Delaware Legislative Hall and the Old State House Tours

The Architecture and Sculpture of the Delaware Capitols

David Smitherman
6 min readJun 21, 2023

The Delaware State Capitol is known as the Delaware Legislative Hall and is located in Dover near the center of the state. The surrounding areas are primarily agricultural lands on a coastal plain between Delaware Bay and the Atlantic Ocean to the east, and a number of rivers in Maryland feeding the Chesapeake Bay to the southwest. Delaware delegates were the first to ratify our Constitution, making Delaware the first State in forming our United States of America.

Delaware Legislative Hall

The Legislative Hall was constructed from 1931 to 1933 and built in a Colonial Revival architectural style by the architects William Martin and Norman Isham. The north and south wings were added from 1965 to 1970 by the architect George Fletcher Bennet and another addition in 1994 was made by The Architects Studio, all in keeping with the original Colonial Revival architectural style.

The lead architect, Edward William Martin, 1891 to 1977, was born in Inverarnan Scotland and immigrated to the United States as a child with his parents. He was educated at both the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Delaware and then completed his architectural degree at the University of Liverpool in England. Martin obtained many public commissions due in part to the influence of Pierre du Pont of the wealthy du Pont family for whom he designed many private and charitably funded public facilities. His early work included many classical revival architectural styles.

Norman Morrison Isham, 1864 to 1943, was born in Hartford Connecticut but grew up in Providence Rhode Island where he was educated at Brown University and later became a professor at both Brown and the Rhode Island School of Design. He was noted as an author, professor, and architectural historian contributing to the preservation of numerous homes and buildings in the New England area. He worked with William Martin on the Delaware Legislative Hall as a consultant on early American Colonial design.

The main west entrance to the Legislative Hall leads into a gallery with the Senate and House Chambers on each side and a stair up to viewing galleries and a variety of meeting and supporting office areas. Renovations were made by Moeckel Carbonell Associates in the late 1990s also in keeping with the original design. In 1987, ten Bicentennial Murals were added to the Chambers depicting Delaware history, by artist Jack Lewis. On the day of this tour both House and Senate were having sessions so I could not enter, but while on a break I was able to see through the entrances and take a few photographs.

Sculptures on site include The Delaware Continentals outside the east entrance depicting soldiers during the Revolutionary War, and inside a sculptural relief of the First Regiment Delaware Volunteers from the Civil War, both by Ron Tunison, 2008.

Ron Tunison, 1946 to 2013, was born in Richmond Hill New York. He was educated at the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan and the New York City National Academy. He established the company Historical Sculptures where his work can still be seen today, see references below.

The Capitol Complex includes a large field, called the Legislative Mall, between the Delaware Legislative Hall and the Old State House where on this visit a high school graduation service was in progress. A variety of state business and historical building surround the Mall. It faces west, southwest, toward Washington DC, including the Old State House.

Old State House

Today the Old State House is used as a museum where both self tours and guided tours are available. On December 7, 1787 Delaware delegates ratified the United States Constitution to make Delaware the first state in our new country. Construction of a State House commenced and was built between 1787 and 1792 in a Georgian architectural style by an unknown architect. During the 1800s a number of additions were constructed but later removed to restore the building to its original design. It served the state legislature from 1792 to 1933 when they moved to the Delaware Legislative Hall.

The entrance hall leads directly into a courtroom flanked by two spiral staircases designed by John Howe, 1791, leading up to the Senate and House Chambers. The design is reminiscent of its first use as both a courthouse and a state legislative building. Additional rooms accommodated US postal services and land records and deeds.

Delaware is a beautiful state as is Dover and the Legislative Mall area. I found that the capitol complex was significantly different from most that I have visited in the east so far. The building designs use a simpler Georgian and Colonial Revival architectural styles influenced primarily from Britain as opposed to many others with more elaborate Greek and Roman influences. Check it out, great history and beauty in exploring our nations development.

Travel Notes

All photographs are by the author from visits in 2020 and 2023. My first visit was during the pandemic, and then later interior tours when they had opened back up. My road trip took me from Huntsville Alabama to Strasburg Virginia where there is a Tesla Supercharger about a block from the Fairfield Inn where I stayed the night. This has been a familiar stop for a number of road trips between Huntsville and Boston. The next morning I continued on to Dover, pleased to find that there are a number of new charging sites along the way.

Notes and References:

Story and photographs by David Smitherman

Historical and location data is from onsite inscriptions, brochures, Wikipedia and Google Maps

Old State House: https://history.delaware.gov/old-state-house/

Delaware Legislative Hall: https://legis.delaware.gov/Resources/AboutLegislativeHall

Historical Sculptures: http://www.historicalsculptures.com

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David Smitherman

Retired architect and space architect from NASA. Married with a growing family. Currently into travel, historical architecture, photography and genealogy.