Delaware Byways scenic, historic, natural, cultural, recreational, and archaeological

In 2000, the Delaware General Assembly enacted Senate Bill 320, then known as Delaware Scenic and Historic Highways Program, authorizing the Delaware Department of Transportation (DelDOT) to develop what would become known as the Delaware Byways Program. The purpose of the program is to: identify, promote, preserve, and enhance Delaware roadways with scenic, historic, natural, cultural, recreational, or archaeological qualities.

Brandywine Park (photo: Leslie Kipp)

What is the program's history?

The Delaware Byways Program was spurred by the creation of the National Scenic Byways Program, first established in 1991 by the federal Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA). This program, managed by the U.S. Department of Transportation through the Federal Highway Administration and in partnership with state departments of transportation or other responsible state agencies, designates National Scenic Byways and All-American Roads based on their scenic, historic, recreational, cultural, natural, and/or archaeological intrinsic qualities.

What transportation corridors are designated as Delaware Byways?

Six Delaware Byways have been designated: the Historic Lewes Byway; the Red Clay Valley Scenic Byway; the Delaware Bayshore Byway; the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Byway; the Nanticoke Heritage Byway; and the Brandywine Valley National Scenic Byway. Scroll down to view the scenic vistas and sites of interest along each Byway.

The Historic Lewes Byway, Gateway to the Bayshore is a continuous transportation network that captures the 383-year history of the greater Lewes area. The segments of the route include New Road, Pilottown Road/Front Street, Savannah Road, Kings Highway, Gills Neck Road, and Cape Henlopen Drive.

The Byway's primary intrinsic quality is its historic significance. The unique visual and "small town" character of Lewes and surrounding landscape are the result of centuries of historic adaptation. Furthermore, the Byway has intrinsic natural qualities associated with Lewes' position at the mouth of the Delaware Bay. Cape Henlopen State Park and a growing network of greenways and trails around Lewes provide recreational opportunities for birding, bicycling, boating and beach access.

This combination of historic, natural, and recreational qualities establishes Lewes as a regionally significant destination.

Sights along the Byway include:

Delaware Breakwater Lighthouse
Downtown Lewes. credit Alamy
Lewes Beach, East Savannah Road 1
Camping, Cape Henlopen State Park

The Red Clay Valley Scenic Byway is unique because it comprises 28 secondary roads within the Red Clay Creek watershed. It is the first byway in the United States to be based on a watershed model.

The Red Clay Valley Scenic Byway is also unique because the byway designation is not used to promote tourism (although there are several opportunities along the way). Rather, it's designation is a tool to preserve and protect the unique qualities of the byway.

Traveling the Red Clay Scenic Byway enables one to see the historic, scenic, and natural qualities of the Red Clay watershed including Hockessin, Mt. Cuba Center, Coverdale Farm Preserve, Auburn Heights Preserve, and the Wilmington & Western Railroad.

Sights along the Byway include:

Ashland Covered Bridge (photo: Leslie Kipp)
Hoopes Reservoir
Wilmington & Western Railroad (photo: Evan Schilling)
Mt Cuba Center, a non-profit botanical garden in Hockessin
James Wilson Farm

The Delaware Bayshore Byway is a meandering road extending for 52 miles from the City of New Castle to its junction with State Route 1 on the east side of the Dover Air Force Base. The Byway connects nine, major-publicly owned natural areas, bucolic farms, and nine coastal towns. The Delaware Bayshore Byway is widely recognized as an area of global ecological and historic significance. It is a Migratory Shorebird Site of Hemispheric Importance, a Wetland of International Significance, and an Important Bird Area of Global Significance. These natural areas provide habitat for more than 400 species of birds and other wildlife. Byway extensions will also include contributing Kent and Sussex River and beach towns along the Delaware Bay to complement the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control's (DNREC) Delaware Bayshore Initiative and America’s Great Outdoors.

Sights along the byway include:

John Dickinson Plantation, Dover
Bombay Hook, National Wildlife Reserve (photo: Joe del Tufo)
Parson Thorne Mansion, Milford
Delaware City Hotel, Delaware City
Historic New Castle, credit - Bruce Burk

The Byway begins where the Maryland Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad ends on Willow Grove Road in Kent County, Delaware. It continues through Camden and Dover, extends north on US 13 passing through Smyrna, and then travels to Route 15 to Middletown and Odessa. It then follows Route 9 along the Delaware River to Wilmington. The road culminates on Kennett Pike at the Delaware-Pennsylvania state line.

The Byway has intrinsic historical value by highlighting Delaware features of the Underground Railroad in the pre-Civil War era. The Underground Railroad served as a method and trail for escaped slaves to free persecution and enslavement in the South for the relative safety of the North. Delaware's legal, social, and economic foundations stood in support of the institution of slavery and aligned it with its neighboring slave-holding states. However, Delaware's close proximity to free states made it an important corridor for freedom seekers seeking liberty further north.

Sights along the Byway include:

Ebeneezer Church and Cemetery, Lewes
New Castle Courthouse Museum- credit Cynthia Snyder
Delaware History Museum and Mitchell Center for African-American Heritage, Wilmington (photo: Joe del Tufo)
Appoquinimink Meeting House, Odessa
Tubman-Garrett Statue, Tubman-Garrett Riverfront Park, Wilmington (photo: Leslie Kipp)

The Nanticoke Heritage Byway focuses on the Nanticoke River and Broad Creek, the Delmarva Peninsula's longest tributary to the Chesapeake Bay. The Byway extends along several roads in western Sussex County passing through Seaford, Bethel, and Laurel before ending at the Trap Pond State Park.

Sights along the byway include:

Woodland Ferry, Seaford
Seaford Museum and downtown
Trapp Pond State Park (photo: Delaware Division of State Parks and Recreation)
Standup Paddleboarding on Broadcreek in Laurel

Brandywine Valley National Scenic Byway

The Brandywine Valley National Scenic Byway starts at Rodney Square in Downtown Wilmington and travels on Routes 52 and 100 to the Pennsylvania state line for over 12 miles.

This Byway travels through the rolling hills of the Brandywine landscape, showcasing Delaware's industrial history, which spans three centuries, and highlights the du Pont family dynasty. The Byway begins in Wilmington Rodney Square by extending out of Wilmington passing Hotel du Pont, the Wilmington Institute Free Library, the Federal Courthouse, and the U.S. Post Office (now Wilmington Trust). It then meanders through the scenic countryside featuring several country estates and cultural institutions such as the Delaware Museum of Natural History; Hagley Museum and Library; Nemours Estate; Winterthur Museum, Gardens, and Library, and Longwood Gardens.

Sights along the Byway include:

Rodney Square, Wilmington (photo: Joe del Tufo)
Winterthur Mansion in Spring (photo: Jeannette Lindvig)
Historic Buckley's Tavern, Centreville
Hagley Museum and Library
Grand Opera House, Wilmington (photo: Joe del Turo)
Nemours Mansion and Gardens

Credits: Photos courtesy of the University of Delaware Center for Historic Architecture & Design, the Federal Highway Administration, DelDOT Division of Planning, and the Greater Wilmington Convention & Visitors Bureau.

Timothy White, Public Administration Fellow, Institute for Public Administration, University of Delaware

Marcia Scott, Policy Scientist, Institute for Public Administration, University of Delaware

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