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Sightseeing on the Delaware; May the Fort be with you!

Outbuildings, cabins and meeting halls make up the complex of buildings at the Fort Delaware Museum of Colonial History.
TRR photos by Jonathan Fox

By Jonathan Fox
June 26, 2013

For years now, I’ve driven past it, making a mental note to stop by “sometime” and check it out—the Fort Delaware Museum of Colonial History. I have a keen interest in the rich historical significance of the early settlers’ lives here in the Upper Delaware River Valley, but until a few weeks ago, hadn’t pulled into the lot. Unwilling to let another summer go by without paying a visit, I made my way to Narrowsburg, NY and toured the Fort, chatted with museum director Debra Conway and left impressed that this historical gem is glittering so close to home, welcoming visitors with an entertaining and educational glimpse of the past.

Before my trip, a quick glance online revealed that “Fort Delaware is an authentic depiction of the life of the Delaware Company pioneers who settled in the Upper Delaware Valley in 1754. A tour of the facilities includes demonstrations of early settlers’ lifestyles and craft-making. A gift shop, vending area and picnicking facilities are located on the grounds. Each spring, the Fort is host to over 1,000 students who participate in the Student Days program.” (www.co.sullivan.ny.us). While this was a decent overview, Conway was most helpful in filling in some of the blanks. “There is a misconception that the original settlement was actually built on this site,” she said, “but in reality, this replica was built by James W. Burbank in 1957 as a roadside attraction, during the sightseeing boom of the ‘50s.”

Faithful in all details, the complex that we see now recreates what was once part of the “Cushetunk Settlement” where early settlers befriended members of the native Lenape Tribe and secured a deed to some of the land in 1754. With no written language, the native word ‘Cushetunk” was at some point interpreted as “Cochecton,” which lingers to this day. “In reality, there was no such thing as ‘Fort Delaware,’” Conway said, “but the Cushetunk settlement served as a site where 28 families within a 30-mile radius could take refuge if they felt threatened during the height of the French and Indian War. Lots of visitors think that the ‘Lower Fort’ saw action during the conflict, but Burbank actually came up with the name on his own, in his attempt to create the tourist attraction.”