Dover Days means spring in Delaware’s capital region

Mary Tilghman

Everybody enjoys Dover Days in Delaware’s capital city
Everybody enjoys Dover Days in Delaware’s capital city

With a variety of old-fashioned activities, historical presentations, and modern fun, Dover Days helps residents celebrate past and present. And, best of all, everybody is invited to this free, family-friendly festival.

The 83rd festival, set for May 6–8, gives a public nod to the Colonial history of Delaware’s capital city. This year’s edition will also include recognition of the 50th anniversary of the National Historic Preservation Act, which helps save historic buildings and created the National Register of Historic Places.

“Every state is doing what they’re calling ‘Preservation 50’ activities,” said Lorraine Dion, retiring director of public relations and special events for Kent County Tourism.

Dover’s First State Heritage Park is a prime example of preservation at work. Preservation 50 activities to be held on The Green on Saturday include walking architectural tours and children’s hands-on activities focusing on archaeology and preserving old buildings, according to Sarah Zimmerman, the park superintendent.

There will also be a 40th anniversary celebration of the restoration of the Old State House, a 1790s building nearly demolished in the 20th century. “This was the first tangible fruit of the National Historic Preservation Act,” Zimmerman said.

What to expect

One of Delaware’s longest-running festivals, Dover Days brings the community together on and around the Legislative Mall and The Green.

“Last year, they estimated about 55,000 people came (to Dover Days) over the three days,” Dion said. In fact, the American Bus Association named it as a Top 100 U.S. festival for both 2013 and 2014, she said.

A Maypole is one of the kids’ activities during Dover Days, May 6–8
A Maypole is one of the kids’ activities during Dover Days, May 6–8

On Friday night, music and fireworks start off the festivities. A classic car show has been a Dover Days tradition for years, but this year it kicks it into high gear with a Friday night cruise-in.

Saturday fun begins with the parade, including a pet parade, at 9:30am. Some 250 children dance around the Maypole, an activity older folks may remember from their childhood, Dion said. Other activities include a vintage baseball game, tours of the governor’s mansion, a pie-eating contest, an ice cream social, and a tea room.

Insider Tip: A hallmark of Dover Days is a Colonial artisan village with blacksmith, weaver, spinner, silhouette portraitist, bobbin lacemakers, and about 10 others who will offer demonstrations of their arts all day Saturday.

Look for Stanley Steamer cars and costumed reenactors in American Revolution, Civil War, and both World War I and II encampments. The Wheelmen, an antique bicycle club, will ride antique bikes in the parade and display them afterward. They’ll also give a demonstration of the bikes. A reproduction of the first bike, an 1819 hobby horse, should also be on view, according to Raymond Montsch of the Dover chapter.

Dover Air Force Base and local museums, such as the Johnson Victrola Museum, will also participate. There will also be lots of food and a craft show with nearly 400 vendors.

Sunday’s activities are more low-key and this year will include a cricket match. Dion said cricket is a sport Colonial Delawareans would recognize. “It’s a more leisurely day,” she said.

Dover Days began as a house and garden tour in 1933, the brainchild of Friends of Old Dover. The group remains involved with the festival, organizing displays at their offices at 323 S. State St., and supporting historical activities, according to Larry Josefowski, president of the group.

“Our goal is to keep the historical aspect of Dover Days at the forefront as much as possible,” he said.

Because so many visitors spend the weekend, Kent County Tourism has organized lodging packages and special group tours. Signs will help drivers find parking, located downtown, mostly west and north of The Green.

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