Governor William Tharp Watson House

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In the late 1800’s, North Walnut Street in Milford was shown on many atlases as vacant land, and even after Peter Lofland built his stately home on the north side of town in an effort to promote development north of Front Street, most buildings were still erected to the east of the Lofland home. One notable exception occurred in 1906 when William Tharp Watson built a mansion for his family, 9 years after he left the Governor’s office.

William Tharp Watson was born June 22, 1849, the son of Bethuel Watson and Ruth Tharp Watson Carlisle. In 1857, William’s father died of typhoid and, not long after, his mother married Manlove “MR” Carlisle, a member of another prominent Milford family. William came from a long line of politicians. His grandfather, William Tharp, was elected Governor in 1847 after Thomas Stockton died in office. His sister, Annie, married John Causey, the son of another Delaware governor, Peter F. Causey. In addition, William’s father, Bethuel also served in the 1857 General Assembly.

William attended Washington College in Chestertown, Maryland before moving to Philadelphia. There, he met and married Harriet Bazelton Beale, and they had one son, William Tharp Watson Jr, who was born September 12, 1875. William worked as a grain trader while in Philadelphia, but did not find the business profitable, and the Watson’s returned to Milford in 1882. After his return to his birthplace, William began a prosperous career with the Delaware Maryland and Virginia Railroads, as well as the First National Bank.

In 1884, William, a Democrat, was elected to the State House, but did not feel as if he had met the residency requirements set forth by the Delaware constitution. He declined to take the seat, and waited 8 years before running again. In 1892, William won a seat in the General Assembly and served in the 1893-94 sessions and named Speaker of the Senate for the 1895-96 sessions.

Governor Joshua H. Marvil was the first Republican governor elected in Delaware in 32 years. Governor Marvil, who was from Laurel, was in poor health while campaigning for the Governor’s office, and in April 1895, he died suddenly. Rules of succession at that time required that the Speaker of the Senate be named Governor should the current Governor become unable to serve. William Tharp Watson was sworn in on April 8, 1895.

During this period, Republicans held the majority of the General Assembly, and were in the process of electing a United States Senator. Henry A. DuPont and J. Edward “Gas” Addicks were vying for the seat, yet neither had a majority of the votes. When the Speaker of the Senate became Governor, it was believed that Henry A. DuPont would now have the majority of the votes. In a move unprecedented by a sitting Governor, William Tharp Watson returned to his senate seat and cast a vote in the U.S. Senate seat election. At the time, the Delaware constitution did not address the question of whether or not Governor Watson was eligible to do so. This action led to the creation of the independent Attorney General’s Office and the issue was addressed in the Delaware Constitution of 1897.

After leaving political office in 1897, Governor Watson returned to Milford where he built a home at 600 N. Walnut Street. The home is a 2-story center-hall design, and the foundation was raised to make the home appear more massive. It has a full porch with wings to each side, and the porch roof is supported by massive round columns. The wings have hip roofs with extended overhangs, and the roof of the main house has four dormers.

In addition to the magnificent home that stands today, there are many outbuildings that still stand that were built to serve the main house. These outbuildings include a brick carriage house and servant’s quarters, laundry and a stable. Because this home was built in a less-developed area of Milford, the home has remained relatively unchanged since being built in 1906 and stands as a monument to Milford’s contribution to Delaware’s political development over the years.