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  Archived Posts From: 2012


“Raising the DeBraak,” Part 1: Murky Waters

Written on: February 21st, 2012 in ArchaeologyNewsPreservation

Last November, HCA announced an initiative to begin conservation work on the hull of the HMB DeBraak. One of the conservation team’s most urgent objectives was to improve the hull’s support-system and to add a water-filtration system that cleans the water that is used to keep the hull wet.

Over the last several weeks, HCA maintenance and curatorial staff have been hard at work prepping the space for the work ahead:

A view of the hull from above. This aerial image was taken in the 1990s, before it was moved to its current home.

Today, plastic sheeting forms a perimeter around the hull to keep the moisture (and mess) inside. After existing in the seabed for nearly two centuries, it needs a constant provision of moisture in order to keep the cellular structure of the water-logged timber from collapsing.

The PVC piping that you see surrounding it is the current sprinkler system that is used to provide the moisture. This will be enhanced in the unfolding conservation plan to filter the water and better conserve the hull.

For nearly 20 years, the DeBraak has been cradled over a shallow retaining pool by metal beams. Constant exposure to moisture over the years has caused these beams to deteriorate and contaminate the surrounding water.

This is what the water was beginning to look like after collecting years of residue from the hull and the system that was put in to support it:

HCA Curator, Chuck Fithian, uses a pressure washer to remove residue and murky water from a shallow pool beneath the HMB DeBraak:

Ryann Schafer, Ed Gillespi, and Mike Chillas, from our Preservation Maintenance Team, help Keith Minsinger (in blue), Curator of Collections Management, to guide the murky water towards a sump pump, which will remove it from the basin:

Fresh water is brought in to help flush out and replace the old:

Keith and Chuck check to see how much “sludge” vs. water is coming out of the building:

“Yep… Still sludge…”


Now the DeBraak is happy in her freshly-cleaned home. Next step – upgrading the irrigation system. Then, the hull will actually be raised – and not by the brute strength of Keith and Chuck alone – to replace the old beams with a new support system that is better suited for the environmental conditions. Stay tuned and we’ll try to keep you in on the progress!

The State of Delaware also cares for a significant collection of artifacts from the DeBraak shipwreck. These rare examples of textiles, weapons, and technology from the late 18th-century strengthen our understanding of the Atlantic World as well as Delaware’s historical role within it.

What interests you most about the DeBraak and its collections? What would you most like to see from it?

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The Benefits of Volunteering with HCA

Written on: February 16th, 2012 in EducationHistoric SitesHorticultureMuseumsPreservationVolunteerism

By: Lindsay McNinch

In September of 2011, HCA launched a new Volunteer Program.  As the Volunteer Program’s first appearance on the division’s blog, I wanted to take this opportunity to showcase some of the benefits you may receive from volunteering with us.

Tying in with the Division’s mission to promote Delaware’s historical legacies, HCA’s Volunteer Program offers a wide range of opportunities throughout the state for those wanting to become more involved.

So why volunteer with HCA?  What’s in it for you?

Here are just a few of the many reasons to join our corps of volunteers:

Become More Actively Involved in Saving Delaware History

HCA’s volunteer program is unique in the fact that we can offer a wide range of opportunities for you to engage with the First State’s historical and cultural legacies through hands-on, valuable volunteer work!

Have a passion for the First State’s history?

Become a Historic Site Docent at one of our six museums state wide!

Are you detailed oriented and enjoy working in an office setting?

Volunteer as an Administrative Assistant in our main office located in Dover!

Do you enjoy working outdoors and have a passion for gardening?

Assist our Horticulture Team with landscaping and invasive species removal!

Interested in archaeology and looking for valuable hands-on opportunities that may provide basic training?

Support our Preservation Team with lab and field work!

We also offer opportunities to work with our Preservation Maintenance and Collections, Affiliates, Research, and Exhibits (C.A.R.E.) teams as well as within our State Historic Preservation Office.

Whatever your interests may be, we have an opportunity for you to become more involved.

Earn Volunteer Credit for School, Employment, and Extracurricular Organizations

Is your organization looking to fulfill a service requirement?

Our Division welcomes students, clubs, and corporate groups who seek volunteer opportunities to complete for their organizations or to fulfill the Delaware Volunteer Credit Program.

Share Your Talents and Learn New Skills!

Interested in learning something new? Looking to further develop professional skills?

What better way to accomplish those goals than to volunteer!

No matter your area of interest, volunteering with HCA can provide you with valuable training and experience that can last a lifetime. As an HCA volunteer, you have the opportunity to share your passions and talents with our visitors, staff, and other volunteers while continuing your education and learning about your community’s history.

These are the “big-picture” benefits of becoming a part of the HCA family, but there are many more personalized rewards that we all gain along the way that we make sure to share through annual recognition events.

Whether it is important to you to become more involved in your community, share your passion for the First State, or to develop, share, and/or expand your talents, we appreciate our volunteers for the time and valuable work that they put into Saving Delaware History!

To learn more about what volunteer opportunities our Division has to offer, don’t hesitate to contact me – Lindsay McNinch, Volunteer Services Coordinator – at (302) 736-7411 or at Lindsay.McNinch@delaware.gov.

Keep an eye out for some exciting volunteer opportunities happening through HCA during Delaware Week of Service, April 15th-21st 2012!

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What Do You Know About Allen McLane?

Written on: February 14th, 2012 in EducationHistoric SitesMuseums

On June 30th of last year, members of the Delaware General Assembly joined Governor Jack Markell and guests from across the country to pass Senate Joint Resolution #7 at the Old State House in Dover. Sponsored by Sens. Brian Bushweller and Bruce Ennis along with Reps. William Carson and Darryl Scott, the resolution honors the memory and accomplishments of Major Allen McLane of Smyrna, a hero of the American Revolution.

Why such a fuss more than two centuries later, though? Haven’t all of the memories, accomplishments, and heroes of the American Revolution been sufficiently honored by now?!

Well… what do you know about Allen McLane?

Odds are his name doesn’t ring as many bells as Caesar Rodney or Gunning Bedford, but his legacy merits a comparable resonance among the company of Delaware’s most celebrated patriots. SJR#7 was a significant step, but this will be the first in a series of postings to further explore the life and exploits of Allen McLane through topics like McLane’s:

  • relationship with General George Washington
  • special assignments as spy, scout, and reconnoiterer
  • major contributions to the Revolution during the Valley Forge winter of 1777-78
  • children and grandchildren, including son Louis McLane, who served as US Congressman, US Senator, ambassador to England, and Secretary of the Treasury and of State under Andrew Jackson.
  • 29 year career as Collector of the Port of Wilmington

While Governor Markell shares credit for passing Senate Joint Resolution #7 with its above-mentioned sponsors from the General Assembly, McLane would have likely remained a long-forgotten hero without the passionate work of Tom Welch, who will serve as the “man behind the curtain” for the series of blog posts to follow.

Mr. Welch has worked with the Delaware Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs as a historical interpreter since 2007. Prior to joining HCA, he spent 27 years as a celebrated administrator with Wesley College in Dover.

In 2008, Tom was asked to portray McLane in a special Delaware Day living history program. Upon researching his character, he was surprised to find how much McLane had accomplished and how little was popularly known about him.  Mr. Welch has devoted the years since to learning as much as he can about McLane and showing visitors to Delaware’s state capital what all the “fuss” is about with Allen McLane.

Since the passing of SJR#7, Welch has taken his living history portrayal on the road. This blog series offers yet another avenue for him to share his great research with the world in helping us all to recognize one of Delaware’s and America’s revolutionary heroes.

So the question still stands… What do you know about Allen McLane??



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A Blog from the HCA Gardens: Top 5 Things We Do in the Winter

Written on: February 9th, 2012 in Historic SitesHorticultureNews

By: Ken Darsney, Curator of Horticulture

Being someone who has decided to work outside for a living, there are two questions I get asked more than anything else.

The first, which happens in the summer, is: “Hot enough for ya?

at which I reply, “Yes. Yes it is.

The second, and much more legitimate, question is:

What do you guys do in the winter if it doesn’t snow?

Well, I figured I would spend this introductory blog listing the top five things we do in the winter.

1. Tree Work

Without their leaves, trees are much easier to climb for corrective pruning, and create less mess if you are completely removing them.  We can more easily see defective branching, physical damage, and signs of inner issues, such as fungal growths and bark peeling.  Also, the (normally) frozen ground lends access to the trees with trucks and equipment that would normally cause damage to the root system.

2. Mechanic Work

Since we have a limited amount of the season to operate our equipment, it usually is run hard, for long periods of time, with as little downtime as possible.  Now is the perfect time to thoroughly go through our equipment, make any repairs that had to be postponed during the busy season, and completely prep and maintain the machinery, so when the season cranks up we can run them hard, for long periods of time, with as little downtime as possible.

3. Greenhouse Production

The greenhouse is getting busy now, with seeds being ordered, indoor plants being stored and groomed, and potting mixes being delivered and prepped.


4. Pruning

This is an excellent time to perform one of the most critical steps in the long-term health of an evergreen shrub, depth pruning.  This is a practice most often performed on boxwood and holly, although it can be performed on any shrub that you are trying to keep contained within certain space.  Depth pruning involves removing portions of the shrub, not too large, in a uniform way, so as to increase air circulation within the shrub, and allow light to penetrate the inner sections of the shrub to encourage new growth.

5. Regroup and Plan

This is probably the most important, and frankly, the most fun, part of we are doing this time of year.  We’ve just been through the non-stop gauntlet of mowing, weeding, watering, watering, weeding, a hurricane!!, more watering, snow on Halloween?!?, leaves, leaves, leaves, holiday decorations, etc.  The holiday season is kind of the gardeners way of busting across the finish line, and now it’s time to sit down, analyze what worked and what didn’t from the past season, make changes and adjustments for next season, and start waiting for spring.

Ken Darsney has been in horticulture since 1991, spending 16 years with a large-scale residential and commercial landscape firm before going into business with his wife, Angie, in 2005, with a company specializing in estate maintenance. He joined HCA in 2011 with an interest in sustainable landscapes, noting that “a healthy landscape ecosystem is the best defense against pest and disease,” which lends itself the Division’s mission. Ken and Angie have two boys, 7 and 3, so he doesn’t have much in the way of free time, but he does get out into the woods as much as possible.

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Planning So Our Historic Places Have a Future

Written on: February 7th, 2012 in ArchaeologyHistoric SitesNewsPreservation

By Alice Guerrant

It’s important every so often to step back and evaluate what you’ve done so that you can see if you need to change something. Every five years, the State Historic Preservation Office leads the effort to produce a new statewide historic preservation plan. This is our chance as historic preservationists to ask what’s going well, what’s not working, and how can we improve.

I learn so much every time we go through the planning process. I meet interesting, concerned citizens who are passionate about saving places that are important to them. And even though preservation is a fairly small world in Delaware, it is very good to get together with your colleagues and find out what they’ve been doing. Communicating our frustrations, needs, and successes helps us figure out where we need to go from here.

The statewide historic preservation plan is a requirement of our federal Historic Preservation Fund grant, and every state and territory does one every so often. If you want to look at some other states’ plans, the National Park Service has a page with links to all of them.

But even though we lead the effort and write the plan, it is not for the government alone. We want a thoughtful, useful plan that can benefit preservation advocates across Delaware. It is a framework for decision-making, coordinating preservation groups and activities, and for communicating with the many groups who affect and are affected by historic preservation.



We begin by summarizing what we know about Delaware’s historic places and preservation

List successes, failures, and accomplishments since 2008
… Numbers and kinds of historic properties
… Delaware’s changing demographics and land use patterns
… Agencies and projects affecting historic properties
… Survey and public workshop responses

We then take those findings and develop goals and strategies for the next five years.

Goals are based on the major trends we’ve heard from the survey and workshops
Strategies are based on what’s workable within this planning period

Then, we actually write the plan.

We get comments on draft from preservationists, planners, members of the Delaware State Review Board for Historic Preservation, and others

We submit a final draft to the National Park Service for approval.

If necessary, we revise and resubmit the plan based on NPS comments in order to be approved by the December 31st deadline.

Once approved, the plan is published.

Plan is adopted officially as Delaware’s statewide historic preservation plan by the State Review Board for Historic Preservation
A digital version is posted on HCA’s web site
Hard copies are printed for distribution
Work with partners to implement the strategies

2007 Preservation Planning Meeting



Take our ON-LINE SURVEY and add your opinion right now!

Attend one of our PUBLIC MEETINGS.

E-mail us about your concerns, needs, and observations: preservationplan@delaware.gov


By this time next year, Delaware will have a new historic preservation plan.

What do you want to see in it?

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National Geographic Channel “on location” at the Johnson Victrola Museum

Written on: February 3rd, 2012 in MuseumsNews

Earlier this week, a film crew from the National Geographic Channel made a special stop at HCA’s Johnson Victrola Museum in Dover. The team is on the tail end of a tour across the country gathering footage for their new and upcoming show, America’s Lost Treasures.

That’s all we can really say, as we were sworn to secrecy by the kind folks with headphones and utility belts, but they did let us snap a few pictures before things got rolling:


We’ll keep you posted on when the show will air, but until then….

What “lost treasure” do you think brought Hollywood to Dover?

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Delaware Commemorates Black History Month

Written on: February 1st, 2012 in EducationEventsExhibitsMuseumsNews

Today marks the start of Black History Month and tomorrow Governor Jack Markell will be officially kicking things off in the First State with a public proclamation at 11AM at the Delaware Public Archives. Students from Central Middle School will join the Governor in welcoming Mr. Orlando Camp, one of the “Milford Eleven,” who will speak about his own historic role in the struggle for civil rights. Mr. Camp was one of 11 students that made history (and controversy) as the first African American students to integrate Milford High School in 1954.

The News Journal put out a great article highlighting events taking place across the state throughout the month, but here are some HCA offerings to put on your calendars:

Every Friday in February

“Freedom Fridays” at The Old State House, Dover, DE
This after-school program will explore the lives of African-Americans from throughout Delaware’s history through stories and hands-on activities.

Saturday, February 4*

“We Poor Devils” at the First State Heritage Park Welcome Center and Galleries, Dover, DE
This special presentation will utilize one of HCA’s current exhibits, The Civil War: Five Delaware Soldiers’ Stories, to explore the lives of U.S. Colored Troops who enlisted from Delaware.

“African-American Family and Underground Railroad Research—Ask the Experts!” at The Old State House, Dover, DE
This program will feature a panel discussion led by some of Delaware’s top researchers in the fields of African-American family history and the Underground Railroad.

*These events are part of First State Heritage Park’s “First Saturdays in the First State” programming. For further information on these and other programs, check out the park’s Winter Program Guide

Saturday, Feb. 11, 2012

“What Would You Take on the Underground Railroad?” at The Old State House, Dover, DE
This is an interactive program that explores the hardships endured by freedom-seeking slaves as they escaped through the state of Delaware with,

Saturday, Feb. 18, 2012

“Just an Ordinary Man: The Samuel D. Burris Story.” At The Old State House , Dover, DE
A story-telling program about the life of one of Delaware’s leading Underground Railroad conductors.

“What Would You Take on the Underground Railroad?” at New Castle Court House Museum, New Castle, DE
A n interactive program exploring the hardships endured by freedom-seeking slaves as they escaped through the state of Delaware.

Sunday, Feb. 19, 2012

“Follow the Drinking Gourd.” at New Castle Court House Museum, New Castle, DE
A children’s program explores the Underground Railroad utilizing the book, “Follow the Drinking Gourd,” followed by a tour of the exhibit “Emeline’s Story.”

Saturday, Feb. 25, 2012

“Stories of African-Americans on St. Jones Neck.” at John Dickinson Plantation, Dover, DE
Learn about the African-Americans who interacted with John Dickinson during the 18th century through Violet Brown’s recollections, Clem’s runaway-slave notice and Dinah’s life story.

“Tales of Kent County Men of Color.” at The Old State House, Dover, DE
Dramatic presentations depicting the lives of real people who lived in Kent County in the 19th century.

“USCTs of Delaware” at New Castle Court House Museum, New Castle, DE
Program exploring the United States Colored Troops from Delaware who served in the American Civil War.

Sunday, Feb. 26, 2012

“What Would You Take on the Underground Railroad?” at New Castle Court House Museum, New Castle, DE
An interactive program exploring the hardships endured by freedom-seeking slaves as they escaped through the state of Delaware followed by a tour of the exhibit “Emeline’s Story.”


For times and further information, check out our news release for Black History Month.

So that’s what we’re doing. How are you recognizing Black History Month?


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