Dover Days Festival offers a taste of history

Students from Welch Elementary School
perform the maypole dance on The Green as part of the Dover Days celebration last year. (Special To The Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh)

DOVER — The Dover Days Festival is an annual celebration of the city’s colonial heritage and a harbinger of warmer weather and blooming flowers that takes place the first weekend in May.

There are always the traditional maypole dancing, building tours, parade, as well as other sights, sounds and tastes to excite the senses — and there’s history, lots of it.

However, this year’s 84th edition of Dover Days, which kicks off this evening, weather permitting, and continues through Saturday, will also serve as the lead-in to Dover’s year-long 300th birthday celebration, making the event that much bigger.

Wendie Vestfall, executive director of the Kent County Tourism Corporation, which organizes the festival, realizes the significance to paying homage to the city’s tricentennial year.

“We are very excited, especially to be the kickoff celebration for the 300th birthday for the city of Dover,” Ms. Vestfall said. “We’re excited to be holding a big birthday party for the city with a birthday cake from La Baquette Bakery.

“We’ll also have the mayor (Robin Christiansen) and city council coming to help us in the celebration.”

Nena Todd, of Delaware Historical and Cultural Affairs, said Dover’s milestone is more significant than a lot of people might realize.

“According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are over 35,000 cities and towns (in the country) and less than 100 of them have ever turned 300,” she said. “So this is a big, important anniversary.”

Dover Days tips

Ms. Vestfall offers a couple of pieces of advice when it comes to heading downtown to celebrate the Dover Days Festival.

She said the first thing is to make sure everyone gets their walking shoes out, because a lot of different events are spread out from The Green to Legislative Mall and other spots in between.

Her second bit of advice is one that makes her cringe when she says, “They might want to pack an umbrella.”

That’s because the weather forecast isn’t exactly filled with sunshine and blue skies for the festival.

The National Weather Service said that rain showers are likely tonight, with possibly a thunderstorm before 8 p.m. and a low temperature around 56.

There is also a 50 percent chance of showers on Saturday with a high temperature near 68.

“It’s like a repeat of last year,” Ms. Vestfall said, of a rainy festival in 2016 that forced the cancellation of Friday’s activities. “We’ve been hanging on here and watching the weather.”

Basically, the rule of Dover Days is that if an event is scheduled for indoors and it rains, it still goes on as scheduled. Most outdoor events are at the mercy of the weather, particularly fireworks.

Kickoff tonight

This year’s festival officially kicks off at 6 tonight on Legislative Mall when local band 33 1/3 performs music from the vinyl era – including classic rock, soft rock and country.

“Festival food vendors will be on hand serving up some of the area’s most unique and adventurous food choices so you can enjoy a meal right on the mall,” Ms. Vestfall said.

Mayor Christiansen and members of Dover’s City Council are scheduled to take part in Dover’s 300th birthday cake presentation from 8:20 until 8:30 p.m. at Legislative Mall and participate in a Happy Birthday sing-a-long done kazoo-style.

Community members are welcomed to join in and play one of 500 donated kazoos in hopes of getting into the Guinness Book of World Records.

Tonight’s schedule will be capped off by a fireworks extravaganza at dusk.

Mayor Christiansen said he is looking forward to welcoming anywhere between 15,000 and 20,000 visitors to the downtown area tonight and Saturday.

“My vision is that we celebrate what makes Dover Dover and that we celebrate the people that came before us, the people that live here today and the people that hopefully will live here in the future,” the mayor said.

Dover Mayor Robin Christiansen and his wife Cindy lead the Dover Days parade along State Street last year. (Delaware State News file photo)

Parade highlights Saturday

The Dover Days parade, which will take place Saturday morning, is always a highlight and it will feature more than 100 floats, bands and marching groups and will have more than 4,500 participants. A crowd of more than 9,000 people is expected to watch.

The parade is scheduled to step off on State Street at 9:30 a.m. and will have a reviewing stand on The Green. It will take place rain or shine, but not under thunderstorm conditions.

The rest of the day on Saturday features dozens of different events, including the traditional Maypole dancing by Delaware school children from 11:30 a.m. until 12:30 p.m. on The Green and the Dover Days Car Show from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. in the Tatnall Building parking lot.

History, Heritage & Hops

History, Heritage & Hops returns to Dover’s Loockerman Street for the third annual music, craft beverage and food festival Saturday from 3 to 6 p.m.

The event will include music from Mike Hines and The Look, Glass Onion and Reunion.

The event admission is free, and drink tickets will be $5 for a full pour, and $2 for a sample

Festival-goers should visit the Dover Days section at www.delawarestatenews.net for a complete schedule of all of the events surrounding the Dover Days Festival or pick up a copy of the Delaware State News’ official program for the event at several locations downtown.

Any festival changes will also be announced on the Delaware State News website

Ms. Vestfall enjoys getting the chance to step back in time during the festival.

“Dover Days are great for me,” she said. “I am a huge historical person so I love looking at all the re-enactments and all those way back in history kind of crafts that are made, things like iron making, weave making and candle making.

“Dover Days has a way of transforming people back to a time when Dover was just beginning, and that’s always a really fun time.”

Delaware State News staff writer Mike Finney can be reached at mfinney@newszap.com.

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