With a history dating back to 1631, it is not surprising to find many homes in Lewes of both historical and architectural interest. Only a small number of them are listed here. A map and visitors guide describing many other sites of interest are available free of charge at many local businesses, museums, and the Chamber of Commerce Visitors Bureau.
Please respect the privacy of the families who live in our old homes, many of which are open during the Annual Christmas House Tour, held the first Saturday in December.
Savannah Road & Kings Highway
The Museum was built in 1931 by the State of Delaware to commemorate the 300th Anniversary of Delaware’s first European settlement, a Dutch whaling colony called Swanendael that began in 1631. The building is a careful adaptation of the City Hall or Stadhuis of Hoorn, Holland.
Exhibits reflect the history, especially the maritime history of southeastern Sussex County, Delaware, including artifacts from H.M.B. DeBraak, a recovered British warship that sank off the coast of Cape Henlopen in 1798, and artifacts and information from the bombardment of Lewes during the War of 1812 and from the Cape Henlopen Lighthouse. Other exhibits include information on the local Delaware Bay and River Pilots of the area and our “Changing Coastline.”
The Museum is open Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., and Sunday, 1:30 to 4:30 p.m. It is closed on Mondays and state holidays. Admission is free, but donations are greatly appreciated. For more information, call 302-645-1148.
Located behind the Zwaanendael Museum at intersection of Kings Highway & Savannah Road
Circa 1730, this charming gambrel-roofed house was moved from the country at Cool Spring in 1980 as part of the celebration of the 350th anniversary of the first European settlement on Delaware soil. Just when it was built and by whom is uncertain. The tract at Cool Spring was owned in 1695 by Thomas Fisher, a wealthy merchant, and was left to his son Joshua, who became famous for charting the Delaware Bay. It was sold in 1736 to Rev. James Martin, a minister of Cool Spring, Indian River, and Lewes Presbyterian churches. It stayed in the Martin family for over two hundred years. The building is used as a focal point for community activities and exhibits. The Lewes Chamber of Commerce Visitors Bureau is located in the house.
Public restrooms are located behind the Fisher–Martin House in Zwaanendael Park.
GFWC Zwaanendael Women 's Club of Lewes
3rd Street & Savannah Road
This building was constructed in 1898 by the Sussex Trust Title and Safe Deposit Company. It was opened in October of that year, and continued to serve as the Lewes branch of the bank until being replaced by a new structure on Second Street in 1911.
The property was subsequently sold, and for a time was used as a store. On December 14, 1929, it was donated to the Zwaanendael Women's Club by Virginia L. Mustard, a Charter Member of the organization.
Founded in 1905, the Zwaanendael Club, a member of the GFWC, was organized by a group of public-spirited women for the purpose of promoting community improvement through volunteer service. For a number of years the club's meetings were held in the homes of members, and at various other locations in the town. Their first meeting at this location was on October 7, 1930. It was decided to set up a lending library and offer use of the building to various community organizations. The facility was expanded in the 1930s with the construction of an addition on Third Street.
The Zwaanendael Club Building was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1980.
For tours year-round, call for reservations: 302-947-2640
Colonel David Hall House
107 Kings Highway (Private House)
This early-18th-century cypress-shingled house is mentioned in a 1734 will of Nathaniel Hall but is named after his more famous grandson, Colonel David Hall - lawyer, Revolutionary soldier, and judge - who was elected the 15th Governor of Delaware in 1802. The interior of the house contains original woodwork, paneling, and plaster ornamentation.
Colonel Hall, who commanded the celebrated “Delaware Line” of the Continentals during the Revolutionary War at Valley Forge, is buried in the Lewes Presbyterian churchyard.
Lewes City Hall
East Third Street
Built in 1961, this colonial-style building houses offices of the City of Lewes, the Board of Public Works, and the Lewes Police Department.
The fireplace, in the Council Room, is made of stone from the Henlopen Lighthouse, which fell on April 13, 1926.
Lewes Presbyterian Church
The Lewes Presbyterian Church was founded in 1682, and the present building was dedicated in 1832. It replaced two previous buildings on the same site, one built in 1707 and the other, a brick edifice, begun in 1727.
A beautiful Communion Service was presented to the church about 1851 by Colonel Samuel Boyer Davis, Lewes-born commander of the troops at Lewes during the bombardment of the town in 1813.
There are many interesting tombs in the churchyard, including those of two Delaware governors, Colonel David Hall and Ebe W. Tunnell.
Saint Peter's Episcopal Church
Second & Market Streets
The present building, consecrated in 1858 and restored to its original beauty in 1948, was preceded by two prior structures, the first one having been begun before February 14, 1707. A congregation of the Church of England existed in Lewes prior to 1681. There are many interesting stones in the churchyard, the oldest being that of Margaret Huling, born 1631. Four governors of Delaware are buried here.
The bronze tablet on the outside of the brick wall calls attention to the site of the Old Court House, erected when Lewes was the County Seat of Sussex.
Sites 8–16 are administered by the Lewes Historical Society. For information on building openings, tours, and special events held at the complex call 302-645-7670 or e-mail [email protected].
Ryves Holt House c. 1665
Lewes Historical Society’s Visitors Center, Second & Mulberry Streets
This dignified shingled house is believed to be the oldest house in the state still standing on its original foundation. It is known to have been standing on its present site in 1682 and has recently been dated at 1665 through the analysis of borings taken from wood used in the structure. Once a colonial inn, this is the house to which Ryves Holt came in 1721 when he arrived at “Port Lewes.” Holt (1696–1763) became the Naval Officer of the Port and was also many times High Sheriff of Sussex County. With other appointments and offices to his credit, he was named the first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court in The Three Lower Counties on the Delaware in 1745 and served in this capacity until his death.
Commodore Jacob Jones also lived in the house. Following the death of his mother, his father married a daughter of Ryves Holt. Commodore Jones won acclaim when his ship WASP captured the more heavily armed British warship FROLIC during the War of 1812.
Shipcarpenter Square & Third Street (In the Historic Complex)
Moved from Second Street in 1962 by the Lewes Historical Society, the main section of this house is constructed of hand-hewn timbers and cypress shingles. It contains an interesting stairway and interior woodwork as well as fine interior and exterior moldings. The cellar walls are of sailing ballast stones and brick. A section from a similar dwelling was brought from Milton to replace an original wing destroyed by fire in 1922. The Leah Burton Paynter bequest of 1968 enabled the Society to complete the restoration.
Rabbit's Ferry House
Third Street (In the Historic Complex)
This house was moved from the Rabbit’s Ferry area of rural Lewes in 1967 and restored by the Lewes Historical Society. The small part is an early-18thcentury one-room farmhouse with a sleeping loft; it contains original cypress shingles and brick nogging in walls, woodwork, and fireplace paneling. The larger portion, added in the middle of the 18th century, boasts doors, chair rail, window and door trim, mantle, and paneling that are all original and intact. Tour tickets are available at Ryves Holt House.
Thompson Country Store
Third Street (In the Historic Complex)
Built in Thompsonville, Delaware, about 1800, this store was operated continuously by the Thompson family from 1888 to 1962. Given to the Lewes Historical Society by Harvey Thompson, it was moved, repaired, and reopened by the Society in 1963. The store has many of its original appointments and has remained essentially the same as when it served its original purpose on a full-time basis. The Ellegood House and Blacksmith Shop (behind the Country Store) contains a gift shop with souvenirs, Delaware books, historic maps, and handcrafted, country-type items.
Early Plank House
Behind the Thompson Country Store
This small building, originally located in the rear of the Orton property on Pilottown Road, was moved in 1963 to its present site. Experts hold construction to be of early Swedish type and, although no construction date has been agreed upon, it is one of the area’s earliest buildings. The wood floor and hand-carved clothes pegs point to its use as a dwelling. It has been restored and finished as an early settler’s cabin.
The Doctor's Office
Behind the Early Plank House (In the Historic Complex)
This handsome Greek Revival structure was built about 1840 by Dr. David Hall on Savannah Road across from Second Street. Dr. Hall practiced medicine until just before 1900 when he sold the building to Dr. W. P. Orr, Jr., who moved it to the northeast side of Second Street and used it until 1904. The next occupant was Joseph Shek, who operated his tailor shop there. In 1945 it became Clifton’s Newsstand, and it survived the Lewes Fire of 1971. The Cliftons donated the building to the Lewes Historical Society.
It has been restored and outfitted as a museum showing a doctor’s office at the turn of the century.
The Hiram Rodney Burton House
Second Street & Shipcarpenter Square (In the Historic Complex)
The Hiram Rodney Burton House has an 18th century kitchen wing which adjoins a larger section constructed at a later date. This was the home of Dr. Hiram Rodney Burton, Lewes physician, President of the Medical Society of Delaware, and a Queen Anne’s Railroad Director, who served two terms in Congress upon his election in 1904. The house is decorated in Victorian fashion.
Research archives and library are available year-round.
Midway School #178
Next to the Doctor’s Office (In the Historic Complex)
The one-room Midway School, once located along a now-abandoned country road that meandered between Lewes and Rehoboth, is the latest addition to the Lewes Historical Society Complex. Taken out of commission in the late 1930s, the building dates to 1898, when such schools were the mainstay of education throughout the country. It was moved to a farm field along Route One in 1938 and stayed there for 60 years until it was moved to its present site in the fall of 1998. The exterior and interior of the school have been restored to their original condition, complete with benches, desks, and blackboards.
Cannonball House Marine Museum
118 Front Street (Front and Bank Streets)
Originally built ca. 1760 and enlarged ca. 1790, the house is sheathed with cypress shingles and was the home of David Rowland, a Delaware River and Bay pilot. It is known as the Cannonball House because it was struck by a cannonball in the War of 1812 during the bombardment of Lewes by the British on April 6–7, 1813. The building has been restored by the Lewes Historical Society and serves as its maritime museum. Exhibits of Lewes's maritime culture and history are displayed in "themed rooms." The garden was planned and landscaped by the Sussex Gardeners.
Opposite the Historic Complex (Private Homes)
Shipcarpenter Square is a community of private homes dating from 1720 to 1880 that were moved from their original sites and restored. It is located on 3rd Street directly across the street from the Lewes Historical Society’s Complex.
The Overfalls Lightship
Pilottown Road (On Canal Front)
The Overfalls Lightship (LV118) was built in 1938 and served as a “floating lighthouse” off the East Coast of the United States until 1971. She was decommissioned in 1972 and retired to Lewes the following year.
The Overfalls (LV118) is 114 feet long and 26 feet wide, has a draft of 13 feet, and weighs 412 tons. With its 400-hp diesel engine and 7-foot propeller, it had a top speed of 9 knots. It had a 15,000 candlepower light which flashed every three seconds and could be seen for 12 miles on a clear night. The foghorn sounded every 30 seconds and could be heard for five miles. The on-board crew of 14 men served two weeks on and one week off, with supplies such as food and fuel being delivered as needed.
The Overfalls Lightship (LV118) takes its name from the Overfalls Shoal located at the mouth of the Delaware Bay, and the four lightships, all named Overfalls, which served at this location from 1898 to 1960.
The Overfalls Lightship (LV118) is managed by the Overfalls Maritime Museum Foundation and serves as a lightship museum open to the public.
The ship is open for tours Memorial Day weekend through Columbus Day. For information on guided tours and group tours, call 302-644-8050 or visit www.overfalls.org.
Public restrooms are located in Mary Vessels Park at the corner of Front and Market streets (between locations 18 and 19).
1812 Memorial Park
Front Street (Opposite the Post Office)
This was a defense battery during the War of 1812, and the site is marked by a granite monument placed by the National Society, U.S. Daughters of 1812. Four large guns on the upper ramps were contributed by the government. Between them is a small gun believed taken from a pirate vessel abandoned in the creek. A three-inch naval gun on the lower terrace, used during World War I, was placed by the American Legion in 1930.
Owned and restored by the Colonel David Hall Chapter, DAR, this historic house is an early type of Dutch house built about 1739. According to legend, it is here that Jerome Bonaparte, brother of Napoleon, and his bride, Betsy, found refuge on a stormy night in 1803 when their ship had put into Lewes harbor for repairs. Betsy is remembered locally for refusing to be seated at a bountiful roast goose dinner until her silver candlesticks had been brought from the disabled ship.
624 Pilottown Road (Private Home)
Built c.1725 by Dr. Henry Fisher, a physician from Ireland, and enlarged by his son of the same name, Fisher’s Paradise was the home of many prominent Lewestowners including Henry Fisher, Jr., a river and bay pilot who served with distinction during the Revolutionary War. At the request of the postwardens of Philadelphia, he selected the site for the Cape Henlopen Lighthouse. It was Major Fisher who informed the Continental Congress and General George Washington that Lord Howe’s fleet had been sighted off Cape Henlopen and was headed toward the Chesapeake. He was empowered by Congress to raise a company of 100 men for the defense of the Cape and the river country; he armed them at his own expense. Fisher’s daughter sold the house to Colonel Samuel Boyer Davis, who lived there when he commanded the town’s defense in the War of 1812.
deVries Monument and Forst Site
In 1631 on this site, 28 Dutch settlers under the direction of deVries established the whaling colony of Zwaanendael and erected a fort. The following spring, Indians burned the stockade and massacred the settlers. Although the ill-fated settlement endured only briefly, its existence was significant in Delaware becoming a separate State. The Monument honoring the significance of the settlement was erected in the center of what was once the north bastion of the fort (apparently by coincidence). In 1964 members of the Sussex Society of Archaeology and History found the post-mold patterns of the south bastion as sketched by deVries. This discovery culminated several years of effort to determine the exact location of the fort.
The Rodney House
103 Second Street (Commercial)
Probably the oldest building remaining in the first block of Second Street, it stood for many years as a near neighbor to the Burton–Ingram House, which was relocated in 1962 to the Historic Complex. The structure and an adjoining building at the corner formed the store and residence of the family of Henry Fisher Rodney (1800–1869). A daughter, Miss Lydia, conducted a private school for children in the building before she and others of her family left Lewes in 1869 to establish an Episcopal girls’ school in Portland, Oregon. Many features of the building—from the cellar up to the attic—attest to its age and durability.
Old Fire House
West Third and Chestnut Streets (Commercial)
The former Lewes Fire Station and Jail is located at the corner of West Third and Chestnut streets. The property was conveyed to the Commissioners of Lewes in 1897, and the principal building was erected at that time, with the north side being added later. The structure served as the Lewes Firehouse and Lock-up (jail) until the Fire Company moved to its present location on Savannah Road ca. 1920.
The building at one time served as the Lewes Town Office, a schoolhouse, a Boy Scout center, and a meeting hall for the Lewes Jaycees. During World War II, the building housed prisoners of war.
Cape Henlopen State Park
One mile east of Lewes near the Cape May–Lewes Ferry Terminal
The variety of outdoor activities available in the over 5,000 acres of sandy peninsula is the reason Cape Henlopen State Park is one of the area’s main attractions for young and old alike. Swimmers, surf fishermen, and birders can enjoy long hours spent on the shore of the Atlantic Ocean or at the park’s point parking lot. Other recreational activities may be pursued at the basketball courts, hockey and softball fields, nature trails, and the 18-hole disc golf course. Programs and activities for adults and children are offered.
The Delaware Division of Parks and Recreation is developing a unique museum dedicated to the World War II history of Delaware at Cape Henlopen State Park, which was once the site of Fort Miles. Fort Miles, the largest seacoast fortification built in the United States, offers an excellent context for this endeavor, and the Fort Miles Historical Association is actively assisting the state in the creation of this new and exciting museum inside Battery 510, also known as the Great Dune.
Campsites can be reserved by calling 877-98-PARKS. For information, write Cape Henlopen State Park, 42 Cape Henlopen Drive, Lewes, DE 19958, or call 302-645-8983.
Cape May –Lewes Ferry Terminal
One mile east of downtown Lewes
The Cape May–Lewes Ferry launched its operation in 1964, connecting the historic town of Lewes with the Victorian city of Cape May, New Jersey. This relaxing and scenic 17-mile journey across the beautiful Delaware Bay takes about 80 minutes and operates daily throughout.
Delaware Breakwater East End Lighthouse
Built in 1885, this beacon once possessed a powerful 2nd order fog siren that was active anywhere from 450 to 900 hours per year from 1885 through the early 1900s. The lighthouse was automated and its keepers removed in July 1950. The State of Delaware took ownership of the lighthouse from the federal government in 1999, leased it to the Delaware River & Bay Authority in 2000, and subleased it to the Delaware River & Bay Lighthouse Foundation in September 2004. The lighthouse opened to the public in 2005.
Harbor of Refuge Lighthouse
The original lighthouse was built in 1908 and was in place until April 1926, when it was dismantled in favor of a stronger lighthouse more suitable to its exposed location. The existing lighthouse was built in 1926. Currently, the light and foghorn remain active as aids to navigation for ships at the mouth of the Delaware Bay. It was the last Delaware lighthouse with resident keepers before automation in December 1973. The Delaware River & Bay Lighthouse Foundation signed a 20-year lease with the United States Coast Guard for this lighthouse in April 2002 and assumed ownership of it from the federal government in September 2004 under the provisions of the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act. It was officially opened to the public in 2003.
Call 302-644-7046 for more information or to make tour reservations, or visit www.delawarebaylights.org.