Delaware welcomes the establishment of the First State National Monument as America’s 400th national park, the first unit of the National Park System in Delaware.
Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar joined Vice President Joe Biden, U.S. Senator Tom Carper and National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis along with local officials and community stakeholders to celebrate the new park on March 26, 2013.
The park tells the story of the early settlement of European colonies in Delaware as well as Delaware’s role as the first state to ratify the Constitution. It encompasses approximately 1,000 acres of federal, state, and city lands in the Kent and New Castle counties and preserves several historic areas: the Sheriff’s House, New Castle Courthouse, New Castle Green, Woodlawn Tract and Dover Green. The National Park System will make improvements to the grounds, such as trails where visitors can explore and walk along the Brandywine River.
“With the establishment of our 400th national park, President Obama has recognized Delaware’s important role as the first state to ratify the Constitution and the three centuries of the history of its people and their contributions to our country,” Salazar said. “In addition to helping tell the story of America and her people, the national monument we are celebrating today will also be an engine for economic development, creating jobs and driving tourism to the First State and the region.”
The lands to establish the monument were donated to the federal government. The State of Delaware donated the Sheriff’s House in New Castle and preservation easements for the New Castle Court House and the Green; the City of Dover donated a preservation easement for the Dover Green; and the Conservation Fund donated the Woodlawn property in Delaware and Pennsylvania with more than $20 million in support from Mt. Cuba Center. Public access to Woodlawn will not change.
It was on the Dover Green that Delaware voted to ratify the U.S. Constitution on December 7, 1787 and the state became the first of the 13 former Colonies. The Green is the heart of Dover’s historic district and is the location of the Delaware Supreme Court and the Kent County Courthouse.
The New Castle Court House and the Green in New Castle, along with the Sheriff’s House, are part of the New Castle National Historic Landmark District and the core of the oldest town in the Delaware River Valley. On June 15, 1776, legislators passed a resolution to become a separate state at the New Castle Courthouse, today one of the oldest surviving courthouses in America. Next to the courthouse, the Sheriff’s House, built in 1857, is all that remains of the first county prison in Delaware.“We are delighted that Delaware now has a unit of the National Park Service and that the New Castle Court House and New Castle Green, which are administered by the Delaware Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs, will be part of this great endeavor. We are looking forward to working with the Park Service to create exciting programming that helps tell Delaware’s unique story,” said Tim Slavin, director of Delaware Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs.
The Woodlawn Tract is comprised of scenic woods and rolling pastures three miles north of Wilmington. The property straddles and contains the “12-mile arc,” a part of a circle drawn from the Old New Castle Courthouse establishing the boundaries of the British colonies of Pennsylvania and Delaware in the 17th century. The property contains homes dating back to some of the first Quakers who settled the area with William Penn, as well as farmlands, scenic rock outcrops and wetlands along the banks of the Brandywine River. The tract was acquired by The Conservation Fund from the Woodlawn Trustees and donated to the National Park Service for inclusion in the First State National Monument.
“Up until yesterday, the First State was the only state in our great nation without a unit of the national park system, and that was a loss not just for Delaware but for our entire country,” said Carper. “This national monument corrects that omission and tells a more complete story of our country by sharing Delaware’s early colonial settlement and involvement in the birth of this great nation. Today’s celebration of an enduring monument to our state’s rich history is particularly timely, because in just three days we’ll mark the 375th anniversary of the first Swedes and Finns to land in this country off the shores of the Christina River. It’s a fitting tribute to an event which had a significant impact on the history of both our state and our nation.”
President Obama created the monument along with four other national monuments using the powers designated under the Antiquities Act of 1906 to recognize historically significant landmarks.