Several benevolent spirits and one nasty one with no redeeming virtues reside here.
This 1790 Georgian Mansion was built by Charles Hillyard, a man with impeccable artistic taste. He would’ve been pleased to know that he created a mansion that more than fills the various needs of a governor’s residence. The mansion’s layout includes a stately drawing room, music and dining rooms, wide hallways, 7 bedrooms, and a cellar. The inside decorum stays true to the middle period Georgian style and show cases beautifully crafted paneled walls, grand fireplaces, and big, sunny windows.
Plus, when the mansion was purchased out of private hands in 1966, by the Delaware General Assembly, funds were made available to not only completely restore, renovate this structure, but also to decorate this mansion in furnishings/objects of the time it was built, making it an authentic example of a 1790 Georgian Mansion, inside and out.
Outside, the mansion sits on an estate, with many old, ancient pines, Crepe Myrtles, Popular Trees, and English Boxwood. East of the mansion one finds the formal garden, which features a large Boxwood maze. In front of Woodburn Mansion stands a gigantic, looming, gnarled Popular, with eerie-looking “apertures” in its hollow trunk. This tree has a ghost story attached to it, that makes the local children run by the place after dark, which will be told later in this report.
Woodburn Mansion not only is the home of Delaware governors, but also home to several benevolent spirits and one nasty one, who scares the living, now and then, as they pass by the mansion. Manifestations in the mansion have only happened on occasion, as the “psychic atmosphere” and “spirit vibrations” felt inside the mansion have been pleasant and friendly.
The first recorded manifestation, can be found in Judge Fisher’s paper that he wrote for the Historical Society of Delaware, called “Dover in 1824”. According to Fisher’s account, a Dr. M.W. Bates and his wife lived at Woodburn Mansion in 1824. They had a Lorenzo Dow as a guest overnight. As Lorenzo was going down the stairs to eat breakfast with the Bates, he passed a gentleman going up the stairs, who was “dressed in the fashion of the preceding generation, complete with queued hair, knee breeches, ruffled blouse, etc.” This apparition was solid, and Lorenzo thought he was another guest, and didn’t realize it was Mrs. Bates’ long, departed father, which he later learned at the breakfast table from the Bates themselves.
The ghosts who reside at Woodburn have long had a love of good wine.
One owner of the mansion had said that while he filled an antique decanter with wine every night, he always found it empty the next morning.
Governor Charles Terry Jr. reported that an apparition of of man in a white wig had been spotted helping himself to a decanter of wine in the dining room, and is the one suspected of helping himself to the vintage wines in the cellar.
A former governor’s wife, who is a professed light sleeper, has heard on occasion footsteps going up the stairs, at an hour when no one else living could be responsible.
Another pleasant ghost who occasionally floats and glides around is dressed in a Revolutionary War costume.
The third seen ghost is thought to be one of an unpleasant Southern slave raider. The Woodburn Mansion was part of the underground railroad, during the pre-Civil War time period. Slaves would be hidden in the cellar, until they could escape in boats on the nearby river. The story goes that one night, Southern raiders came to the mansion, looking for run-away slaves. When Daniel Cowgill, a Quaker who owned the mansion at the time, drove the raiders off, one of the raiders decided to hide in the huge Popular that is still in front of the mansion now. Consequently, this raider slipped, and got his head caught in a hole in the tree, and hung there until he died. On occasion, people have seen his body hanging in the tree, as he relives his horrible death.
The fourth seen ghost is an apparition of a little girl in a red-checked gingham dress. She was first seen playing by the garden pool during the 1940s.
Yes. The ghosts who stay enjoy the mansion and the activities of the living.
During the inauguration party for Governor Michael Castle, back in January, 1985, various guests felt the tugging of an invisible presence. One guest spotted the apparition of the little girl standing/floating in the corner of the reception room.
Governor Castle let a teacher and three of her students spend the night in the mansion. The students reported that a lady in a portrait hanging in one of the rooms kept smiling at them in a friendly, welcoming manner.
On occasion, people can still see the raider hanging in the tree, and hear the awful moans and his rattling chains inside and outside the mansion.
151 King’s Highway
Dover, Delaware 19901
The Woodburn Mansion (Governor’s Residence) is on King St., in Dover, Delaware. Tours of Woodburn are open to the public Monday through Fridays, 8:30 am to 4:00 pm, by appointment only. Admission is Free!
Our Haunted Paranormal Stories are Written by Julie Carr