Tag Archives: Delaware

“A Simple But Impressive Ceremony”

James Betelle’s death is one of the more curious aspects of his story.  He died in Italy, ending up in an unmarked pauper’s grave, while in Delaware, a stone with his name on it sits quietly in an old cemetery. How did he come to be buried (as it were), in two places?

I’ve already known from his will he desired  to be buried at his family plot in Wilmington, the stone being evidence of that. And yet, upon his death in Florence on June 3rd, 1954, he was buried there, and not returned to the U.S. per his request. Why?

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Down Wilmington Way


In March, 2008, I took a three-day excursion to James Betelle’s hometown of Wilmington, Delaware. My plan was to visit a few research libraries, see significant locations, and, well, just get a sense of where Betelle came from. What follows is a recreation of the trip presented in the dramatic diary format.

Thursday, March 13.
6:30 pm: After an early dinner, kissed the wife and boy and saddled up in the Volvo. I left like a sad-sack businessman trudging off to a shower curtain manufacturer’s convention in Boise—except it would be Delaware and a dead architect. Programmed my stops into the ludicrously indispensable GPS and headed down through the swamps of Jersey.

9 pm: Arrived at the outskirts of Wilmington on a US Route-type highway—the kind peppered with strip malls, theme restaurants and carpet stores. Taking in this bland vista I joked to myself, “no wonder Betelle left.” Yes, you tend to talk to yourself on long solo drives. My hotel, a Courtyard by Marriott, was down a short access road, flanked by two others like circling wagons.

As I pulled into the lot, I noticed across the road a TGI Fridays, a Lone Star Steakhouse and an Olive Garden—a culinary trove. A very tall, thin gentleman in a purple suit bearing the name tag “Stretch” checked me in. The room was decent and had internet access, but the view of the dumpsters was not particularly inspiring.

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Unfinished Stones

After a 4-6 week wait, I finally received a copy of James Betelle’s will from the New Jersey State Archives (along with some court documents, which I will discuss at a later date).

I had already seen a few pages from a 1930 version, acquired from the American Institute of Architect’s archives. Written when Betelle was still clearly successful, The ’30 draft earmarks donations to various institutions in his name, and directing his estate be left to his associates, Charles Bauer and Grant AC Behee.

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“New School Buildings, State of Delaware”

The following excerpts are from a lengthy article by Betelle that appeared in The American Architect, Vol. CXVII, Number 2321, June 16, 1920. In it, he outlines the roots of Pierre S. duPont’s epic rural school-building plan for the State of Delaware and the civic, educational and personal benefits it would bring to the citizens of that State. Written before any of the structures were completed, the article was accompanied by beautiful pen & ink drawings and floor plans of many of the school designs.


New School Buildings, State of Delaware
By James O. Betelle, A.I.A

Illustrated by the work of Guilbert & Betelle, Architects for the Delaware School Auxiliary Association, a corporation organized for the purpose of expanding the duPont Fund for new School Buildings to be built in the State of Delaware.

The school building program now in progress throughout the State of Delaware is at once the most interesting and probably the most important that has ever been undertaken by any state.

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