Dover Post
  • Work underway to restore landmark Dover mansion

  • A landmark Dover home is undergoing a major renovation to preserve it for future generations.
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    • About Dr. Henry Ridgely

      Dr. Henry Ridgely, after preparing for college at Dwight’s Gymnasium, New Haven, Conn., became a student at St. Mary’s College, Md., where he graduated with honors. His preceptor as ...

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      About Dr. Henry Ridgely

      Dr. Henry Ridgely, after preparing for college at Dwight’s Gymnasium, New Haven, Conn., became a student at St. Mary’s College, Md., where he graduated with honors. His preceptor as a student of medicine was Dr. Samuel Randolph of Philadelphia, and he received his diploma after the two year’s course then required from the University of Pennsylvania, in 1839. He had studied for this profession with a view of entering the U.S. Navy as surgeon, but was persuaded by his aunt, the widow of Chancellor Ridgely, to relinquish this design.

      He has given much attention to agriculture, and is an extensive land-owner. Dr. Ridgely became, in 1846, the third president of the Farmers’ Bank of Dover; his predecessors were his father and his father-in-law. In 1864, he became a director of the Kent County Mutual Fire Insurance Company, and afterwards the president. He has been largely identified with the public affairs of Dover, and has proved a truly patriotic and public-spirited citizen. Having been one of the earliest promoters of the building of the Delaware railroad and among the first directors and a large subscriber towards its completion, he continued to act upon its board of directors until 1866.

      The manner of his separation from that body was characteristic. A controversy, which resulted in a suit at law, having arisen between the peach raisers of the state and the railroad, Mr. Ridgely, in spite of his heavy financial interest in the road, took the part of the peach-raisers, whom he regarded as having been aggrieved. Through his testimony and his financial aid, the suit was decided against the company.

      The passing of the railroad through the town of Dover is due to Mr. Ridgely’s influence. To him also is largely due the organization of the Citizens’ Building and Loan Association, which has accomplished so much for the growth and improvement of the town.

      As a conservative Democrat, Mr. Ridgely has taken some part in political affairs, although his distaste for political life in general is so great as to have caused him to refuse more than once a nomination to the highest office in the gift of the state. In 1856, he was a delegate to the Cincinnati convention, which nominated James Buchanan as president; and the legislature of Delaware appointed him to represent the state in the Peace Congress of 1861.

      Henry Ridgely was married, Nov. 1, 1843, to Virginia E. Jenkins, daughter of Jonathan Jenkins, an honored citizen of Kent County and an influential member of the Society of Friends.

      Mr. and Mrs. Ridgely had four children, of whom the only survivor is Ruth Ann, who was first married to Richard Harrington, Esq., now deceased, a lawyer of Dover, and son of the late Chancellor Harrington, and after his death to Dr. James H. Wilson, of Dover.

      Mrs. Virginia E. Ridgely died May 26, 1896. Mr. Ridgely was again married, July 1, 1897, to Annie J. Kemp, of Easton, Md.

      Henry Ridgely has been for many years a member of the Episcopal Church, in which he serves a as vestryman and senior warden.

      (Additional note: Dr. Ridgely died Sept. 17, 1904; he is buried in the Christ Episcopal Cemetery, Dover.)

       [Summarized from the Biographical and Genealogical History of the State of Delaware, Volume I, published by J. M. Runk & Co., Chambersburg, PA., 1899, submitted by Mary Kay Krogman] 

  • One of Dover’s best known landmarks is about to get a new lease on life.
    The Dr. Henry Ridgely House, a three-story mansion at the corner of Division and South State streets has been purchased by the firm of Baird Mandalas Brockstedt, and is being renovated for use as law offices.
    The building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places through the Victorian Dover Historic District.
    “We were looking for a large space because we’re growing,” said Kevin Baird, managing partner of Baird Mandalas Brockstedt. “That building has a lot of space and it has a lot of character. We thought it would make an excellent building for a law firm.”
    Baird said the firm paid $340,000 for the building, and expects to spend at least that much on renovations.
    Described as “a fine brick mansion,” in the Delawarean newspaper of July 31, 1869, Ridgely had the home built in the wildly popular Italian Renaissance style.
    “It’s got some very beautiful architecture and you just don’t see that in modern buildings,” Baird said. “It has a lot of character and an interesting history.”
    Ridgely, who was 57 years old when his home was completed, was a well-known physician and his home, with offices and waiting rooms on the first floor, was one of the most modern in Dover.
    The house has a number of interesting features, most prominently a five-story tower, which allowed Ridgely to see across the city to his ancestral home of Eden Hill.
    Keeping it original
    Renovation work on the Ridgely house is being done with that purpose in mind, said Cameron Llewellyn, president of Tidemark Construction, which is managing the restoration project.
    Although some alterations are necessary to bring the home up to building codes and to make it handicap accessible, much more is being done to keep as much of the original fabric as possible, Llewellyn said.
    The northeast corner of the house, which apparently served as examining rooms, was accessible to the public via a waiting room off Division Street, he said. What was a large dining room will become the firm’s reception area and the southeast corner will be turned into a conference room.
    “We don’t really have any documentation telling us what that room was – we think it was a living room – but I can tell you it’s pretty cool,” Llewellyn said.
    Troy Adams of Mountain Consulting has drafted plans to landscape the rear of the home to include 10 parking spaces. Some of that work includes replacing diseased trees or those hampering construction of a handicap ramp. Those plans are to be reviewed by Dover’s Historic District Commission on April 17.
    Page 2 of 2 - With approval from the HDC, work will begin in earnest, Llewellyn said. Water damaged walls and floors must be repaired and cracks caused by settling need to be stabilized. Some of the work done in later decades that divided the home into five apartments will be reversed as well, he said. The ceiling in the planned reception area will be replaced, but its delicate plaster accents will be duplicated.
    Most of the downstairs rooms have ornate but fragile plaster cornices, which must be thoroughly cleaned and stabilized, he said. Floors and staircases will be sanded and refinished and molding for electrical wiring now crisscrossing the walls will be removed and the wires hidden.
    All of the projected work and resulting attention to detail had some people wondering why the Ridgely house and others in Dover couldn’t be kept as residences, Llewellyn said. It’s a good, but cost prohibitive idea, he said.
    “Something like that would cost north of $1 million,” he said. “There just aren’t too many people willing to invest that kind of money into a home on a busy corner in Dover where you can’t even have a garage.”
    Its firms like Baird Mandalas Brockstedt that are responsible for saving some of Dover’s cherished old homes, Llewellyn said.
    “Between real estate developers, accountants and lawyers, they’re pretty much responsible for preserving the building stock,” he said.
    For more photos and more information about Dr. Henry Ridgely, visit doverpost.com.
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