Rediscover three great Delaware attractions!

March 31, 2012

trong>Delaware AeroSpace Education Foundation

For years, people driving past Smyrna on Delaware 1 have looked toward the east and wondered, “What is that steel framing doing there?”

“People used to kid me all the time, telling me that the steel beams were getting rusty,” said Stephanie Wright, founder, president and CEO of the Delaware AeroSpace Education Foundation (DASEF). She didn’t mind. She knew that in good time, when funding became available, the building whose steel girding was visible from the highway would be completed and ultimately would become a destination for the people of Delaware. Now, people driving by on Route 1 no longer can see the bones of the building. Instead, they see a blue and white building with an array of solar panels on the roof. The exterior of the foundation’s Innovation Technology Exploration Center (ITEC) is finished. Wright and the Development Committee are working to raise $500,000 to get the building’s geothermal heating and air conditioning system up and running. In the state Senate, Sen. Robert Venables (D – Laurel) is working to assist with the funding to complete the interior of the building. Wright estimates the cost for completion at a little more than $7 million. ITEC is one of three buildings on the foundation’s 39 leased acres, part of Kent County’s Big Oak Park.

Tucked in the back corner of the property is the Environmental Outpost, which features an observatory and has earned a silver rating in Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) from the Green Building Council.  More than 16,800 children visited the Outpost last year or participated in its outreach programs. Wright expects that number to reach 20,000 this year.  The Delaware AeroSpace Education Foundation is a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education in Delaware. Its mission is to teach children and their parents in the Delaware region about the Earth’s environment and how human activities impact it. “We look at everything from dinosaurs to space and back,” Wright said. “We entice children with enthusiasm.” The foundation’s motto is, “Wisdom Begins with Wonder.” Wright was one of two teachers who, in 1984, were vying for a spot in NASA’s Teacher in Space Project. At the time, she was a music teacher at Stanton Middle School. Christa McAuliffe was ultimately selected as the teacher who would get to be part of the Space Shuttle crew.

The Teacher in Space Project was put on hold after the shuttle exploded in 1986, killing all aboard, including McAuliffe. Barbara Morgan, Christa’s back up became the first educator astronaut and flew aboard Space Shuttle Endeavour on Aug. 8, 2007, on STS-118.   “I traveled the state, talking about the Teacher in Space Project and the Space Shuttle,” Wright said. “As I looked around, it started to register that New Castle County had most of the state’s museums. I decided that I wanted to help to do something about that.” DASEF opened in the summer of 1990 with the first Delaware Aerospace Academy held at Glasgow High School. About 50 children in sixth, seventh and eighth grades attended and “it went beautifully,” Wright said. Construction on the Environmental Outpost started at Big Oak Park in 2003. “When you walk into the Outpost, it’s an immediate immersion in arts and sciences,” Wright said. “Our staff really works hard to provide an exciting educational experience.” DASEF hosts school field trips for students in kindergarten through the eighth grade. Topics range from “Trees are the Same and Different,” which teaches kindergarteners about the features that all trees share as well as what makes them unique, to “Investigating Force and Motion” for middle-school students which explores simple machines as simple tools as well as using them to investigate and demonstrate the transfer of energy.  DASEF instructors can also visit schools with the same field trip programs or ones that can be tailored to a teacher’s request. Outreach programs include an inflatable planetarium, a 16 - by 20-foot floor map of the continental United States that includes geographical features that children can walk on, and a 22-foot inflatable Planet Earth. A picture on DASEF’s website shows a group of children encircling the balloon globe, their hands linked. Every month, DASEF holds Saturday Exploration programs focusing on various science and technology subjects. April’s program, planned for Saturday, April 11, will focus on birds. In May, participants will walk along and learn about the foundation’s new planetary walk, a scale model of the solar system.  The Mountjoy Observatory is open one evening a month for people to search the skies for planets and constellations. The next stargazing night is set for Friday, April 27, 7:30 to 9:30 p.m. In addition, the facility is available for birthday parties. Possible themes include sounds, butterflies, dinosaurs, space, pirates and undersea adventure. As it did when it was first started, DASEF still offers week-long destination academies for entering 1st through 10th grades. Half-day academies are held at the Smyrna facility; full-day academies are held at the University of Delaware in Newark. Overnight academies are also held at the University of Delaware. And then, on top of all of those programs, DASEF sponsors several special events every year to raise funds for programs. Planet Earth Family Day will be held this year on Saturday, April 21, from 1 to 4 p.m. Admission is $5 per person and includes an update and tours of the foundation’s facilities, exhibits, activities and entry into a 1,200-square foot Water’s Extreme Journey maze. The foundation’s inflatable endangered animals, a Right whale, an African elephant and a giant panda, will be there and a helicopter landing is planned. It will be, Wright said, “A great day for families.” On Saturday, May 5, the foundation, in conjunction with the Delaware Space Grant Consortium, will hold Rockets for Delaware, a rocket launch in Cape Henlopen State Park near Lewes. Rockets designed and constructed by Delaware students will be fired from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. In addition, there will be displays and food will be available. Admission is the park fee, $4 for Delaware residents and $8 for non-residents.  Wright said that she feels confident that DASEF’s programs are effective in providing professional development for teachers and in teaching children and their parents about all kinds of science. “Teachers who bring their students here bring them back again and again,” she said. “We believe that is because they know that they are getting quality programs.” In addition, people who have gone through the Delaware Aerospace Academy and who are now adults with jobs return to the facility to assist with or teach classes. “Some take vacation to come back and work with us during the summer,” Wright said. “That certainly means something.”
For your information: The Environmental Outpost is located at 585 Big Oak Road, Smyrna, in Kent County’s Big Oak Park. For details, visit DASEF’s website,, email” or call (302) 659-5003. 

First State Heritage Park

The First State Heritage Park doesn’t have an entrance gate. There are no fences that mark where it ends and the rest of downtown Dover begins, no signs to direct visitors back on designated paths. It’s a “park without boundaries,” said director Elaine Brenchley. Located in Dover’s historic core and encompassing eight sites, it encourages visitors to explore all of the state’s capital city and that city’s rich history. “We hold walking tours nearly every day,” Brenchley said. “We walk past a lot of historic sites. We may not be going in, but we tell people about the buildings that we walk by, about the people who lived there and the events that they were involved in.” Historical interpreters also talk about how people in Dover influenced development of the state of Delaware and even had far-reaching influence throughout the new country, Brenchley added.

The Heritage Park was formed in 2004. Its newest addition, the John Bell House, a mid 18th-century structure on the Green, near The Old State House, became part of the park last April.  In addition to walking tours, which leave the John Bell House every hour, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., Monday through Saturday, the park sponsors First Saturdays in the First State, the first Saturday of every month, with special programs in all of its venues. From spring though fall, it hosts nighttime walks, one around The Green and the other three through historic cemeteries, in partnership with three Dover churches. At the Presbyterian Church of Dover cemetery, the living history character of Rebecca Killen, whose husband, William, was Delaware’s Chief Justice and first Chancellor during the 18th century, might just join in the tour for a while.  In November, the park hosts an 18th-century market fair on The Green. The Green was historically the location for such fairs, where farmers sold their goods and neighbors gathered together to talk.  The First State Heritage Park has been a hit, Brenchley said. “The most frequently heard comment is that people didn’t realize all the variety that downtown Dover has,” she said. “I also hear people say a lot that they didn’t realize that history could be so interesting.” The park, and the knowledge of history that it promotes, enhances the quality of life in Dover and adds to a feeling of community pride, Brenchley said. “We have a lot of people who come back again and again and bring their friends and family.” The park is also important for economic development in downtown Dover. On First Saturdays, area restaurants and shops are crowded with visitors who have come to town for the special events.

Visits to the park can get started at its Welcome Center and Galleries, located in the Delaware Public Archives building at 121 Duke of York St. The galleries feature changing exhibits on Delaware history. Currently on view is The Civil War: Five Delaware Soldiers’ Stories. The Welcome Center is open Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Saturday, 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., and Sunday, 1:30 to 4:30 p.m. The John Bell House, where the walking tours start, was constructed more than 200 years ago as a workshop. Historians believe that it is the oldest surviving workshop in Delaware, Brenchley said, and among the oldest in the United States. While workshops weren’t built for a long life, the Bell House survived because it was used for other things and its structure was reinforced.

No one knows exactly what kind of work was done in the old workshop. Beams in the roof of the house appear to have been fashioned from an old woodworker’s bench. John Bell III, who lived in the house in the late 18th century, at least a generation after its construction, was a hatter. Beyond that, “we have no clues,” Brenchley said.

The Old State House is on The Green, just a few feet from the John Bell House. Constructed from1787 through 1791, it was the state’s first permanent capitol building and was the home of the General Assembly until 1933. The original second-floor chambers of the House and Senate are still there, complete with tables, chairs and feather pens. In 1976, as part of the state’s celebration of the nation’s 200th birthday, The Old State House was restored to its original appearance. Wings that had been added were torn down and a Victorian exterior, added in 1873, was removed. The building was renovated again from 2004 through 2007. The $3.5 million project included new windows and doors, replacement of the roof, repairs to the plaster walls, restoring the floor and a new heating and air conditioning system. The interior was repainted in historically-accurate colors.

The Old State House is open Monday through Saturday, 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., and Sunday, 1:30 to 4:30 p.m. Legislative Hall, the Georgian-style structure into which the General Assembly moved in 1933, is also part of the First State Heritage Park. The capitol is made from hand-made brick and has formal chambers for the House and Senate. Also located in the building are the General Assembly’s staff agencies, the Division of Research and the Office of the Controller General. Each legislator has an office in the building. There are also offices for the governor and lieutenant governor to use when the General Assembly is in session.  Free guided tours of Legislative Hall are offered by the park’s historical interpreters.

For  information about hours and availability call 739-9194.


The Biggs Museum of American Art, on Federal Street facing Legislative Hall, was founded in 1993 as a showcase for fine and decorative art from the mid-Atlantic region collected by Middletown native Sewell C. Biggs. Included in the Biggs collection are 18th-century furniture, clocks and pieces of silver produced in the Delaware and Philadelphia region, as well as representational American paintings. The Biggs is open Tuesday through Saturday, 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., and Sunday, 1:30 to 4:30 p.m. Admission is always free. The Delaware Public Archives, created in 1905 by an act of the General Assembly, opened its new building at 121 Duke of York St. on Delaware Day, Dec. 7, 2000. It is one of the oldest public archives in the country and holds more than 95,000 cubic feet of government records and historical documents. A rotating display of the state’s founding documents is on view, along with exhibits based on the  documents and images in the Archives’ holdings. The Mabel Lloyd Ridgely Research Center at the archives is open Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 4:15 p.m., and the second Saturday of every month, 9 a.m. to 4:15 p.m. (The center is currently closed on First Saturdays.) The Johnson Victrola Museum at 375 S. New St. is a tribute to Eldridge Reeves Johnson, a Delaware native who founded the Victor Talking Machine Company in 1901. Exhibits include phonographs, recording and memorabilia that describe Johnson’s career and the development of the sound-recording industry.   The museum is open Wednesday through Saturday, 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Reservations for group tours can be made by calling 739-9194. Woodburn, built in 1798 and the eighth venue of the First State Heritage Park, has served as the official home of Delaware’s governor since it was purchased by the state in 1965. In its history the middle period Georgian house has been the home of gentleman farmers, an abolitionist, two U.S. Senators, two doctors, a dentist and a judge. Woodburn, at 151 Kings Highway, is open to the public on the First Saturday of every month from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Admission is free. Tours may be arranged at other times by appointment by calling 739-5656.  For more information about the First State Heritage Park, call 739-9194 or visit the website

The Biggs Museum of American Art


The 18th-century clocks in the Biggs Museum of American Art in Dover aren’t set so that they regularly chime. But, said museum executive director Linda Danko, if a visitor wants to hear what some of the clocks sound like, employees there can arrange that.

That willingness to engage with visitors and to help visitors understand the museum’s collection and how it represents the history of fine and decorative arts in the mid-Atlantic region is one of the most engaging aspects of the Biggs, Danko said. “We want to demystify art and make it accessible for everyone,” she added. “We want our visitors to ask questions about our landscapes, about the furniture, clocks and silver, so we can help them to understand what’s represented here.”

To encourage that curiosity, the museum is home to the Delaware Silver Study Center, where visitors are welcome to get “up close and personal” with several objects. “This room appeals to the very young as well as to senior citizens,” Danko said. Children in particular enjoy it, she added.

Another attractive feature of the Biggs, Danko said, is that the museum has no admission charge. People can visit every day if they want, fully immersing themselves in the collection, and never have to pay one cent. 

“This is a free resource for the community,” Danko said. “That’s very important.”

The Biggs opened in 1993 to house the art collection of its founder, Sewell C. Biggs, a Middletown native and life-long collector of fine and decorative arts with ties to the mid-Atlantic region. It shared space at 406 Federal St. with the state’s visitor’s center.

In 2010, the museum got the three-story building for itself when the visitor’s center moved down the street into the Delaware Public Archives building. 

Having its own entire building enabled the museum to embark on a renovation project to improve its galleries and expand its display area. A capital campaign, the public part of which was launched in November, has a target of $1.864 million. At the time of interview, all but the remaining $270,000 of that has been raised, said Marketing and Community Relations Coordinator, Jennifer Kemske. 

Phase one of the three-phase renovation project was completed in November. The first floor was completely redone with new LED lighting, new flooring and reconfigured walls. A 3,500-square area that was formerly used for shipping and receiving was transformed into gallery space, enabling the museum to “increase our operations by 50 percent,” Danko said. 

In addition, an old coat closet, was remade into a retail shop. The shop features crafts and fine arts made by the 162 members of Delaware By Hand, an artisans’ group that was recently absorbed by the Biggs. Also available in the gift shop are a few books and museum catalogs.

Phase two of the renovation project is expected to get underway in June, on the heels of the museum’s annual fundraising gala. That phase, which Danko predicts will take about five months, will focus on the museum’s second and third floors. Like the first floor, they will get a facelift with new lighting, floors and paint.

The renovation’s third phase will start in 2013 and is expected to take approximately four months. In Phase three the museum’s front entrance will be replaced with a new glass facade. In addition to improving the appearance of the building, the new entryway “will completely orient our visitors to our collection,” Danko said.

In conjunction with the campaign to raise funds for the renovation, the museum will soon be selling 4-inch square tiles to members of the public, who can decorate the tiles for permanent placement in the museum foyer. Each tile in the “Hanging at the Biggs” community art project will cost $50; 700 tiles will be available for sale. 

The museum will host several workshops throughout the year to teach people how to decorate the tiles. Tiles will be available starting this summer, Kemske said.


In addition to its permanent collection, the Biggs hosts several exhibitions throughout the year. On display from Friday, April 6 through Sunday, April 29 is As the Poet Paints by E. Jean Lanyon. As the Poet Paints features the literary and visual artworks of the 1979-2001 Delaware Poet Laureate E. Jean Lanyon. The dual nature of this artist’s personal expression will take form in a comprehensive exhibition of her artistic career in Delaware.  The opening reception for this exhibition will take place on Friday, April 6 from 5 to 8 p.m. The April 6 reception will feature a short exhibition tour and reading from the artist, E. Jean Lanyon, and exhibition curator, Ryan Grover, at 6:30 p.m.


Visitors to the museum might also be interested in Picturing WWI: The American Illustration Collection of the Delaware National Guard, which will run from Friday, May 4 through Sunday, June 24. In a time before televisions or even the widespread use of radio, Americans received their news and entertainment from popular magazines and illustrations.  Among Delaware’s most famous illustrators of the early 20th century, Frank E. Schoonover (1877-1972) and Gayle Porter Hoskins (1887-1962) painted hundreds of images during their careers to illuminate current articles and popular stories.  These artists were commissioned by one of America’s most popular magazines, The Ladies Home Journal, to illustrate key events and scenes from World War I for thousands of readers.  Picturing WWI features several Hoskins and Schoonover paintings, created between 1917 and 1919, of the experiences of World War I soldiers.  The exhibition is a rare opportunity to see this exceptional collection owned by the Delaware National Guard. 


The museum is also featuring an exhibition of clothing, jewelry, ceramics, silver, portraits and furniture that were collected by Dover merchant Vincent Loockerman. “Jewels of the Generations: The Legacy of Loockerman and Bradford Family of Dover” will be on display through June 24. 

Featured in the exhibit are several dresses, on loan from the collection of the Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs, that were worn by members of the Loockerman family from the 1750s to 1810. Two dresses will be on display at a time, Danko said, and every month, the dresses will be changed.


Members of the public are welcome to watch the changing, to see how curators handle the dresses to best preserve them.

On Sunday, April 15 beginning at 1:30 p.m., the museum will feature Hair Affair. This style affair showcases whimsical and artful hair designs during a gallery-way show and competition of local salons. The hair sculptures, displayed on live models, will take center stage in in the Museum’s galleries. This Sunday afternoon event also features music,  a spa and pampering silent auction, decadent desserts and champagne. Salons are invited to participate in this event by creating a hair sculpture on a live model in four categories: Modern Day Life, Children, Updo and Fantasy Couture.


On Saturday, April 7, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., the museum will present reenactments of a conversation between Vincent Loockerman and his young wife, Elizabeth. The reenactment will be part of First Saturday, sponsored by the First State Heritage Park at Dover. 

On Friday, April 13, Seaford High School graduate Kate LaPrad will present a lecture titled “Thinking Locally, Acquiring Globally: The Loockerman Family of Delaware.” LaPrad, a graduate of the University of Delaware’s Winterthur Program in American Material Culture, will discuss why it is that Loockerman isn’t as well-known as his contemporaries John Dickinson and Caesar Rodney. She will trace the architectural, documentary and material legacy of the Loockerman family from 17th-century New Amsterdam to 18th-century Delaware. Danko said that she is excited about the immediate future of the Biggs, as well as about its long-term future. “It is incredible what has happened to the Biggs in the last 20 years,” she said. “We have been able to fulfill our mission in an ongoing fashion, offering people of Dover, the state of Delaware and beyond, a comprehensive arts collection for their enrichment and enjoyment.” 


So, what would Mr. Biggs, who died in 2003, think of the progress his museum is making? “I believe that what we are doing is absolutely what he would have had in mind,” Danko said.


For your information:

The Biggs Museum of American Art is located at 406 Federal St., Dover. It is open Tuesday through Saturday, 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Sunday, 1:30 to 4:30 p.m. Admission is free. For details, call 674-2111 or visit the webpage 



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