The State of Delaware is one of the smallest in the United States, but it is filled with historically important locations. As the first state to sign the Constitution creating the United States, it is incredibly important. The national parks in Delaware pay tribute to this rich heritage.
The First State National Historical Park has six different sites spread throughout Delaware state, telling the state’s history and culture in great detail. Beyond First State NHP, a number of the National Park Service heritage trails cross through the state.
These are the four affiliated Delaware national parks sites:
First State National Historical Park
This particular historical park in Delaware spans several of the state’s most important historical sites and tourist attractions. Each First State National Historical Park site has an information center to put the site into the broader historical context and making visitors feel welcome. The park’s sites lie primarily in Delaware, although extend partly up the Brandywine Valley into the Chadds Ford area of Pennsylvania.
Below are the main sites covered by the park:
New Castle Court House
Dating back to 1732, New Castle Court House played a pivotal role in shaping US history. New Castle Court House acted as a meeting point for the Delaware colonial assembly. From here, they declared their independence both from England, but also from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in 1776. Take note of the court house’s balcony where the declaration was read.
The site is also important for African Americans as notable abolitionists Thomas Garrett and John Hunn stood trial here for assisting enslaved people to freedom.
The New Castle Court House is owned by the State of Delaware and overseen by the state, rather than the National Park Service.
The Dover Green is a historical site originally created in 1717, but based on William Penn’s original concept from 1683. Over the years, this green lawn has played host to several notable historical events.
For instance, the Declaration of Independence in Dover was read here in 1776. This site was also used by the Continental Army for mustering regiments in the Revolutionary War. After the British naval attack on New Castle in 1777, the state capital was moved here. The state house building was built near Dover Green. And, at a tavern on the edge of the green, Delaware became the first state to ratify the new Constitution of the United States in 1787.
Beaver Valley is a piece of land purchased by an industrialist and conservationist named William Poole Bancroft in the early 1900s. William’s main goal was to preserve the entire area along the Brandywine River for future generations. The Beaver Valley section of the First State Historical Park is located in New Castle County and is due north of Brandywine Creek State Park.
This particular valley is the largest single site within the First State National Historical Park and spans over 1,100 acres, with a small portion crossing over into southeastern Pennsylvania. Some of the recreational activities visitors can indulge in include biking, horseback riding, hiking, and kayaking. Beaver Valley has rolling farmsteads and scenic forests once home to the Quakers who came with William Penn.
This is the original location where the colonialists who established New Sweden in 1638 settled in the Delaware Valley. However, the more the colony grew, the more it spread across the state and up the Brandywine Valley, leading to more outposts being established in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
Fort Christina is a landmark with a large monument that honors the contribution of the Swedes in the New World. There are also log cabins that demonstrate the role played by Swedish colonists in America.
Old Swedes Church
Old Swedes’ Church is where the New Sweden Colony was established close to Fort Christina. Over time, the city of Wilmington grew and the church now essentially sits right near downtown.
Among the oldest churches in the United States, Old Swedes was built in 1698 using Swedish bricks there were initially used as ballast on ships by the early American colonists.
A house in the churchyard known as the Hendrickson House dates back to 1690, currently the oldest Swedish home in the state. The building is now a museum displaying Swedish colonial history. Visiting the Old Swedes Church and the museum is one of the top Wilmington attractions.
John Dickinson Plantation
This historical site was the former home of John Dickinson, one of the nation’s founding fathers. Dickinson was known as the “Penman of the Revolution.” Despite his advocating for freedom, Dickinson was a slave holder – a seeming contradiction that is discussed at length at the site.
Built in 1740, John Dickinson Plantation is a National Historic Landmark with historic burial grounds, museums, churches, forts, and wooded areas that are worth exploring. The site does a good job of explaining the lives of the early Americans – both free and enslaved.
Beyond First State National Historical Park, three of the heritage trails established by the National Park Service cross through the state:
Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail
Spanning the states of Maryland, Virginia, Delaware as well as the District of Columbia, this historic trail covers to 3000 miles. The Chesapeake National Historic Trail follows the Chesapeake Bay, one of the nation’s largest estuaries, as well as it major tributaries.
The trail includes routes that date back to the 1607 and 1609 voyages by John Smith Chesapeake to chart the Chesapeake Bay, surrounding lands and waterways.
Tourists can engage in numerous recreational activities, such as kayaking, canoeing, sailing, and even wildlife watching along the banks of the bay. This historic trail also focuses on the buildings, sites, farms and important landmarks near the bay.
Chesapeake Bay Gateways and Water Trails Network
This water trail focuses on the Chesapeake Bay, the largest estuary in North America covering over 64,000 square miles watershed in Washington DC, Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New York, Virginia, and West Virginia. The water trail network connects over 170 sites, all situated within the Chesapeake Bay region.
The purpose of the Chesapeake Bay Water Trail Network is to tell the story of the connection between nature and the local people through their communities, historic sites, museums, parks, and wildlife refuges. In other words, the connection between the people and this unique land. Of course, that also offers opportunities for both land and water recreational activities.
If you don’t want to get your feet wet while exploring, then a tour to the Bay’s museum is ideal. There is plenty of history and cultural heritage that history buffs will undoubtedly appreciate. Some of the popular recreational activities include fishing, touring, kayaking, crabbing, and wildlife viewing. The animals found in the Chesapeake Bay area include of the bald eagle, lynx, tundra swan, mitten crab, and the lion’s mane jellyfish.
Washington-Rochambeau Revolutionary Route National Historic Trail
The Washington-Rochambeau Revolutionary Route National Historic Trail follows the journey of the Colonial and French soldiers during the Revolutionary War. The trail goes from Rhode Island to Virginia, passing through Delaware along the way, as it follows the soldier’s journey to victory.
Within the First State, the trail passes a number of notable historic sites, including: the Robinson House, Cauffiel House, Dr. John A Brown House, Hale-Byrnes House, the Cooch’s Bridge Battlefield, Cooch-Dayett Mill, and the Pencader Heritage Museum.
The First State National Historical Park highlights a number of outstanding important sites in Delaware. What is your favorite Delaware national park site?