Much of the east coast of what is now the USA and Canada was claimed by England after the 1492 Cabot Expedition and by 1610 modern day Delaware was considered to be part of the colony of Virginia. However, there was little settlement in this area until in 1624 the Dutch West India Company started to set up trading posts. They named their colonial province ‘New Netherland’. The Company attracted few settlers, which caused friction with Peter Miniut, the Director-General of the colony. The friction resulted in Minuit being recalled but he promptly did a deal with the Swedish South Company to set up a Swedish colony called ‘New Sweden’ on the Delaware River. They set up a Swedish trading post in 1638 and by 1644 there were settlers living along both sides of the river. Both Dutch and Swedish settlers suffered setbacks, such as the destruction in 1632 of the Dutch Zwaanendael settlement by Indians with no survivors, but they persevered. In 1655 the Dutch recaptured New Sweden. They remained until 1664 when the English decided to enforce their earlier claim and expelled the Dutch. Under English rule the land was divided in to three counties, but Pennsylvania and Maryland both cast envious eyes over them. William Penn won, he leased the counties to provide access to the sea for the Province of Pennsylvania. In 1776, shortly after the beginning of the revolution, the three counties formed Delaware State. In 1787 Delaware was the first state to ratify the United States Constitution.
Legislative Hall, Dover
Maybe it is because it was the first US state, but Delaware happily ignores a couple of US traditions. It has no State Capitol, instead the building that houses its legislative chambers is known as Legislative Hall. Unlike many other states the building is not designed to look like the Federal Capitol in Washington DC. Legislative Hall looks as though it is a product of the colonial era, but in reality it dates back only to 1933. It replaced the Old State House dating back to 1791. The Colonial Revival style Legislative Hall was designed by by E. William Martin and Norman Isham. Isham had worked on the restoration of Old Colony House in Newport, Rhode Island and that building clearly influenced his design. The two wings were added to the building between 1965 and 1970. The laws that have come from this building have made Delaware a business friendly environment and as a result over 50% of US publicly traded companies are incorporated in Delaware. The state is does not impose a sales tax, so when shopping the price on the ticket is the price that you pay.
Lewes & Rehoboth canal at Lewes
Much of the Atlantic coast of Delaware, Maryland and Virginia is protected by a chain of barrier islands, but there is a gap approaching the mouth of Delaware Bay which forced ships into the open Atlantic. A canal to provide a sheltered route for freight ships between Rehoboth Bay and Delaware Bay was proposed back in 1803, but it was not until 1913 that construction work commenced. The Lewes & Rehoboth Canal opened in 1916 by which time much of the sea freight had moved to rails or road transport. The canal was little used for its intended purpose but is a popular route for leisure craft.
Raymond Pool, Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge
Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge is a 64.7 square kilometre(15,978 acre) area of tidal salt marsh on the shore of Delaware Bay. The refuge protects one of the largest remaining expanses of tidal salt marsh in the mid-Atlantic region of the USA. It attracts a wide range of birds, some staying year round, some making it their winter home and others just stopping to recharge their batteries during their migration. While most of the refuge is salt marsh, some parts used to be farmed and a relic of those days is a preserved farm house. Abraham Allee was the son of a Huguenot refugee from France. He inherited the land from his father and around 1753 he built a farm house, which still stands. Allee House was restored in 1966 and opened to the public. At the time of writing it was undergoing further restoration and temporarily closed to the public. Click Tab 2 to see a picture of Allee House in Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge.
Odessa Bank & Brick Hotel, Odessa
In 1721 a toll bridge was built over Appoquinimink Creek and the town of Cantwell's Bridge sprang up beside it, named after the owner of the toll bridge. The creek was navigable from the bridge to Delaware Bay so the town thrived as a port handling wheat, corn, tobacco, and other produce. By 1855 railroads were taking business away from the port and local opposition had prevented the railroad from coming to the town. The townsfolk tried to arrest the decline by renaming the town Odessa after the well known port then in Russia, now in Ukraine. The name change failed to halt the decline and, as a result, the centre of Odessa is a beautifully preserved 19th century US town, provided you ignore the wide tarmac road now running through the middle. The Odessa Bank building on the left was designed by Philadelphia architect Samuel Sloan in around 1855. It is now used as the Visitor Center. The Brick Hotel on the right was built around 1822 and it was where merchants and ships captains stayed during the heyday of Cantwell’s Bridge.
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Governor Ross Mansion, Seaford
In the south west of Delaware, in an area that in the early colonial days was part of Maryland, is the town of Seaford. The town was named after the English town of Seaford in East Sussex, but unlike the town from which it gained its name, Seaford in Delaware is in an inland location standing on the Nanticoke River. William Ross was born in Laurel, Delaware in 1814. In 1851 at the age of 36 he became the youngest Governor of Delaware. He served until 1855 and his achievements included facilitating the construction of the Delaware Railroad. In 1859 he built an Italianate style mansion at his plantation just north of Seaford. Ross was a slave owner so at the outbreak of the Civil war he openly supported the Confederate side while Delaware joined the Union side. He was forced to flee to England for the duration of the war, and when he returned he had lost much of his wealth. His mansion still stands complete with slave quarters and has been preserved by the Seaford Historical Society. Unfortunately when we passed through the area it was not open, the Governor Ross Mansion opens to the public on Saturdays and Sundays. Click Tab 2 to see some of the outbuildings at the mansion.
Harbor of Refuge Lighthouse from Ferry
One way to appreciate the maritime location of Delaware is to take the 26 km (16 mile) ferry trip from Cape May in New Jersey to Lewes. The mouth of Delaware Bay is exposed to the open Atlantic Ocean so in bad weather the crossing can be very rough. The lack of a sheltered harbour on the Delaware side was a serious problem, so in 1825 an act of Congress authorized the construction of a breakwater off of Cape Henlopen to the west of Lewes. The breakwater was not completed until 1869. By the late 19th century naval ships had begun to grow larger, requiring deeper water than the 4.8 metres (16 feet) available in the harbour. Construction of a new breakwater further out from the original one commenced in 1892 and was completed in 1901. Initially the breakwater was marked with temporary lights but 1906 work began to build a lighthouse at the southern end of the breakwater. To save money, the brick superstructure originally planned was replaced by a wooden structure. The Harbor of Refuge Lighthouse was completed in 1908 but it proved to be no match for the wild Atlantic Ocean weather. Storms in 1918 and 1920 physically moved the lighthouse off its foundations and in 1924 it was replaced by a temporary light. A new cast iron lighthouse was built in 1926 and it has survived hurricane force winds. The current Harbor of Refuge Lighthouse was automated in 1973 and is still used as a navigational aid.
We have other pages on Delaware. Click below or on the Minimap: