Dover in the county of Kent. Much in Delaware seems very familiar to anyone who knows their way around England. However there is a major difference between the English Dover and the Delaware Dover, the former is a major port on the English Channel while the latter is inland. Dover was founded in 1683 as the county seat of Kent by William Penn when he leased the three counties that now form Delaware. In 1776 when the three counties formed the state Newcastle was named its capital. Because of its location on the shore of Delaware Bay, Newcastle proved to be vulnerable to seaborne British raids, so in 1777 the capital moved to inland Dover. It has remained there ever since. Modern Dover is a relatively small city with a population of less than 40,000 people. The main industry of the city is state and county government plus Dover Air Force Base to the south east.
Old State House, The Green
Having become the first US state in 1787, the next step was to provide a permanent home for its government. The State House was completed in 1791. Until 1873 it also served as the Kent County Courthouse. The building was extended by adding wings between 1836 and 1922, and it continued to serve as the state capitol until 1933 when the new and larger Legislative Hall was completed. The Old State House was restored to its original appearance in 1976 and is open to the public free of charge.
John Dickinson Plantation
In 1739 Samuel Dickinson moved his family from Maryland to a piece of land then on a bend in the St Jones River south east of Dover known as Jones Neck. The river has since changed course so the neck no longer exists. Dickinson was a Quaker tobacco planter, merchant and judge and his son John was at the time seven years old. At Jones Neck Samuel built a house completed in 1740 on a 5,300 hectare (13,000 acre) plantation. The house was extended in the 1750s and passed to John Dickinson who became a lawyer and politician. Apart from the Plantation John also had homes in Philadelphia and later Wilmington. During the revolution he was a member of the Continental Congress that wrote the Declaration of the Independence, and a delegate to the Constitutional Convention. The house was damaged during a 1781 British raid and in 1804 it was severely damaged by fire. John Dickinson died in 1808 but his family continued to own the house until 1933. In 1952 the National Society of the Colonial Dames of America purchased the mansion with 5 hectares (12 acres) of land and donated it to the State of Delaware. The house at the John Dickinson Plantation has been restored and several outbuildings have been reconstructed, including a smoke house. Click Tab 2 to see the Plantation Smoke House.
The Green & Court House
Although William Penn founded Dover in 1683, it was not until 1717 that surveyors laid the the town out. The design featured three public squares, one of which was named The Green. This became the central hub of Dover and hence The Green was where the State House was built. Nowadays it is a tree-shaded square surrounded by historic buildings, some dating back to colonial times. The building with the tower is the Kent County Courthouse built 1874-5 after the court moved out of the State House. The Green forms part of First State National Historical Park.
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Schwartz Center for the Arts, State Street
Dover Opera House was built in 1904 and used as a venue for staging plays and live vaudeville performances. It was also used for political conventions. In 1923 George M. Schwartz purchased the opera house. He updated it so that it could be used as a cinema and he renamed it the Capitol Theater. George Schwartz died in 1942 but his wife Reba and daughter Muriel kept it going. It continued to be successful until the decline of cinemas in the 1970s and 1980s. The Capitol Theater closed its doors in 1982. Civic leaders initiated efforts to restore the derelict building in 1994 leading to the purchase of it by the Friends of Capitol Theater. It was restored and opened as the Schwartz Center for the Arts on October 19, 2001.
Golden Fleece Tavern, The Green & State Streets
The Golden Fleece Tavern (also known as Battell’s Tavern) dates back to the colonial 1730s. During the Revolutionary War it became a hotbed of resistance to British rule. When the capital of Delaware moved to Dover the government had to use existing buildings until the State House was completed in 1791. The tavern was used as the temporary meeting place of the Legislative Council, the Upper House of the Delaware Assembly. Hence it was in this modest building that on December 7, 1787 Delaware became the first state to ratify the US Constitution.