First State National Historical Park

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First State National Historical Park
New Castle Court House Museum.jpg
New Castle Court House
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Location New Castle / Kent / Sussex counties, Delaware and Delaware County, Pennsylvania, United States
Nearest city Dover, Lewes, New Castle, and Wilmington, Delaware
Coordinates 39°39′53″N75°33′55″W / 39.66472°N 75.56528°W / 39.66472; -75.56528 Coordinates: 39°39′53″N75°33′55″W / 39.66472°N 75.56528°W / 39.66472; -75.56528
CreatedMarch 25, 2013 (2013-March-25)
Governing body National Park Service, State
Website First State National Historical Park

First State National Historical Park is a National Park Service unit which lies primarily in the state of Delaware but which extends partly into Pennsylvania in Chadds Ford. Initially created as First State National Monument by President Barack Obama under the Antiquities Act on March 25, 2013, the park was later redesignated as First State National Historical Park by Congress. [1] [2]


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New Castle Green


The park covers the early colonial history of Delaware and the role Delaware played in the establishment of the nation, leading up to it being the first state to ratify the U.S. Constitution. It tells the unique story of the early settlement of the Delaware Valley by the Dutch, Swedes, Finns, and English and their relationship with Native Americans. It also seeks to preserve the cultural landscape of the Brandywine River Valley. [3]

Russ Smith, the park's first superintendent, described its mission in part as, "I think it's... the recognition that it's not all about Jamestown and Plymouth Rock. There were 13 different traditions established in the 1600s that came together in 1776. The designation helps shine a light on that story. The way this place differs from other places is the diversity of the settlement. You had Dutch, Swedes, Finns, then the English, the Germans. The Netherlands were like the melting pot of Europe. So you had the Germans there, the French, the Belgians, and all these people were here in the Delaware Valley in the 1600s. You had that diversity and you also had a tradition of tolerance. As I tell people, while Virginia was jailing Baptists and New England was burning Quakers, there was freedom of religion on the Delaware River even before William Penn arrived. There is a common misconception that the English were the only ones who had any kind of representative government, and so that's where we got it. Well, the Netherlands were a Republic. The Swedes were not an absolute monarchy, so there was a tradition of self-determination as well." [4]


The sites contained within the park are:

New Castle Court House, Green, and Sheriff's House

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Sheriff's House

The New Castle Court House, which dates back to 1730, is one of the oldest courthouses in the country and played a role in a number of historic events that shaped the nation. The cupola of the Court House is the center of a 12 mile circle that forms the border between Delaware, Pennsylvania, and Maryland; the most famous attempt to survey these borders, incorporating the circle, was the Mason-Dixon line. The building was used as the meeting place for Delaware's colonial assembly, and was where the assembly voted in favor of independence from both Pennsylvania and England in 1776. The Declaration of Independence was read from the Court House's second floor balcony, and Delaware's first Constitution was drafted and adopted here. U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Chase was impeached over his actions in the Court House during a trial in 1800. In 1848, U.S. Chief Justice Roger Taney presided over a series of trials in the Court House when prominent Quaker abolitionists and Underground Railroad conductors Thomas Garrett and John Hunn were accused of violating the Fugitive Slave Act. The Garrett trial was an inspiration to Harriet Beecher Stowe for certain scenes in Uncle Tom's Cabin .

The New Castle Green was first laid out as a town common in the 1650s by the Dutch colonists who founded New Castle. It is located a block away from the spot where William Penn first arrived in America in 1682, and is bounded by several historic structures, including the Court House, the 1809 federal Arsenal, and the 1703 Immanuel Episcopal Church on the Green where founder George Read is buried. The Sheriff's House, built in 1857, abuts the Court House and will eventually serve as First State National Historical Park's headquarters and Visitor's Center.

The Court House and the Green are owned by the state of Delaware, with the National Park Service owning a conservation easement on them. The Sheriff's House is owned by the National Park Service.

Dover Green

Dover Green Dover Green, Dover, DE.jpg
Dover Green

The Dover Green was first laid out as a public space in 1717 by William Penn's surveyors, and has been host to several historic events. [5] The Declaration of Independence was read to the citizens of Dover from the Green in 1776, and it was the site of the mustering of a Continental Army regiment during the Revolution. When the proximity of the British navy threatened New Castle, the state changed its capital city to Dover in 1777, and a State House was built just off the Green in 1787. At a tavern which once stood on the Green, a convention ratified the Constitution on December 7, 1787, making Delaware the first state.

The Green is owned by the city of Dover, with the National Park Service owning a conservation easement. It is approximately 40 miles south of the park headquarters in New Castle.

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Beaver Valley

Brandywine Valley

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Brandywine Valley

Brandywine Valley (formerly Beaver Valley) consists of land originally purchased in the early 1900s by Quaker industrialist and conservationist William Poole Bancroft, whose goal it was to preserve as much land as possible along the Brandywine River to ensure its scenic rural beauty remained for future generations as the cities of Wilmington and Philadelphia continued to expand. Much of the land has remained unchanged since it was set aside for preservation, and it includes forests and rolling farmsteads that were once primarily settled by the Quakers who followed Penn to America. The tract is adjacent to Delaware's Brandywine Creek State Park, and the Brandywine Valley National Scenic Byway runs through it.

Brandywine Valley is owned by the National Park Service. It is approximately 12 miles north of the park headquarters in New Castle. Brandywine Valley is the largest component of First State National Historical Park, comprising 1,100 acres (220 of which extend into southeastern Pennsylvania). It is open for recreational activities such as hiking, horseback riding, biking, and kayaking.

Fort Christina

Fort Christina monument

Located in Wilmington, Fort Christina is an enclosed park that preserves the original landing site, known as "The Rocks," of the colonists who established New Sweden in 1638, the first European settlement in the Delaware Valley. After negotiating with the local Leni Lenape to purchase the land, the settlers disembarked from their ships, the Fogel Grip and Kalmar Nyckel , and built a fort and town at this site. As the colony grew, more settlers arrived and spread out, establishing outposts in New Jersey, outside present-day Philadelphia, and along the Brandywine River.

The park is a National Historic Landmark and includes a monument by Swedish sculptor Carl Milles that was donated by Sweden for the colony's tricentennial anniversary. The park also includes a reconstructed Swedish log cabin, to recognize one of the more important contributions the colonists made to America.

Old Swedes' Church

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Old Swedes' Church

Old Swedes' Church is located in Wilmington about a block from Fort Christina, where the New Sweden colony was first established. Built in 1698, it is one of the oldest churches in the United States. It was built on the original burial site for Fort Christina and so its cemetery contains graves dating back to the 1630s. The pulpit was carved in 1698 and is believed to be the oldest in the United States by the NPS. The church itself is built from Swedish bricks that had originally been used as ballast by the ships which brought the colonists to America.

The churchyard includes the Hendrickson House, a Swedish home dating back to 1690 and believed to be one of the oldest Swedish homes remaining in existence in the country. The house serves as a museum dedicated to interpreting early Swedish colonial life.

Old Swedes' Church is a National Historic Landmark, and is not to be confused with another church known as Old Swedes', located in Philadelphia.

John Dickinson Plantation

John Dickinson House John Dickinson Mansion, Kitts Hummock Road, off State Road 68, 0.3 mile east of intersection with State Route 113, (Kent County, Delaware).jpg
John Dickinson House

This plantation house, built in 1740 outside of Dover, was the boyhood home and country estate of John Dickinson, known as "the Penman of the Revolution" and considered one of the foremost founding fathers of the country. His Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania and "The Liberty Song" (which included the first use of the phrase "united we stand, divided we fall"), were early articulations of the rights of the British citizens in America. As a delegate to the Continental Congress, Dickinson authored the Olive Branch Petition and the Declaration of the Causes and Necessity of Taking Up Arms. Later he was also the primary author of the Articles of Confederation, and was one of the drafters of the U.S. Constitution.

The plantation is a National Historic Landmark.

Park history

Prior to the creation of the First State National Monument, Delaware did not have a unit of the National Park System within its borders, a fact which was troubling to U.S. Senator Tom Carper. Beginning in 2002, Carper began holding hearings around the state and soliciting suggestions from residents for sites that would be worthy of inclusion in a new National Park unit. These efforts culminated in 2006, when Congress directed the National Park Service to conduct a special resource study of historic and scenic sites in Delaware's coastal areas. After concluding its study in 2009, the National Park Service recommended the creation of a National Historical Park including the New Castle Court House Museum, the Dover Green, Fort Christina, Old Swedes' Church, the John Dickinson Plantation, Stonum (home of founder George Read), Lombardy Hall (home of founder Gunning Bedford Jr.) and the Ryve's Holt House. [6] Following the conclusion of the study, Carper and other members of Delaware's congressional delegation proposed the First State National Historical Park Act of 2011, which included the aforementioned sites but did not include the Woodlawn tract at Beaver Valley which was eventually included in the National Monument. [7]

The act garnered high-profile support from former Delaware resident Ken Burns, who had recently earned critical acclaim for his documentary The National Parks: America's Best Idea . Burns stated, "We have been able to, as an expansive country, drink in our entire history, good and bad, and embrace it all. We Americans are bound together not only in geography but in time by these places. It is so, so important that this state, where it all began, has sites that reflect our extraordinarily old, among the oldest, histories of settlement on this continent and that we unite with all the other states in celebrating that." [8] Despite this, while the bill was approved by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, it failed to pass in the full Senate and was not approved in the House committee.

The Mt. Cuba Center donated over 20 million dollars to The Conservation Fund enabling it to purchase the Woodlawn Tract with the intention of including it in a future park once the land became available for donation at the end of 2012. [9] In February 2013, the First State National Historical Park Act was proposed again in the new Congress. The revised legislation included the Woodlawn property but dropped Stonum and Lombardy Hall. The bill was approved in Senate committee on March 14, 2013, but the Conservation Fund could not continue to hold onto the Woodlawn property, increasing the urgency. This led to the presidential proclamation on March 25 creating the National Monument. The Conservation Fund donated the 1,100 acres of Woodlawn land to the National Park Service.

Language redesignating the First State National Monument as the First State National Historical Park was included in the National Defense Authorization Act for 2015. The bill also added the Dickinson Plantation, Fort Christina, and Old Swedes' Church to the park. The NDAA was approved by Congress and signed into law by President Obama. [10]

Related Research Articles

New Sweden Former Swedish possession in North America between 1638 and 1655

New Sweden was a Swedish colony along the lower reaches of the Delaware River in America from 1638 to 1655, established during the Thirty Years' War when Sweden was a great military power. New Sweden formed part of the Swedish efforts to colonize the Americas. Settlements were established on both sides of the Delaware Valley in the region of Delaware, New Jersey, Maryland, and Pennsylvania, often in places where Swedish traders had been visiting since about 1610. Fort Christina in Wilmington, Delaware, was the first settlement, named after the reigning Swedish monarch. The settlers were Swedes, Finns, and a number of Dutch. New Sweden was conquered by the Dutch Republic in 1655 during the Second Northern War and incorporated into the Dutch colony of New Netherland.

New Castle, Delaware City in Delaware, United States

New Castle is a city in New Castle County, Delaware, United States, six miles (10 km) south of Wilmington, and situated on the Delaware River. According to the 2010 Census, the population of the city is 5,285.

Wilmington, Delaware Largest city in Delaware

Wilmington is the largest and most populous city in the U.S. state of Delaware. The city was built on the site of Fort Christina, the first Swedish settlement in North America. It lies at the confluence of the Christina River and Brandywine River, near where the Christina flows into the Delaware River. It is the county seat of New Castle County and one of the major cities in the Delaware Valley metropolitan area. Wilmington was named by Proprietor Thomas Penn after his friend Spencer Compton, Earl of Wilmington, who was prime minister during the reign of George II of Great Britain.

Fort Christina United States historic place

Fort Christina was the first Swedish settlement in North America and the principal settlement of the New Sweden colony. Built in 1638 and named after Queen Christina of Sweden, it was located approximately 1 mi (1.6 km) east of the present-day downtown Wilmington, Delaware, at the confluence of the Brandywine River and the Christina River, approximately 2 mi (3 km) upstream from the mouth of the Christina on the Delaware River.

Delaware Colony Former British colony in North America

Delaware Colony in the North American Middle Colonies consisted of land on the west bank of the Delaware River Bay. In the early 17th century the area was inhabited by Lenape and possibly the Assateague tribes of Native Americans. The first European settlers were Swedes, who established the colony New Sweden at Fort Christina at present day Wilmington, in 1638. The Dutch captured the colony in 1655 and annexed it to New Netherland to the north. The English took control from the Dutch in 1664, and in 1682, William Penn, the Quaker Proprietor of Pennsylvania to the north, leased "the three lower counties on the Delaware River" from James, the Duke of York.

Brandywine Creek (Christina River tributary) Creek in Pennsylvania and Delaware, US

Brandywine Creek is a tributary of the Christina River in southeastern Pennsylvania and northern Delaware in the United States. The Lower Brandywine is 20.4 miles (32.8 km) long and is a designated Pennsylvania Scenic River with several tributary streams. The East Branch and West Branch of the creek originate within 2 miles (3 km) of each other on the slopes of Welsh Mountain in Honey Brook Township, Pennsylvania, about 20 miles (32 km) northwest of their confluence.

Joshua Clayton American politician

Dr. Joshua Clayton was an American physician and politician from Mt. Pleasant in Pencader Hundred, New Castle County, Delaware. He was an officer of the Continental Army in the American Revolution, and a member of the Federalist Party, who served in the Delaware General Assembly, as Governor of Delaware and as U.S. Senator from Delaware.

The history of Delaware as a political entity dates back to the early colonization of North America by European-American settlers. It is made up of three counties established since 1638, before the time of William Penn. Each had its own settlement history. Their early inhabitants tended to identify more closely with the county than the colony or state. Large parts of southern and western Delaware were thought to have been in Maryland until 1767. All of the state has existed in the wide economic and political circle of Philadelphia.

Pennsylvania in the American Revolution

Pennsylvania was the site of key events and places related to the American Revolution. The state, and especially the city of Philadelphia, played a critical role in the American Revolution.

Holy Trinity Church (Old Swedes) Church in Wilmington, Delaware

Holy Trinity Church, also known as Old Swedes, is a historic church at East 7th and Church Street in Wilmington, Delaware. It was consecrated on Trinity Sunday, June 4, 1699, by a predominantly Swedish congregation formerly of the colony of New Sweden. The church, designated a National Historic Landmark in 1961, is among the few surviving public buildings that reflect the Swedish colonial effort. The church is considered part of First State National Historical Park. The church, which is often visited by tourists, remains open for tours and religious activities.

Fort Casimir

Fort Casimir or Fort Trinity was a Dutch fort in the seventeenth-century colony of New Netherland. It was located on a no-longer existing barrier island at the end of Chestnut Street in what is now New Castle, Delaware.

Bellevue State Park (Delaware)

Bellevue State Park is a 328-acre (133 ha) Delaware state park in the suburbs of Wilmington in New Castle County, Delaware in the United States. The park is named for Bellevue Hall, the former mansion of William du Pont Jr. Many of the facilities at the park were built by du Pont. Bellevue State Park overlooks the Delaware River and is open for year-round recreation, daily, from 8 a.m. until sunset. The Mount Pleasant Methodist Episcopal Church and Parsonage is located in Bellevue State Park; it was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1998.

Beaver Valley, Delaware and Pennsylvania Unincorporated community in Delaware and Pennsylvania, United States

Beaver Valley straddles the Pennsylvania and Delaware border in Delaware County, PA and New Castle County, DE. An unincorporated place name, it is traversed by several streams which drain to Beaver Run which itself empties into the Brandywine River. It is approximately bounded by US Route 202 to the east, The Brandywine River to the west, Thompsons Bridge Road to the south, and Smithbridge Road to the north, with Beaver Valley Road encircling a large portion of the valley. The majority of the lands in Beaver Valley have been owned for decades by The Woodlawn Trustees, which designated in the early 1970s all of its Brandywine Hundred and Delaware County holdings in Beaver Valley and elsewhere as a Wildlife Refuge. In 2012, The Woodlawn Trustees submitted development plans to Concord Township Supervisors in Delaware County for the purpose of constructing approximately 500 housing units and a 225,000 square foot national retail store, all of which would adjoin the First State National Historical Park in Chadds Ford Township, Delaware County, Pennsylvania and New Castle County, Delaware. The original plans were withdrawn, but the developers – Frank McKee and the Julian brothers, Richard and Frank – came back with new plans entitled "Vineyard Commons" which called for 161 houses spread across approximately 230 acres. Suing Concord Township in March 2015 for its preliminary approval of Vineyard Commons, Beaver Valley Conservancy members argued that several dozen of Concord Township's own building and stormwater codes were violated by their approval. In October, 2016, a Delaware County Common Pleas Court judge sent the case back to the Concord Supervisors ordering them to hold evidentiary hearings and to apply environmental protection standards to the development per Pennsylvania's Environmental Rights Amendment to its constitution. Shortly after this court order, the developers agreed to sell their rights to the land to the Conservation Fund and the Mount Cuba Foundation, a deal which was finalized in May 2017 with the help of the Brandywine Conservancy and the Beaver Valley Conservancy. According to the Conservation Fund, the land will be donated to the National Park Service and added to the First State National Historical Park in Chadds Ford and New Castle County.

Edenridge, Delaware Unincorporated community in Delaware, United States

Edenridge is an unincorporated community in New Castle County, Delaware, United States in the Brandywine Hundred north of Wilmington.

Woodbrook, Delaware Unincorporated community in Delaware, United States

Woodbrook is a suburban community in New Castle County, Delaware, United States.

William Poole Bancroft was an American industrialist who later became an important figure in the land conservation movement. His belief that the beauty of the Brandywine region should be protected against urban sprawl for future generations led to him purchasing large amounts of land which eventually became state and federally owned park land.

The following is a timeline of the history of the city of Wilmington, Delaware, USA.

John Hansson Steelman, also known as "Hance" Stillman, Stelman, Tilghman, or Tillmann (1655–1749), was born Johan Hansson in Aronameck or Grays Ferry, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the eldest son of Hans Månsson (1612-1691) and Ella Olofsdotter Stille (1634-1718). In 1693 he changed his name to John Hansson Steelman. He was a fur trader and interpreter who traded with Shawnee, Susquehannock and Piscataway Indians in Maryland and Pennsylvania. Steelman made substantial donations to support the construction of the Holy Trinity Church Church, probably covering as much as a third of the building costs. He died in 1749 in Adams County, Pennsylvania at the age of 94.


  1. "Wilberforce's Charles Young Buffalo Soldiers to become national monument" . Retrieved 21 March 2013.
  2. "Obama signs Del. monument proclamation" . Retrieved 25 March 2013.
  3. Presidential Proclamation, March 25, 2013
  4. "First State National Monument Shines a Light on the Nation's Origins" . Retrieved 29 January 2015.
  5. Susanne N, Fox and Edward F. Heite (January 1976). "National Register of Historic Places Inventory/Nomination: Dover Green Historic District". National Park Service. and Accompanying 50 photos
  6. "Delaware National Coastal Special Resource Study" . Retrieved 6 November 2014.
  7. "Delaware Congressional Delegation Introduces the First State National Historical Park Act of 2011" . Retrieved 6 November 2014.
  8. "Milford Beacon: Delaware Continues to Set Sights on National Park" . Retrieved 6 November 2014.
  9. "Delaware's First State National Monument". Archived from the original on 31 October 2014. Retrieved 6 November 2014.
  10. "For Delaware, a national park upgrade" . Retrieved 9 December 2014.