The Town of Smyrna began on the southern bank of Duck Creek, near the fork of Green’s Branch. According to A Brief History of Smyrna, Delaware, written by Smyrna resident George L. Caley:
A writer was even once quoted as stating, “It may come as a surprise to many town dwellers that Smyrna is really a suburb of Duck Creek.” In 1716, this tiny village was first named “Salisbury;” however, it was also known to its inhabitants as “Duck Creek.” Duck Creek soon became a thriving community of merchant vessels. Along with the shipping of grain, lumber, peaches, and eventually fertilizer, shipbuilding became a prominent business.
About one mile south of Duck Creek, two major thoroughfares formed what was known as “Duck Creek Crossroads.” This site later came to be known as the “Four Corners,” what is today the intersection of Main and Commerce streets.
The Duck Creek Crossroads, which once served only as a village without any exact boundaries, from 1768 to 1806, was finally changed to Smyrna by rule of the Delaware General Assembly. The original boundaries were one-fourth of a mile in each direction from the crossroads, which are now called the Four Corners.
The exact path to how the name of Smyrna came about is unknown, but two versions of its origination have been offered. The first explanation is often described as the version that is found in the history books. This side ventured into the idea that at the time commerce and trade in Duck Creed was thriving, Smyrna standing as an excellent Biblical port name was the obvious choice.
The second version of the town name selection is better known as the untold story. This version has been most passed on by oral tradition. A preacher by the name of Francis Asbury, during one of his several explorations through the crossroads and Duck Creek Village, provided a soul-searching sermon for those who were in attendance. The sermon, or otherwise an excerpt from the second chapter of “The Revelation,” in which St. John wrote to the inundated parishioners of the Smyrna, Turkey, warning them of the difficulty that lay ahead. St. John encouraged the people to remain faithful until death so that God would bestow upon them a crown of life. Asbury’s dynamic sermon, served as inspiration and revelation to many of the early Methodists present that day, who were convicted of their sins and thus saved. Even further, some of the people who were in attendance on that fateful day became prominent influences in the growing life of the Cross Roads. When the time came to choose a name for the town, Smyrna was their top choice because of Asbury’s powerful sermon. With the new name in place and the final progression of Duck Creek Cross Roads to Smyrna Village, the town of Smyrna served as the new reality while the Duck Creek Cross Roads became a memory of the past.
In 1832, Delaware’s first railroad went into operation and in 1852 the Delaware Railroad Company was organized. Construction of a north-south line that connected the agricultural communities of Kent and Sussex Counties with markets in Wilmington, Philadelphia, and Baltimore commenced.
In the Fall of 1855, the line passed through Clayton – then known as Smyrna Station. On January 1, 1857, the Philadelphia, Wilmington, and Baltimore (PW&B) Railroad began operations on this line.
In 1860, the town’s name was changed to Clayton in honor of John M. Clayton, a former United States Secretary of State from Delaware and strong advocate for the railroad.
The town and its shops served as a regional hub for the Delaware Railroad, the Maryland & Delaware Railroad, the Spur Line to Smyrna, and the Smyrna and Delaware Bay Railroad. A line extended east to the Delaware Bay at Bombay Hook. Another line extended southwest through the Maryland towns of Goldsboro, Greensboro, Ridgely, Queen Anne, and Easton.
From 1885 through 1920, Clayton was Division Headquarters for the PW&B. A bitter rivalry between the owners of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad and the Pennsylvania Railroad eventually led to PRR control of the PW&B.
Declining passenger traffic and the effects of regulation caused the bankruptcy of several northeastern lines in the latter half of the Twentieth Century. The PRR, once the largest publicly traded corporation in the world, was not immune and filed for bankruptcy in 1970.