Delaware Delegation, Governor Reiterate Commitment to Including Delaware in the National Park System

DOVER, Del. – Today, Sens. Tom Carper and Chris Coons, Rep. John Carney (all D-Del.) and Gov. Jack Markell wrote to U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to reiterate their commitment to the establishment of a national park in Delaware. The officials also thank the Administration for its continued support for the project that would designate historically significant sites and attractions in each of Delaware’s three counties.

Currently, Delaware, the first state to sign the Constitution, is the only state without a national park. In February 2011, Sens. Carper and Coons introduced the First State National Historical Park Act of 2011 (S. 323) which would create a park celebrating early American Dutch, Swedish and English Settlements located throughout Delaware, and Delaware’s role in the events leading up to  the founding of our nation. At the same time, Rep. Carney introduced an identical companion bill (H.R. 624) in the House of Representatives.  The entire Delaware Delegation is looking into all options to bring Delaware into the national park system – either through congressional action or through the use of presidential authorities. 

In addition to the sites listed in the First State Historical National Park Act, the Delegation requests that the Administration also consider the Woodlawn Trustees property to be included into Delaware’s first national park unit. The Conservation Fund, in conjunction with the National Park Service, has deemed the site historically significant and has found that it falls within the theme of early settlement in Delaware. The once privately-owned property will be able for donation at the end of the year.  

The text of the letter is included below:


October 5, 2012


The Honorable Ken Salazar


Department of the Interior
1849 C Street, N.W.
Washington, D.C.  20240


Dear Secretary Salazar:

We are writing to express our strong support for the establishment of a unit of the National Park System in the state of Delaware, either through the use of Presidential authorities or through action by Congress, in order to preserve and interpret resources associated with early Dutch, Swedish, and English settlement of the Colony of Delaware, as well as with the role of Delaware in becoming the first state to ratify the Constitution.  We specifically ask that you consider including in that unit properties included in S. 323, the First State Historical Park Act, as well as property to be donated by The Conservation Fund along the Brandywine River, referenced hereafter as the Woodlawn Trustees property. 

You may recall attending a town hall meeting in historic New Castle, Delaware in May of 2009 and discussing the potential for a national park in Delaware.  We greatly appreciated the very supportive comments you made that day and your commitment to establishing a national park in Delaware—the only state without a National Park Service (NPS) unit.  

As you heard in that town hall meeting, Delaware played an important role in the birth of this great nation.  Delaware was the first state to ratify the Constitution; the first state in which Swedes and Finns came ashore to America; the place where William Penn first landed in America; and the place where the Dutch built an ill-fated settlement nearly 400 years ago.  Unfortunately, these important stories for our nation’s history are not being told within the National Park System. 

For nearly ten years, we have been working with federal officials, state officials, community leaders and activists to identify a theme and a park concept that fits well within our small state and is worthy of designation as a national park. Starting in 2002, Senator Carper established a citizens’ group to work with the public in all three counties of Delaware in exploring ideas for a possible national park.  After two years of public meetings and outreach, the group identified a number of possible themes and resources that people throughout our state felt could be appropriate for designation as a park unit.  

In 2006, the National Park Service was authorized by Congress to conduct a Special Resources Study to determine if a national park should be established in Delaware and, if so, to determine the park’s scope.  The study’s recommendations were built upon the work done by the citizens’ group and upon additional meetings with the public, affected property owners, and community leaders.  In January 2009, the Park Service finalized its study concluding that a park should be established in Delaware.  In the study, the Park Service recommended a national park that celebrated Delaware’s early Dutch, Swedish and English Settlements and the events leading up to our state’s role in the founding of our nation by becoming the first state to ratify the Constitution.  

Using the scope and a majority of the suggestions from the NPS’s Special Resources Study, Senators Carper and Coons introduced S. 323, the First State Historical Park Act, to authorize the establishment of a national park within Delaware.  Congressman Carney introduced a House companion bill, H.R. 624.  These legislative efforts have included the following historically significant sites, all of which we hope you will consider incorporating in Delaware’s first national park unit:

· Fort Christina National Historic Landmark – Here visitors can learn about the first Swedish and Finnish American settlers whom landed and settled along the Delaware shores of the Christina River in Wilmington, Delaware. In May, 2013 Delaware is looking forward to hosting Swedish and Finnish dignitaries to commemorate the 375th anniversary of these first settlers’ arrival.  

· Old Swedes Church National Historic Landmark – In 1699, the Swedish settlers finished building what is now called the Old Swedes Church, located within walking distance of Fort Christina in Wilmington, Delaware.  Much of the original church stands today and is celebrated as the oldest church in America still used for worship.  Church records of life of early settlers and many settlers’ burial sites remain, as well.   

· The Old Sheriff’s House and Old New Castle Courthouse – Both of these properties reside in historic New Castle, Delaware.  Established in 1651, New Castle boasts great examples of colonial, Dutch and Federal architecture.  It is here where William Penn landed in the New World in October, 1682.  The Old Courthouse, built in 1732, was the place where the state’s colonial assembly met from 1732 until 1777 when New Castle was Delaware’s capital.  Court is still held occasionally, making it the oldest continuously used chamber of justice in the United States.  The cupola of the Courthouse serves as the center of the “12-mile arc,” which established the original border between Pennsylvania and Delaware.  At these sites, visitors can learn more about early settlement, about William Penn, and about local Delawareans who played an important role in American independence, such as two signers of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas McKean and George Read.

· John Dickinson Plantation National Historic Landmark – The John Dickinson Plantation in Dover, Delaware was home to John Dickinson, known as the “penman of the Revolution.” His writings helped inspire colonial opposition to Great Britain. Dickinson was also a member of the Colonial Congresses that wrote the Declaration of the Independence and the Constitution.

· Dover Green – At the Dover Green, visitors can learn about the days of debates at the Golden Fleece Tavern that led to Delaware becoming the first state to ratify the Constitution on the Green. Visitors can also learn about Dover native Caesar Rodney, who famously rode from Dover to Philadelphia to cast the tie-breaking vote in favor of our nation’s independence.  

· Ryves Holt House – The Ryves Holt House was built around 1665 in what is now Lewes, Delaware by Dutch settlers thirty years after the destruction of the nearby ill-fated Zwaanendael colony (which was one of the first Dutch settlements in America and first European settlement in Delaware). The house is thought to be one of the few that survived attacks from Lord Baltimore raids.  It is the oldest house in Delaware and one of the oldest in America.  The house was purchased in 1723 by its namesake, Ryves Holt, who served as the first Chief Justice of Delaware from 1745 until his death in 1763. 

In addition to these sites listed in S. 323, we also ask that you consider including the Woodlawn Trustees property into Delaware’s first national park unit.  In February 2011, The Conservation Fund entered a purchase agreement to acquire 1,100 acres of land from the Woodlawn Trustees in Brandywine Hundred, Delaware along the Brandywine River and in nearby Pennsylvania.  The Conservation Fund has secured a private funding commitment in excess of $20 million to acquire the Woodlawn Trustees property and must donate the property by the end of the year.  

The property was purchased in the early 20th century by Woodlawn’s founder and Wilmington industrialist, William Poole Bancroft.  Speculating that Wilmington and Philadelphia might one day be bridged by urban development, Bancroft began amassing this land for a future park beyond the boundaries of Wilmington in both Delaware and Pennsylvania.  Bancroft foreshadowed at a 1909 meeting that “it may take a hundred years to work out.  Perhaps I may be able to so arrange things that it will work out, even if it should be very far in the future.”  The Woodlawn Trustees has managed and preserved the property as open space since that time and today—through the establishment of a national park unit—we have the extraordinary opportunity to honor Bancroft’s vision.  The property is currently serving as a wildlife preserve and open space used by a diverse constituency for hiking, bird watching, picnicking, canoeing, biking, and horseback riding, but before The Conservation Fund secured a purchase agreement, there was an imminent threat that it could be sold for commercial and residential development.  More than five million people live within 25 miles of the Woodlawn Trustees property, making it readily accessible to the public and a possible conservation centerpiece for the state and region. 

Because this property was under long-term private ownership at the time, it was not included in the 2009 NPS’ Special Resources Study.  However, The Conservation Fund, in conjunction with the National Park Service, has provided historical analysis that concludes this property is historically significant and falls within the theme of early settlement in Delaware.  The property straddles and contains the demarcation line known as the “12-mile arc,” which is 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.  In addition, the property still contains homes dating back to some of the first Quakers that settled the area with William Penn. 

William Penn originally acquired Rockland Manor, which includes the Woodlawn Trustees property, from the Duke of York in 1682.  It has stayed within Quaker ownership, including William Bancroft and the Woodlawn Trustees, until now.  Because the property has been off of the market for more than one hundred years, it is likely that landscape patterns of these original Quaker settlement patterns can be established and identified within the cultural landscape.

On August 28, 2012, the Delaware’s Congressional delegation held a public meeting in northern Delaware to further gauge interest in Delaware’s national park idea and to discuss including the Woodlawn Trustees property into the park.  National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis also attended and participated in this meeting which was attended by over 300 people.  As Director Jarvis witnessed, there is strong support not only for establishing a national park unit within Delaware, but also including the Woodlawn Trustees property in that concept.  Director Jarvis also heard from many individuals who currently enjoy the Woodlawn Trustees property and the services currently being provided on that property.  As we move forward, we are hopeful that if part of a National Park unit, the access and services currently provided on the Woodlawn Trustees property would continue.  Since our public meeting, we have received more than a thousand letters of support for the idea.  In short, we believe the time for a national park unit in Delaware has come, and the time to act is now. 

We will provide whatever assistance is needed to achieve the designation of a national monument or a national park in Delaware.  Our Congressional delegation continues to work tirelessly on passing a legislative option for a Delaware national park.  While we recognize and support legislation as the best eventual option, a declaration of a national monument now would allow the NPS to begin providing the technical and financial assistance needed to preserve and interpret the sites within Delaware.  

Again, we greatly appreciate your commitment to a national park unit being established within Delaware.  Thank you again for your service and for your leadership on these issues and for the wonderful support that the National Park Service has provided during this decade-long journey.


With best personal regards, we are



Tom Carper                                                                            

U.S. Senator                  


Chris Coons

U.S. Senator


John Carney

U.S. Representative


Jack Markell

Governor of Delaware