By Shuan Butcher
Delaware played a key role during the Revolutionary War and in the founding of our country. It got its nickname as “The First State” because it was the first to ratify the U.S. Constitution. The signing took place at the Golden Fleece Tavern on Dover’s Public Square, now called The Green. Although the tavern doesn’t exist today, there are a number of fantastic places along The Green that make up part of the First State Heritage Park.
Start your activities at the John Bell House, which is Dover’s oldest surviving frame building and has been recently restored. It also serves as the park’s interpretive center. From there, take a docent-guided walking tour of The Green and tour the Old State House. This building was completed in 1791 and served as the capitol until 1933. Many of the museums in Dover also offer free admission making it an affordable place to visit.
A short walk away from there is the Delaware Public Archives, the third oldest archives in the country. This WPA building from 1930s has an amazing collection that you can tour. You can check out the original ratification document from 1787 signifying Delaware’s support of the new U.S. Constitution.
Make sure you visit John Dickinson’s Planation. Known as Poplar Hall, this 1740 mansion highlights the many contributions this Founding Father and his family made to our country. Sometimes referred to as “The Penman of the Revolution,” he helped write the Articles of Confederation and signed the U.S. Constitution. There is an active demonstration farm on the property as well, so be sure to check out a number of programs on weaving, cooking, and blacksmithing, to name a few.
Kent County, Delaware has a number of quaint villages to explore just outside of Dover as well. One of them is Smyrna, where the Historic Belmont Hall is located. Built in 1773, this was the home of patriot and former Gov. Thomas Collins. This beautiful mansion has an interesting history too. Reportedly, a Sentinel standing guard in the Watch Tower was mortally shot by the British in 1777. In addition, family lore states that Delaware leaders met here when it was too dangerous to meet in New Castle during the Revolutionary War. Belmont Hall is open for special events throughout the year and can be toured on certain Saturdays and by appointment.