Yellowstone National Park, back on March 1, 1872 was officially the first unit of the National Park Service. In the years that followed, the park system flourished, adding 400 sites under its watch.
In 141 years, not one of those was located in the state of Delaware. Not a trail, not a seashore, not even a national heritage area crept in on its borders. It was without a singular stamp for the National Park Passport Program, which has issued thousands of stamps for all the various sites as well as the separate entities within each park. Needless to say, travelers sticking to the National Park game plan had no reason at all to visit Delaware.
Until now. In March of last year, trumpeted by efforts of our Delawarean VP Joe Biden, the First State National Monument became the first National Park site on Delaware soil.
The Park is a hodgepodge of Delaware’s various antiquities, like the old government buildings that dot the Dover and New Castle “Green”‘s, respectively. These historic areas have always had state protection, but are essentially being further recognized and protected through the new act, perhaps with a little extra funding (but, from what I hear, that promises to be minimal, at best). The Woodlawn Tract, a portion of the Brandywine Creek area (that abuts into Pennsylvania) was also included. To be honest – and I’ve visited Delaware several times for several years (albeit mostly Southern Delaware) – I’ve never heard of the Woodlawn Tract or am aware of its historical significance. That said, if it’s part of the Brandywine River area it’s likely quite beautiful.
Perhaps of most significance to the geo-oddity world is the New Castle Courthouse (now Museum), which sits in the New Castle Green area. The cupola (dome) of this building served as the center of the famous Twelve-Mile Circle, forming the northern circular boundary of Delaware (it also inspired a fantastic blog on the subject of geo-oddities in general).
Anyway, cutting to the chase, I had put off a visit to this “first park in the first state” for a few months now, making sure the park had secured the stamps from Eastern National for my passport. I finally had an opportunity to drive through Dover on a cold Sunday last weekend and visited the Green – which I’ve always bypassed on other drives through the town. I was told the Old State House had the park stamp, but is only open from 1-4:30 p.m. on Sundays. Well, here’s a timeline of my visit…
1:32 p.m. – Parked the car.
1:33 p.m. – Was greeted by a friendly park guide who quickly retrieved the stamp for me.
1:36 p.m. – Was told there is not much left of the Old State House that was here during the original construction The floorboards were of the era (transplanted from another building) and the beams were original. Everything else was set designed to match the time.
1:38 p.m. – Got some insight into the influx of visitors (“they are here, like you, for the stamp,” says the guide).
1:41 p.m. – Got back into the car and drove off.
Nine minutes. Nine minutes was really all it took to see the Old State House. It’s only one room (and if you’ve been to Independence Hall in Philadelphia, it’s basically a bite-sized version in look and style). The scene is beautiful and walking around the area of the Green would be tempting on any other day when it’s not 20 degrees out, but there really isn’t much to it. Hey, if it gets a few more folks to enter Delaware and bolster the economy a bit, then I guess its working.
These units have been managed the state for awhile (and will basically continue to be for the foreseeable future, there is no sign of the NPS anywhere outside of the stamp itself) and the National Park designation seems a tad forced. A more official visitor’s center is apparently being designed for the Sheriffs Office in New Castle, but details seem to be scarce. For now, though, stamp collectors will revel in the opportunity to cross off another area in the list and see a part of the country that often gets (unfairly) forgotten. You can’t complain with that, right?
Delaware’s biggest attractions continue to include Dover Downs and the Speedway, Winterthur Gardens and the miles of beaches. Going for something historic probably won’t sway the masses. That said, if they ever decide to give anything else a National Park designation in Delaware, I’d certainly put my vote in for Cape Henlopen State Park (which I wrote about last year). I’ve always thought that stretch of coastline, in pure beauty alone, stood right up there with the more southerly Assateague National Seashore.