Over in Dover

Originally published on 26 July 2012.

Did you know Delaware is the first state that ratified our constitution? It is! I learned lots of fun things on my trip to Dover, Delaware, to visit some friends.


And even if you knew that, I’m willing to bet you didn’t know this: Delaware didn’t separate from Pennsylvania as a colony until June 15 1776–just three weeks before all 13 colonies declared independence from England. They were the last Colony! People in New Castle, DE, still celebrate this because New Castle was the first capitol city of DE. Have you ever noticed that PA is mostly land-locked? So how did Philly get to be such a prominent city when access to the Atlantic was so important? Apparently, William Penn convinced the Duke of York to give him the land that is now Delaware because of the Delaware River, which empties into the Delaware Bay, which empties into the Atlantic Ocean–owning Delaware meant PA wouldn’t have to pay taxes to use someone else’s waterways. All about taxes, my friends!

Anyway, Delaware got on the ball when they became their own entity. (Although there were border and land-ownership issues all the way up till the 1930s!) One of the great heroes of Delaware is a man by the name of Caesar Rodney. He lived in Dover at the time of the Revolution, and he since he also acted as Governor, he was also the Delaware representative at the Continental Congress. Representatives from all 13 colonies left the convention to go discuss the possibility of declaring independence from England, and everyone was supposed to come back to vote a while later. Well, Delaware decided to vote yes, but they needed to get to Philadelphia to actually submit the vote. Who was determined enough to ride 14 hours straight and make it there by morning in time to vote YES… Caesar Rodney, of course! And actually, this is a significant ride for other reasons as well. Mr. Rodney was not in the best of health–he was plagued with asthma and other health problems–the all-night ride actually worsened his health and probably hurried along his eventual death. Soldiers were not the only ones who gave their lives for freedom. Next time you look at a Delaware state quarter, take a look on the back to see good ol’ Caesar riding onward to Independence.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. As I said before, William Penn actually started things up in Delaware. He even mapped out Dover in 1717, and they still use the same grid layout today. They have these two open fields in front of the Old State House called “The Green,” which is sort of the center of the town. The Old State House is this beautiful building from 1791, and to me it looked like the picturesque setting for the time period it represents. It really impressed me how the paint wasn’t caked on in several layers, artifacts had been well-taken care of, the rooms were set up just right; it was as if the state senators and representatives of old would walk in at any moment! The docent ho led me through the Old State House was a nice, older gentleman named Tom who is very passionate about what he does–and even more passionate about the “unsung hero” of the American Revolution, Allan McLane. Mr. McLane actually was quite an interesting and influential character in the American Revolution, as well as one of the signers who made Delaware the first state!

I spent a good hour and a half or so in there, so by the time I got finished up, I was hungry for some lunch! Sean and Jenna had recommended a couple of places, so I picked the Dover Newsstand Cafe, since I knew I’d passed that one along the way. Let’s just say I was a bit underwhelmed. The food was fine, but the service was rude. Oh well. I was hungry enough to eat whatever she threw at me.

Moving right along… now it’s time for a walking tour! Tom, my friend from the Old State House, told me to make sure I went to the John Bell House next door and take their tour, which starts every hour on the hour. The Bell House was very interesting all on its own because it is the oldest standing wooden structure in town–it still has the original studs on the walls! It’s had to be restored throughout the years, but much of the structure is original to the 1700s. Pretty impressive! The guide was a nice man named Mike, and bless his heart… the city requires that he wear the full Colonial garb, hat, coat, and all–whew! It was a hot day for me in shorts and a sleeveless top, so I can just imagine how hot he must have been! But he did it with a smile on his face and without complaint–kudos to Mike! He was a good guide, too.

Something I found interesting on the tour was Dr. James Tilton’s house. Dr. Tilton was not only some guy from Dover, DE, he was a rebel! He not only advocated for women’s rights in the 1700s, he was also a revolutionary physician. He was the person who first started separating people by WHAT was wrong with them (as opposed to “sick” or “not sick”), and he linked many diseases to mosquitos, which no one else had ever realized before. Oh, and while he was Surgeon General of the US, he directed his own surgery by watching what was happening in a mirror and telling his assistants what to do. That’s a man. Oh goodness.

Original studs from the Bell House

My fellow tourists and I found out that The Green was not only a public square–a place for people to gather for community events–was also used for military drills. There are accounts of soldiers practicing drill here as well as times when people gathered here to say goodbye to the troops as they  marched off to war. We walked around to a few of the surrounding buildings, but none caught my attention quite like the site of the Golden Fleece Tavern.

As you may know, Taverns were not just for drinking, they were the places where people would go for a hot meal, a spot on a bed, lectures, and meetings, among other things. One such meeting we know of happened there in 1787: The ratification of the U.S. Constitution. Yes, THIS is the place where the decisions were made and the papers were signed making Delaware the very first state of the United States of America on December 7, 1787. And how do we know it happened at this tavern and not somewhere else? Because we have the bill from the meeting: room rental fee, food, etc. are all included for this day and a day or two surrounding the date. This is a lesson to all: keep your receipts!

Delaware’s very own Liberty Bell

Also of interest is the fact that Dover’s first fire company was the Robbins Hose Company, which was totally volunteer–and today Dover is the only capitol city in the nation with an all-volunteer fire department. Better be nice to your neighbors!

Dover has several other history tours dealing with the underground railroad, women’s history, ghosts and a couple of others, but unfortunately they do not occur on Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday–the only days I’d be there. But when I told Mike that I’m a tour guide, he offered to tell me more stories from the other tours–woohoo! I got to hear about the first murder by mail (called the poison candy murders) and more about the settlement of Delaware, which involved Swedes, Marylanders, Dutch, Pennsylvanians, and maybe another group or two.

Well by then it was time to head out! My friends got off work around 3:00, so they picked me up and we set out for Fifer’s Orchard! It’s a farmers’ market near their house, and I’ll just be honest with you… it’s IMPRESSIVE! We picked blueberries (I think more of them made it into my tummy than into the bucket, though) and the Pattersons got all kinds of veggies for canning–yum! They have milk products there, baked goods, james, honey, etc., etc., etc. Definitely a delicious experience!


We went back to their house to put away the goods and set out for… sushi! =) They showed me this fabulous place called Rice. Who knew Dover would have such good sushi? But the best is yet to come… ice cream from Byler’s! It’s an Amish grocery store (see the picture of the horse and buggy in the picture link below), and they truly have some of the best, creamiest ice cream ever–big scoops, too! Love it. I got black cherry, and there were entire fresh cherries chopped up in there! Amazing.

It was a grand day in Dover! Stay tuned, more fun to come!

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