Delaware: The first state in history and antiques

The site of Delaware’s original Dutch settlement in 1631, the sophisticated community of Lewes celebrated its 375th anniversary in 2006. Centuries-old houses that once were home to ship pilots still line the historic streets. Built in 1931 to commemorate the 300-year anniversary of the arrival of the first Dutch settlers, Zwaanendael Museum is a replica of the Town Hall in Hoorn, the Netherlands. Its displays highlight the area’s maritime heritage with colonial, Dutch and Native-American displays.
Open during the summer months, the Lewes Historical Society Complex includes a dozen restored buildings that have been moved to one site to replicate an earlier era. The circa-1785 Burton-Ingram House, which has been nationally recognized for its architectural importance, is furnished with outstanding antiques, including Chippendale and Rittenhouse furniture.

The David Rowland House was renamed Cannonball House after it was struck by a cannonball during the War of 1812. Since the 1970s it has housed a maritime museum.

Delaware’s capital city was laid out by William Penn in 1777. The Delaware Agricultural Museum & Village honors the state’s rural heritage. Wander through the Exhibit Hall to learn how Delaware farmers benefited from, and contributed to, technological advances in agriculture. Then step outside to Loockerman Landing Village, a replica of an 1890s town, and tour the general store, church, school and farmhouse. Three state museums are located within a block of each other in the downtown area. The Johnson Victrola Museum honors Delaware native Eldridge Reeves Johnson, who founded Victor Talking Machines Co. in 1901. (Johnson was a competitor to Thomas Edison.) This museum features an extensive collection of Victor Talking Machines, including a 1920s Victrola dealer’s store, cabinet Victrolas and early records. Don’t miss Nipper, the dog that became the trademark for RCA as he listened for his master’s voice. The Delaware Museum of Small Town Life has exhibits relating to Delaware communities a century ago. See a general store, carpenter’s shop, pharmacy and working print shop. The Delaware Archaeology Museum encompasses more than 11,000 years of history, with exhibits ranging from the last Ice Age in North America to the 20th century. Other attractions include the Air Mobility Command Museum at Dover Air Force Base and the Delaware State Police Museum & Educational Center.

New Castle
The first capital of Delaware, New Castle was one of the state’s earliest settlements. Three signers of the Declaration of Independence lived here: George Read I, Thomas McKean and George Ross Jr. Today it is a popular destination for those who enjoy history and architecture. The Read House and Gardens is consistently ranked one of America’s best house museums. This 22-room Federal-style mansion, with opulent furnishings, was originally built by George Read II. Built around 1730, the Amstel House is an elegant brick Georgian-style mansion. A governor lived here, signers of the Declaration of Independence met friends here, and George Washington attended a wedding in the parlor. Visitors today see fine architectural details and colonial furnishings. The Dutch House is believed to be Delaware’s oldest dwelling in its original form. It was built in the late 17th century when the town was a bustling port for Dutch, English, Swedish and Finnish settlers. It’s furnished today with Dutch colonial antiques. Built in 1732, the Old Court House served as the meeting place for Delaware’s colonial assembly when this city was the state’s capital.

A town that began as a small Swedish settlement in the 17th century is now known as the chemical capital of the world because it is the headquarters for DuPont. The Hagley Museum & Library is on the site of the gunpowder company founded by E.I. du Pont in 1802. (According to Wikipedia, the correct spelling of the Du Pont family name is du Pont when quoting an individual’s full name and Du Pont when speaking of the family as a whole. The chemical company logo has a space, but company communications have no space.) The 235-acre site includes restored mills, a workers’ community plus the ancestral home and gardens of the Du Pont family.

 Hagley Museum offers visitors a glimpse of 200 years of Du Pont history through interactive displays. Known as Eleutherian Mills, the first Du Pont home in America was built in 1803. Today visitors at the Georgian-style mansion see antiques and memorabilia belonging to five generations of this family. Nearby, the First Office was built in 1837 and served as the company hub for half a century. See the typewriters, ledgers and telegraph key so vital to the business.

The Nemours Mansion and Gardens, country estate of Alfred I. du Pont, is currently closed for major renovations. The Delaware Art Museum focuses on American art and illustration from the 19th century through the present, and works of the English pre-Raphaelite movement of the mid-19th century.