Shortly after sailing up the Delaware River on the Welcome in 1682 to take possession of his land, William Penn issued a directive to his chief surveyor in the counties of Kent and Sussex to lay out the town of Dover. But Penn’s instructions contained no specifications as to its exact location. The selection of the site was not made until 1694 and when a courthouse was built in 1697 it was in advance of any settlement. In fact, it would be another 20 years before streets would be platted andand lots put up for sale.
It was during the American Revolution that Dover became the capital of Delaware Colony, which itself had been cleaved off of Pennsylvania as the Three Lower Colonies. With the threat of British raiders along the coast the state government was shuffled from New Castle to a presumably safer location here. The business of government - Dover is also the Kent County seat - propelled the settlement to its long-held status as the second city of the First State.
At the turn of the 20th century the Dover streetscape looked like most American towns its size with a diverse mix of popular Victorian buildings standing among older stock. That all changed in 1909 after the Old State House underwent a restoration. For the next 20 years Dover experienced a steady march to re-make as much of the surrounding area as possible in a similar Colonial Revival style. Ever since most new commercial and civic building projects have embraced a Neoclassical influence.
Our walking tour will begin on a lush square lawn that was once the site of fairs and markets under majestic elm trees, a stretch of ground that has been the historic heart of Dover for over 200 years...
State Street and Bank Lane
William Penn planned a market square in this very spot in his original 1683 townsite plan. No one got around to acting on the visionary’s desire until 1717, a year before Penn passed on at age 74. It took another 130 years before the space began to take on the aura of a park; elm trees were planted and one of those arboreal pioneers is said to be the second tallest tree in Delaware at 136 feet. The granite monument came courtesy of the Delaware State Society of the Cincinnati in 1912 and remembers the final review of the Delaware Continentals before marching south to take part in the final resolution of the American Revolution in Yorktown.
Old State House
25 the Green, east side
The Old State House started with the new country in 1787 and was in service by May of 1791 when both the state and county governments settled into the Georgian-style brick building. The county moved out in 1873 and this was the state capitol exclusively until 1932 when the legislature departed for new digs a few hundred yards away. Its 140 years of continuous government service was believed to have been the nation’s longest in the same statehouse at the time. A 1976 facelift restored the Old State House to its original 18th century appearance - or at least the best guess since there were few sketches of the original building in its infancy. On display in the House chamber are portraits of Jacob Jones and Thomas Macdonough, naval heroes from Delaware who served in the War of 1812. Both were executed by Thomas Sully. Over in the Senate chamber is a commanding portrait of George Washington from the studios of by Denis A. Volozan.
WALK COUNTERCLOCKWISE, MOVING TO THE LEFT OF THE OLD STATE HOUSE, AROUND THE GREEN.
Henry Todd Houses
15 & 21 the Green
Henry Todd, a city and state official, purchased this land in 1837 when it contained a small buidling that James Allee used for his clock and watch business. Todd replaced the small structure with this three-story Italianate brick home in 1859. Soon thereafter the attached building was added and put to use as a print shop for John Kirk. In 1876, Todd, then 73 years old, was forced to sell both buildings to settle debts. Since the late 1800s, the buildings have done duty as Delaware state offices, now the Kirk Building (Todd House, #15) and the Short Building (print office, #21).
7 the Green
Thomas Parke constructed the core of this house, laid with courses of Flemish bond brick, in 1728. A rear wing was tacked on in 1764 when Charles Greenbury Ridgely acquired the property. Ridgelywas a Colonial legislator and became a delegate to the Delaware debates about independence in 1776. The house has remained in the Ridgely family ever since.
site of the Golden Fleece Tavern
3 the Green
Upstairs in Elizabeth Battell’s Golden Fleece Tavern on this site, Delaware became the first state to ratify the Constitution of the United States on December 7, 1787. Built in the 1730s, the Golden Fleece was long a center for community activities in Dover and when the state government arrived from New Castle in 1777 it set up shop here. The Council approved the Constitutional Bill of Rights in sessions held here in January 1790 before it moved over to the State House the next year. The Golden Fleece was demolished during Andrew Jackson’s presidency around 1830 and was replaced by the Capitol Hotel. The hotel was closed in the 1920s and the building’s makeover was orchestrated by Henry and Mabel Lloyd Ridgely.
First National Bank
4 the Green
The First National Bank began taking deposits in this brick building with a Second Empire mansard roof in 1877. It has been used for office space since the 1920s in more or less its original appearance.
Henry Stout House
8 the Green
Henry Stout was educated at Princeton where he was awarded an honorary for scholarship in 1823. He came to Dover to practice law and built this three-story, Italianate-flavored house in the mid-1800s.
10 the Green
This brick house blending elements of the Greek Revival and Italianate styles was built in 1854 for Sally Sipple and has remained in the Sipple family for over 150 years, one of only a handful of privately owned buildings still on the Green.
16 the Green
This rambling cottage in the northwest corner of the Green draws its influence from Carpenter Gothic themes with batten-board siding, vergeboard trim and pointed arch widows in its three front-facing gables.
22 the Green
This building began life in the mid-1800s in Italianate style like most of its contemporaries around the Green. It picked up a classical porch sometime in the early 20th century.
Old Farmers Bank Building
30 the Green
Henry Ridgely was the major player in the organization of the Farmer’s Bank and served as its president for forty years; this two-story, three-bay Italianate structure became home in the 1850s. This was the original site for the bank in 1807 when it was the home of notable patriot Richard Bassett.
Captain James P. Wilds House
34 the Green
This exuberant Second Empire-style house with a concave mansard roof decorated with hexagonal slates dates to 1870. It was owned by James P. Wilds, an officer at Farmers Bank next door.
Joshua Fisher House
36 the Green
Joshua Fisher, a leading member of the Dover bar in the late 1700s built this Federal-style house around 1790. The Italianate-style bracketed cornice came along a half-century later.
Dover Century Club
40 the Green
George and Jane Parris, devout Baptists, moved to Dover in 1832 and not only found no church but only one other Baptist couple in town. It would not be until 1850 that money was raised to lay the cornerstone for this house of worship when the congregation numbered eight. The congregation moved in 1893 and the building was sold to the Dover Century Club in 1897. The Colonial Revival detailing, including a large second-floor Palladian window, were added after that time.
46 the Green
This clapboard structure is an 1897 entry to the Green. Doric-style columns support an open porch accented by graceful turned balusters.
Jacob Furbee House
48 the Green
This Federal house dates to the 1790s and sports a roof with two gable dormers. There is a
transom with tracery above the front door and an applied pediment, an unusual distance above the transom. The home was owned by Jacob Furbee, an innkeeper.
54 the Green
Here is another Federal-style offering, executed in Flemish bond brick. The structure was used both as a house and an office which probably explains the unusual placement of the front door.
56 the Green
Built in the 1920s the Allee Building came with the wave of Colonial Revival building that purged downtown Dover of much of its 19th-century building stock. Its model was the Graff House in Philadelphia where Thomas Jefferson stayed while writing the Declaration of Independence.
Kent County Courthouse
38 the Green
The first building in Dover, a courthouse, rose on this location in 1697. By 1724 it was the site of King George’s Tavern, for many years a hostelry favored for political rallies and host of many gubernatorial receptions. In 1918 this 1875 brick courthouse was completely overhauled in the Dover mania for Colonial-era replicas. The central clock tower rises in three tiers above the main block’s roof.
John Bell Office
49 the Green
This small cross-gable structure, covered with clapboard, dates to around 1793. It was Dover’s first post office and later served time as a law office.
45 the Green
James Sykes, a celebrated surgeon, erected this house around 1812. A parade of notable Delaware lawyers have lived here, including Chief Justice Thomas Clayton, Judge George Fisher, Nathaniel B. Smithers, Dr. Thomas C. Frame, Chancellor John G. Nicholson and the late James M. Satterfield.
Supreme Court Building
55 the Green
The Supreme Court Building was built in 1912as a wing of the Old State House in a complementary Neoclassical style. The building was spruced up in 1968 and again in 1976.
EXIT THE GREEN BY WALKING SOUTH ON SOUTH STATE STREET (THE COURTHOUSE AND STATE HOUSE WILL BE ON YOUR LEFT).
419 South State Street
In 1723 Nicholas Loockerman purchased 600 acres of land known as “The Range.” Following his death in 1771, the property passed to his grandson Vincent Loockerman Jr. Evidence suggests that he built the Georgian-style mansion known today as Loockerman Hall soon after inheriting the property. A member of the early Revolutionary-era Committee of Inspection, and County Militia, Vincent Loockerman Jr. died on April 5, 1790. On August 24, 1891, 95 acres of the old plantation where slaves had once toiled were purchased for the purpose of establishing the “Delaware College for Colored Students.” Loockerman Hall became the center of the campus, serving variously as a dormitory, classroom, and administration building. This is the home of his father, Vincent Loockerman, built in 1742 and has remained in the family for over 250 years. An attached building to the north was once the Eagle Tavern.
TURN LEFT ON WATER STREET.
Christ Episcopal Church
southeast corner of South State Street and Water Street
This congregation can trace its roots back to 1703 and a petition from 22 Doverites for a mission. One missionary who answered the call was Charles Inglis before he went to Canada to become Bishop of Nova Scotia. In Dover’s original town plan the surveyors had blocked out two squares for religious activities - one was for the Church of England and the other for the Dissenters, as the Presbyterians were known. The core of this brick church was raised in 1734, the bell tower is a Victorian addition from 1876.
TURN LEFT ON LEGISLATIVE AVENUE.
115 William Penn Street at the southeast corner of Legislative Avenue
This is another government building erected in the Colonial Revival style; it is occupied by the Executive Office of the Governor of Delaware. It carries the name of Edward Tatnall III, a noted 19th century botanist and author.
411 Legislative Avenue
The State Buildings and Grounds Commission was organized in 1931 to shepherd government operations onto the Capital Square Complex. Architect E. William Martin drew up the Georgian Revival plans for Legislative Hall which were executed in hand-fired brick. The new home for state lawmakers was dedicated in 1933. In the 1960s wings were added to the structure which provided an office for every legislator to go with their desk in the Legislative Hall chamber. More space was added again in the 1990s.
First State Heritage Park Visitor Center
121 Duke of York Street, northeast corner of Legislative Avenue
Administered by the Delaware Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs and housed in the Delaware Public Archives building, the Visitor Center sits at the gateway to Dover’s Capitol complex. Inside you can find changing history and cultural exhibits and a rotating display of Delaware’s important documents.
TURN LEFT ON DUKE OF YORK STREET.
Biggs Museum of American Art
406 Federal Street at the head of Duke of York Street
Established in 1993, the Sewell C. Biggs Museum of American Art Museum specializes in American fine and decorative arts. The permanent collection includes the best American paintings collection on the Delmarva Peninsula with highlights by the Peale family, Albert Bierstadt, Gilbert Stuart, and Childe Hassam.
TURN RIGHT ON FEDERAL STREET.
401 Federal Street
Plans for this government office building got underway in the late 1960s, shortly after John G. Townsend, a former governor and two-term United States senator, died at the age of 92 in 1964.
A native of Maryland’s Eastern Shore, Townsend went to work at an early age for the Pennsylvania Railroad after teaching himself telegraphy. Soon he realized the need for railroad ties, set up a saw mill and began selling them. In 1896 he moved his family to Selbyville, Delaware, where he transferred his energies to growing strawberries. Before long he was known as the “Strawberry King.” To better manage his business he set up his own bank, the Baltimore Trust Company, which grew into the second largest in the state. By the time of his death, Townsend, Inc. was likely the largest and most diversified agricultural business in Delaware.
TURN LEFT ON LOOCKERMAN STREET.
Wesley Church Education Center
southwest corner of Federal Street and East Loockerman Street
Now a part of the Wesley Methodist complex this Neoclassical brick building was designed as a Federal office building and United States Post Office in the early 1930s by Alfred Victor du Pont. It features a limestone portico highlighted by columns built to mimic the Tower of the Winds in Athens, Greece.
Dover City Hall
15 East Loockerman Street
An exuberant High Victorian pile from the 1870s was removed and later destroyed to make room in the early 1970s for this Colonial Revival replica.
Wesley United Methodist Church
209 South State Street, southeast corner of Loockerman Street
This congregation got underway in 1778 and was a familiar stop on the circuits traveled by the pioneer of American Methodism, Francis Asbury. This building, which has undergone several enlargements and improvements, dates to September 23, 1850 when the cornerstone was laid.
at head of The Plaza; East Loockerman Street at South State Street
In 1998, led by Joe McDaniel, the Greater Dover committee contributed to and orchestrated the purchase of a new town clock, and gifted it to the citizens of Dover.
TURN RIGHT ON STATE STREET AND BEAR RIGHT DOWN KINGS HIGHWAY.
151 Kings Highway
Charles Hillyard III picked up this property in a sheriff’s sale for $110 before the turn of the 18th century and erected one of the town’s most admired Georgian brick mansions sometime around 1798. It passed out of the Hillyard family shortly after its construction and was owned by a parade of subsequent residents, including a pair of United States senators. Since 1965 it has functioned as the official residence of the Governor of Delaware, beginning with Charles L. Terry. First Lady Jessica Irby Terry also began a tradition of opening the mansion to the public in 1966; it can be toured today by appointment. Not all Delaware Governors have kept Woodburn as their primary residence but all have kept it available for state functions. The dawn redwood located by the sidewalk in the southern end of the property was planted in 1970 as a memorial to Governor Terry. This ancient tree was known only through fossils until 1941 when a botany student tracked down living specimens in rural China.
181 Kings Highway
The State of Delaware added this exuberant Victorian frame house to the governor’s residential complex in 1983. It dates from a century earlier and exhibits hallmarks of Queen Anne, Stick and Gothic styles.
TURN LEFT ON DIVISION STREET. TURN RIGHT ON AMERICAN AVENUE.
115 North American Avenue
Architect William S. Vaux of Philadelphia designed this building in 1907 just before his death; it served as the Palmer Home for the Aged. Vaus had graduated from Haverford College with an engineering background and was only 36 years old at the time of his passing.
RETRACE YOUR STEPS TO DELAWARE AVENUE AND TURN RIGHT. TURN LEFT ON NORTH STATE STREET TO TOUR ON EOF DOVER’S FINEST RESIDENTIAL STREETS.
29 North State Street
Harry Alden Richardson was a prosperous canner who lost the race for governor of Delaware in 1890 by fewer than 600 votes. He went back to his job as President of the First National Bank of Dover and was able to able to console himself in this stylish Queen Anne residence he had constructed earlier that year. In 1907 at the age of 54 Richardson took another stab at politics and won election to the United States Senate and served one term as a Republican.
2 North State Street
This Second Empire ornament was added to the Dover streetscape int he 1880s; it is executed in in green serpentine stone mined in Chester County, Pennsylvania. The stone made for attractive buildings but was not used widely due to concerns for its durability.
6 South State Street
The town’s finest Italianate villa was constructed for 52-year old Dr. Henry Ridgely in 1869. The distinguished Ridgeley family emigrated to Delaware from Anne Arundel County in Maryland in 1723. Patriarch Nicholas Ridgeley landed on the Delaware Supreme Court and was selected by Caesar Rodney to be his guardian when the future Delaware hero was a minor.
102 South State Street
Plans for this elaborate structure were likely uncovered in a popular pattern book by architect Andrew Jackson Downing in the 1850s. The owner was Thomas B. Bradford, a Presbyterian minister. It sports ornamental bargeboards, a wood-turned porch and decorative window treatments.
TURN RIGHT ON WEST LOOCKERMAN STREET TO WALK DOWN THE MAIN RETAIL STREET IN DOWNTOWN DOVER.
27 West Loockerman Street
This mid-block commercial building began life as a Masonic lodge in 1885. Home to a succession of businesses, the latest is a restaurant that pays homage to Underground cartoonist Robert Crumb, who lived in Dover during his late teen years.
33 West Loockerman Street
Here is a splash of Art Moderne with rounded facade and metal trim.
George V. Massey Station
west end of Loockerman Street at 516
George Massey was a corporate lawyer who agitated for the replacement of Dover’s Italianate passenger depot with a station more befitting of the Pennsylvania Railroad, then one of the world’s largest companies. Dover got one in 1911, a railroad temple fronted by oversized Doric columns. The last passengers boarded here in 1965 andwhen the old Pennsylvania Station was adapted for office use in 2000, the building was renamed in Massey’s honor.
RETRACE YOUR STEPS ON LOOCKERMAN STREET TO NEW STREET AND TURN RIGHT (SOUTH).
Johnson Victrola Museum
Museum Square, 375 South New Street
The Johnson Victrola Museum is a tribute to Delaware’s native son, Eldridge Reeves Johnson, who founded the Victor Talking Machine Company in 1901. The company was named “The Victor” in honor of legal victories by Johnson and Berliner over competitors concerning their rights to patents on and distribution of their products. Victor, headquartered in Camden, New Jersey, became the leading American producer of phonographs and phonograph records in the early days of the industry. Exhibits highlight Johnson’s successful business enterprises and chronicle the development of the sound-recording industry.
WALK THROUGH MUSEUM SQUARE TO THE NORTH OF THE VICTROLA MUSEUM INTO THE CHURCHYARD OF THE OLD PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH.
Old Presbyterian Church
316 South Governor’s Avenue
The first Presbyterian services were conducted in Kent County in 1694 and a congregation used a log church on this site from 1708 until the present meetinghouse was raised in 1791. After 1924 it was abandoned when a new church was dedicated at State and Reed streets. Public subscriptions and an appropriation from the 115th General Assembly rescued the church and its chapel, an 1880 addition, and the complex became part of the Delaware State Museum in 1949. Among the notables buried here are Colonel John Haslet, Commander of the Delaware Regiment who was killed during the Battle of Princeton in 1777; John M. Clayton, U. S. Secretary of State; and Governors Jacob Stout, Charles Polk and J. Caleb Boggs.
WALK NORTH ON SOUTH GOVERNORS AVENUE AND TURN RIGHT ON NORTH STREET. TURN LEFT ON SOUTH STATE STREET.
214 South State Street
John Bullen, a Colonial-era builder, constructed this five-bay Georgian home in 1775. The symmetrical structure boasts a brick beltcourse and modillion block cornice.
TURN AND WALK SOUTH ON SOUTH STATE STREET, TOWARDS THE GREEN.
Schwartz Center for the Arts
226 South State Street
In the 19th century opera houses were catch-all phrases for entertainment venues that hosted everything from lectures to graduations to theater companies. In 1904 the Dover Opera House was the first building in Delaware not in Wilmington to serve strictly the arts. under the direction of impresario George M. Schwartz the facility emerged as a movie house in 1923 and later morphed into the Art Deco-inspired Capitol Theater. Like most downtown theaters the Capitol lost its battle in the 1970s with television and the suburban multiplexes and shuttered in 1982. It was one of the lucky ones, however, and dodged the wrecking ball to return in 2001 as the Schwartz Center, hosting among other events performances by the Dover Symphony Orchestra.
Central Law Building
312/314 South State Street
This building was constructed in 1888 and later picked up decorative accents in glazed terra cotta.
CONTINUE ONE-HALF BLOCK TO THE TOUR STARTING POINT ON THE GREEN.