Fort Delaware


“A man, a plan, a canal. Panama.”

I expect that many of you are familiar with this palindrome (a phrase that reads the same, forward or backward). After much experimentation, I discovered that substituting “Chesapeake & Delaware” for “Panama” no longer works as a palindrome. I’ll keep trying, since it would make a great title for this ride report… But for now, we’ll use “Fort Delaware.”

I first learned of Fort Delaware when looking through Day Trips in Delmarva (second edition) by Alan Fisher. It’s located in the middle of the Delaware River and was originally built to guard Wilmington and Philadelphia against possible attack during the War of 1812. The first primitive earthworks were replaced with a more substantial fort in 1819, which soon began to collapse into the soft soil. As a result, it was burned—and, for good measure, the entire island was swept bare by a tidal wave in 1846. The third and (so far) final attempt was finished just in time for the Civil War, and it still stands, an impressive pentagon of thick granite.

My intrepid wife Nancy joined me for this August 8th trip in the faithful BMW Z4 3.0i, and we first headed for Delaware City, DE, to take the ferry to Fort Delaware. Approaching the island, we could easily see the fort in the distance.

The ferry deposits you onto a floating dock for a short walk to the “jitney” for the ride to the Fort.

The exterior of Fort Delaware is quite dramatic, with imposing walls, hundreds of gun ports, a moat(!), and a drawbridge.

Inside, the condition of the fort varied from excellent (officers’ quarters) to off-limits dangerous.

Dozens of volunteer “interpreters” were on hand to discuss life and times at Fort Delaware in 1862. And believe me, as they spoke with us, they were in 1862 and never once wavered from their roles. Here, the Ladies Auxiliary collects donations in support of the Union troops and a small contingent of such troops demonstrates musket-loading.

Inside one of several officers’ kitchens, this young lady demonstrated one of the Fort’s newest innovations: running water from a pump…

…while these men discussed the latest supply problems.

Visitors can take a guided tour or explore on their own, as we did. Most of the areas open for exploration are nicely rennovated.

There are also some dark, damp passages for the more adventurous. We did not encounter any ghosts, giant spiders, or other potential attractions. (However, Fort Delaware is famous for its ghosts and offers evening candlelight tours.)

The upper ramparts of the fort also offered great views.

Ironically, the fort originally held an incredible array of cannonry but was never fired upon in anger. The gun emplacements were everywhere…

…and a number of the original guns remained in place.

Here’s one last look from inside the fort before we continued on with the tour. More information about Fort Delaware is available at Visit the Fort

Back in Delaware City, we had a great lunch at the original Crabby Dick’s restaurant before exploring the town a bit. Here’s the sole remaining lock for the Chesapeake & Delaware Canal. It’s no longer used, as the canal has been widened and deepened many times since it was originally built in the early 1800s. It connects the Chesapeake Bay with the Delaware River, just north of the Delaware Bay.

Delaware City has numerous historic homes and buildings, including this hotel…

…the former Delaware City National Bank, from 1849…

…and the colorful “Edwin Reybold House,” from about 1900.

A fascinating (and slightly exhausting) architectural catalog of the notable houses in Delaware City is available at Delaware City architecture

The C & D Canal itself is one of the relatively few canals still in very active use. Freighters and all manner of other ships and boats run through it almost constantly. During our tour, however, it was pretty quiet except for a few speedboats. The Route 1 bridge is shown here in the background, with the Route 13 bridge at Saint Georges farther in the back..

If you look for the road pictured above using Google Maps, MapSource, or other tools, well, you won’t find it. Day Trips in Delmarva earned my admiration immediately by describing (and charting) an entire series of dirt roads lining both sides of the canal. We reached this one, that runs immediately alongside the southern edge of the canal, by following South Main Street and then South Canal Street to its end, just off of Route 13. (Getting off of these dirt roads is another story…)

How often have you seen a drawbridge for trains?? It wasn’t entirely clear that this one is still in use—but it was fun to imagine what it would look like if an unsuspecting train came barreling along… (Where’s Steven Spielberg or Peter Jackson when you need them?)

The Z4 did just fine on the canal road but, after traversing 5 miles or so, it was time to get back to civilization. We had occasionally gone by steep dirt roads that headed up the embankment (which was, itself, created by past dredging and deepening of the canal by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers). But where we expected to find such roads near Summit, there weren’t any! (Did I mention that the Zumo still wasn’t working properly and, in any case, didn’t show these embankment roads?)

After continuing on, we finally found a road branching sharply off to the left, which we followed and then found another branching abruptly to the right. We kept taking uphill paths, some of them a bit rustic, and eventually found our way to the Old Summit Bridge Road and civilization (such as it was). The author of the Delmarva tour book, incidentally, notes that he’s often seen AWD Jeeps and such completely bogged on some of these roads, so be careful if you go exploring here. For the record, all of the ones we were on were in fine shape and were no problem even with the Z4’s limited ground clearance.

We bypassed the recommended Chesapeake & Delaware Canal Museum, since it’s not open on Saturdays, and soon arrived in Chesapeake City, Maryland. Chesapeake City sits near the western end of the C & D Canal and is well worth a longer visit than we had time for.

After a final picture, looking down on Chesapeake City and the Chesapeake & Delaware Canal, it was time to return home and the obligations of the real (i.e., non-tourist) world. My first foray into Delaware touring, however, had been great fun—and I’m planning to return soon for more!

The Z4 continues to be perfect for such trips and has proven to be a blast to drive on just about any kind of road. On smooth, winding roads, pushing the Sport button firms up the cornering even further and produces a beautifully tactile steering response. And the Z4 continues to elicit numerous compliments from passers-by. And it even gets over 30 mpg to and from the scenic areas, despite the rapid pace. A great sports car, indeed.

Rick F.


Written by Rick

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