Great Trips

The Old-fashioned Romance
of New Castle

There's a certain romance you feel whenever you step foot in an early-American city. Visitors to these towns will tell you, "It's just something in the air," but could it be it has more to do with the water? That's certainly the case in Old New Castle, where this 17th-Century settlement sits at the mouth of the Delaware River and in the hearts of native Delawareans.

Few things say "romantic getaway" like "bed and breakfast," and Old New Castle has two gems to offer: The Kentucky Derby Inn and The Terry House. Each of these offers a handful of beautifully restored rooms, which are within easy walking distance of the town's many historic attractions. That said, The Kentucky Derby Inn is the only one offering a brand-new tea room, and The Terry House is the closest to the Delaware Riverfront.

At the end of Delaware Street lies Battery Park, an open space so named for its early use as an artillery fortification against enemy ships. Ironically, this open space now serves as a great source of peace and quiet…most of the year. Other times you might stumble across festive outdoor events such as Separation Day in June (Delaware's birthday), the Summer Antique Show in August, Art on the Green in September, or an evening concert in the outdoor band shell during summertime. This commons area even offers picnic tables, playground equipment, and public restrooms, making it worthy of a true "day in the park." And while you're there, keep an eye out for "The Senate," a group of elderly war veterans (and amateur historians) that often retreats to the Donald C. Banks Memorial Building to discuss all things New Castle; outsiders welcome.

Stretching out from Battery Park is two-and-a-half miles of pathway on which visitors can stroll with loved ones or just sit and watch the freighters pass by. From here you can hunt for sea glass on the beach, watch the wetlands for wildlife, or take your dog for a stroll. Or better yet, grab your sketch pad. Views of the Delaware Memorial Bridge and New Jersey's coastline make this a popular spot to explore one's creative side.

On the outskirts of town, a project is under way to extend the city's 1.8-mile greenway from 8th Street, past the Delaware Memorial Bridge, and all the way to Wilmington's downtown Riverwalk. Before long, this rails-to-trails redevelopment project will permit foot traffic, bicycling, and skating along its proposed six-mile length. Currently it is about one-third complete, spanning from 8th Street to Boulden Boulevard.

Couples seeking some solitude should consider a sunrise or sunset paddle on the historic Delaware River. Wilderness Canoes Trips of Wilmington is the nearest livery at 12 miles away (roughly a 30-minute drive), and a day-long canoe rental will cost you about $65, equipment included. Kayaks, meanwhile, cost about $55 each, but come prepared. You'll have to supply your own roof rack and tie downs for transportation.

Hiking and paddling around Old New Castle is bound to whet your appetite, but not to worry. There are restaurants at which you can cozy up with your date. One such place is Jessop's Tavern, located right on Delaware Street, just a short walk from Battery Park. Jessop's Tavern promises a Colonial bill of fare that harkens back to when Thomas McKean and George Read — both signers of the Declaration of Independence — roamed its cobblestone streets.

Whether you're seeking an unspoiled natural experience or a connection to early-American history, Old New Castle is one of those rare destinations that can provide you with both, and plenty more. Most visitors find one day is seldom enough to explore; this, despite the town's size of little more than three square miles. But as many hopeless romantics will tell you, good things come in small packages. Speaking of which, many marriage proposals have taken place during "A Day in Old New Castle" in May and "The Spirit of Christmas" celebration in December, when the town offers horse-drawn carriage rides among its many outdoor attractions.

Photos by Shaun Bailey of the Partnership for the Delaware Estuary