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TOURIST AT HOME

Georgetown museums and beyond

The Sussex County Old Courthouse is sheathed in cypress shingles and sits just 100 feet from The Circle in Georgetown. SUBMITTED PHOTO
May 22, 2017

Georgetown, for its size, is surprisingly full of wonderful museums. Below is a brief armchair tour, but plan to check them out in person next time you take a road trip through Sussex County.

Sussex County Old Courthouse and Jail, 10 S. Bedford St. This two-story, five-bay, frame structure in late Georgian style is sheathed in cypress shingles and sits just 100 feet from The Circle. It served its original purpose until 1837, when it was moved to its current location and the existing courthouse was built.

One of the Mid-Atlantic's most notorious criminals, Patty Cannon, who admitted to committing nearly two dozen murders and who, along with her gang, captured freed slaves to sell back into slavery, died in her cell while awaiting trial in the Old Courthouse in 1829. She is thought to have poisoned herself. The Sussex County Old Courthouse and Jail was restored and reopened on Return Day in 1976. It is the oldest wooden courthouse still in use by the court system, though now only for special occasions. To the left of the courthouse building still stands the whipping post that was last used in 1950.

Marvel Carriage Museum, 510 S. Bedford St. Visitors are captivated by this museum's collection of antique carriages and the many original restored buildings on the museum property. Historic buildings on the museum grounds include the Ellis School, a one-room schoolhouse built in 1833. Two large barns contain carriages from Nutter Marvel's collection, which includes the Queen's Carriage, the Disney Carriage, a peddler's wagon and an 1800s era horse-drawn hearse carriage. The property also includes a telephone museum.

The museum complex also houses a beautiful collection of Victrolas, ephemera, photographs, furniture and many more items related to Georgetown history. It is home to the Georgetown Historical Society and Return Day headquarters, and offers a gift shop. For more information, go to marvelmuseum.com.

The Georgetown Train Station, 140 Layton Ave. The Historic Georgetown Association was successful in restoring the train station with the help of countless volunteer hours and the excellent craftsmanship of John L. Briggs Construction. This structure was built in the late 1860s and after serving Georgetown for decades had fallen into disrepair. Restoration was completed in fall 2003.

Over the next few years, various special events were held including Return Day celebrations, renting out to groups, Christmas Open Houses, an extensive children's program and general membership and executive board meetings for Historic Georgetown Association. In May 2011, a devastating fire gutted the interior and destroyed the second floor. Historic Georgetown Association set out to restore the station, and after three long years, the station was reopened in early summer 2014. For more information, go to georgetowntrainstation.org/page/train-station.

Georgetown's First Fire House is just across the street from the train station. In 2006, Chairman Carlton Moore, president and founder of Historic Georgetown Association, learned that the structure, which had been built in 1909 and moved from downtown in 1926 to become a part of the Southern States feed and supply store on Route 113, was going to be demolished along with the other buildings on the site.

Although only a few residents knew the significant history of this small structure tucked in with the other Southern States buildings, Historic Georgetown Association realized that preservation of the first fire house was imperative. The association received permission to move the structure to its present location across from the train station, and restoration efforts began. This building has been dedicated by Historic Georgetown Association to the many individuals who have served Georgetown as volunteer firefighters since 1909. For more information, go to georgetowntrainstation.org/page/old-firehouse.

The Delaware Aviation Museum, 21781 Aviation Ave. The Delaware Aviation Museum is located at Delaware Coastal Airport. It is run by the Delaware Aviation Museum Foundation, which is dedicated to promoting and preserving the history of aviation. The focus is on aviation in Delaware and the Delaware Coastal Airport. Displays include classic, vintage and military aircraft and aviation artifacts, as well as an extensive reference library containing thousands of aviation-related books, and a large and varied collection of aviation magazines, videos, technical documentation and aviation-related fiction and nonfiction books.

The foundation promotes tourism to Sussex County by hosting events at the airport and museum, providing an educational venue for students and the community. The museum will be open during May, August and September. In June and July the planes will be out at airshows and/or in use for flying lessons. They do offer a B-25 Flight Training Program in the Panchito. For more information, go to delawareaviationmuseum.org.

Treasures of the Sea Exhibit, Stephen J. Betze Library on the campus of Delaware Technical Community College in Georgetown features treasures from the Nuestra Senora de Atocha, a Spanish ship that went down in 1622 off the coast of Florida. Famed treasure hunter Mel Fisher searched for years to recover the shipwreck's treasure, which is calculated to be worth more than $4 million. Visitors to the museum enjoy a 15-minute movie about the ship, search, and recovery of the treasure. Following the movie, they can see and touch actual artifacts from the shipwreck. A gift shop offers souvenirs related to the Atocha. For more information, go to treasuresofthesea.org.

For the past two years, several Georgetown museums have offered a stamp tour from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., one Saturday of each month from May to September, and these tours will continue in 2017. Along with admission to participating museums, the tour typically offers discounts at various restaurants and businesses in Georgetown, good on tour dates. Keep an eye out for announcements of 2017's stamp tour in local newspapers.

Aside from the above museums, other participating locations on previous tours have included the Masonic Lodge and Union Lodge 3 Independent Order of Odd Fellows.

As always, safe travels and watch your speed while traveling through small towns. Speed limits are enforced. To do more armchair exploring of Southern Delaware, go to VisitSouthernDelaware.com, then go take a ride.

Hildegard W. Rieger is owner of Relaxing Tours LLC.

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