Delaware City traces its roots to the 1820’s. A channel is created connecting the Chesapeake Bay and the Delaware River. The founders envision a budding metropolis capitalizing on the newly created shipping channel, however, the advent of the railroad soon derails those dreams.
Build it and they will come
While the city’s growth didn’t quite live up to expectations, it did grow into a charming community of tree-lined streets, riverside park, shops, restaurants, motel, and ferry.
This is where I board the ferry for the 1/2 mile trip across the Delaware River. My destination is Pea Patch Island and Fort Delaware State Park. Legend has it that a ship carrying peas up the shoal filled Delaware River runs ashore scattering peas on the shoal. As the peas sprout and vines grow they collect more and more mud until the shoal becomes an island. Finally, in 1794 it earns a spot on the map.
Today the Island is home to the largest mixed breed heron nesting site (heronry) on the East Coast. Nine species of wading birds can be found breeding here each spring. In the summer, however, the large birds are few and far between.
To the fort
As luck would have it, the trip is not wasted as the island is also home to a Fort Delaware. A fort/prison that housed over 30,000 Confederate prisoners in 1864.
Walking around the place is pretty amazing. The sheer number of bricks and slabs of granite is unbelievable. The massive fort’s construction takes nearly 11 years.
As I was on the first ferry over, there only 10 of us visitors on the island. We disperse about the fort and most often I’m wandering the cavernous halls and rooms alone.
A more perfect union
I am startled by interpreters seeming to appear out of nowhere. Interpreters are in period clothing and are in full character. They introduce themselves by their Union name along with their ranks and regiments. They retell stories of life in that era. I find this a bit quaint and a little uncomfortable. I enjoy the retelling of stories that place a historical perspective in a real-life way. It’s like literally walking through time. But for some reason, I’m never comfortable with the one-on-one interaction when one party is acting.
I am further taken aback when I slip into a supply room to find a young gal, I think, polishing weaponry. She recalls her anxiousness to see some action on the front lines before her term of enlistment expires in a year. Our whole interaction is me talking to a female posing as a male during the 1860’s. She says at least 100 women serve in combat roles for the Union Army. She passionately recalls her story and neither I nor CNN was there so I’ll take her at her word.
The fort was protected by 150 cannons in its day. Though not one was ever fired in battle. The highlight of the visit was the re-enactment of a cannon firing. I see why it takes 150 of the things to protect the fort. The loading, aiming and firing is an arduous time-consuming process.
The ferry ride over, touring the grounds, hiking the 1-mile heronry trail around the 300-acre island only takes a couple of hours. There is no food on the island so I’m gonna make the short drive up the coast for lunch in Wilmington.