While wandering the quaint cobblestone streets of Lewes, Delaware last week, we couldn’t help but notice the history of the adorable little town when we stepped into the Lewes Historical Society, also known as the oldest building in the entire state of Delaware! Plus, with a town history dating back to 1631, it’s not surprising that almost every building you walk past has some sort of historical significance… and not just business occupied buildings, we’re talking homes that were built by war heroes along with country stores and doctors’ offices that have been around since 1850.

In case you aren’t familiar, Lewes, Delaware is situated just north of Rehoboth and hosts the busy port where the Cape May-Lewes Ferry docks. There is a “Main Street” area right of off Savannah Road that boasts adorable boutiques, gourmet restaurants and irresistible ice cream shops. There is truly something for everyone, but if you’re interested in something a little more than just food & shopping, we’ve got an entire historical tour day planned for you.

Lewes claims to be “the first town in the first state,” and history proves this rumor to be true. Lewes was actually the site of the first European settlement in Delaware; also known as a whaling and trading post that 32 Dutch settlers founded in 1631. Believe it or not, they named it Zwaanendael. The colony didn’t last long though; a tribe of Indians wiped them out in 1632. After that, the Native American village was burned down and turned over to William Penn by English King Charles II in payment of a past family debt. When Penn arrived in America he renamed the county as Sussex and the town Lewes. (Lewes is named after the town of Lewes in England and has the same seal still to this day.)

History buffs— listen up!

First, you need to stop at the 1812 Memorial Park… located on Front Street on the other side of the local Post Office. This was a defense battery during the War of 1812, how cool is that?! #historynerd. The grounds are marked with a large monument placed there by a National Society. There are ancient guns that are believed from legends to be taken from a pirate ship abandoned in a nearby creek, as well as other guns used in the War of 1812 and World War 1. Next, hit up the Maull House, on Pilottown Road. This ancient Dutch house was built in 1739 and legend has it that Jerome Bonaparte, brother of Napoleon, and his wife Betsy, were sheltered here on a stormy night in the 1800’s when the ship had to dock in Lewes for repairs.

There is also a museum called Zwaanendael Museum and named after the Dutch settlers. The museum features tons of exhibits about Delaware’s history. Lewes is also home to several lighthouses, the National Harbor of Refuge, Delaware Breakwater East End Light, and the Harbor of Refuge of Light, and all are must-sees.

Some other stops you don’t want to miss:

  • Ryves Holt House c. 1665: Located on the corner of Second and Mulberry Streets, the Ryves Holt House is the oldest house still standing in the State of Delaware
  • Cannonball House c. 1760: Struck by a British cannonball during the War of 1812, the Cannonball House is home to the Lewes Historical Society’s Maritime Museum.
  • The Historic Complex: Nestled in the heart of historic Lewes, The Lewes Historical Society’s offers 9 historical buildings for you to explore.

Tour Includes:  Hiram Rodney Burton House, Burton-Ingram House, Rabbit’s Ferry House, Thompson Country Store,  Ellegood House and Blacksmith Shop, The Doctor’s Office, Midway School

  • Lewes Lifesaving Station c. 1884: The Lewes Lifesaving Station is best known for its heroic surfmen’s actions during the great blizzard of 1888.

One thing we can guarantee is that the town of Lewes loves their history, and supports it accordingly. They offer History Happy Hour every Friday where local history buffs discuss topics from the early explorers of DE Bay to the 50th Anniversary of the Cape May-Lewes Ferry. They are about 20-30 minute discussions, FREE and come with a glass of wine will be served by Rose & Crown, an area upscale British Pub. These happy hours are held at the Hotel Rodney right in Downtown Lewes on Second Street.

But don’t take our word for it, take a historical trip to Lewes (and treat yourself to a little shopping and dining while you’re at it!).