Photograph by Michael Melford, National Geographic

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A lone sycamore tree stands at Woodlawn, the heart of Delaware's newly declared national monument.

Photograph by Michael Melford, National Geographic

Delaware Gets Its First National Monument

The National Park System finally reaches all 50 states.

Shortly after noon on Monday, with a declaration from President Obama designating the First State National Monument, the National Park Service welcomed Delaware into its fold for the first time. (Related: "Obama Declares Monuments to Preserve Pieces of U.S. Heritage.")

President Obama created the monument along with four other national monuments in an Oval Office ceremony alongside Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, using powers designated under the Antiquities Act of 1906 to recognize historically significant landmarks.

The largest component of the First State National Monument is the Woodlawn property, a 1,100-acre (445-hectare) parcel of land located between Wilmington, Delaware, and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The tract was set aside for preservation a century ago by its then owner, textile manufacturer and philanthropist William Bancroft, who hoped the land would eventually become a park. In recent years the property, a portion of which extends into Pennsylvania, has faced increasing pressure from developers.

The other sites included in the First State National Monument are the Old Sheriff's House, Old New Castle Courthouse, New Castle Green, and Dover Green, where, in 1787, Delaware became the first state to ratify the Constitution.

(See photos of Woodlawn and other sites in the historic Brandywine Valley in "History's Backyard" in this month's National Geographic magazine.)

Not the Finish Line

The designation was the result of more than a decade of efforts by conservationists and state officials to secure a park in Delaware. Senator Tom Carper, who has pushed for Congress to designate these and additional properties as a national park, said, "This is not the finish line, but it's a very good step toward the end goal, which is a national park for Delaware."

Carper touted the increased exposure and potential economic impact of the designation. "Every year, millions of Americans and countless others from across the world plan their vacations around America's national parks and monuments," Carper said. "After Monday, these visitors will find a new and exciting monument to visit in the First State and our neighbor, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania."

Blaine Phillips, senior vice president for the Conservation Fund, which donated the Woodlawn property to the National Park Service, called the announcement "a huge victory that accomplished the goal of getting Delaware into the National Park System."

Phillips gave credit to Mt. Cuba Center, a family foundation with an emphasis on horticulture, that donated $20 million to allow the Conservation Fund to purchase the Woodlawn property. "If the game is about momentum, they provided the big push. I don't think we'd be here talking about this if it wasn't for them," Phillips said.

Guaranteed for Future Generations

Inclusion in the National Park System will allow for some improvements of amenities, such as trails where visitors can explore and walk along the Brandywine River. But the most important thing, says Phillips, is that it is now "absolutely guaranteed" that future generations will be able to enjoy these natural and historical treasures.

The Conservation Fund also donated another property designated as a national monument on Monday, the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Monument in Maryland.

In addition to open space, the monument will help preserve important historical sites. Senator Carper noted that "most Delawareans are not fully aware of the role that Delaware played in the early colonial settlement of this country leading up to the ratification of the Constitution. If most Delawareans aren’t aware, you can bet your bottom dollar that people outside the state don’t know."

This declaration brings the number of units in the National Park Service to 403, and gives it a presence in all 50 states for the first time.

Describing the signing ceremony, which culminated with the creation of the monument for the First State, Senator Carper recalled, "The president signed it with a flourish and said 'Delaware at last!'"

President Obama has designated a total of nine national monuments, including four that he created in his first term.