History of the Brandywine Tower

Many people in Northern New Castle County irreverently refer to the tower as the fire tower. This is totally incorrect since the tower was never used as a fire spotting tower. According to the records I have been able to find, the tower was built in the late 1940s by Western Union as a microwave relay station. It became part of the cold war defense communications system between New York and Washington. One half of two of the walls of the room on the platform are fiberglass and there were originally two microwave dishes mounted inside pointing out through those panels, one mounted above the other on massive iron racks. There were additional side mounted dishes on two of the legs. For more info on the cold war defense communications system, there is an EXELLENT web site at http://coldwar-c4i.net/.

Western Union abandoned the site and the county seized it for back taxes. A company in New Jersey bought it from the county for the back taxes as an investment and tried to rent out space. They managed to draw three customers. Two commercial remote base two way radio systems were installed there as well as a microwave relay system carrying HBO and Prism to the local cable TV operator from a MDS system in Philadelphia.

The Delaware Repeater Association had its Amateur Radio (HAM) repeater up there as a public service, free of charge in return for minor maintenance and keeping the property up. The DRA received a letter stating basically that if the “following” were not done in 30 days, their equipment would be confiscated. The “following” was three pages of things including painting the tower which would be really stupid since it is not required to be painted and it is galvanized. I saw that letter and immediately contacted them asking how much they wanted for it. We agreed on a price and I became the proud owner of the Brandywine Tower. At the time I had no idea of the historic past it had.

Very soon after I bought it, the Cable operator moved out leaving me with more expenses than income, but I started doing some strategic marketing and managed to get it making money again. Then in 1979 two of us got together and formed Delaware Amateur Supply, selling and servicing ham radio equipment. Since I had the tower, the obvious extension was to open a two way radio shop of my own, which I did in the upstars loft of the radio store. That two-way company was Brandywine Communications Service. I started selling radios to and servicing radio equipment for many local companies.

One day the district sales manager for the E.F. Johnson walked into the store, being a ham radio operator himself. He saw the meager commercial radio display I had in the store and asked if I wanted to become a Johnson Dealer. I scraped the money together for the initial stocking order and became the Johnson dealer for New Castle County, Delaware and Cecil County, Maryland. Things were slow until they offered to give me an SMRS license that they had on a tower owned by their then owner, Western Union, of all companies licensed on a tower in Elkton, MD. We found that there would be problems moving the license from Elkton, MD to my tower. We negotiated a deal with the licensee of a system in Atlantic City, NJ to allow me to construct my system closer than the 75 mile distance required by the FCC at the time in exchange for allowing him to move his system in Kaolin, PA to my tower rent free and hook the two systems together to form a 10 channel system instead of two 5 channel ones. With any trunking system, the more channels you have together, the more efficient the whole system becomes. They failed to load their system by the deadline and lost their license so the deal was over and I became the only Johnson Trunking system in Wilmington for awhile.

Along came Nextel buying up 800 MHZ radio spectrum to build their nationwide system and I sold my system to them and continued to rent them the space for the system until they decommissioned all the analog systems that they bought and used the channels for their digital system. Right after I sold the trunking system we sold Delaware Amateur Supply to Ham Radio Outlet, based in Anaheim, California. I bought my partner out of his interest in Brandywine Communications Service and sold the whole company to Delaware Communications and Electronics the next day.

My partner went back to his autobody work full time and I ended up working for Delaware Technical & Community College as the Telecommunications Manager for both the Stanton and Wilmington Campuses. I still operate the tower with the help of my oldest ally, the Delaware Repeater Association doing all the minor maintenance. They don’t pay any rent but I look at it as giving back to the whole community due to the public service activities that the club is involved in, providing communications for all the charity walks and runs, not to mention, running doctors and nurses to the hospitals during the blizzards that hit the area. During the blizzard of 1996, I was out on the road transporting emergency personnel from 9:30 AM until 2:30 the next morning to St. Francis and Christiana hospitals. Pennsylvania had decreed that any vehicle caught on the road would be stopped and ticketed. We had a special waiver to enter PA to pick up a surgeon to perform emergency surgery. The PA State Police met our member at the border, escorted him to the doctor’s house, and then back to the border. A couple of hours later the Delaware State Police called on us for help. Our dispatcher sent that same member to a development near the tower. We all got a good laugh when he announced that he had to pull a Delaware State Police humvee out of a snowbank!