Bicyclists, Birders, Boaters and Batteries
Fort DuPont and Delaware City, less than 30 minutes south of Wilmington and the Delaware Memorial Bridge, is a riverside town with a concentration of stores and houses dating from the 1800s, when it was the busy eastern end of the Chesapeake & Delaware Canal. Today it is a popular destination for birders, boaters, dining, recreation and history enthusiasts.
The original C&D Canal forms the south edge of town. Just a few feet across the Branch Canal, Fort DuPont is the location of a planned community. A small-town style mixture of new and renovated vintage buildings will be centered on a 15-acre parade ground. State parkland, including a spacious boat ramp, surrounds the former Army base working areas. The 322-acre Fort DuPont State Park on the Delaware River and canal is well known for fishing and boating.
Battery Park in Delaware City, on the river at the head of Clinton Street, is the jumping-off point for the ferry to Pea Patch Island and Fort Delaware State Park. The island fort was built to defend Philadelphia. In the Civil War it was a prison camp that swelled to the size of a small city.
Bicyclists can start at Battery Park, cross Fifth Street and travel along the C&D Canal’s Mike Castle Trail to Chesapeake City, Maryland, and back. Or park along the trail and pedal east to town. The Castle Trail is open for walking, biking and horseback riding.
Rural two-lane Route 9, or Fifth Street, which runs south through the marshes to Odessa, Leipsic and Dover, is also a popular bicycling route.
Just across the modern canal from the fort, Delaware’s coastal marshes begin at the Augustine Wildlife Area and the Thousand-Acre Marsh. The marsh is an ecologically important wetland popular with birders. Herons roost on the northern end of Pea Patch Island. Osprey and Bald Eagles fish the waters. The American Birding Association has also made Delaware City its North American home, complete with visitors center and museum.
It’s a short walk from Battery Park, past the marina, to the small bridge over the Branch Canal. Transient boaters find the Delaware City Marina a convenient stop and the state maintains a modern launching ramp on the canal’s south bank.
The marina and boat ramp are popular with boaters who fish the Delaware or pass through the Chesapeake & Delaware Canal to the upper Chesapeake Bay, about 15 miles west.
Once across the Fifth Street Bridge, you are at Old Elm Avenue and the entrance to Fort DuPont. Gun batteries built on a riverside farm before the fort had a name were intended to protect Philadelphia from naval attack. The property has a rich history in the country’s coastal defense dating to just after the War of 1812. In the late 1800’s plans were set in place to expand and in 1899 the military base was officially named after Civil War Admiral Samuel Francis DuPont. Together with guns at Fort Delaware and more guns on the New Jersey side, the fort could protect Wilmington’s industries, Philadelphia and Camden, although the only thing those guns ever hit — by accident — was Salem, New Jersey farmland.
During WWI and WWII, army engineers were based at the fort, with barracks and officers’ housing, a library, theater, gym, swimming pool and hospital. Some 80 years after Fort Delaware was home to rebel prisoners, Fort DuPont became home to nearly 1,000 German POWs.
What is Coming?
The Fort DuPont Redevelopment and Preservation Corporation is converting the property into a planned mixed use community located on the river and canal. A second marina will be built, recreational trails, a cultural arts center, health center and space for more businesses suited to a lifestyle community. Existing houses that were once part of the military base will be rehabilitated and new homes in keeping with their design will join them.
Delaware City, a traditional small town, and Fort DuPont, a modern small community, together make up the gateway to recreation on the Delmarva Peninsula. The Delaware beaches are 90 minutes south and the Philadelphia metropolitan area an hour north.
Directions to Fort DuPont Office:
From Wilmington take I-95 south to DE Route 1 south toward Dover. Take exit 152 for Delaware City and Route 72. Turn left on Route 72 and follow into Delaware City. Go through the traffic light at Clinton Street and continue over the Branch Canal Bridge. Take your first left, which will put you onto Old Elm Ave and into Fort DuPont. Follow Old Elm Ave along the parade ground (on your right) to the first building on the right, 270 Old Elm Ave.
From Dover take DE Route 1 north to exit 152 for Delaware City and Route 72. Turn left on Route 72 and follow into Delaware City. Go through the traffic light at Clinton Street and continue over the Branch Canal Bridge. Take your first left, which will put you onto Old Elm Ave and into Fort DuPont. Follow Old Elm Ave along the parade ground (on your right) to the first building on the right, 270 Old Elm Ave.