Lewes Heritage - Shaped By the Sea

By Dennis N. Forney Photos by Kevin Fleming

Many years ago the people of Lewes outlined five core values that drive planning decisions for the community. The first of these core values notes that Lewes has "a special and historic relationship with the sea." Visitors who use all their senses as they interact with Lewes will quickly understand why.

The blessings of nature and the give and take of a pliable people have made Lewes a town defined by its setting. Marshes, canal, bay, ocean, and woods - and all of their plant and animal residents - stamp Lewes on a daily and seasonal basis. Marsh mallows and geese, foxes and deer, and raccoons and seaside goldenrod - and the fish and dolphins and hawks arriving and leaving as the days shorten and lengthen - constantly remind residents and visitors that "sense of place" is inevitable in Lewes.

Bride and groom bald cypress trees on Kings Highway, dating back to 1812, owe their lineage to local trees felled to make the legendary shakes that clad most of the town’s historic buildings. The durability of cypress shingles drives the status of the Ryves Holt House on Second Street as Delaware’s oldest building - ca. 1665 - still standing on its original site.

From the crest of the drawbridge that crosses the Lewes–Rehoboth Canal in the center of town, motorists, bicyclists, and walkers often see the white ferry boats traveling between Cape May and Lewes looming large and seemingly headed for the public beach at the end of Savannah Road.

The vessels are making their turn around the historic Delaware Breakwater commissioned by President John Quincy Adams in the early 1800s. Savannah Road points northeast like a compass needle toward the west end of that massive stone structure that creates the Breakwater Harbor. The breakwater has provided protection for centuries and shields the ferry terminal from the open Atlantic’s wind and waves.

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