Lightship Overfalls: Lewes, Delaware History

Don’t Miss the Boat: Everyone knows about the beaches, but Lewes is also home to a floating historical treasure.



An interesting looking ship sits along the canal across from Irish Eyes restaurant in Lewes. It’s more than 110 feet long from stern to bow, and even the casual observer can tell it’s been refurbished. But despite the ship’s new veneer, a powerful sense of history and hardship emanates from the vessel. It’s not sleek or fast, but it’s strong and enduring. Painted on its side in large white letters is the word “Overfalls.” It’s a lightship, one of 179 ever built. And for 160 years its brethren have been an integral part of our nation’s maritime history.

Commissioned in 1820 by the U.S. government, lightships were essentially mobile lighthouses. According to retired seaman George Elliott of Lewes, these craft weighed more than 400 tons and could travel at roughly 11 miles per hour. Lightships were responsible for warning incoming vessels to stay away from hazardous areas where they might crash or flounder. To do this, the ships would transmit a powerful beam of light from a beacon atop a 30-foot mast. If the weather was poor, the crew would sound a foghorn that could be heard five miles away. 

The vessels were usually manned by 14 men who were sent several miles off the coast for two-week stints. Serving on a lightship was no easy task. Sailors lived in cramped quarters and were asked to brave the elements on a regular basis. Many of these men lost their lives. And of the 179 lightships ever built, more than 20 were lost at sea.

The Overfalls, as with all lightships, derives its name from the nearest lightship station. The Overfalls station, located between Cape Henlopen and Cape May, was the last active station in Delaware waters. It closed in 1961. Ironically, the ship itself never actually served at its namesake. 

The Overfalls, built in Maine in 1938, has seen its share of adversity. It served in Connecticut, New York and Boston before being retired in Baltimore in 1971. Its arduous journey had ended, or so many thought. The lightship that became a Delaware landmark actually brought the people of a coastal town together.

At the behest of the Lewes Historical Society, the United Stated Coast Guard donated Overfalls in 1973. Tracy Mulveny, the fifth president of the Overfalls Foundation, who has lived in Lewes for 50 years, remembers when the lightship first arrived. “It was a neat part of history that we all thought would be worth saving,” she says. 

Folks underestimated how much work was needed to restore the ship. “When they first brought the Overfalls in during the 1970s,” says Mulveny, “it just sat there and began to rust. After a few years, the Lewes Historical Society had to close the ship to the public. I thought it was so sad.”

The problem was one familiar to every nonprofit organization: too many projects and not enough revenue. So the Overfalls sat in disrepair for the better part of three decades. Then, in 1999, Lewes resident Merrill Kaegi placed a newspaper ad seeking anyone interested in saving the ship. He invited locals to a meeting, and 24 people showed up.

David Bernheisel, who became involved with the ship a year later, remembers Mrs. Kaegi’s enthusiasm. “She didn’t just give tours of that ship—you could tell that it was really a part of her. She saw the Overfalls falling apart so she called a meeting. That was really the beginning of our mission to save the ship.”

From that gathering came The Friends of the Lightship Overfalls. Under the umbrella of the Lewes Historical Society, the specialized group was dedicated to saving the lightship. Within two years, the group broke away from the society, forming a nonprofit organization called The Overfalls Foundation. There was still a long way to go. 

Bill Reader, who has been involved with the lightship since 1999, remembers the early struggles of resurrecting a piece of history. “The ship was basically a rust bucket that hadn’t been cleaned for 30 years,” he says. “We didn’t have a lot of volunteers at first, but by 2001 we had a large enough crew to get to work. Nobody working on the ship had technical expertise. We all had varied backgrounds.”

What they did have, however, was a strong work ethic. Despite the fact that the average age of the volunteers was 73, visible progress was made quickly. Grants and donations poured in.

Fast forward to 2012. The Overfalls sits quietly yet triumphantly long the Lewes-Rehoboth Canal. It is a testament to the men and women who dedicated countless hours restoring it.

The Overfalls Foundation hosts tours and social gatherings all summer. The ship was designated a National Historic Landmark and is now one of a group of 2,400 in the country.

“Needless to say, we’re pretty excited,” says Bernheisel. “It’s a big deal for us, and a big deal for Delaware.”

So why go through all the trouble?

“The Overfalls represents the hard work of the men and women who came before us,” Elliott says. “It gives us an idea of what life was like for many Americans. When you see how people with tough lives persevered, it makes you appreciative.”

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January 2017

January 3 - 28  “Winter Group Show” Rotating Group Show features a variety of art in different styles and media. Custom Framing & Gift Certificates are always available. Gallery Hours:...

Cost: free

Where:
The Station Gallery
3922 Kennett Pike
Greenville, DE  19807
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Telephone: 302-654-8638
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January 14, 15, 16 – Saturday, Sunday, and Monday – 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Invention Convention Lights, camera, action! This year’s Invention Convention features hands-on video...

Cost: $8 for adults, $6 for children between 4 and 14, and free for children under 4 a

Where:
Hagley Museum
201 Hagley Creek Road
Wilmington, DE  19807
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Sponsor: Hagley Museum
Telephone: (302) 65802400 x 238
Contact Name: Jessica Eisenbrey
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Belly Dance Classes with Zahra Beginner & intermediate classes open to teens and adults Sundays in January starting Jan 8th Beginner: 2:30-3:30 p.m. Intermediate: 1 - 2 p.m (must get...

Cost: $15-$42

Where:
Take the Lead Studio
320 Lantana Drive
Hockessin , DE  19711
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Sponsor: Take the Lead
Contact Name: Zahra
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Join Rachel Binkley of Rocker Soaps + Herbals for a fun and information filled class. We will make soap, learn how to make a soap recipe and get tips and techniques to make it easier for you at...

Cost: 40

Where:
Elements of Nutrition
4710 Kirkwood Hwy
Wilmington, DE  19808
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Sponsor: Rocker Soaps + Herbals
Telephone: 302-544-0391
Contact Name: Rachel Binkley
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Come give curling a try! At this 2-hour intro-to-curling event we'll provide a basic lesson then coach you through a mini-game.  Whether you just want to cross #curling off your bucket list or...

Cost: $35

Where:
The Pond Ice Arena
101 John Campbell Rd
Newark, DE  19711
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Sponsor: Diamond State Curling Club
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The Rehoboth Beach Film Society will present its popular What Makes Us Tick? program during the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday weekend, January 13-15. This analytical film and discussion series...

Cost: $9 - $10

Where:
Cinema Art Theater
17701 Dartmouth Drive, #2
Lewes, DE  19958
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Sponsor: Rehoboth Beach Film Society
Telephone: 302-645-9095
Contact Name: Jeri Kaplan
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BROKEN ARROW: A NEIL YOUNG TRIBUTE Broken Arrow delivers the music of Neil Young; both the rockin' electric guitar driven favorites and the more country flavored classics with pedal steel and...

Cost: $12 ADV- $14 DOS

Where:
World Cafe Live Wilmington
500 N Market St
Wilmington, DE  19801
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Telephone: 215-222-1400
Contact Name: MP Intern
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Learn how climate change affects our world with hands-on activities that can relate to explorers of all ages. Arctic Adventure and Rainforest Explorer visitors can take on the role of an Arctic...

Cost: Adults: $9 Children (3-17): $7 Seniors (60+): $8 Under 3: FREE Members: FREE

Where:
Delaware Museum of Natural History
4840 Kennett Pike
Wilmington, DE  19807
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Telephone: 302-658-9111
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When the kids have a day off but the parents don’t, let them spend the day off of school doing something really cool…having fun at DMNH! Enjoy games, crafts, activities, and even a hot dog...

Cost: $20 for Members, $25 for Non-Members.

Where:
Delaware Museum of Natural History
4840 Kennett Pike
Wilmington, DE  19807
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Website »

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January 3 - 28  “Winter Group Show” Rotating Group Show features a variety of art in different styles and media. Custom Framing & Gift Certificates are always available. Gallery Hours:...

Cost: free

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


Telephone: 302-654-8638
Website »

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Science is for everyone! Join us for hands on crafts and activities that highlight science contributions to natural history from scientists all around the world. Learn how YOU can make a difference...

Cost: Free with Admission

Where:
Delaware Museum of Natural History
4840 Kennett Pike
Wilmington, DE  19807
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Telephone: 130-265-89111
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January 14, 15, 16 – Saturday, Sunday, and Monday – 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Invention Convention Lights, camera, action! This year’s Invention Convention features hands-on video...

Cost: $8 for adults, $6 for children between 4 and 14, and free for children under 4 a

Where:
Hagley Museum
201 Hagley Creek Road
Wilmington, DE  19807
View map »


Sponsor: Hagley Museum
Telephone: (302) 65802400 x 238
Contact Name: Jessica Eisenbrey
Website »

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January 3 - 28  “Winter Group Show” Rotating Group Show features a variety of art in different styles and media. Custom Framing & Gift Certificates are always available. Gallery Hours:...

Cost: free

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


Telephone: 302-654-8638
Website »

More information

Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9:30AM-12:00PM Fall session: Thursday, Dec 1st thru Thursday, December 15th Winter session: Tuesday, January 17th thru Thursday, March 30th   Drop in on Nature is...

Cost: see description

Where:
The Annex
501 Chandler Mill Rd
Kennett Square, PA  19348
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Sponsor: The Land Conservancy
Telephone: 610-347-0347 ext.104
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East Coast Garden Center Indoor Farmers Market Nov 8, 2016 - April 11, 2017  11 am- 2 pm 25 vendors Location:  East Coast Garden Center 30366 Cordrey Rd Millsboro, DE 19966 302-945-3489

Cost: frr

Where:
East Coast Garden Center
30366 Cordrey Rd
Millsboro, DE  19966
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Sponsor: East Coast Garden Center
Telephone: 302-945-3489
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East Coast Garden Center Indoor Farmer's Marke 25 vendors

Cost: Free

Where:
East Coast Garden Center
30366 Cordrey Rd
Millsboro, DE  19966
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Telephone: 302-945-3489
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A four-week series of ballroom dancing classes taught by teachers from the BlueBallroom. Tuesdays starting Jan. 10. Classes are $30 a lesson for Non-Members. Non-Member slots are limited. For...

Cost: $30

Where:
University and Whist Club
805 N Broom St
Wilmington, DE  19806
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The Cinema & the Arts film series proudly presents a screening of the documentary ART BASTARD on  Tuesday, January 17, 7:00 pm, at Cinema Art Theater, 17701 Dartmouth Drive in Dartmouth Plaza,...

Cost: $9

Where:
Cinema Art Theater
17701 Dartmouth Drive, #2
Lewes, DE  19958
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Sponsor: Rehoboth Beach Film Society
Telephone: 302-645-9095
Contact Name: Jeri Kaplan
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January 3 - 28  “Winter Group Show” Rotating Group Show features a variety of art in different styles and media. Custom Framing & Gift Certificates are always available. Gallery Hours:...

Cost: free

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


Telephone: 302-654-8638
Website »

More information

The Division of Public Health offers its annual free flu vaccination event in the Legislative Hall Library, ground floor, 411 Legislative Ave., Dover, DE, on January 18, 2017, from 11:00 a.m. to...

Cost: FREE

Where:
Legislative Hall Library
411 Legislative Ave.
Dover, DE  19901
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Sponsor: Division of Public Health
Telephone: 800-282-8672
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Do you want to learn how to make soap? This is your chance! Join me for a fun and informative class @ Liquid Alchemy. I will teach you how to create your own recipe and the in-and-outs of soap...

Cost: 45

Where:
Liquid Alchemy
28 Brookside Dr.
, DE  19804
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Sponsor: Rocker Soaps + Herbals
Telephone: 302-544-0391
Contact Name: Rachel Binkley
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Do you want to learn how to make soap? This is your chance! Join me for a fun and informative class @ Liquid Alchemy. I will teach you how to create your own recipe and the in-and-outs of soap...

Cost: 45.00

Where:
Liquid Alchemy
28 Brookside Dr.
Wilmington, DE  19804
View map »


Sponsor: Rocker Soaps + Herbals
Telephone: 302-544-0391
Contact Name: Rachel Binkley
Website »

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Show More...
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January 3 - 28  “Winter Group Show” Rotating Group Show features a variety of art in different styles and media. Custom Framing & Gift Certificates are always available. Gallery Hours:...

Cost: free

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


Telephone: 302-654-8638
Website »

More information

Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9:30AM-12:00PM Fall session: Thursday, Dec 1st thru Thursday, December 15th Winter session: Tuesday, January 17th thru Thursday, March 30th   Drop in on Nature is...

Cost: see description

Where:
The Annex
501 Chandler Mill Rd
Kennett Square, PA  19348
View map »


Sponsor: The Land Conservancy
Telephone: 610-347-0347 ext.104
Website »

More information

Guest speakers Patty Dailey-Lewis, executive director of the Beau Biden Foundation, and Delaware Family Court commissioner Loretta Young will discuss how participation in social media can too...

Cost: Free

Where:
Wilmington University - Doberstein Admissions Ctr.
320 N DuPont Highway
New Castle, DE  19805
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Sponsor: Wilmington University College of Social & Behavioral Sciences
Telephone: 302-295-1164
Contact Name: Dr. Johanna Bishop
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Thursdays from 4:00PM-5:30PM Fall session: December 1st, 8th and 15th Winter session: Starts January 19th, every other Thursday until March 30th This program is based entirely outdoors and is...

Cost: Cost: $30 for TLC members / $40 for non-members

Where:
Bucktoe Creek Preserve
432 Sharp Rd
Avondale, PA  19311
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Sponsor: The Land Conservancy
Telephone: 610-347-0347 ext.104
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The 3rd Place and Bike Lane Cafe along with WestSide Grows and Delaware Permaculture bring you the West 7th Street Bazaar.  Happening EVERY 3rd Thursday of the month from January through May,...

Cost: Free Admission

Where:
The 3rd Place
1139 W. 7th Street
Wilmington, DE  19805
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Sponsor: West Side Grows
Telephone: 302-690-9459
Contact Name: Delaware Permaculture
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January 19 – Thursday – 6:30 p.m. Research Seminar: Amyrs Williams (Wesleyan University) – Reimagining the Modern Farm The seminar is open to the public and is based on a paper that is...

Cost: $0

Where:
Copeland Room, Hagley Library
298 Buck Road
Wilmington, DE  19807
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Sponsor: Hagley Museum & Library
Telephone: (302) 65802400
Contact Name: Carol Lockman
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The Resident Ensemble Players, Delaware’s professional acting company performing at the University of Delaware, presents The Bells by Theresa Rebeck. During the great Yukon gold rush of the...

Cost: $15 - $30

Where:
Thompson Theatre, Roselle Center for the Arts
110 Orchard Rd.
Newark, DE  19716
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Sponsor: Resident Ensemble Players
Telephone: (302) 831-2204
Website »

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HIGH & MIGHTY BRASS BAND There’s a reason that musical trailblazers from Galactic to DJ Logic have recently chosen to collaborate with High and Mighty Brass Band! and legends such as Dr. John,...

Cost: $15

Where:
World Cafe Live Wilmington
500 N Market St
Wilmington, DE  19801
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Telephone: 215-222-1400
Contact Name: MP Intern
Website »

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January 3 - 28  “Winter Group Show” Rotating Group Show features a variety of art in different styles and media. Custom Framing & Gift Certificates are always available. Gallery Hours:...

Cost: free

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


Telephone: 302-654-8638
Website »

More information

Formed in 1992, Splintered Sunlight quickly became the most popular Grateful Dead Tribute band in the Philadelphia area, gaining praise from Dead Heads and Non Heads alike. Since that time,...

Cost: $10

Where:
World Cafe Live At The Queen
500 N Market St.
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »

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Meeting every Friday, Bayhealth Kent General Hospital, 640 s. State Street, Dover, 7:30 pm., Private Dining Room #3 in the basement. For those who have, or think they may have a gambling problem....

Cost: 0.00

Where:
Bayhealth Kent General Hospital
640 S. State Street
Private Dining Room #3
Dover, DE  19901
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Telephone: 800-855-2CALLGA
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Ah, typecasting—the baritone is always the bad guy! In Devils, Drunks & Dastardly Dudes, we’ll go on an operatic journey of men behaving badly. We’ll add a tenor to the mix, too… but we...

Cost: $29-$59

Where:
OperaDelaware Studio
4 South Poplar St.
Wilmington, DE  19801
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Sponsor: OperaDelaware
Telephone: 302-442-7809
Contact Name: Mary Wilcosky
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The Resident Ensemble Players, Delaware’s professional acting company performing at the University of Delaware, presents The Bells by Theresa Rebeck. During the great Yukon gold rush of the...

Cost: $15 - $30

Where:
Thompson Theatre, Roselle Center for the Arts
110 Orchard Rd.
Newark, DE  19716
View map »


Sponsor: Resident Ensemble Players
Telephone: (302) 831-2204
Website »

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Amateur and professional creators from the Wilmington community and beyond will sketch, paint and sculpt side-by-side with DCAD students, alumni, faculty and staff as nude and costumed male...

Cost: $30 per person

Where:
Delaware College of Art and Design
600 N. Market St.
Wilmington, DE  19081
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Sponsor: Delaware College of Art and Design
Telephone: 302-622-8000 x 123
Contact Name: Mark Tajzler
Website »

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January 3 - 28  “Winter Group Show” Rotating Group Show features a variety of art in different styles and media. Custom Framing & Gift Certificates are always available. Gallery Hours:...

Cost: free

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


Telephone: 302-654-8638
Website »

More information

From foxes and beavers to cats and dogs, all mammals benefit from open space! Discover the signs of mammals in winter and learn about human impact on mammal habitat and population survival. Join...

Cost: FREE for TLC members / $10 for non-members

Where:
Bucktoe Creek Preserve
432 Sharp Rd
Avondale, PA  19311
View map »


Sponsor: The Land Conservancy
Telephone: 610-347-0347 ext.104
Website »

More information

The Rehoboth Beach Film Society and the Cape Henlopen Educational Foundation are proud to present The Metropolitan Opera’s live broadcast of Charles Gounod’s ROMÉO ET JULIETTE on Saturday,...

Cost: $15 - $25

Where:
Cape Henlopen High School Theater
1250 Kings Highway
Lewes, DE  19958
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Sponsor: Rehoboth Beach Film Society
Telephone: 130-264-59095
Contact Name: Jeri Kaplan
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The Rehoboth Beach Film Society announces the next play in the exciting series of National Theatre Live screenings. National Theatre Live is a groundbreaking project that presents the best of...

Cost: $18-$20

Where:
Cinema Art Theater
17701 Dartmouth Drive, #2
Lewes, DE  19958
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Sponsor: Rehoboth Beach Film Society
Telephone: 302-645-9095
Contact Name: Jeri Kaplan
Website »

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Coastal Concerts in downtown Lewes will host a presentation by one of the most recognized, honored and versatile musicians in the world, the legendary two-time Grammy Award-winning clarinetist...

Cost: $30. Ages 10-18 and one adult per youth.

Where:
Bethel United Methodist Church Fellowship Hall
Fourth & Market Streets
Lewes, DE  19958
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Sponsor: Coastal Concerts, Inc.
Telephone: 888-212-6458
Contact Name: Edna Ellett
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Ovations Dinner Theatre hosts an interactive Mafia Murder Mystery dinner. Ticket includes a 3-course Italian dinner and the performance. Tickets are $45 for Non-Members and Non-Member seating is...

Cost: 45

Where:
Ballroom at University and Whist Club
805 N. Broom St.
Wilmington, DE  19806
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Bethany Beach – When local businessman Tim Hill was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (“ALS”) in 2014, he set on a mission to help other people who were diagnosed with...

Cost: $20 General Admission

Where:
Frankford Fire Hall
7 Main Street
Frankford, DE  19945
View map »

More information

The Resident Ensemble Players, Delaware’s professional acting company performing at the University of Delaware, presents The Bells by Theresa Rebeck. During the great Yukon gold rush of the...

Cost: $15 - $30

Where:
Thompson Theatre, Roselle Center for the Arts
110 Orchard Rd.
Newark, DE  19716
View map »


Sponsor: Resident Ensemble Players
Telephone: (302) 831-2204
Website »

More information

AM RADIO Have you ever perked up when the radio plays a song that first hit popular stations when you were young? Do you turn the volume up to obnoxious levels and sing along? Music can bring us...

Cost: $10 + FEES

Where:
World Cafe Live Wilmington
500 N Market St
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »


Telephone: 215-222-1400
Contact Name: MP Intern
Website »

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