Governor Markell presenting the key to the Old Brick Church to Marge Ressler, founding co-director of the Children's Theatre of Dover and Kent County.

The Old Brick Church

Belmont Hall

New Castle Court House Museum

New public-private partnerships increase opportunities to experience Delaware history

In a dedication ceremony held on August 25, 2010, Delaware Governor Jack Markell celebrated a new public-private partnership which resulted in the leasing of the state-owned Old Brick Church and Reith Hall, located at 316 S. Governor's Ave. in Dover, to the Children's Theatre of Dover and Kent County which will utilize the two facilities for its administrative and rehearsal spaces.

Administered by the Delaware Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs (HCA), the two structures are among the most historic buildings in Delaware's capital city. Built in 1791, the former Presbyterian Church of Dover was the site of several important events in the state's history including the second State Constitutional Convention (1791-1792), chaired by noted Delaware patriot John Dickinson; and the third State Constitutional Convention held in 1831. The adjacent chapel is named after noted stained glass artist William Reith who created the building's windows. The buildings formerly housed the Delaware Archaeology Museum and the Museum of Small Town Life which closed in 2009.

This affiliation is the latest in a series of partnerships that the Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs (HCA) has entered into during the past year to increase public access to HCA-administered historic properties and to the extensive assemblage of archaeological artifacts and museum objects that HCA conserves as part of the collections of the State of Delaware. The partnerships are designed to strengthen both of the participating parties while allowing both to deliver valuable services to the public.

Commenting on the new partnership, Markell noted, "The Children's Theatre, state legislators, and the Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs really worked together to turn a closed-down building into something positive. Young people will now have a great space for their work and parents and visitors to the Children's Theatre will have an opportunity to enjoy these beautiful historic buildings."

For many years, HCA has partnered with a wide variety of government agencies, non-profit organizations, businesses, and individuals to provide public access to the state's historical holdings. These partnerships include the First State Heritage Park, a Delaware state park that links downtown Dover's historical and cultural sites including three HCA museums; HCA's collections program which displays state-owned works of art and other museum objects in public buildings; inter-museum loans; and lease agreements that provide day-to-day maintenance and various degrees of public access to HCA-administered historic sites.

During the past year, however, HCA has stepped up its partnerships with private, non-profit organizations including the following:

Belmont Hall
On July 20, HCA entered into an agreement to lease Belmont Hall in Smyrna to the newly-established Friends of Belmont Hall which will operate the late-18th century landmark as a community meeting place and historic site that will be open for public visitation at various times during the year.

The Biggs Museum of American Art
After consolidation of the state's Dover-area visitor services at the First State Heritage Park Welcome Center and Galleries, HCA closed its visitor center on Federal Street on December 31, 2009. Shortly afterwards, the Biggs Museum of American Art, which had formerly occupied the visitor center's second and third floors, began a new lease agreement with HCA in which it became the building's sole occupant resulting in a dramatic increase in the museum's exhibit space.

Buena Vista
In June 2010, the Delaware Nature Society began a new partnership program to provide environmental programming at HCA's Buena Vista Conference and Reception Center, a site not only rich in history, but also in flora, fauna, and other natural treasures.

Darley House
HCA has recently entered into an agreement to lease Darley House in Claymont to the Claymont Renaissance Development Corporation and the Claymont Historical Society. Listed in the National Register of Historic Places, the house once served as the home of noted 19th century illustrator Felix O. C. Darley.

Preservation Delaware, Inc.
In recent months, HCA entered into an agreement to lease space in the west wing of the New Castle Courthouse complex to Preservation Delaware, Inc., a statewide nonprofit organization dedicated to the preservation of Delaware's architectural heritage and historic settings.

In addition, HCA has recently created an Affiliates program in which it works with history- and heritage-based organizations throughout Delaware to create joint programs and exhibits, including potential display of items from the state's collections. This program is creating new opportunities for HCA to serve the public in communities where it has not previously had a presence. One of the first successes of this program has been the exhibit "Captain John and Sarah Avery: A 17th-Century Family on Delaware's Frontier," a collaborative venture between HCA, the Rehoboth Beach Museum, and the Archaeological Society of Delaware.

All of these ventures enhance HCA's mission by increasing accessibility to state-owned historic sites and collections that might not otherwise be open to the public; enhancing leisure and educational opportunities for the state's citizens and visitors; stimulating tourist visitation leading to economic growth and job creation; and expanding public awareness of the importance of preserving and protecting Delaware's historical and cultural legacy. HCA will be working hard to build upon these successes in the future.

For press accounts on recent HCA partnerships, go to the following:

Positive signs of Claymont renaissance as pollution problem is tackled
News Journal, Wilmington, DE—Aug. 30, 2010

Children's Theatre finds a new home in historic Dover buildings
Dover Post, DE—Aug. 27, 2010

New life for two shuttered museums in Dover
WHYY, Wilmington, DE—Aug. 26, 2010

Theater group takes historic Dover buildings to new stage in life
News Journal, Wilmington, DE—Aug. 24, 2010

Art and history come together in Rehoboth Beach community
Cape Gazette, Lewes, DE—Aug. 12, 2010

Delaware helps nonprofits in new partnerships
News Journal, Wilmington, DE—Aug. 11, 2010

State teams up w/ Rehoboth in the name of history
WDEL, Wilmington, DE—Aug. 11, 2010

Lease agreement signed at Belmont Hall
Smyrna-Clayton Sun-Times, DE-July 27, 2010