Lewes landmark part of First State National Historical Park

By Ron MacArthur

Cape Gazette of Lewes, Delaware

With the Ryves Holt House on Second Street as part of the First State National Historical Park, Lewes now has a direct connection to other historic sites such as Abraham Lincoln's birthplace, Valley Forge, Pa., and Appomattox Courthouse in Virginia.

The 350-year-old house - the state's oldest - serves as Lewes Historical Society's visitor center and gift shop.

Legislation signed Dec. 19 by President Barack Obama authorized the First State National Monument in Delaware to become the First State National Historical Park to include sites in all three counties of Delaware.

The First State National Historical Park celebrates early American Dutch, Swedish and English settlements located throughout Delaware, and Delaware's role in the events leading up to the founding of the country.

"We can now tell the story of the state that started a nation," said U.S. Sen. Tom Carper during a Dec. 30 ceremony in Lewes on Second Street in front of the Ryves Holt House.

Carper said the First State National Historical Park will be listed on the National Park website for the world to discover. It's hoped the park will bring new tourists and tourism dollars to Delaware.

Park Superintendent Russ Smith of the National Park Service said it's time people learned the significant role Delaware has played in the nation's history. "It's not all about Plymouth Rock and Jamestown," he said. "There was religious tolerance here; there was diversity here and individualism here. Delaware has a story to tell."

Smith explained that the park service will not take over ownership of the Ryves Holt House. "We are not the directors, and we are not the owners. We are glue to help tell the stories each of the sites has to tell. Our role is to knit all of these sites together," he said.

Smith, who works in an office in New Castle is retiring this week after 42 years of National Park Service employment. "I have mixed feelings because now exciting things are starting to happen," he said.

The historic Lewes house joins eight other Delaware landmarks as part of the First State National Historical Park:

In New Castle County: Woodlawn trustees property, The Old Sheriff's. House, Old New Castle Courthouse, New Castle Green, Old Swedes Church National Historic Landmark and Fort Christina National Historic Landmark.

In Kent County: Dover Green and John Dickinson Plantation National Historic Landmark.

Work on park started 12 years ago

Carper started a dialog in 2002 about the creation of a national park in Delaware, the only state that didn't have one. He said many ideas surfaced - including Great Cypress Swamp in Sussex County, Fort Delaware, The Green in Dover and Old Swedes Church in Wilmington.

When a committee came back with an idea to link several sites together to tell the state's early colonial history leading up to the ratification of the Constitution, Carper said he was not immediately sold. But the idea grew on him, and the park service liked it, he said.

"I cannot wait for the day when families from all across this country and the world will plan their vacations around the First State National Historical Park to learn how Delaware helped launch the most enduring experiment in democracy that the world has ever known - the United States of America," he said.

Carper has worked with the Delaware delegation, federal officials, state officials and community leaders to identify a theme and a park concept that fits well within the federal budget and is worthy of designation as a national park.

In January 2009, the Bush administration finalized a National Park Service special resource study concluding that a national park should be placed in Delaware, and every year since, Carper has introduced legislation authorizing a national park.

The Senate approved the First State National Historical Park as part of the 2015 National Defense Authorization Act.

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