Rockford Park in Wilmington’s Highlands neighborhood has one of the most recognizable landmarks in the city – the Rockford Tower.
In 1889, William Pool Bancroft (1835-1928), a Wilmington industrialist, philanthropist, and park advocate gifted 59 acres of land to the city to establish Rockford Park. Through land acquisitions over the intervening years, today’s park is made up of more than 104 acres of meadow and woodland that forms an integral part of Wilmington’s greenways network. A memorial to Bancroft, erected in 1937, overlooks the land donated by him. The inscription reads, in part, “A good citizen, of a singular modesty and sincerity, his utmost thought of himself might have been expressed ‘I pray thee then, write me as one who loved his fellow men.’”
Prominently positioned at the top of the hill is Rockford Tower, a 115-foot tall stone water tower. Construction began in 1899 and was completed in 1901. A key link in Wilmington’s water system, the tower opened to the public in 1903 and is still a popular destination. During the Wilmington State Parks’ Summer Concert Series, the tower is open and visitors can climb the 132 steps to the observatory and enjoy the view.
The only sculpture in the Wilmington State Parks linked to the duPont family is that of Rear Admiral Samuel Francis DuPont (1803-1865), which stands at the 19th Street entrance to the park. The bronze statue was installed in D.C.’s DuPont Circle in 1884 and moved to Rockford Park in 1920 where it was placed on an ornate, locally crafted granite base. DuPont’s Naval career spanned nearly 50 years, beginning at the age of twelve as a midshipman aboard the U.S.S. Franklin. He retired from the military in 1863 and died two years later.
A seven-foot granite bench overlooking the Brandywine River is a memorial to William Marriott Canby (1831-1904), the first president of the Wilmington Board of Park Commissioners. Canby was a firm and successful proponent of preserving the natural topography and appearance of Rockford Park. He was president of the Wilmington Savings Fund Society from 1880 to 1904 and an early director of the Wilmington Fountain Society. An avid botanist, specializing in insectivorous plants, his collection of preserved plant specimens numbered in the tens of thousands.