Last updated: October 30, 2020
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Welcome to the Old State House, Delaware’s Historic Capital. It is said that architecture is to make us know and remember who we are. As you take in the exterior of this Georgian-style structure and move among its majestic chambers it is almost possible to hear the echo of patriotic debate, the pleas for justice, the cries for freedom, governors, ordinary citizens, the enslaved and the freeman all made history here in the over two hundred years of the building’s continuous governmental use.
The Old State House is the focal point of Dover’s historic Green. A stone’s throw from the Golden Fleece Tavern where delegates met in 1787 to ratify the new U.S. Constitution making Delaware the First State.
Over the years modifications were made to the Old State House that altered its original appearance. Changes involved the addition of wings and a Victorian-style remodeling of the exterior in 1874. The building was restored to its original colonial appearance in 1912 and refurbished again as part of the national bicentennial celebrating the signing of the Declaration of Independence.
Similar to the New Castle Court House Museum, Delaware’s first state house in New Castle, this structure features a courtroom on the first floor and two legislative chambers on the second.
The two levels are connected by a graceful freestanding geometrical staircase. In addition to its unique architectural elements the Old State House holds a number of significant artifacts including an imposing portrait of George Washington and notable portraits by Thomas Sully of commodores Jacob Jones and Thomas Macdonough, Delawareans and heroes of the War of 1812. While inside the recorder of deeds office, you can follow the stories of African American enslavement to manumission including the celebrated ordeal of Samuel Burris, his work on the Underground Railroad and the saga of the Summers family from 1794 to the present.
From its completion in 1791 through the 1930s the Old State House served as the seat and center of Delaware’s General Assembly. Now fully restored this silent sentinel continues to stand watch over the state capital, a commanding reminder of the founding and purpose of this democracy.