Historic Sites In Delaware. More Than Just Parks has 10 incredible must-see sites for you to visit.
I’ve been to so many of these amazing places since retiring from teaching in 2018. Did I mention that I taught history? I spent a lifetime teaching about the history behind these momentous sites. Then I got to see them firsthand. And now I’m sharing the stories of these incredible places with you. It doesn’t get any better than that!
I’m going to give you my list of the 10 Historic Sites In Delaware that you’ll want to see.
To be clear, this list includes national park sites (as in sites managed by the National Park Service) as opposed to national parks.
If you’re planning a trip to the First State then one book that I highly recommend is: Delaware Bucket List Adventure Guide: Explore 100 Offbeat Destinations You Must Visit!
Without further ado, let’s dive in!
Historic Sites In Delaware
10. Washington-Rochambeau Revolutionary Route National Historic Trail
We’re kicking off our list of the Top 10 Historic Sites In Delaware with the Washington-Rochambeau Revolutionary Route National Historic Trail.
George Washington’s ultimate success against the British was made possible through an alliance with France.
On July 11, 1780, 55-year-old General Jean Baptiste Donatien de Vimeur, comte de Rochambeau arrived with an army of 450 officers and 5,300 men in Narragansett Bay off Newport, Rhode Island.
From New Hampshire to Virginia, the Washington-Rochambeau National Historic Trail connects major metropolitan areas, state and national parks, historic and scenic trails, and countless other historic sites.
The rout is a 680-mile series of roads used in 1781 by the Continental Army under the command of George Washington and the forces under the command of Admiral Rochambeau during their 14-week march from Newport, Rhode Island, to Yorktown, Virginia.
Check Out: 10 BEST Revolutionary War Sites In America
Historic Sites In Delaware
9. Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail
At #9 on our list of the best historic sites in Delaware is the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail.
Captain John Smith was an English explorer who played an pivotal role in America’s founding. Smith served on the governing council of Jamestown, Virginia He led two voyages on the Chesapeake Bay.
Smith’s contact with native tribes and his Chesapeake Bay voyages, documented in maps and journals, helped early English colonists learn about the region that became their new home.
Things To Do On The John Smith Chesapeake National Historical Trail
The trail commemorates Captain Smith’s exploration of the Bay in 1607 through 1609, and is the nation’s first all-water national historic trail. It stretches over 3,000 miles and traverses most of the Chesapeake’s great rivers.
The trail is administered by the National Park Service. It connects with 16 National Wildlife Refuges, 12 National-Parks, and three other National Trails.
Trails I would recommend exploring include the following:
- The Billy Goat Trail-It’s a popular trail near Potomac, Maryland. This is a protected area designed to preserve the remains of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canals with the original structures still intact. The trail offers spectacular views of the Potomac River.
- Scott’s Run River Trail-It’s a wonderful area for nature trips, walking, and running. It features a beautiful waterfall. This is a beautifully wooded trail with a mix of inclines, flat areas, and areas with loose rocks.
- The Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Trail-It’s a popular trail that leads up to an overlook of the Great Falls. You will have wonderful views of the water and rock formations.
Historic Sites In Delaware
8. Historic New Castle
Coming in at #8 on our list of the best historic sites in Delaware is Historic New Castle.
New Castle, originally named Fort Casimir, was founded in 1651 by Peter Stuyvesant, who was sent to provide the Dutch with command of all river traffic. Because of its strategic location, ownership of the settlement was constantly changing. The flags of the Netherlands, Sweden and Great Britain have all flown over New Castle.
The three counties which make up the state of Delaware were added to William Penn’s lands in America. In 1682, Penn came ashore at New Castle and took possession, but these counties, which were well established, became dissatisfied with Penn’s rule.
In 1704, when he granted them a separate legislature, New Castle became the colonial capitol of Delaware. The lively town also briefly served as the first state capital, and continued as the county seat until the 1880’s.
New Castle Was An Ideal Location
New Castle’s location made it an ideal transfer point for trips up and down the coast. As a result, New Castle was a thriving community throughout the 1700’s and early 1800’s.
The courts and general assembly also attracted various judges, lawyers and government officials who built handsome houses, many of which still remain.
The Great Fire of 1824, which started in the stables behind the Jefferson House, claimed many of the inns and warehouses located on The Strand. Among the buildings destroyed was the modest home of George Read, signer of the Declaration on Independence and the Constitution. (Source: City of New Castle)
While the list of noteworthy sites here is seemingly endless, highly recommend stops include: the Old New Castle Courthouse (seat of Delaware’s colonial and state government until 1777); the Delaware Historical Society’s Read House and Gardens; and the three museums operated by the New Castle Historical Society.
CHECK OUT: 10 MUST-SEE Historic Sites In New York
Historic Sites In Delaware
7. Fort Miles
At lucky #7 on our list of the best historic sites in Delaware is Fort Miles.
Fort Miles was an American military post, constructed to keep watch for enemy ships along the Delaware coast. It was completed just days before the Pearl Harbor attack.
The central features of the museum include: Battery 519, six barracks buildings, a fire control tower, an orientation building, and the Fort Miles Artillery Park.
The museum tells the story of Fort Miles, a key piece of our nation’s coastal defense, from World War II through the early 1970’s.
Fort Miles is a special place for history enthusiasts, veterans, families, or anyone interested in learning about Delaware stories, Delaware heroes and Delaware’s role in WWII.
Visitors can take a guided tour, enjoy an interpretive program, visit the art gallery, take in a special event, and celebrate the “greatest generation” in our nation’s history.
CHECK OUT: 5 MUST-SEE Historic Sites In Ohio
Historic Sites In Delaware
6. Hagley Museum
At #6 on our list of the best historic sites in Delaware is the Hagley Museum.
The museum documents the early industrialization of the United States and the origins of the DuPont Company.
Hagley is where the du Pont story begins. The company was founded by Éleuthère Irénée du Pont (1771–1834) in Delaware in 1802 to produce black powder and later other explosives, which remained the company’s main products until the 20th century, when it began to make many other chemicals as well.
It’s located on 235 acres along the Brandywine River, Hagley Museum and Library includes the original Du Pont Company powder mills and the first du Pont family home in America.
Hagley Museum provides a special “Historic Home and Garden” tour for visitors.
CHECK OUT: 10 MUST-SEE Historic Sites In Pennsylvania
The Top 5 Historic Sites In Delaware
5. The Kalmar Nyckel
We begin the Top 5 Historic Sites In Delaware with The Kalmar Nyckel.
The Kalmar Nyckel to Delaware is like the Mayflower of Massachusetts. Kalmar Nyckel was a Swedish ship built by the Dutch famed for carrying Swedish settlers to North America in 1638, to establish the colony of New Sweden.
The name Kalmar Nyckel comes from the Swedish city of Kalmar and nyckel meaning key in Swedish.
Today’s tall ship is not the original however. It’s a replica upon which you can climb aboard for a sail back in time to the first settlers to the state.
This Tall Ship of Delaware was launched into the Christina River in 1997, about 200 yards downstream from the site of the original ship’s first landing at “The Rocks” in March of 1638.
Visitors can step back in time by actually setting sail on the Kalmar Nyckel with river cruises and pirate sails.
There’s also the The Copeland Maritime Center. It’s an experiential learning center that welcomes visitors year-round, providing educational programs, community festivals, and special events for visitors interested in Delaware’s maritime and cultural heritage.
CHECK OUT: 10 MUST-SEE Historic Sites In New Hampshire
Historic Sites In Delaware
4. Delaware Art Museum
We’re on to the Final Four. At #4, we have the Delaware Art Museum.
If you enjoy art then this is definitely one place worth visiting.
The museum was founded in 1912 as the Wilmington Society of the Fine Arts in honor of the artist Howard Pyle.
The Delaware Art Museum is best known for its large collection of British Pre-Raphaelite art, illustrations by Wilmington native Howard Pyle, and urban landscapes by John Sloan and his circle.
Visitors can also enjoy the outdoor Copeland Sculpture Garden and special exhibitions.
CHECK OUT: 10 MUST-SEE Historic Sites In Vermont
Historic Sites In Delaware
3. Fort Delaware
At #3 on our list of the best historic sites in Delaware is Fort Delaware.
Fort Delaware was initially constructed in the mid-1800s to protect Wilmington and Philadelphia from enemy attack. Fort Delaware served that role through World War One.
The fort was among the most state-of-the-art in the nation when it was completed and housed prisoners of war during the Civil War due to its relative isolation.
Within the walls of Fort Delaware, visitors can also see Battery Torbert.
Along the Prison Camp Trail lies the entrance to the mine casemate that controlled the mines that were deployed in the river in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
The Pea Patch Heronry is one of the largest mixed species nest colony for herons, egrets, and ibis in the eastern United States. Other nesters that can be found on the island include osprey and bald eagles.
Visitors can experience life during the Civil War with the aid of historical reenactors, watch the Columbiad Firing Demonstration, walk the prison camp trail or take a walk around the fort’s exterior.
Historic Sites In Delaware
2. Winterthur Museum, Garden and Library
In the runner-up spot at #2, we have the Winterthur Museum, Garden and Library.
More than fifty years ago, Delaware native Henry Francis duPont began welcoming visitors to his childhood home, Winterthur, to see its magnificent gardens and view his unsurpassed collection of decorative arts and architecture.
Today’s visitors to Winterthur Museum, Garden and Library get to experience the aura and splendor of this 175-room mansion, and leave in awe of its vast treasures.
The tour is approximately 75 minutes. You will see the multiple rooms and floors of the house.
You will also see the world-famous conservation laboratories where works of art and antiquity are and be able to explore dozens of Winterthur’s iconic rooms and acres of stunning Brandywine Valley.
Children will enjoy the magical Enchanted Woods and the hands-on experience of the Touch-It Room.
The #1 Historic Site In Delaware
1. First State National Historical Park
We have selected the First State National Historical Park as the #1 historic site in Delaware.
Famous as the First State to ratify the Constitution, Delaware was born out of a conflict among three world powers for dominance of the Delaware Valley.
From this beginning, the region developed a distinct character that tolerated diversity in religion and national origin and valued independence.
First State National Historical Park consists of six individual sites that are spread throughout the state of Delaware. Together these sites tell First State National Historical Park’s story and can be visited in any order. Currently, the park does not have one, central visitor center.
However, each site has some type of welcome center where you will receive information about the site and available tours. (Source: NPS)
Oh The places you’ll want to go | First State National Historical Park
To quote Dr. Seuss, “Oh The Places You’ll Go.” And I recommend the following
- Brandywine Valley: More than 1,300 acres of rolling agricultural fields, pastures, forested hills, and streams preserve the natural and cultural legacy of the larger Brandywine Valley in northern Delaware and southern Pennsylvania. This land serves as a reminder of William Poole Bancrofts vision to protect a green space all people to enjoy.
- Fort Christina: It was here, along the banks of the Christina River, over 375 years ago, that the first Swedish and Finnish American settlers aboard the Kalmar Nyckel and the Fogel Grip landed and settled the first American Swedish colony called New Sweden.
- Old Swedes Historic Site: Old Swedes Historic Site serves as a reminder of the early Swedish settlement that once thrived along the Christina River. While visiting this site you will travel through time as you learn about the earliest settlers buried here to some of the people that for and against Women’s Right to Vote.
Still More Wonderful Places To Go | First State National Historical Park
- New Castle Court House Museum: The New Castle Court House was built in 1732, and served as Delaware’s first court house and eventually state capitol. It was in this historic structure that the representatives of the people of Delaware voted in 1776 for independence from both Pennsylvania and Great Britain.
- The Dover Green: The Dover Green was laid out in 1717, following a plan created by William Penn in 1683, to serve as a gathering area for the growing town. The Green has played a role in the American Revolution, founding of the nation, Women’s Rights, Civil Rights and more.
- John Dickinson Plantation: This site is the early childhood home of John Dickinson who is known as the Penman of the Revolution. During your visit you will learn about his work and accomplishments while also exploring the lesser known stories of those who took care of the land and property. (Source: NPS)
While In Delaware Why Not Check Out The President Biden Driving Tour
President Joe Biden was not born in the state of Delaware, but his family moved there when he was 10 years old.
He was elected to the New Castle County Council in 1970 and became the sixth-youngest senator in U.S. history after he was elected to the United States Senate from Delaware in 1972, at age 29. Biden was the chair or ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for 12 years.
He also chaired the Senate Judiciary Committee from 1987 to 1995; led the effort to pass the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act and the Violence Against Women Act; and oversaw six U.S. Supreme Court confirmation hearings.
Biden served as a Senator from Delaware from 1973 until his election as Vice-President in 2008.
Check Out The President Biden Driving Tour
While in Delaware, why not check out the President Biden Driving Tour. You can now take a driving tour through the state where Joe Biden’s journey to Washington began and discover the places and people that define “the very best of who we are as Americans.”
So, pack your aviator sunglasses and hit the road with the President Biden Driving Tour that’s filled with presidential pit stops, from the hope filled artwork found on the Chase Center in Wilmington to the sunrises found on the Junction Breakwater Trail.
Stops along this tour include the following:
- Biden Welcome Center: The first stop on your trip as you enter the northern part of the state on I-95 is the Biden Welcome Center, named for Biden, his family, and their spirit of hospitality. After you stop for a quick refresh, a bite to eat, and information on statewide attractions, events, and activities be sure to take a picture with the Welcome to Delaware sign.
- Delaware Discoveries Trail which has added a new addition, it’s 10th overall, to its tour of interactive street art. With a bouquet of Delaware-centric balloons, visitors can stand in front of the artwork and become immersed in a hopeful and celebratory moment.
- Junction Breakwater Trail which runs between Rehoboth Beach and Lewes with its photogenic pit stops of scenic coastal landscape, holds some of the best views of ocean front sunrises, signaling the start of a new day on the horizon. And if you haven’t already, be prepared to see photos of Biden biking along the looping 15 mile trail. (Source: Visit Delaware)
To learn more about the President Biden Driving Tour check out this helpful website
Map Of Historic Sites In Delaware
List Of Historic Sites In Delaware
- First State National Historical Park
- Winterthur Museum, Garden and Library
- Fort Delaware
- Delaware Art Museum
- The Kalmar Nyckel
- Hagley Museum
- Fort Miles
- Historic New Castle
- Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail
- Washington-Rochambeau Revolutionary Route National Historic Trail
About The People Behind More Than Just Parks
You should probably know that we don’t just make this stuff up out of thin air. My sons have spent their entire adult lives exploring and filming America’s national parks and public lands.
As for me, I’m a retired lifelong educator and a proud dad of these two wonderful guys who are hopelessly obsessed with the national parks. I taught history for over a quarter of a century. Now I enjoy researching and writing articles for More Than Just Parks. I’m always on the hunt for topics where nature and history intersect so please feel free to share any ideas that you might have with me.
We’ve worked with the National Park Service, the Department of Interior, and the U.S. Forest Service for years creating films on important places and issues. Our work has been featured in leading publications all over the world and even some people outside of our immediate family call us experts on the national parks.
Meet The Parks Brothers
We’re Jim Pattiz and Will Pattiz, collectively known as the Pattiz Brothers (and sometimes the Parks Brothers) and we absolutely LOVE the national parks.
Our goal here at More Than Just Parks is to share the beauty of America’s national parks and public lands through stunning short films in an effort to get Americans and the world to see the true value in land conservation.
We hope you’ll follow our journey through the parks and help us to keep them the incredible places that they are. If you’re interested in joining the adventure then please sign up below!