DELAWARE DIARY by Frank Dale

DELAWARE DIARY

Episodes in the Life of a River
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KIRKUS REVIEW

 A diverting collection of Delaware River lore, from freelance writer and local historian Dale. The Delaware River never was one of the nation's great commercial waterways: too many rapids, too little water for that. Its claim to fame rests largely with George Washington's crossing on that blizzardy Christmas night in 1776, headed for Trenton and an engagement with a few hundred besotted Hessians. But Dale knows there is more to the river's history, and he serves it up in linear, storybook fashion. He starts as far back as the Lenni-Lenape natives and their disastrous relations with the gathering swarms of Dutch, Swedish, and English settlers. From that sorry piece of the past, Dale moves to another: clear-cutting the riverbank's pine woods to feed the British admiralty's insatiable demand for timber. Great rafts of logs, the size of football fields, were floated downriver, and soon the riverine landscape was as denuded as the English hillsides. Dale goes into great detail describing the Revolutionary War battles waged along the Delaware; the development of various rivercraft, from the ore-bearing Durham boats (Washington's craft of choice), to Fitch's steam packetboat (predating Robert Fulton's by decades); and a nasty little Civil War prison located on Pea Patch Island, a Union rival to the grotesqueries of Andersonville. For latter years, Dale concentrates on the river's strange, cruel weather--the horrific floods (called ``freshets'' in these parts) of 1841 and 1903, the sprawling devastation of Hurricane Diane in 1955, brutal ice storms. There is lots more: snippets, asides, vignettes, rumors, quick biographical sketches. And the river's cleaning up its act; Dale, in a measure of true devotion, even drinks from its waters. Homey history, like something your grandfather might have recited before the living room fire, a history in which the narrator has a stake. (56 b&w illustrations, not seen)

Pub Date: June 30th, 1996
ISBN: 0-8135-2282-X
Page count: 194pp
Publisher: Rutgers Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1st, 1996