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Did You Know … ?
- The New World’s first log cabins, based on Finnish architecture, were built at Wilmington (1638).
- E. I. du Pont de Nemours came to Wilmington in 1802 to get away from the French Revolution.
- Before John D. Rockefeller, Jr., created Historic Williamsburg, New Castle citizens rejected the idea for their town.
- The entire suspended superstructure of the Brooklyn Bridge was made in Wilmington.
- The DuPont Theatre is America’s oldest legitimate theater in continual operation (from 1913).
The du Ponts’ hometown
Even with fewer than 100,000 people, Wilmington is Delaware’s largest city. It’s located where the Christina River joins the Delaware.
It is called America’s corporate capital because so many companies are incorporated here — tens of thousands (including the majority of America’s Fortune 500 companies), drawn by Delaware’s business-friendly corporation law and tax structure. The tax structure is liberal for consumers, too; there’s no sales tax, to the delight of shoppers.
Wilmington also bills itself as the metropolis with big-city amenities amidst small-town charms. Urban amenities include a mix of art galleries, museums and restaurants, as well as ballet, opera, symphony and theater performances.
The city supports professional baseball and basketball, plus horseracing. For the active traveler, the city offers an annual marathon and a tier-one cycling competition, the Wilmington Grand Prix. These contests are among Greater Wilmington’s 100-plus annual festivals and events.
The calendar also includes festivities ranging from wine and food affairs to ethnic festivals, from lively music shows to the Lady Bug Festival and a sheep-shearing event — all in Wilmington or the surrounding communities.
The city’s charm comes not so much from its small size (though that helps), but from its history. Wilmington was the first permanent European settlement in Delaware Valley (1638). It shows off a few connections to its colonial past, including a replica of the ship that brought the earliest settlers. To pursue this theme, though, tourists typically add visits to nearby New Castle and Odessa.
Wilmington was uniquely influenced by a single family, the du Ponts, founders in 1802 of a gunpowder factory that grew into a huge chemicals business, still based here. The name appears frequently — on a children’s hospital, a theater, a hotel, a jazz festival, an education center, you name it — as the family supported the city’s development. In addition, a number of du Pont family mansions are now museums with the added attraction of fantastic gardens.
Finally, Wilmington has revitalized an area along the Christina, former site of the city’s shipbuilding industry. Today, the redeveloped Wilmington Riverfront accommodates housing, restaurants, a baseball stadium, entertainment sites, museums, the Riverfront Market and even an urban wildlife refuge.
Things to do for Venturers
- Accept an open invitation from the New Castle Sailing Club. Sail on the Delaware River. If a novice, take sailing lessons.
- Ride in a 1916 Rauch and Lang electric car, part of the world’s largest collection of operating steam cars at the Marshall Steam Museum at Auburn Heights. This and other of the museum’s vehicles are out for rides on Steamin’ Sundays, the first Sunday of the month, June through November.
- Check out the ziplining and treetop adventure course at Go Ape! which is in Lums Pond State Park.
- In spring, compete in the Delaware Marathon.
- Or, race in the Wilmington Grand Prix, rated a tier-one cycling competition.
- Choose your summertime music festival, the DuPont Clifford Brown Jazz Festival, the Riverfront Blues Festival or the Peoples’ Festival. The last is an annual tribute to reggae singer-songwriter Bob Marley.
Things to do for Centrics
- Take in the countryside near Wilmington aboard the Wilmington and Western Railroad, a 19th century steam train that runs seasonally. Choose a themed trip, such as the Wild West Robbery.
- At Delaware City, a dozen miles out of Wilmington, take a ferry to the Fort Delaware State Park on Pea Patch Island (really), which is now a living history museum with costumed interpreters. The fort was a prison during the Civil War.
- For unique art viewing, consider the Blue Ball Barn, a converted dairy barn on the former Nemours Estate now housing Delaware’s folk art collection. Or, the Brandywine River Museum, for American art including works by three generations of Wyeths, plus the Andrew Wyeth Studio and N.C. Wyeth House and Studio.
- Drive the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Byway, for the scenery and the history lesson. The route approximates that of escaped slaves who moved through Delaware to the North.
- Follow the Brandywine Valley Wine Trail and taste the local product. Want a suds break? Choose the Delaware Wine and Ale Trail.
- Undertake a self-guided walking tour of Delaware’s first capital, New Castle, six miles out of Wilmington. It authentically retains the charms of its 18th and 19th century buildings and didn’t have to be converted into a living history museum.
Things to do for Authentics
- See the Kalmar Nyckel, a replica of the ship that brought the first Europeans to settle in the Delaware Valley.
- Book an all-you-can-eat crab cruise, available Thursday or Friday evenings in summer, aboard the Riverboat Queen, which is docked on the Christina River.
- Shop until the plastic cracks. There is no sales tax.
- At Wilmington, there are serious gardens to see. Consider the Winterthur Museum, Garden and Library, once home to Henry Francis du Pont. There are a thousand acres of gardens (take a garden tram tour) as well as a beautiful home and collection of American decorative arts to be appreciated.
- See a show at the historic DuPont Theatre.
- Place your bets. The Casino at Delaware Park offers indoor games year round, plus thoroughbred and Arabian horseracing May through November.
For more information, consult the Greater Wilmington Convention and Visitors Bureau at www.visitwilmingtonde.com