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Walking tour celebrates history of Arden community

ARDEN, Del. — In the early 20th century, residents of the newly established Arden community were such free thinkers they ran the gamut from anarchists to socialists, with a few communists thrown in.

"We had everything but nudists," said Ruth Bean, a longtime Arden resident, adding that a few residents may have occasionally skinny dipped after hours in the community swimming pool.

More than 100 years later, that live-and-let-live spirit still pervades the wooded community founded in 1900 as a single-tax colony where residents own their homes but pay land rent under 99-year leases. During the heyday of the single-tax movement there were 17 such colonies in the nation. Today, Arden, Ardentown and Ardencroft are three of the survivors, according to Barbara Macklem, who is a member of the museum and archives committee of the Arden Craft Shop Museum on Millers Road and Cherry Lane. The only other remaining colony is Fairhope, Ala., according to the Fairhope Single Tax Corp. website.

Every year, that uniqueness of the colony draws writers, artists, university students, single-tax advocates, social history researchers and the curious to Arden, Macklem said. With that in mind, the museum has developed a self-guided walking tour of the community that was launched this month along with its annual exhibit.

Housed in a 1900 building that was constructed as a crafts shop and community gathering place, the exhibit features furniture, pottery, paintings, sculpture and graphics created by Ardenites over the years. "A Walk Through the Ardens: Treasures, Talents and Tales," also includes photographs that provide a visual record of the colony's history.

Some of the highlights of the tour include "Jungalow," a 1910 structure occupied by American writer Upton Sinclair for several years. In 1911, Sinclair, a tennis player, along with several other "liberals" who played baseball were arrested in violation of a 1793 statute that prohibited "gaming on the Sabbath," according to "Delaware: A Guide to the First State," written by the Federal Writers' Project in 1938.

The group of 11 spent the night in the New Castle County Workhouse.

"The charges were dropped because they threatened to expose the DuPont Co. executives who played golf on Sundays," Macklem said.

After their release, Sinclair and others described the prison's intolerable conditions and the need for reform to the national journalists who had descended on the state.

Other buildings on the tour include the home of one of Arden's founder, Frank Stephens, and Greengate, a cottage designed by founder William Price. The open-air Frank Stephens Memorial Theater where Shakespeare plays are performed every summer is also featured.

Today, some families have lived in Arden for five generations. Most residents, like Bean, chose Arden for uniqueness - eccentricities and all.

June Kleban, 89, who has lived in Arden for 59 years, said when she was house hunting after World War II, the new suburban development sprouting in Brandywine Hundred didn't suit her family.

"We didn't want just a plot," she said.

Information from: The News Journal of Wilmington, Del.,