A Walk Through History
The story of Lewes’ important maritime past hasn’t been well known by visitors. A new self-guided tour will help change that.
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The audio tour will eventually encompass even more sites, with sections on cemeteries and churches, architecture, colonial history and natural history still to come. The latter portion is being developed by the University of Delaware
“If you’re really interested, you could spend all day doing it,” DiPaolo says. “It’s the chance to delve in as deep or shallow as you want.”
You can walk the route, but you might want to bike or drive portions. Three sites are near the Cape May-Lewes Ferry terminal. The rest are closer to town, except for the University of Delaware site, which is just west.
West to east, here are the 10 locations:
College of Marine and Earth Studies
700 Pilottown Road
Since 1950, the University of Delaware has been involved in cutting-edge marine research. “It’s a very important part of the community,” DiPaolo says. The sign here notes the university’s contribution to studies on marine science, oceans, the atmosphere and the environment.
The Life-Saving Station Boathouse
110 Shipcarpenter St.
Before there was the U.S. Coast Guard, there was the Life-Saving Service, which was organized to rescue shipwrecked mariners, ships and cargo. The Cape Henlopen station was founded in 1876. The white, peak-roofed Lewes station—which is spotlighted—opened in 1884. The marker makes note of the stations’ heroics during the Blizzard of 1888, a freak “white hurricane” that drove dozens of ships onto the breakwater. In 1914 the service merged with the Revenue Cutter Service to form the venerable United States Coast Guard.
on the canal, next to the life-saving station
The U.S. Overfalls, a local celebrity, is one of 179 floating lighthouses—complete with foghorns and beacons—that served on America’s three coasts and on the Great Lakes between 1820 and 1895. The ship, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, was built in 1938. It’s been restored thanks to the efforts of volunteers. The Overfalls returned in June after having its hull restored in Norfolk, Virginia.
Canalfront Park on Front Street
DiPaolo has traced Lewes’ once-thriving shipbuilding industry back to at least 1683. Among the most interesting shipbuilding tales is the story of the Lewis family. Cato Lewis, who learned the trade as a slave, founded one of the earliest African American-owned shipyards. Documents from the early 1800s mention his family’s boatyard. The industry in Lewes produced mostly sloops and barques that could navigate the shallower water they were launched in. By the mid-19th century, shipbuilding had moved up to Milton, perhaps because lumber was more plentiful there.
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