New Castle: A Colonial Gem on the Delaware

Like many places on the Eastern Seaboard, the Delaware River town of New Castle has plenty of old buildings to show for its long and rich history. Unlike the vast majority, however, New Castle is both an historic treasure and a functioning town ol some 5,000 residents. An exemplary model of historic preservation, its handsome 135-acre historic district has survived intact into the 21st century. The town dales to 1651, when Peter Stuyvesant founded it as Fort Casimir; it changed hands for more than 20 years as the Dutch, Swedes, and British captured and recaptured it. The British prevailed, and the new landlord, William Perm, first set foot on American soil when he landed in New Castle in 1682. A plaque near the site commemorates the event, and a statue of Penn stands near the Old Court House at the center of town.

You’ll want to visit the Old Court House, which served as the Colonial capital (1732—77) and briefly as Delaware’s State House until Dover became the capital. Be sure lo peek at the old courtroom and the meeting room of the state assembly, where the Declaration of Independence was read. Pick up a brochure for the New Castle Heritage Trail to give you some guidance and background as you wander the brick sidewalks and cobblestone streets lined with centuries-old buildings. A main attraction is the Read House, the 22-room Federal-style home of a son ol Declaration signer George Read (one of three signers from New Castle). Built in 1801 for the princely sum of $12,000 (about $2.5 million today), it features magnificent Palladian windows, rooms done up in a variety of period styles, and a Prohibition-era speakeasy, modeled after a German rathskeller, in the basement. The formal gardens, begun in 1847, are the oldest in the state.

You can also get a taste of history—literally—at Jessop’s Tavern, a cozy spot in a 1724 building in the heart of the historic district. The menu aims at authenticity with “Dutch cheeses, English pub fare, Swedish sauces, and old American dishes.” In more modern surroundings, you can sample the area’s marine bounty at the renowned Hadfield’s Seafood, a fish market and take-out joint.