Delaware History Trail: Where to stay, what to do and more
The state’s tourism office issued the Xtreme Sightseeing challenge in December, dangling a coffee-table tome as a trophy. The contest resembles a scavenger hunt: Visit at least six designated attractions along the Delaware History Trail in each of the state’s three counties. Log the five-figure code posted on the official sign into your “passport,” a trio of sheets printed off the group’s Web site. Send in your findings and await your well-earned copy, which has a retail price of $25.
The trail offers a choice of 12 stops per county, with some clumping around such urban areas as Wilmington (six) and Dover (five).
When plotting my route, I focused on efficiency and speed. For example, I skipped outlier attractions and ignored business hours, since I had no plans to enter any buildings and dawdle over exhibits. My strategy: scribble and scram.
Delaware may be nicknamed the First State (for being at the head of the line to ratify the Constitution), but it ranks second-to-last in size. It measures a bitty nine miles across at its narrowest point and 96 miles from top to bottom. On the page, my northbound road trip resembled an armless stick person. I started in Delmar, the big toe on the left foot, and ended in Wilmington, around the hairline.
The first stop should have been a quickie, the Mason-Dixon marker in the southernmost county of Sussex. I puttered along pastoral Route 54, passing sleeping fields and squat homes with tended lawns. I searched for the pile of stones with little success. I started to grow paranoid. Perhaps someone had stolen the sign or, even worse, maybe I wasn’t even in Delaware. I checked license plates for clues but couldn’t find a consensus.
I pulled into the town office for help. A clerk, hardly surprised by my befuddlement, informed me that I was in Maryland; to reach Delaware, I had to cross the street. Though my attraction was in that other state, she provided me with detailed directions, plus luck in my quest.
I saw the trail sign from the road and was able to decipher the code through the windshield, but not the small type on the historical placard. I wondered about the names, dates and moments I wasn’t learning about. Eventually, my curiosity prevailed. I stepped out of the car and read every line of type.
After that, the game changed. It’s not that I cared less about the book; I just started to care more about Delaware. I wanted to get to know this oft-snubbed state. For instance, I became interested in Delaware’s fishing holes (Phillips Landing in Laurel), Quakers (Camden Friends Meeting), Methodists (Barratt’s Chapel in Frederica) and legislators, including Nathaniel Mitchell, the first Laurel homeboy to hold the governor’s office. At Old Christ Church, a barnlike red building from the mid-1700s, I snapped a photo of the trail sign (as backup, in case my paperwork blew away) and of Mitchell’s grave, despite the lack of a code on his headstone.