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Day 76 (11.16.07) - Delaware Here We Come!

Yes, we finally made it to Delaware. We stopped in New Castle on a whim and stayed for two days!

0 °F


Miles Driven - 80 (From Strasburg, PA, through a small corner of MA, then into Newark DE and across)
Weather - Overcast & cool
Camped at New Castle, Wal-mart


Before we left the campground this morning, I asked where I could get Propane. They gave me a map saying about a mile and a half down the road was an Amish farm that sold propane. So after slapping more duct tape on the RV, off we went. (After all those repairs I did before we left, it still leaks). Down the road a mile and a half we turned left, then left again at the third farm on the left. We went down a long driveway to the back barn and found an office where the farmer sold propane as well as other misc. farm supplies. This was a normal looking place except for the Amish horse & buggy of another customer parked outside the office (and maybe cloths hung out on a line to dry instead of in a dryer, and in November, rather drab cloths come to think of it). The folks in the office wore the traditional Amish cloths such as we'd learned about yesterday and spoke Pennsylvania Dutch (I believe this is an anglicazation of "Deutsch", the German word for German, which the Amish speak). If I hadn't forgotten most of my German, I wouldn't have had any trouble understanding them. But they spoke English to me and filled up my propane at a fairly good price.

We continued south, driving through more rural, Pennsylvania farmland. We just started passing some suburban housing when we saw the Maryland sign. Hmm, most of the time we can barely tell the difference when we cross a state line. Sometimes (like this), there's a big difference. I suppose it has to do with land use or zoning policies. For today however we were determined to get to Delaware, so we just drove through the top corner of Maryland. At least we can attest that the top corner of Maryland still had nice fall colors when we drove through it today!

We quickly found out that the University of Delaware is right across the next border in Newark, Delaware. It's probably a very good school, but I think all of the classes let out for lunch at the same time and 90% or more of their students cross Hwy 273, which we were on, on their way to lunch. Three months later, we finally made it passed the University and I pulled into a shopping mall so we could check the internet for Wal-marts. When Mom had one of her prescriptions filled in Maine, they only gave her a 30 day supply and no refills. This was just about gone, so we needed to find another pharmacy so Mom could call her Doctor and get a new prescription faxed & filled. We picked out the Wal-mart pharmecy in Milford so she could make the appropriate phone calls (this time, they specified 5 refills I think), then decided to head to New Castle and see what was there. Delaware is only 12 miles across at this point, so I figured we could be in Milford by nightfall.

By the way, none of the tour books we had listed much for Delaware. I've learned since that the state has been something of a butt for jokes because of it's lack of tourism promotion (Wayne's World and a Simpson's TV episode I believe). We had seen a slight reference to a historic district in New Castle however, so thought we'd check it out. We almost missed it, there was only one small sign on the highway and it wasn't really clear where to turn - so we almost ended up on a big bridge back to New Jersey, but I turned around quickly and got back on the road to downtown New Castle.

It wasn't really clear where we were supposed to go once we got into town, so I parked and looked around for somebody to ask. One building said something about City offices, so I went inside. They gave me a brochure for a "New Castle Heritage Trail" and suggested we start in the old courthouse. I figured it was too cold for Mom, but went back to let her know and to my surprise, she also wanted to check it out. While she complains about the cold, I think it's the rain that she really doesn't like, cold seems to be OK. At any event, we bundled up and headed off to the courhouse.


Before we even closed the door behind us, Janet came up to welcome and greet us and quickly began filling us in on all the interesting Delaware history and background about the Old Courthouse that the tour guides seem to have missed! Janet was a wealth of knowledge. Delaware was claimed by the Dutch, Swedes, and British. The Dutch came first, but their 1631 settlement further south didn't survive. The Swedes settled in the Wilmington area, then Pieter Stuyvesant established Fort Casimir in 1651 to solidify Holland's claim on the area. The town grew up around the fort, which no longer survives except for perhaps a sign and this model of it in the Old Courthouse.


The town changed hands several times over the next few years between the Dutch, British, and Swedish until finally the British captured the area for good. This painting hangs in the Old Courthouse to represent many of the different people who claimed this area, including the original owners, the Lenni-Lenape.


Having solidified their claim to the territory, the British named it in honor of Thomas West, Lord De La Warr, first governor of Virginia.


William Penn requested the area, which he was granted, so he could secure access to his colony of Pennslyvania (Penn had called the area Sylvania, latin for woods, but King Charles II renamed it Pennsylvania to honor Penn's father). When Wm. Penn first came to America in 1682, he landed at New Castle. In order to create an adequate buffer for this territory from the river, they drew an 12 mile arc from the cupola on the top of the old courthouse. Delaware is still the only state where part of the state line is a perfect arc. Also, since the purpose of the area was to secure Penn's rights to the Delaware river, the state line runs along the low tide mark on the New Jersey side of the river, not the center of the channel as is the normal practice. There is currently a case in the U.S. Supreme Court to challenge this!

Here is a picture of Wm. Penn when he was about 22. A couple of years later he became Quaker and would no longer wear armor. He established the Colony of Pennsylvania (in payment for loan his father had earlier made to the King) was to provide a place where religious freedom was tolerated and invited Quakers, Amish and others to settle there. By the way, the Colony of Pennsylvania never made money for the Penn family.


So now that Delaware is set up as a British Colony (or at least the three lower counties of Pennsylvania), New Castle became the capital of the lower colonies. When the original courthouse burned down in 1729, a new, larger courthouse was built in in 1732. The lower floor was a proper British courtroom. Three judges sat on a raised platform at the head of the courtroom. A witness box was off to the side for people giving testimony. Lawyers sat at tables in the center. Like Valley Forge, these had baize (hand loomed wool) table cloths to make it easier to write with quill pens. The defendant sat behind a rail, not with their lawyer as they do today. The general public sat on benches behind the defendant's box.


By the way, we've often been running just ahead of things as they close down for the season (or sometimes behind) - this time we got really lucky. They have just renovated the Old Courthouse, it had only been reopened for a month when we got here! It was quite interesting sitting in a 1700's English style courtroom, but it really got interesting when we went upstairs. The upstairs room is where the Colonial Assembly met. On June 15, 1776, this is where the representatives from the three 'lower counties' met and voted to not only break away from Britian, but also from Pennsylvania (the more liberal Delawarian's had never been a very good fit for Wm. Penn's Quaker or conservative counties up north).

June 15th is still a state holiday in Delaware called "Separation Day".


(There were more paintings upstairs of the Delaware delegates to the Constitutional Assembly in Philadelphia, but I was afraid I'd be there three weeks if I tried to capture all of them).

Finally, one of the rooms in one of the newer wings has been set up to tell the story of Emeline Hawkins and her family. Emeline awkins was a slave in Maryland, when in 1845, she and her family fled to escape slavery. Delaware was a slave state, but was very torn and even remained with the Union during the Civil War. Emeline and her family were captured and brought to trial in New Castle, where they also received support from abolitionists. If you can't get to New Castle, you can follow the whole story here:



I was also curious why New Castle is such a small town, when it was in fact older and more storied than others. There are a couple of reasons for this. During the Revolutionary War, the Colonials were concerned about the town's security, afterall the British controlled the Delaware River during most of the war. Therefore, they transferred the Colony's capital to Dover, which was further inland so not as much at risk.

Another reason New Castle flourished at first is because it was a major crossing point between cities to the north and south. Many passengers would transfer between small boats (packet boats) and stagecoaches to ride between Philadelphia and Maryland. Plum Alley was the path between the boat landing and stagecoach stop.


New Castle's harbor wasn't very deep however, so over time boat traffic moved to Wilmington, which had a better harbor. New Castle still got a fair amount of ferry traffic between New Jersey and southern states however. After the Old Courthouse was no longer needed as a government building, it became a restaraunt, serving such notables as Shirley Temple, here with her parents, passing through on the ferry.


Even this died away however when the Delaware Memorial Bridge was completed in 1951. (This is the one we almost got stuck on by accident!) This picture is from Battery Park in New Castle, so you can see how close the bridge is to the town.


After all this is was too dark to head south afterall. Mom & I had learned about a few more things we might want to see in New Castle anyway, so we headed off to the local Wal-mart for the night (there weren't any RV campgrounds around, in fact there are only 5 open this time of year in all of Delaware!). We called the WM farther south and found out Mom's prescription wasn't ready yet anyway - so we'll stay here another day and head south tomorrow.

Delaware may not promote themselves very much, but we're finding they are just like all the other states we've been in - there's more to see here then we'll have time for!

Posted by jl98584 15:57 Archived in USA Tagged family_travel

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