Where I Went:
Elbright Azimuth, Rodney Square, Hotel DuPont, New Castle Court House Museum, George Reed II House, Jessop’s Tavern, Helen’s Sausage House, Air Mobility Command Museum at Dover Air Force Base, Firefly Music Festival
Having been to 46 states, I set my sights on Delaware for state 47. I decided to visit over a 3-day weekend that coincided with a company holiday in mid-June. Luck would have it that was the weekend of the Firefly Music Festival, Delaware’s largest event.
Delaware is the second smallest state in area. It is about 150 miles long and 50 miles wide at its widest point. Besides that, I knew very little about the state.
Interestingly, Delaware is the only state in the country without commercial air service, so I ended up flying to the Philadelphia airport which is only 20 minutes from the border.
Day 1: New Castle County
My Spirit red eye flight (oooof) landed at Philadelphia around 6:30 am. After picking up my rental car, I drove south along Interstate 95. 15 minutes later, just before the Delaware border, I cut north and skirted the strange circular border. In the middle of a suburban neighborhood, I then turned left onto Ebright Road and crossed into Delaware.
There, 30 feet past the Delaware sign was the state’s highest point: Ebright Azimuth. At 447.85 feet above sea level, it is the second shortest state high point (only Florida’s is shorter). A blue plaque marked the spot. As I was taking pictures of the plaque, a man ran by on his morning jog. I congratulated him on reaching the highest point in Delaware. He yelled back “That’s right! 447.85 baby!”
Honestly the spot was pretty pathetic compared to other state high points…and technically Delaware is all downhill from here. Luckily, Delaware does get better.
15 minutes away, I cruised into Wilmington. With 71,000 people it is the largest city in Delaware. But it feels much bigger: the downtown has many high rises and looks more like a city of 1 million people. The downtown is very clean.
The reason Wilmington has so many buildings and jobs is because of the favorable Delaware tax laws which appear to have caused many companies that would otherwise be in Philadelphia to be based here instead.
These laws include no state sales tax, low LLC fees, strong corporate privacy laws that allows the owners of LLCs to remain anonymous, and most importantly the ability to avoid taxes on income generated in other states.
It’s not just local companies that are in Delaware, almost half of all public corporations in America are incorporated in Delaware to take advantage of some of these laws. Incorporating a company in Delaware takes about an hour and the company does not need to actually have its headquarters in Delaware- just a mailing address.
In 2012, there were actually more companies in Delaware (945,326) than people (897,934).
Of those 945,326 companies, almost 300,000 are located in 1209 Orange Street in downtown Wilmington. This ugly 2-story office building is the home of the CT Corporation, which provides a mailing address for companies to list their “headquarters”. They also ship legal notices to their actual headquarters. Among the companies that are located at 1209 Orange include Apple, American Airlines, Walmart, Coca-Cola, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Verizon, Google, the Clinton Foundation, and the Trump Organization.
A few blocks away is Rodney Square, named for a signer of the Declaration of Independence.
One of the most prominent buildings in the square is the 11-story 1007 Market Street. Until 2015, this building was the headquarters of DuPont, Delaware’s most prominent company. Today, DuPont is a chemical conglomerate. I didn’t get to learn that much about the company, but it is well known that they have a very large influence in Delaware. Many of the DuPont family’s grand mansions are scattered in the region outside of Wilmington. The first few floors of 1007 Market Street are occupied by the Hotel DuPont, a majestic hotel with turn-of-the-century décor.
Just 5 miles south of Wilmington is the town of New Castle, one of the oldest cities in Delaware. The center of town contains 500 historic buildings built before 1900. That’s a lot considering there are only 5,000 residents.
The main building and obvious focal point is the New Castle Court House. While owned and operated by the state, it is now part of First State National Historic Park- a National Park Service site. I took a free hour-long guided tour of the building and learned all about New Castle’s and Delaware’s history. This was one of the best guided tours I have ever taken and I would highly recommend it to anyone in the area.
Originally founded by the Dutch West India Company in 1651, New Castle traded hands between the Dutch, Swedes, and British before eventually becoming part of Pennsylvania. What today is Delaware was once called the “Lower Three Counties” of Pennsylvania and gave William Penn access to the ocean which meant better trading opportunities.
The borders of Delaware are quite unusual. The southern and western border with Maryland was settled by a survey done by Mason and Dixon (THE Mason/Dixon line) due to a disagreement between Penn and Lord Baltimore. The northern border is actually a 12-mile circle drawn centered around the dome of the New Castle Court House not including land east of the Delaware River.
The Dutch, Swedes, and British living in the Lower Three Counties were not fans of the Quaker ways in Pennsylvania. Quakers had many conservative morals including prohibitions on alcohol that were not popular among non-Quakers. Also important but noticeably not mentioned on the tour: Quakers were against slavery, but much of Delaware (especially Southern Delaware) consisted of plantations run by slave labor. In 1704, the white male landowners of Delaware peacefully convinced William Penn to give them autonomy with their own legislature (but still under the authority of the Governor of Pennsylvania). The New Castle Court House became the seat of this legislative body. Finally in June 1776, the legislature voted to become independent from both England and Pennsylvania, establishing the State of Delaware. Today, the building is known locally as Delaware’s Independence Hall.
I spent some more time strolling around town and stumbled my way into the George Reed II House, a massive 14,000 square foot mansion. The tour- also a private guided tour- gave me insight into life during the early 1800’s-1900’s. Each room was set in a different time period so the tour felt disjointed, but it was still really interesting to see.
While less polished and visited, New Castle was one of the prettiest colonial towns I have seen and is definitely worth a visit for the interesting history.
I then headed back to Philadelphia to meet up with friends.
Day 2: Kent County
The next day, I headed back into Delaware to go to Firefly. On the way, I was really hungry and was looking for breakfast spots. I saw an ad for Helen’s Sausage House on the side of the highway then did a quick search for it on Google Maps. One thing I look for is the word “institution” in the 100-character Google maps description. That indicated two things for me: it has been around for a long time and it is popular. Maybe it’s not the fanciest and hottest place around, but these restaurants are part of the local culture and will give you favor when talking to locals. After seeing their reviews, I immediately got off the highway and headed over.
Helen’s was nothing more than a white shack on the side of the US highway, but there was a line out the door. After 30-minutes of waiting I ordered my sausage breakfast sandwich at the counter. It looked like a hot dog but was much better. I wolfed it down in the Elvis-themed dining room. It was fantastic!
It was now only about 10am and I still had plenty of time before the festival began. Based on a few websites including Wikitravel and a few local blogs, I headed over to the Air Mobility Command Museum at Dover Air Force Base. While technically located on the base, the museum has its own entrance and does not require an ID check. I always try to visit Military museums- they always have way more knowledge than you can possibly absorb, the volunteers are always spectacular, and I always leave feeling patriotic and in awe of what the military can do.
I walked into the free museum and was immediately asked if I was there for the event. I asked what the event was and the docent explained that a World War II pilot was going to publicly speak in about 10 minutes. Of course, I sat down. After an introduction from the commander of the entire base, I listened to a 90 minute lecture from Ray Firmani, one of the most decorated living WWII pilots. He told his entire life story from growing up in Delaware to training to piloting 25 bombing missions on the Nazis. Considering that on average 5% of all the bombers were killed on each mission, the odds of Ray surviving 25 missions is very slim (less than 30%). For his bravery and heroism, he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.
After the speech, I wandered around the airfield and toured some of the historic planes. Dover AFB is known as the home of the Air Mobility Command, which is responsible for air transport. Air transport manifests itself in many ways, as there is a wide range of things that need to be transported.
One category of transported goods is people. The museum had a former Air Force Two plane (Boeing C-32) that carried vice presidents, first ladies, and occasionally presidents to smaller airports. Normal soldiers are generally transported on leased commercial airliners. The museum also had a hospital plane used for transporting injured soldiers.
Another category of transported goods is fuel. The museum had a plane that can refuel other airplanes mid-air!
A third category of transported goods is weaponry. The museum had planes that can transport tanks, missiles, and cars. One of these planes is the Lockheed C-5 Galaxy, the largest military aircraft in the world! The plane was massive- far bigger than any plane I have ever seen except for an A380. I also got to meet a retired pilot who flew the plane.
While there were many other things I wanted to see in Delaware including the Legislative Mall and Dickinson Plantation, it was now festival time! I drove the 15 minutes over to the Dover International Speedway and parked with the masses. Then I walked over the highway to the Firefly Festival Grounds aka The Woodlands.
At 2pm, getting into the festival was a piece of cake. Somehow, I ran into a college friend just past the security check.
Having been to many music festivals, I feel like Firefly was well-run. The producer of Firefly is Goldenvoice that also produces other major festivals like Coachella. They know what they’re doing.
The stages were a good distance away from each other, it didn’t feel too crowded and there were plenty of fun side-attractions hidden in the woods. There was a secret stage where there were more intimate shows, but my favorite spot was a silent disco called The Thicket. There in the Thicket, I donned my headphones and moshed with what appeared to be high school kids.
One of my favorite parts of Firefly was the energy. The crowds were rowdy all day. Also, unlike music festivals that are in more urban areas, Firefly was not pretentious at all. I think the fact that most people camped made it a friendlier atmosphere. It was more about survival and having fun than dressing up and being bougie.
The funniest trend I saw at Firefly were totems: images attached to sticks. These images appeared random: popular totems were Spongebob Squarepants characters or memes. One guy distracted a band with a totem that said “I Eat Ass”. Totems proved to be fantastic way finding tools and provided a continual source of laughter.
In the beginning of the afternoon, I saw a bunch of bands I have never heard of: Middle Kids, Lauv, Leon of Athens and Smallpools. Everyone was spectacular.
In the early evening, I met up with another college friend and we saw some artists that were more familiar: Lil Wayne, Killers, Eminem.
Something I was wondering all day was what the grounds are used for during the rest of the year. It is a bunch of wide open fields in the middle of a forest with some dirt roads.
All day the crowds were fantastic and I had so much fun at Firefly. I can only imagine what it would have been like to camp and go all 4 days!
Even though the festival continued until 2am, I headed out at midnight to drive back to Philadelphia ahead of the crowds.
I had so much fun in Delaware and easily could have spent another couple days exploring the state without getting bored.
Other places I would have liked to visit: Brandywine Valley and the DuPont Mansions, Pea Island/Fort Delaware, more of Dover, Rehoboth Beach, Lewes, Dogfish Head Brewery, Newark (home of the University) and Dewey Beach. Clearly there is a lot more out there in the First State.