-Project supported, in part, by a $5,000 grant from
the National Trust for Historic Preservation-

As part of an extensive master plan for enhancing and expanding the visitor experience at the John Dickinson Plantation, the Delaware Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs will be creating an area of reflection to allow visitors a quiet place for contemplation after learning more about the lives of those enslaved at the site.

Photo of the log'd dwelling at the John Dickinson Plantation
Log’d dwelling at the John Dickinson Plantation. The building is a replica of the type of housing inhabited by the enslaved people at the plantation as well as its tenants and indentured servants. The site’s mansion house is in the background.

Located at 340 Kitts Hummock Road in Dover, Del. and administered as a museum by the division, the plantation was the boyhood home of John Dickinson, a Founding Father of the United States, a framer and signer of the U.S. Constitution, president of both Delaware and Pennsylvania, and “Penman of the Revolution.”

Dickinson wrote eloquently about freedom and liberty while at the same time holding fellow human beings in bondage. The museum not only provides interpretive programming about the paradoxical life of this American patriot and his family, but also of the tenant farmers, indentured servants, and the free and enslaved Black men, women and children who lived, worked and died on his property. In so doing, the museum seeks to create a dialogue with visitors about the uncomfortable truths, differing views and painful narratives associated with the history of the site and the founding of the nation.

The troubling history explored in these programs can easily arouse strong emotions in both visitors and staff alike. In juxtaposition, the area of reflection, seamlessly incorporated into the property’s system of paths, agricultural fields and reconstructed outbuildings, will provide a peaceful place for guests to quietly contemplate the lives of their fellow Americans who suffered under slavery at the plantation more than 200 years ago.

Photo of the west field of the John Dickinson Plantation sown in winter wheat.
West field of the John Dickinson Plantation sown in winter wheat.

Working with consultant Rodney Robinson, a landscape architect, adjunct professor at the University of Delaware and board member of the Friends of the John Dickinson Mansion, the division is partnering with the university’s professional degree program in Landscape Architecture to develop design concepts for the area of reflection. As part of this partnership, students, supervised by professor Anna Wik, will create concept designs taken to the schematic-design phase which will be evaluated by members of the Master Plan for the John Dickinson Plantation Working Group comprised of consultants, division staff members and community stakeholders.

To finish the project, a landscape architecture intern from the University of Delaware will work with members of the working group to complete the design-development drawings which will be incorporated into the plantation’s overall master plan. In December 2020, the division was notified that it had been awarded a $5,000 grant from the National Trust for Historic Preservation in support of the design project which is scheduled for completion by July 31, 2021.

The Master Plan for the John Dickinson Plantation, prepared for the division by the Bernardon integrated design firm, was released on Dec. 18, 2020. The plan calls for the eventual expansion of the visitor experience on the site from 13 to over 100 acres including opening more sections of the property to public access, increasing the areas of interpretation through public archaeology programs, the addition of paths, utilization of agricultural fields for the demonstration of 18th century farming techniques and crops, and, most significantly, the construction of a new visitor center with a large exhibit space.

The John Dickinson Plantation is a partner site of the First State National Historical Park. The property’s mansion house was Delaware’s first National Historic Landmark, designated in 1961.