worked in the Midlands textile industry. The mill was rebuilt following an 1839 flood and was expanded several times, including a large 1895 expansion. Separately Riddle Mills were built in 1845, on neighboring land and grew rapidly. The mills were consolidated in 1895 by the Bancroft family partnership, which was soon reformed into a corporation. In 1880, at half of its future size, Bancroft Mills was described as the largest cotton finishing mill in the United States, and in 1930 it was described as one of the largest cotton finishing works in the world.[1]

Samuel Bancroft ca. 1919

By the 1880s the firm was controlled by Samuel Bancroft who became the publisher of the Wilmington newspaper Every Evening and a major philanthropist. His collection of pre-Raphaelite paintings formed the basis of the Delaware Art Museum.[2]

His brother William Poole Bancroft donated nearby land to start Wilmington's extensive park system, and his donation for a public library is also considered the beginning of the Wilmington Public Library.[1]

While the Riddle Mills produced high-quality cloth, the Bancroft Mills were noted for their technological innovation and for finishing cloth that had been produced elsewhere. They were especially noted for producing fabric window shades. Bancroft introduced the mercerizing process into the United States, and pioneered the use of synthetic fabrics in weaving. They introduced the first permanent crease fabrics and Ban-Lon.[1]

As textile producers left the northeastern United States for the southern states, Bancroft Mills closed in 1961.

The complex was recently owned by Wilmington Piece Dye company which went bankrupt in May 2003. The site was then bought by O'Neill Properties Group, a company specializing in the renovation and revitalization of disused or potentially dangerous parcels of land. Bancroft Mills is scheduled to become a large luxury condominium complex, to be called Rockford Falls. Today the complex stands as a reminder of the significant milling history of the Brandywine Valley.

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