The sound of slot machines competes with the excited cries of winners sitting at the nearby gambling tables. Meanwhile, silence reigns at farms where horses—rather than tractors—pull plows. Welcome to Kent County, Delaware.
Dover, the state capital, retains the charm that William Penn envisioned when he laid it out in 1683. The graceful Dover Green surrounds the inviting public square. This is where a Continental regiment was mustered during the American Revolution, and where townspeople gathered in 1776 to hear the newly penned Constitution of Delaware read.
The First State Heritage Park encompasses The Green and links a number of important sites. Guided walking tours focus on stories of The Green, Revolutionary War heroes, and tales of slavery and freedom.
The Old State House, completed in 1791, served as Delaware’s Capitol for more than 140 years before it was replaced in 1933. An audio-visual presentation and tour bring to life the people who once deliberated within the walls of the graceful Georgian-style structure.
During a visit to Kent County, I enjoyed another immersion in history, this one provided by a costumed interpreter playing the part of James Booth Jr., who served as Chief Justice of the Delaware Supreme Court from 1841 to 1855. He explained that although Delaware was a slave state, residents were divided over the issue.
Around the corner from the Old State House is the tiny John Bell House, which was erected in the mid-1700s. It was owned by three generations of a family that operated taverns around The Green. The little wooden structure now serves as an interpretive center and the starting point of tours.
After taking in your fill of early Americana, it’s time to set your sights on the eclectic offering of other attractions in and around Dover. A short stroll leads to the Johnson Victrola Museum, which is as fascinating in its role in facilitating the town’s history. That history began with a Delawarean named Eldridge Johnson, who founded the Victor Talking Machine Co. in 1901. After perusing collections of more than 100,000 old records, antique phonographs, and memorabilia that trace the history of recorded sound, I was amused by an assortment of early hand-cranked “talking machines” with oversized listening horns.
I also enjoyed intriguing stories told during a guided tour. These stories revealed the source of popular sayings, such as “Put a sock in it,” referring to when people literally stuffed a sock into the listening horn of a Victrola to quiet the sound, and “Put a lid on it,” which evolved when record-players were later placed in cabinets with lids which could be closed.
An introduction to a more contemporary chapter of history is available at the farmers’ markets that take place in and around Dover. Spence’s Bazaar offers the appeal of a rambling open-air shopping experience and encounters with representatives of a local Amish community. Dressed in their distinctive “plain people” attire, the Amish sell fresh-baked breads and pies; homemade fudge; and other hard-to-resist, diet-busting foods.
Drives through the countryside provide other encounters with the Amish lifestyle. Tiny shops and tidy farms line narrow, winding roads. I paused to chat with an amiable young man guiding a six-horse team pulling a plow.
The main feature at Shady Lane Selection is a large collection of quilts, one of which Salina Yoder—using a foot-pedal-powered sewing machine—was working on when I arrived. After viewing the colorful assortment of bright coverlets and comforters, I spotted a sign that suggested, “When life gives you scraps, make quilts.”
Even as a non-fan of automobile racing, I found a tour of Dover International Speedway more interesting than I had anticipated. The “Monster Mile,” as it is known, hosts automobile races each year on what’s billed as “the fastest 1-mile car track in the world.” Guided tours include a visit to a garage where retired Sprint Cup race cars are parked once their careers of tooling around at speeds approaching 200 miles per hour have come to an end.
Even this long list of attractions and activities doesn’t exhaust the possibilities available to those visiting Kent County. The somewhat oddly named Air Mobility Command Museum—housed in a World War II hangar—is home to more than two dozen aircraft. They include an open-cockpit biplane and a retired jumbo jet which has taxied passengers such as U.S. presidents and vice presidents, as well as Queen Elizabeth II.
The Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge encompasses 16,000 acres of habitat for waterfowl, songbirds, shorebirds, and other wildlife. Close-up animal encounters are available for those who set out on gentle walking trails, while there are also options for those who would rather experience drive-by sightings from their car.
The section of the Delaware Bayshore Byway that traverses Kent County meanders through marshlands that skirt Delaware Bay and leads to small fishing villages. A personal favorite was Leipsic, a tiny hamlet where working boats used for fishing, crabbing, and oystering are often tied up at the dock. I received a lesson in crabbing from two watermen as they unloaded bushel baskets of the crawly crustaceans they had just retrieved from the traps they had tended earlier in the day.
Museums and history-rich buildings have much to offer those who visit Kent County. But for me, chatting with amiable watermen as they unloaded the day’s catch and watching a young Amish man steer a horse-powered plow were among experiences that provided the most lasting memories.
When You Go
Those interested in more information regarding Kent County may visit the website VisitDelawareVillages.com
Victor Block is a freelance writer. To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at Creators.com. Copyright 2021 Creators.com