The Locations of Oak Knoll Books

Opera House, New Castle

The New Castle Opera House, now home to Oak Knoll Books.

Photo taken by the author.

In 1976, Oak Knoll Books opened in a spare bedroom, and then a garage in Newark, Delaware, but its life there was a short one. In 1979, Fleck moved his business to New Castle, at 414 Delaware Street. This property had been a butcher’s shop and had all the accoutrements of the trade: In his history of Oak Knoll, entitled Books about Books, Bob Fleck describes turning the original slaughterhouse into a wine cellar and managing to store books in the dirt-laden basement. That site, too, was not a permanent home for the fledgling book shop and press. In 1985, the business moved to the Booth House on 212 Delaware Street, before expanding again to fill the newly renovated 414 Delaware Street (the basement was no longer dirt). In 1998, Fleck found that Oak Knoll had yet again run out of room, a common problem for booksellers with ever-expanding stock. It was then that Oak Knoll moved to the third floor of the New Castle Opera House at 310 Delaware Street, the building in which Oak Knoll continues to operate today. 

The New Castle Opera House was built in 1879 by the Masons and Odd Fellows of New Castle. They undertook the project shortly after the County Courthouse was moved to Wilmington, displacing New Castle as a county seat. In a grand effort to keep the town's most prominent citizens from moving, and to bolster public morale, the Masons and Odd Fellows constructed the Opera House and Masonic Lodge. Interestingly enough, the Masons hired the very architect who was in the process of designing the dreaded new courthouse: Theophilus P. Chandler, Jr. Chandler was perhaps the most important architect working in Philadelphia - he founded the Department of Architecture at the University of Pennsylvania and even designed an addition to Winterthur, a du Pont estate that is now a renowned decorative arts museum. The courthouse was razed forty years later, but New Castle's Opera House still stands, continuing to act as it was described during the Ceremonies of Dedication when it opened: as a "spirit of enterprise and energy." Now home to Oak Knoll Books and Press, as well as other local businesses, the Opera House serves as an important architectural feature of New Castle.

The Locations of Oak Knoll Books