Three-fort touring

The three-fort tour from Ft Mott near Salem, New Jer­sey, to Ft Delaware on Pea Patch Island (de fac­to Delaware), to Delaware City, Delaware and adja­cent Ft DuPont.

A few weeks ago Yum­my­gal at South​jer​sey​ex​plor​er​.com wrote up a trip report on The Three Forts Fer­ry Tour. It didn’t take more than two min­utes of texts before my wife and I decid­ed we would recre­ate this.

It’s wasn’t so easy at first. I spent way too long on the park system’s web­site try­ing to fig­ure out how to board the fer­ry at Ft Mott on the New Jer­sey side. Every option I tried had me board in near­by Salem, N.J. It wasn’t till I was home that I read that the Ft Mott stop had been out of com­mis­sion until ear­ly this sum­mer because of Sandy and that Salem had been the alter­nate board­ing loca­tion. The web­site hadn’t been updated.

Once we got to the dock we saw there was no tick­et kiosk. Once the fer­ry came in we found they couldn’t swipe a cred­it card onboard (real­ly? can’t any mod­ern smart­phone han­dle that?, but I digress…). The only place they could han­dle a cred­it card was the far end, in Delaware City. We’d have to dock on Fort Delaware/Pea Patch Island but stay in the boat and con­tin­ue to this city. We’d hadn’t even real­ly planned to nec­es­sar­i­ly go to Delaware City but we end­ed up spend­ing much of our day there.

Delaware City was a small port town whose claim to fame was its loca­tion as the east­ern ter­mi­nus of the orig­i­nal nine­teenth cen­tu­ry Chesa­peake and Delaware Canal. The mod­ern canal bypass­es it a few miles to the south, so Delaware City is a bit frozen in time.

First stop: Crab­by Dick’s, one of three eater­ies rec­om­mend­ed to us (the oth­ers being a pub and an Ital­ian restau­rant). Being a veg­e­tar­i­an I don’t get into this sort of a restau­rant very often but they had veg­gie burg­ers and cre­ative sweet fries (cinnamon-covered with an apple but­ter dip – yum!). Luck­i­ly it was near­ly emp­ty around noon in a Sun­day so our trou­ble­mak­ing kids didn’t cause too much commotion.

Next door was a small ice cream shop. The tem­per­a­tures were in the 90s so this was an obvi­ous stop.

What we should have done next is wan­der the town until the next fer­ry to Pea Patch Island and its fort. One of our par­ty was deter­mined to see all three forts so we set out for Ft DuPont. It’s adja­cent to Delaware City’s dock and down­town as the crow flies. But we aren’t crows, or fish. DuPont’s on the oth­er side of the old canal. You have to walk about a mile to the first bridge that cross­es it, a rick­ety one at that, then make a sharp left to trav­el in the same direc­tion you had just come from, only on the canal’s south side.

There’s no signs for the fort. Even Yum­my­girl had got­ten lost on her trip so I knew to rely on my phone’s maps. Most of Ft DuPont’s acreage is a large cam­pus dot­ted with an odd assort­ment of run-down ear­ly twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry mil­i­tary build­ings sur­round­ing an old parade field. The camp had been a major deploy­ment cen­ter dur­ing WW II and had also served as a POW camp for Ger­mans. The state’s been try­ing to repur­pose it in recent years but it’s an odd assort­ment of halfway house ser­vices and nation­al guard asso­ci­a­tions, stuck in between crum­bling build­ings that will nev­er find a new role.

At the far end of all this a nature trail going through what remains of the nine­teenth cen­tu­ry Ft DuPont. Walk­ing it is a bit like tour­ing a jungle-covered Aztec city: every so often a ruin sticks out of the trees and tan­gled vines. It’s an interesting-enough trail but not worth a four mile round-trip hike with four kids in 90 degree heat. We were able to beg a ride back from a park ranger fin­ish­ing her shift thank good­ness but much of our day was sit­ting under trees drink­ing the last of our water.

Back at the Delaware City fer­ry office, we bought a small for­tune of water from the vend­ing machine till the next (and final) boat to Pea Patch Island. This is typ­i­cal­ly the des­ti­na­tion of the tourists but by this time we only had about 45 min­utes before the last boat from the island to Jer­sey. We had an extra half hour as the boat wait­ed in dock for a spec­tac­u­lar storm to pass over the river.

We’ll def­i­nite­ly return but prob­a­bly skip Delaware City except for pos­si­bly a meal.