Delaware? As in Rehoboth, Delaware? No. The real Delaware, not Washington's summer playpen. Dover, whose beautiful village green was laid out by William Penn in 1722, a Williamsburg village that nobody had to reconstruct. Proud possessor of the fine old Victor Talking Machine collection, site of some of the most down-to-earch crabeating spots on the Delaware peninsula. Location of the second oldest state house in the Union and home to the ghost who lives in Gov. duPont's Georgian home, Woodburn.
That Delaware. Turn north after the Bay Bridge on 301 and see basic, untouristed, unspoiled Dover, centerpiece of the First State. Only 100 miles from Washington but a world away.
To begin with, you can walk almost everywhere in Dover. Park your car beside The Green and visit the State House, which commands the site from which the First Delaware Regiment marched north to join Washington's army. The State House was built between 1788 and 1792 and has survived much -- including an ill-conceived attempt to remodel it in the Victorian style.
Inside, it is a marvel of spare beauty, the clay pipes laid by as if their owners had only adjourned for a brief recess. The key to the front door is a brass eight-inch affair and a split-curved staircase inside is the nation's first geometric flight. Even if old buildings are not your cup of tea, you will like the Dover State House.
Cross The Green and walk west to the group of 18th-century houses huddled companionably together. The one on the north side of Bank Lane and The Green was built in 1740, and among the people who lived there was Caesar Rodney, the Delaware patriot who made a name for himself with a wild horseback gallop to Philadelphia to break a tie vote and assure Delaware's vote for independence.
Back of these houses are the four buildings that house the Delaware State Museum, and crown jewel amount them is the Johnson Memorial. Eldridge Johnson, founder and president of the Victor Talking Machine Co., left his collection to the state, and although Camden, N.J., where his factory was, had to bite its lip (so to speak), we are the gainers. You'll think you wandered into a turn-of-the-century music store.
Pleasant, knowledgeable women will show you around and pull any of the old Red Seal records you want to hear. You can go into a little room or a booth with a 1903 model, wind it up and listen to John McCormack warbling "I Hear You Calling Me" or Enrico Caruso putting his all into "OSolo Mio." Wonderful old pictures of Victor artists decorate the walls -- Caruso, spruce and debonaire with Chesterfield and derby; Madame Schumann-Heink, busty and wasp-waisted, caught perhaps after she recorded "Silent Night" for the boys in the trenches on Christmas Eve during World War I.
The volunteer staff loves to tell stories about Johnson and the golden age of the Victrola and of Little Nipper, the white bull terrier whose picture became Victor's trademark. Francis Barraud, an artist of the time, painted his dog listening to sounds emerging from the Edison 1877 phonograph, hoping to see it used to advertise the machine. Edison was not enchanted, so Barraud went home and painted out the photograph, substituting the Victor gramophone with its morning glory horn. There can't be anyone who hasn't seen the results, but the original is here.
A good bit of early Delaware momorabilia is displayed in the other museums, but the sight you won't want to miss is the Grand Harmonicon, kept in the nearby 1790 Presbyterian church. This wonderful 18th-century invention makes music when somebody moistens a finer and rubs the rims of the rows of blown glass goblets inside its cabinet. A member of the staff will lick a finger and render a tune on request.
For history buffs, Dover offers a nice selection of 18th-centruy houses open to the public, including the boyhood home of John Dickinson, who drafted the 1777 Articles of Confederation but withheld his signature from the Constitution, calling it "premature." His house is just outside town and offers a good look at what life was like in the 18th century.
Or you may prefer to call on Gov. du Pont who receives most Saturday afternoons in his Georgian home at Kings Highway just off Division Street. Ask him about the gentleman wearing knee britches and shoes with silver buckles who is sometimes encountered on the stairs .. . they say. Or about the crab he entered in last year's Governor's Crab Race at Crisfield (he won).
Dover is where you can get crabs that swam only hours before in the bay. Fishermen bring their catch to the local crab shacks, unloading it straight on the kitchen tables.Dover crab shacks are not fancy places. Their long tables are covered with newspaper or plastic and you attack the steamed crustaceans with wooden mallet and sharp knife. Directions on how to go about extracting the meat come on the menu, and when you finish you will know why lump crabmeat is so expensive behind glass at your local supermarket. Council's Restaurant, north of Dover on Rte. 13, is famous, and Sambo's Tavern on the Leipsic River is another. You'll dine with a mixture of other guests -- locals, fishermen, hunters.
Just beyond Council's is a food stop for winged travelers, many of which are now en route to their southern homes. Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge is about 10 miles northeast of Dover, more than 16,000 acres kept as a refuge primarily for migrating and wintering ducks and geese. About two-thirds of the refuge blends into tidal salt marsh threaded through by winding rivers and creeks. Swamps, brush thickets and open fields attract many kinds of birds and small mammals.
Drive over the single road and go slowly to see the life of the refuge. Egrets stand, dignified and comtemplative, along the edges of the freshwater ponds while muskrats slip through the reeds. September saw the arrival of the advance guard of Canadian geese, which will reach a concentration of 40,000-50,000 in late October and early November. Some 20,000remain at Bombay Hook all winter. They are heavily hunted nearby, but are safe within the borders of the refuge. The preserve is open dawn to dusk, and just before sunset is a good time to see the geese, or the whitetail deer, which sometimes browse the fields. Bring your field glasses and your bottle of insect repellent. The mosquitoes and green flies are vicious until frost.
Delaware, which had the very first gas information number was at this writing no longer suffering from a shortage and, with gas more available, you might want to cap your visit to Dover with alook at Heart Break Hotel on Bowers Beach. Three miles past Dover Air Force Base, where the bodies from Jamestown came home, is a small reduced-speed zone called Little Heaven, and two miles east of this is the hotel, which is not a hotel at all but a fabled local bar and fisherman's hangout.
Years ago Heart Break was a fine resort catering to women recovering from broken love affairs who wanted to forget, but today its clientele is largely local anglers who don't mind the fact that the floors have been flooded so often they now undulate as much as two inches. The juke box is exclusively given over to Elvis Presley and, if you come between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. on Saturday, you can buy two drinks and get one free at what the management terms Sick Call. Heart Break also serves simple food, beginning at 4 a.m. when the boats launch. It has a certain raffish vogue among the cognescenti, and T-shirts bearing its name are showing up in some posh places.
Bowers Beach, where Heart Break is located, also launches head boats twice daily. You can buy a seat and fish for sea trout, flounder, hardheads and croakers, for$12 in the morning and $10 in the afternoon. The price differential may mean the fishermen know something about good biting hours.
Staying overnight in Dover, you can choose from among most major motel chains. The very helpful people at the Delaware State Visitors Bureau have a toll-free number for any questions: 800-441-8846.
Psst. The fishermen's hotline is 302-654-4246.