Style Home: Guiding the Light

A couple in Lewes turns a dilapidated lighthouse into a shining landmark.





Jamie Wyeth’s “Reshingling the Light” hangs in the living room.
all home photographs by John Lewis



Beginning more than 130 years ago, the beam of the Mispillion Lighthouse guided mariners from Slaughter Beach on the Delaware Bay to the inland port of Milford.

Today the light illuminates an extraordinary restoration, a project in which the lighthouse—storm-riddled, vandalized and burned—became the focal point of one preservation-minded couple’s summer home.

“We didn’t know exactly what we would do with the lighthouse, but we knew that we wanted to save it,” says Sally Freeman. She persuaded her husband, John, to buy the light shortly after it was struck by lightning and heavily damaged by fire in May 2002, just months after Lighthouse Digest magazine named it the Most Endangered Lighthouse in the United States.

The Freemans paid $2,000 for the lighthouse and $10,000 to move the structure seven miles over Sussex County’s pancake-flat roads. Its destination was a lot in Shipcarpenter Square in Lewes, where the couple already owned the Colonial-era house across the street.

“We bought the lot when it came up for sale because we didn’t want something going up on it that we didn’t like,” John says.



Sally and John relax with their dogs Baby (left) and Storm.

There’s no how-to guide for restoring a charred, neglected lighthouse. But the Freemans were blessed with a treasure map in the form of detailed drawings prepared for the Historic American Engineering Record, rendered in anticipation of having the lighthouse listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Though the application was never filed, the paperwork included precise measurements and construction details, down to the number of steps leading to the lighthouse tower.

“It was remarkable, absolutely serendipitous,” John recalls.

Still, the project would require copious research, perseverance and problem-solving skills.

The Freemans were the right team for the job. John is a developer who specializes in adapting historic buildings to new uses. He was a backer of the original Shipcarpenter Square project, in which developers Jack Vessels and David Dunbar moved orphaned 18th- and 19th-century homes from Delaware, Maryland and Virginia to a verdant green in the First State’s oldest town to create a unique community.

Sally’s abundant energy, natural curiosity and keen eye for detail propelled the aesthetics of the project, down to the drawer pulls, which are cast from the button on a lighthouse keeper’s uniform.

It took two years to design the structure, determining the best way to restore the lighthouse and respectfully integrate it into a new addition that would provide enough space for the Freemans, their four children and extended family and friends.

“We needed to keep the master bedroom and living room in the old part, plan for a kitchen and dining room in the new part, and bring them together in a way that makes sense for the way people live today,” John says.

The Freemans found period doors, knobs and other hardware at an architectural salvage yard in Scranton, Pennsylvania. They also crossed paths with a supplier of hard-to-find clear heart pine and snapped up the entire stock.

“One person led to another,” John says. “Dozens of people have artistically touched what we have done here.”

The artisans and artists who contributed to the project shared their vision and enthusiasm. A local carpenter created the fine wainscoting, mantel and built-in cupboards in the formal dining room. A jewelry maker cast the lighthouse keeper’s buttons.

“We would tell them the story of the lighthouse and they’d get excited,” Sally says.



The gathering room fireplace is encrusted with artifacts from the local shipwreck Severn.

She envisioned the one-of-a-kind surround for the fireplace in the gathering room. It is encrusted with artifacts from the Severn, a ship that ran aground near Roosevelt Inlet in Lewes in 1774. A beach replenishment project in 2002 freed bits of crockery and glass from the wreck, inspiring Sally to don a lighted miner’s helmet and search for shards at low tide in the middle of the night.

“You pick a piece up, realizing it hasn’t touched human hands since the 1700s,” she recalls. “It’s that thrilling.”

The new section of the house features a large gathering space, with a seating area in front of the fireplace. Sally came up with the idea of placing the television in a niche over the mantel, hiding it with a painting of nearby Cape Henlopen.

There’s a kitchen with such modern amenities as a stainless-steel commercial-style range, granite countertops and wine storage, teamed with white, painted cabinetry reminiscent of Nantucket. Lighting pendants modeled after ship’s lanterns are suspended over the island.

To furnish the house, the Freemans shopped throughout their travels, looking for pieces that were made during the years the lighthouse was occupied by keepers and their families. Their first purchase was a pink slip-glass chandelier, which they tucked away for more than two years.

“We tried to keep each purchase within the stick-Gothic, low-Victorian style, not highly ornate,” John says.

The dining room is the most formal room in the house, in keeping with the Victorians’ penchant for setting a fine table. The fireplace is accented with shimmering glass tiles that remind Sally of the sea. A stately brass gasolier with glass saucer shades shines overhead. A mirror is surrounded by seashells collected from around the globe.

“The Victorians were fond of things that were made with natural materials,” she notes.

A charred beam set in the wall of the master bath is a vestige of the fire that almost doomed Mispillion. In several rooms, bracing beams were left exposed, John says, “so you can see how the building was constructed.”



The owners worked from an old photograph to come up with the home’s white, stick-style motif.

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February 2016

Delaware State University will feature the following events and exhibitions during its 2016 Black History Month celebration: Wednesday, Feb. 3 Black Lives Matter Symposium Documentary...

Cost: FREE and open to the public

Where:
Delaware State University
1200 N DuPont Highway
Dover, DE  19901
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43 The Green
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Sponsor: First State Heritage Park
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Delaware State University will feature the following events and exhibitions during its 2016 Black History Month celebration: Wednesday, Feb. 3 Black Lives Matter Symposium Documentary...

Cost: FREE and open to the public

Where:
Delaware State University
1200 N DuPont Highway
Dover, DE  19901
View map »

More information

Explore some of the diverse ways that human beings have understood sex and sexuality, gender and gender diversity in this small but broad new exhibition, presented in conjunction with the 2015-2016...

Cost: Free with Museum Admission.

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Penn Museum
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Delaware State University will feature the following events and exhibitions during its 2016 Black History Month celebration: Wednesday, Feb. 3 Black Lives Matter Symposium Documentary...

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1200 N DuPont Highway
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View map »

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Cost: Call for information.

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801 Middleford Road
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Telephone: 302-629-6611x2446
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Cost: Depends on what you purchase

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East Coast Garden Center
30336 Cordrey Rd
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More information

Delaware State University will feature the following events and exhibitions during its 2016 Black History Month celebration: Wednesday, Feb. 3 Black Lives Matter Symposium Documentary...

Cost: FREE and open to the public

Where:
Delaware State University
1200 N DuPont Highway
Dover, DE  19901
View map »

More information

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View map »


Website »

More information

Two-hour guided tours are offered at 10:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. Guests will visit Eleutherian Mills Residence, the first du Pont family home built in America; the First Office...

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Cost: Free

Where:
Kimmel Center - Commonwealth Plaza
300 S. Broad St.
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Sponsor: Kimmel Center
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A successful writer of Broadway thrillers is struggling to overcome a dry spell when he receives a script from a student —a potential Broadway hit. Thereafter suspense...

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, DE

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Delaware State University will feature the following events and exhibitions during its 2016 Black History Month celebration: Wednesday, Feb. 3 Black Lives Matter Symposium Documentary...

Cost: FREE and open to the public

Where:
Delaware State University
1200 N DuPont Highway
Dover, DE  19901
View map »

More information

Our Winter Group Show features oil paintings by Rosemary Castiglioni, Jim Gears and Mary Ann Weselyk. Still-life paintings with subtle color variations by...

Cost: Free

Where:
The Station Gallery
3922 Kennett Pike
Greenville, DE  19807
View map »


Telephone: 302-654-8638
Website »

More information

Explore some of the diverse ways that human beings have understood sex and sexuality, gender and gender diversity in this small but broad new exhibition, presented in conjunction with the 2015-2016...

Cost: Free with Museum Admission.

Where:
Penn Museum
3260 South St.
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View map »


Website »

More information

Two-hour guided tours are offered at 10:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. Guests will visit Eleutherian Mills Residence, the first du Pont family home built in America; the First Office...

Cost: $0-14

Where:
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201 Hagley Creek Rd
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Telephone: 302-658-2400
Contact Name: Meg Marcozzi
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Cost: Free

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The Gibby Center for the Arts
51 W Main St.
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Sponsor: The Gibby Center for the Arts
Telephone: 302-449-5396
Contact Name: Caroline Zeitler
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Telephone: 302-645-9095
Contact Name: Jeri Kaplan
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Cost: $50

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Nanticoke Memorial Hospital
801 Middleford Rd.
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Telephone: 302-629-6611 ext. 2540
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Cost: $13

Where:
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1101 Arch St.
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More information

Explore some of the diverse ways that human beings have understood sex and sexuality, gender and gender diversity in this small but broad new exhibition, presented in conjunction with the 2015-2016...

Cost: Free with Museum Admission.

Where:
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3260 South St.
Philadelphia, PA  19104
View map »


Website »

More information

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Cost: $0-14

Where:
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201 Hagley Creek Rd
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View map »


Telephone: 302-658-2400
Contact Name: Meg Marcozzi
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Cost: Free

Where:
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View map »


Sponsor: The Gibby Center for the Arts
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Website »

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Telephone: 302-645-9095
Contact Name: Jeri Kaplan
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Cost: Free

Where:
The Gibby Center for the Arts
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View map »


Sponsor: The Gibby Center for the Arts
Telephone: 302-449-5396
Contact Name: Caroline Zeitler
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Cost: $15–$18

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47 W Main St.
Middletown, DE  19709
View map »


Sponsor: The Everett Theatre
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View map »


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Cost: $40

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Humpty's Dumplings
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Where:
, DE

More information

Show More...
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Our Winter Group Show features oil paintings by Rosemary Castiglioni, Jim Gears and Mary Ann Weselyk. Still-life paintings with subtle color variations by...

Cost: Free

Where:
The Station Gallery
3922 Kennett Pike
Greenville, DE  19807
View map »


Telephone: 302-654-8638
Website »

More information

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Cost: Free with admission

Where:
Delaware Museum of Natural History
4840 Kennett Pike
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View map »

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Cost: $13

Where:
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1101 Arch St.
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View map »

More information

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Cost: Free with Museum Admission.

Where:
Penn Museum
3260 South St.
Philadelphia, PA  19104
View map »


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More information

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Cost: Adults $20; seniors $18; students (with ID) $15; children (ages 6–17) $15

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Penn Museum
3260 South St.
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Guests can explore three floors of exhibitions in the Visitor Center, stroll along the river through dozens of historic structures from the Industrial Revolution, and explore the gardens and...

Cost: $0-14

Where:
Hagley Museum
201 Hagley Creek Rd
Wilmington, DE  19807
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Telephone: 302-658-2400
Contact Name: Meg Marcozzi
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Penn Museum opens the world premiere exhibition The Golden Age of King Midas—featuring ancient treasures on loan from the Republic of Turkey—with a spectacular daylong public...

Cost: $15

Where:
Penn Museum
3260 South St.
Philadelphia, PA  19104
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This art exhibit features fine art works and three dimensional pieces that embrace the subject “red.” Artist are free to use their imagination and creativity, so works will include...

Cost: Free

Where:
The Gibby Center for the Arts
51 W Main St.
Middletown, DE  19709
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Sponsor: The Gibby Center for the Arts
Telephone: 302-449-5396
Contact Name: Caroline Zeitler
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For more information, please contact: Dave Ruffner ​Rehoboth Beach Film Society 107 Truitt Ave. Rehoboth Beach, DE 19971 302-645-9095, ext. 4 administrator@rehobothfilm.com...

Cost: Free

Where:
, DE


Sponsor: Rehoboth Beach Film Society
Telephone: 302-645-9095
Contact Name: Jeri Kaplan
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The Rehoboth Beach Film Society and CAMP Rehoboth will co-present "Tab Hunter Confidential" and "Portrait of a Serial Monogamist" as part of its annual Another Take...

Cost: $8

Where:
Metropolitan Community Church
19369 Plantation Rd.
Rehoboth Beach, DE  19971
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Sponsor: Rehoboth Beach Film Society
Telephone: 302-645-9095
Contact Name: Jeri Kaplan
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"La Sylphide" shares the beautiful and romantic story of our hero, James—a young Scottish farmer who, on the eve of hid wedding, abandons his betrothed, Effie, after being...

Cost: $25

Where:
Salesanium School
1801 North Broom St.
Wilmington, DE  19802
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Sponsor: Academy of International Ballet
Telephone: 1-866-908-5666
Contact Name: Denis Gronostayskiy
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Venture back with us for an evening where we re-imagine the Victorian Industrial Age as seen through our steam-powered, futuristic goggles.  Our biggest fundraiser of the year and all proceeds...

Cost: $100-$110

Where:
Smyrna Opera House
7 West South Street
Smyrna, DE  19977
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A spoiled orphan girl is sent to live with her uncle on the Yorkshire moors and discovers renewed life, for herself and her sickly cousin, in bringing her dead aunt’s secret garden back to...

Cost: $15–$18

Where:
The Secret Garden
47 W Main St.
Middletown, DE  19709
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Sponsor: The Everett Theatre
Telephone: 302-540-8561
Contact Name: Chris Everett
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Location: St. Mark’s High School, 2501 Pike Creek Road, Wilmington Time: Registration: 11:30 a.m. Race: 12:30 p.m. Fee: $25 (until Thursday, Feb. 11), $35 after and day of event...

Where:
, DE

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Location: Beebe Healthcare’s Medical Center, 424 Savannah Road, Lewes Date: Saturday, Feb. 13 (and the second Saturday of each month) Time: 9 a.m. Fee: Free For more...

Where:
, DE

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Ditch the winter whites for a world of dazzling color at Longwood Gardens, where you can stroll through thousands of orchids in bloom. Kennett Square, www.longwoodgardens.org 

Where:
, DE

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A successful writer of Broadway thrillers is struggling to overcome a dry spell when he receives a script from a student —a potential Broadway hit. Thereafter suspense...

Where:
, DE

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Regional artists Carol Tippit Woolworth, Catherine Drabkin, Pahl Alexander Hluchan, Colleen Randall and Dan Jackson explore the concept of place—physical, emotional and spiritual—in...

Where:
, DE

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