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New Castle, Delaware

Baltimore Sun reporter

Go here: With its cobblestone streets, sweeping views of the Delaware River, grassy commons and rich architectural heritage, New Castle's historic district ranks among the finest heritage towns in the Mid-Atlantic. It's got history: William Penn first set foot in North America here in 1682. It's got characters: Daniel Boone, the Marquis de Lafayette, Harriet Tubman and George Washington, chief among them. And it's got style: With architecture spanning four centuries, New Castle is, well, so yesterday.

When Delaware broke away from Pennsylvania in 1704, New Castle became the Colonial capital. It became Delaware's first state capital in 1776 (the capital was moved to Dover one year later). But the most remarkable thing about the town is that this isn't a place that is paying homage to the past. It is the past. In the early 1960s, the town adopted a stringent zoning code, one of the first in the country to focus on historic preservation. Long before that, Penn, then the owner of a large amount of land, agreed that the town Green, common land that originally served as pasture for residents' cows and sheep, should forever remain public open space. Today, it is still the focal point of town life, its heartbeat.

Stay here: The Terry House Bed and Breakfast, 130 Delaware St., 302-322-2505. The Terry House is a Federal town house, circa 1860, with four spacious rooms that include private baths, queen-size beds and a view of Battery Park, Market Square or the Delaware River. Delicate china and antiques, red pine floors, paintings and prints, chandeliers and a ceiling featuring elaborate frieze work make the Terry House a warm, cozy place to stay. Rates start at about $90.

Eat here: Jessop's Tavern, 114 Delaware St., 302-322-6111. Journey back to Old New Castle in this renovated 1724 Colonial tavern and restaurant. The menu features English, Dutch and Swedish food in honor of the first residents of New Castle, as well as hand-crafted beers and premium spirits. Favorite choices include sweet-potato pancakes to start, followed by Dutch pot roast or shepherd's pie and finished with Martha's Colonial Cobbler. Dinner entrees cost $13 to $22.

Don't miss this: Read House and Gardens, 42 the Strand, 302-322-8411. When George Read II, the son of a signer of the Declaration of Independence, built his 22-room, 14,000-square-foot mansion on the Delaware River in 1801, it was the largest house in Delaware. Visitors still say wow. With its elaborately carved woodwork, relief plasterwork and gilded fanlights, the interior reflects the height of Federal grandeur. This carefully restored National Historic Landmark is surrounded by a formal 2.5-acre garden. Installed in 1847, it is the oldest surviving garden in the region. Remarkably, a pear tree planted back then still bears fruit that docents occasionally use to make pear preserves.

Also worth a visit is Battery Park, a great spot to watch oceangoing river traffic on the Delaware River; the Strand, the riverfront street that is home to some of New Castle's most posh addresses; and, just off the Strand, Packet Alley. The wharf at the end of the alley was once the main public landing, and travelers known to have used it include Boone, the Marquis de Lafayette, Andrew Jackson, Daniel Webster, Davy Crockett, Stonewall Jackson and Sam Houston.

Get here: From Baltimore, follow Interstate 95 north to Route 141 south toward New Castle, Exit 5A. Continue past the U.S. 40 overpass. At the intersection of Routes 9 and 273, turn left onto Route 9 north. Go a half-mile to the next light and bear right onto Delaware Street into New Castle. The drive is about 70 miles, about an hour and a half from Baltimore.

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