One hundred years ago today, President Woodrow Wilson signed into law the National Park Service Organization Act, creating the National Park Service and charging it with the responsibility of protecting and preserving some of the most beautiful natural spaces across our country, as well as some of our greatest national monuments.
Today, the National Park Service oversees more than 400 sites nationwide – from the Statue of Liberty, to the Grand Canyon, to Gettysburg National Military Park just over the border in Pennsylvania and even Delaware’s very own First State National Historical Park.
Two years ago, after more than a decade of work by countless Delawareans, the First State became the last state in our union to get a national park. I am incredibly proud of the work we did to ensure Delaware could tell its unique story. Not only does our national park highlight Delaware’s history and bring tourists to our state, but it also allowed us to celebrate the National Park Service’s Centennial right here in the First State! But our work is far from over. We now need to make sure our park gets the attention and visitors it deserves. That is why yesterday, to wish the National Park Service a happy birthday and show off our park, I joined Department of the Interior Deputy Secretary Mike Connor in visiting a few of the sites and discussing the needs of our park as a whole.
First, we visited Fort Christina just outside of Wilmington along the banks of the Christina River. It was here, 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, New Sweden. Fort Christina was quickly built and named for the Queen of Sweden at the time. The wharf of rocks that was the site of the first landing remains, and some believe that archeological digs at the site could uncover a great deal about the history of that place. After, I walked just down the street to see Old Swedes Church, the oldest church in America that is still used for worship.
We then traveled to New Castle to see the Old New Castle Courthouse, the Old New Castle Green and the Old Sheriff's House – three spaces that played a huge role in Delaware’s and our nation’s history. The Old New Castle Courthouse was built in 1732 and served as the meeting place for the state’s colonial assembly for more than 40 years. It was there, on June 15, 1776, that the Delaware Assembly voted to separate from England and from Pennsylvania, creating the “Delaware State.” Court is still held occasionally at the courthouse, making it the oldest continuously used chamber of justice in the United States. The cupola of the Courthouse also serves as the center of the “12-mile arc,” which established the original border between Pennsylvania and Delaware. Next week, I’ll travel to the Ryves Holt House in Lewes, our southernmost site in our park, to celebrate the Centennial.
As the last state to get a national park, we know not to take these spaces for granted. Countless Delawareans have worked to preserve these historic sites for hundreds of years, and it will take more work in the years to come to ensure that the First State National Historical Park, and all of our national parks and monuments, are protected and preserved for our children and grandchildren to enjoy for years to come.