Lantern Tour and Grand Opening of the John Bell House on The Green Highlight First State Heritage Park April Activities

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DOVER (March 17, 2011) – Celebrate the arrival of spring at the First State Heritage Park on the first weekend of April.  The weekend starts with a lantern tour of The Green on Friday, April 1, and is followed with First Saturday activities throughout the park on April 2.

Highlighting the weekend is the grand opening celebration of the newest addition to First State Heritage Park – the John Bell House on The Green. The building, which is the oldest wooden structure in Dover, has been newly restored to serve as an interpretive center for the park. It dates back to the mid-1700s and was owned by three generations of the Bell family. The Bells owned and operated a series of 18th-century taverns around The Green, and it is believed that this structure originally served as a workshop. In the mid-19th century, two notable Delawareans – Nathaniel Smithers and George Valentine Massey – maintained law offices in the building.

As a special nod to “Earth Month,” visitors to the John Bell House will be greeted by 18th-century botanist John Bartram, as portrayed by Bob Gleason of The American Historical Theater, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. An early advocate of ecology and the importance of living in harmony with nature, John Bartram (1699-1777) was often referred to by his contemporaries as “the greatest natural botanist in the world.” Bartram’s Garden, in Philadelphia, is the oldest botanical garden in America to have remained intact to the present time. Bartram is credited with identifying and introducing into cultivation more than 200 of our native plants. By 1765, Bartram’s international reputation earned him the notice of King George III, who appointed him Royal Botanist.

Throughout the day, visitors can observe traditional woodworking tools and techniques, see how the hand-riven siding on the John Bell House was made, learn how this structure has evolved over the past 250 years, and hear how the restoration project was accomplished. Visitors will also learn about plans for the John Bell House garden, take a walking tour of The Green (offered every half-hour from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.), and enjoy refreshments.

First Saturday activities also feature the two capitol buildings in Delaware’s capital city – The Old State House, which served as the seat of Delaware’s General Assembly from 1791 to 1933, and Legislative Hall, which has served this function since 1933. Visitors can enjoy guided tours of both capitol buildings from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., as well as visit the Governor’s residence at Woodburn and Hall House from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Tours and exhibits are also available from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at the Biggs Museum of American Art and the First State Heritage Park Welcome Center and Galleries.

Admission to all sites and activities is free. Centrally located free parking is available at the First State Heritage Park Welcome Center and Galleries, located at 121 Duke of York Street. For more information about The First State Heritage Park programs, the public may call 302-739-9194 or visit:

Friday, April 1
Lantern Tour of the Dover Green
8 p.m.
Meets at the John Bell House on The Green
Visitors will hear tales of the most infamous resident of Dover’s jail, devastating fires that threatened the town, poisonings, tragic love and the auctioning of slaves on the steps of the Old State House.  Lanterns may be reserved by calling 302-739-9194. $5 per person

First Saturday, April 2

The First State Heritage Park Welcome Center and Galleries
121 Duke of York Street
9 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.
The Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs presents two exhibits:
USS Delaware: An American Battleship
The story of the USS Delaware (1909-1924), told through objects, photographs, and ceremonial silver.
The Civil War: Five Delaware Soldiers’ Stories
This exhibit recognizes the 150th anniversary of the beginning of the American Civil War. The state’s collection of objects, portraits, and documents and personal experiences reveal the brutal journey through the War of the Rebellion.

Guided Tours of Legislative Hall-Delaware’s Capitol
9 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.
Legislative Hall has been the seat of Delaware’s General Assembly, the supreme lawmaking body in the state, since 1933.  Visitors will tour the House and Senate Chambers to learn about the legislature and Delaware history. Photo ID is required for all adults entering the building.

The Shape of our State
The Old State House on The Green
9 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.
Why does Delaware have an exact arc as its northern boundary?  Is the state north or south of the Mason-Dixon Line?  What exactly is a Hundred?  Visitors will learn how Delaware’s various boundaries were created and view reproductions of old maps of the First State. Guided tours of this 1791 building that served as Delaware’s capitol until 1933 will be offered throughout the day.

A Tribute to Duke Ellington
Johnson Victrola Museum, 375 S. New Street
9 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.
The birth of the great American composer and band leader Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington is celebrated with his original 78-inch recordings played on authentic Victrola machines.

Biggs Picture: Landscapes by Regional Artists—the 2011 Competition & Exhibition
Biggs Museum of American Art, 406 Federal Street
9 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.
This exhibition features paintings, drawings, sculpture, photography, craft, video and other artistic media by regional landscape artists. Artists in this juried competition were asked to interpret the theme of “Landscape,” embracing both traditional and experimental notions of “space” and “landscape.” The Biggs Museum permanent collection of American fine and decorative arts is also on view.

Tours of the Governor’s House at Woodburn
151 Kings Highway
10 a.m. – 1 p.m.
Visitors will enjoy guided tours of Woodburn, the official residence of Delaware’s Governor since 1965, as well as Hall House, the Governor’s guest house.

Walking Tours of The Green (National Register Historic District)
Tours begin every half hour. Meet at the John Bell House on The Green
10 a.m. – 3 p.m.
For 300 years, The Green has been the center of commerce, politics, and civic life in Dover.  Guided walks through the historic district reveal the people and events that left their mark on Dover’s history.

A Dangerous and Uncomfortable Position:  Delaware from the Secession Crisis through Bull Run Presented by Dr. Steve Newton
Delaware Public Archives, 121 Duke of York Street
10:30 a.m.
As a border state, Delaware became the focus of both Secessionists and Unionists during the critical months between Abraham Lincoln’s election and the war’s first battles. Visitors will learn about the emissaries from both sides who visited the First State and what they said to woo Delawareans to their cause.  

Biggs Kids – Sock Bunnies
Biggs Museum of American Art, 406 Federal Street
2 – 3 p.m.
Spring is in the air and bunny rabbits are everywhere!  Children create their own sweet bunnies to decorate the family table just in time for Easter. Ages 5-10. Free, but reservations required and may be made by calling 302-674-2111.

The First State Heritage Park at Dover is Delaware’s first urban “park without boundaries” linking historic and cultural sites in the city that has been the seat of state government since 1777. The park is a partnership of state agencies, under the leadership of Delaware State Parks, working in collaboration with city and county government, nonprofit organizations and the private sector.

Vol. 41, No. 98