Mr. Davidson’s living history tour is one of several programs sponsored by the First State Heritage Park, a “park without boundaries” created in 2004 by Gov. Ruth Ann Minner.
Encompassing a walkable few blocks in downtown Dover that includes the historic homes and buildings and the Green, Heritage Park and its programs are designed to introduce non-Delawareans to “the public history not well known outside Delaware” and to help natives “appreciate their own history more deeply,” says Elaine M. Brenchley, director of the park’s projects.
Another Heritage Park goal, says Lee Jennings, state historian of cultural and recreation services, is not to succumb “to elitism, telling the tales of a few high caliber citizens only,” but “to tell everyone’s story.”
Embodying an era
Walking tours like Mr. Davidson’s — and rentable audio guides for visitors who prefer to tour on their own — introduce visitors to such Dover gems as the Old State House on the Green, completed in 1792 and now a museum (though closed for renovations); the 1728 Ridgeley House on the Green, where descendants of the original family still live; and Christ Episcopal Church at South State and Water streets, built in 1754, where a memorial to Caesar Rodney can be found.
They also include mention of such long-gone places as a tavern, originally called the King George, that perfectly reflected the spirit of the time: Its name was changed to the George Washington Tavern when the Revolution began.
Also on hand are the Spirits of the Green, park employees dressed in 18th-century garb who pose as servants employed at the nearby Golden Fleece Tavern, on the northeast corner of the Green and State Street.
The Golden Fleece, whose original building has been replaced, was large enough to hold meetings of citizens and delegates who couldn’t fit into the smaller Old State House. That made it a hotbed of Revolutionary activity and, in 1787, the site of Delaware’s ratification of the U.S. Constitution. Servants there would have had access to the latest gossip about what was happening in Dover.
“Servants overheard all kinds of news. They were the best informed people in town,” Mr. Jennings says.
In fact, the Spirits are full of information about Dover’s history; they teach visitors how to play 18th-century games, such as lawn bowling, and on occasion may burst into 18th-century song and perform Colonial dances.
A man of courage
Rodney was born in 1728 and grew up on Byfield, the family farm (now gone) south of Dover near what is now Dover Air Force Base. As the scion of an old Delaware family, his background was privileged by Delaware standards (the Virginia and Maryland aristocrats were far richer), but he is said to have had the common touch.
“Caesar Rodney was a complex man, and at the same time a straightforward, down-to-earth farmer,” says Delaware actor Dick Pack, who portrays Rodney in “Caesar Rodney Rides Again,” a central feature of Dover’s Fourth of July celebrations.