- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 2, 2001

DOVER, Del. — "Delaware? Why are you going to Delaware?" asked folks in Florida, where I live.
"Delaware? What are you doing in Delaware?" asked folks I encountered here.
Dela-WHERE? reads a T-shirt sold in a building constructed in this city before the Colonies declared their independence.
Maybe the state that dangles below Pennsylvania and New Jersey, snuggled next to Maryland, is too shy to tout its surprising range of attractions:
* The abundant array of Colonial and post-Revolutionary-War-era buildings, many of them still used.
* The vast collections of works by American painters and illustrators, on display not only in museums but also in a bank and a library.
* The coastal parks, resting places for millions of migratory birds.
* Two sites that tell the story of how the du Ponts came to be one of America's wealthiest families it started with making better gunpowder and how they spent several of their millions on themselves.
* The three-car ferry that has been crossing one river since 1793.
* I got up close, but not personal, with a pack of wolves.
Collectors of the current series of U.S. quarters, which eventually will commemorate all 50 states, might recall that the first of the coins featured Delaware. Its design was the inaugural because, as the state repeatedly boasts, it was the first of the former Colonies to ratify the Constitution. Delaware is thus the first state.
It is also the second-smallest, ahead of Rhode Island. Delaware has 1,982 square miles and a population of 783,600. For Delaware, that was an increase in population of nearly 18 percent from 1990.
The newcomers, many from adjacent states, are moving mainly to two regions: new suburbs around the biggest city, Wilmington, and southern Delaware, where rural areas are dotted with farms, and former farms.
It is common to drive two-lane country roads past old farmhouses sitting a few hundred yards in front of a crop of new two-story houses that sprout where corn, wheat, melons and soybeans once grew.
The farmers had replaced the fur trappers, traders and merchant marine interests that arrived shortly after Dutch ships sailed up what is now the Delaware River and came ashore at present-day Lewes in 1631.
Swedish settlers built a fort farther north, near present-day Wilmington, about 1643. The two settlements battled and the Dutch won, but many of the Swedes stayed on.
About 1681, the English Quaker William Penn arrived and, with a large land grant from England's Charles II, founded Pennsylvania. A year later, Penn received from the king's brother the already occupied land that became known as the "Three Lower Counties" of Pennsylvania.
But there was friction between the staid Quakers and the settlers in the Lower Counties, forcing Penn to create a separate governing assembly for them in 1704. This was the beginning of the Delaware Colony, named for a 17th-century patron of an English captain who sailed here.
With the long Delaware Bay opening wide onto the Atlantic, the colony prospered. Its farmers and merchants traded produce and local goods for European manufactured items, molasses and slaves. Shipbuilders worked in dozens of boat yards. A cross-peninsula canal was an important shortcut for goods moving from New Jersey to inland states and western territories.
George Washington was friendly with Delaware's most prominent families, even coming up from Virginia to attend the wedding of the governor's daughter here in the first state capital, New Castle. Visitors now touring the elegant Amstel House with docents see where Washington stood in 1784 as he kissed the hands of women attending the multiday reception.
Swedes, Dutch, English … but French nobles fleeing the aftermath of the French Revolution were the ones to give Delaware fame beyond being the first state. A financial adviser to the deposed king and a member of the elite French Estates General, Pierre S. du Pont gathered his family and hurriedly left France in the autumn of 1799.
The family ultimately arrived in Delaware in 1802 and moved to the banks of the Brandywine River, where others were successful at harnessing the swift-flowing water to operate flour and sawmills. Du Pont's son, Eleuthere Irenee (pronounced ELL-yoo-thayr EE-ree-nay), soon opened a gunpowder mill on the river.
E.I. du Pont imported saltpeter from India and sulfur from Sicily and had his workers produce charcoal from willow trees growing along the river the elements of gunpowder. Du Pont's reputation was soon built on the quality and reliability of his gunpowder and black powder, used to build roads and to clear rocks and stumps from farm fields.
During the War of 1812, du Pont's mills supplied much of the powder for the American forces, and it is estimated that during the Civil War, half of the Union's powder was provided by du Pont. The mills and storehouses producing all this occupied nearly two miles along the banks of the Brandywine. Modernization, including the creation of steam power plants, kept the complex in operation until 1921.
But gunpowder was being made in other du Pont plants, and the company had branched out into a spectrum of chemical products. Du Pont scientists ultimately were to create paint lacquers, plastics, synthetic rubber, nylon and, more recently, such synthetics as Teflon, Orlon, Kevlar and, most recently, Gore-Tex, the breathable, waterproof fabric.
Two of the du Pont homes, a couple of minutes outside Wilmington and open to the public, provide an interesting contrast. The Hagley Museum includes E.I.'s original home, just a few dozen yards from the danger of the mills; it was severely damaged in one explosion. Its last occupant was one of E.I.'s great-granddaughters, Louise du Pont Crowninshield. She had expensive but not opulent taste. Her historic two-story home within the Hagley complex is furnished largely with pieces that various du Ponts used there or donated to the museum.
One room is filled with period furniture, including an original crib, a rocking horse and a child's tea set. In this room in 1817 slept E.I., his wife and their three children.
Not so cramped was Alfred I. du Pont, whose last home is about two miles from the Hagley site. Named Nemours for the family's ancestral home in France, this is a 102-room mansion. The house was built during 1909-10; the construction cost is not disclosed on the tour.
On the placid Nanticoke River at the western edge of Delaware, tugs nudge barges carrying loads equal to 18 semitrailer trucks. Fuel oil, stone and gravel head inland; lima beans, soybeans and fertilizer head out to the Chesapeake Bay. The barges share the Nanticoke with a far smaller working vessel, the tiny Woodland Ferry. Just 65 feet long, the ferry carries cars and small trucks across the river where Route 78 reaches it, near the towns of Laurel and Seaford.
"It has been this way at least since 1793," says Capt. Bonnie Maull. She is one of the half-dozen Coast Guard-certified captains of the ferry.
Like several of her colleagues, she used to captain deep-sea party fishing boats. She traded in the dangers of that job for the repetition of steering the ferry, along its submerged cable, for 70-second crossings of the Nanticoke. "It gets monotonous," she allows, "but we can talk to the passengers, discuss history."
There are bridges to the south and north, but this anachronism can save motorists about 15 minutes' driving time. Most of the time, the ferry rests against one bank of the river or the other, waiting. One car, or one pedestrian, is enough of a load to start the voyage.
"Fridays through Sundays in the summer, when people (from nearby Maryland and Pennsylvania) are heading for the (Atlantic) beaches or coming back, it is bumper-to-bumper traffic," says the ferry captain. "That's 500 to 600 cars a day. … We never stop."
A few dozen miles north of the ferry crossing, amid lovely, green pastures, horses graze and romp behind rail fences. At one ranch near Middletown, the horses occasionally eye their neighbors, in a fenced enclosure. But in the pen, the six wolves seem to pay the horses no attention.
Instead, Tonka, Lobo and the others pace their border or trot about in little groups, from the back of the pen to the front. Their world, within the 8-foot-high fence, is about the size of three house lots.
Casually watching the pack from outside the fence is the wolves' best friend and protector. "They aren't bloodthirsty killers," Angelo Piner tells me. "They are a keystone species that keeps an ecosystem running."
Mr. Piner and his wife, Stephanie, created the Canis Lupus Wolf Foundation. With biology professor Brad Walker, also here by the pen, they care for the animals, five of which were born to wolves in their care.
The wolves' location is not made public the foundation has no paid staff, so potential visitors must contact the foundation for directions and to arrange for a volunteer to meet them. The animals live on land donated by the horse ranch owner. Although the foundation has had more than 100 schoolchildren visit during a field trip, most often it takes the wolves to the people.
"We conduct outreach programs, mainly bringing wolves into schools in cages and show films about wolves in the wild," Mr. Piner says as the animals come close to him. He recently suffered a knee injury in a basketball game and is wearing a large brace and leaning on a crutch.
"They are skittish around humans, even me a bit," Mr. Piner says. "But they consider me a pack member. If I wasn't wearing the brace, I would go in there and could lay down with them, socialize with them. But we have to remember, they are wild animals. They have their own society, and we can't bring them into ours."
Just about then, one of the wolves hops atop a large rock, points his muzzle to the blue sky and lets out a howl. Mr. Piner immediately howls back, gets a brief response and then stops playing wolf.
Mr. Piner moves stiffly to the side of the fence and calls out, "C'mere, Lobo, Come, Lobee."
The biggest and fiercest-looking of the six trots over. This is the alpha male, a dark gray, sleek creature with more bulk to him than the others. He stops next to Mr. Piner.
"Lobee, come up," urges Mr. Piner, and the big animal stands on its hind legs.
Through the fence, Lobo licks Mr. Piner's face.
Just then, everyone wolves, Mr. Piner, Mr. Walker, me turns to see a car drive up. It is a federal employee, coming to make sure that Canis Lupus is treating its wolves properly. Lobo drops back to all fours, and the pack drifts back from the fence, wary of the newcomer.
Elsewhere on a dreary, drizzly, cool Monday, Larry Johnson is at his familiar post on the wet sands of the beach at Cape Henlopen State Park.
We cannot see, in the mist and rain, all the beach that fronts the impressive sand dunes where the Delaware Bay meets the Atlantic Ocean. But as far as we can see, Mr. Johnson appears to have the coast to himself.
"I better check the groceries," he says, reeling in about 90 yards of fishing line. Nothing doing: The bait is still on the hook, which is not in the mouth of Mr. Johnson's beloved "stripers," striped trout.
Undeterred, he wades thigh-high into the gentle surf and casts out again. He would settle, he allows, for bluefish, but only for the challenge of bringing them in. He does not care for their taste, so when he catches one, he walks it back into the low waves and makes sure it heads out to sea.
"I worked as a telephone engineer, had 29 years, 11 months in," Mr. Johnson suddenly announces, unprompted. "I woke up one morning and decided, 'I'm not going in today. Or anymore' "
After fishing the Atlantic from the sands of Cape Hatteras, N.C., "I moved here in 1980. "You know what they call it? Lower, slower, Delaware."

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