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 2015

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Cost: $75/ticket

Where:
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More information

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Cost: $12-$20

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View map »


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Website »

More information

These ain’t your granddad’s matchboxes—check out 60 rare examples of decadent 19th-century cases.

Where:
Delaware Art Museum
2301 Kentmere Pkwy.
Wilmington, DE
View map »


Telephone: 571-9590
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Lynn discovered photography through working in wild bird rehabilitation. Her images  explore Delaware’s wonderful variety of life and landscapes. She is a regular contributor to Delaware State...

Cost: Free

Where:
Blue Ball Barn
1914 West Park Drive
Wilmington, DE  19803
View map »


Telephone: 302-577-7020
Website »

More information

Delaware native, Carson Zullinger, has been exhibiting his figural and landscape fine-art photographs for forty years. Zullinger often subordinates his dynamic and thoroughly modern compositions to...

Cost: 5.00

Where:
Biggs Museum of American Arts
406 Federal Street
Dover, DE  19901
View map »

More information

Prehistoric marine reptiles that ruled the primeval seas more than 100 million years ago are taking over Adventure Aquarium on the Camden Waterfront for a limited-time exhibit starting January 16....

Cost: $25.95 for adults; $18.95 for children ages 2-12

Where:
Adventure Aquarium
1 Riverside Drive
Camden, NJ  08103
View map »


Sponsor: Adventure Aquarium
Telephone: 856-365-3300
Website »

More information

Somerville Manning Gallery presents a solo exhibition of works by Jamie Wyeth concurrent with the artist’s major retrospective on view at the Brandywine River Museum in Chadds Ford, PA.  The...

Cost: Free

Where:
Somerville Manning Gallery
101 Stone Block Row
Brecks Mill, 2nd Floor
Greenville, DE  19807
View map »


Sponsor: Somerville Manning Gallery
Telephone: (302) 652-0271
Contact Name: Marisa Nolan
Website »

More information

This summer, Camden’s largest residents, Adventure Aquarium’s hippopotamuses Button and Genny, invite you to join them in their exciting new home, Hippo Haven. As the only aquarium in the...

Cost: $18.95 - 25.95

Where:
Adventure Aquarium
1 Riverside Drive
Camden, NJ  08103
View map »


Contact Name: Amanda Perez
Website »

More information

Visitors may take a two-hour guided tour of Hagley’s 235-acre site. Stops include Eleutherian Mills, the first du Pont family home built in America; the First Office of the DuPont Company; a...

Cost: Free

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


Sponsor: Hagley Museum and Library
Telephone: 302-658-2400
Contact Name: Meg Marcozzi
Website »

More information

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

Where:
Longwood Gardens
1001 Longwood Road
Kennett Square, PA  19348
View map »

More information

Delaware native, Carson Zullinger, has been exhibiting his figural and landscape fine-art photographs for forty years. Zullinger often subordinates his dynamic and thoroughly modern compositions to...

Cost: Free

Where:
406 Federal Street
Dover, DE  19901

More information

Tobacco Cessation Location: Bayhealth Kent General, Private Dining Room 1–2, 640 S. State St., Dover Time: 5 p.m.–6:30 p.m. More info: Must be at least 18 years old to register...

Where:
Bayhealth Kent General
Private Dining Room 1–2
640 S. State St.
Dover, DE
View map »

More information

In response to audience demand, the Rehoboth Beach Film Society is presenting an encore screening of the Audience Award winner for Best Documentary at the 2014 Rehoboth Beach Independent Film...

Cost: $9

Where:
Lewes Presbyterian Church
133 Kings Highway
Lewes, DE  19958
View map »


Telephone: 302-645-9095
Website »

More information

Chips for Charity is a Monte Carlo-style cocktail event that boasts table games and dealers, an open bar, catering, a photo booth, a silent auction, 50/50, raffle prizes, a DJ and much more! Unlike...

Cost: $75/ticket

Where:
Delaware Center for Contemporary Arts (DCCA)
200 S. Madison St.
The Riverfront
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »


Sponsor: Next Gen North
Telephone: 609-665-6001
Contact Name: Danielle Dick
Website »

More information

In response to audience demand, the Rehoboth Beach Film Society is presenting an encore screening of the Audience Award winner for Best Documentary at the 2014 Rehoboth Beach Independent Film...

Cost: $9

Where:
Lewes Presbyterian Church
133 Kings Highway
Lewes, DE  19958
View map »


Telephone: 302-645-9095
Website »

More information

“Smokey Joe’s Cafe” is a high-energy song and dance celebration honoring the works of two rock 'n' roll pioneers, Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. The show includes 40 of their hits, including...

Cost: $12-$20

Where:
Wilmington Drama League
10 W. Lea Blvd.
Wilmington, DE  19802
View map »


Sponsor: Wilmington Drama League
Telephone: 764-1172
Website »

More information

These ain’t your granddad’s matchboxes—check out 60 rare examples of decadent 19th-century cases.

Where:
Delaware Art Museum
2301 Kentmere Pkwy.
Wilmington, DE
View map »


Telephone: 571-9590
Website »

More information

Epifania is pretty boss when it comes to making money. Finding love, though? Not so much. But when the richest woman on earth finds a guy who holds her fancy, will she meet his challenge to live...

Where:
Resident Ensemble Players/Thompson Theatre
110 Orchard Road
Newark, DE
View map »


Website »

More information

Make no beans about it—you won’t want to miss Jack face off against the mighty Giant. 

Where:
Delaware Children’s Theatre
1014 Delaware Ave
Wilmington, DE
View map »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Lynn discovered photography through working in wild bird rehabilitation. Her images  explore Delaware’s wonderful variety of life and landscapes. She is a regular contributor to Delaware State...

Cost: Free

Where:
Blue Ball Barn
1914 West Park Drive
Wilmington, DE  19803
View map »


Telephone: 302-577-7020
Website »

More information

Delaware native, Carson Zullinger, has been exhibiting his figural and landscape fine-art photographs for forty years. Zullinger often subordinates his dynamic and thoroughly modern compositions to...

Cost: 5.00

Where:
Biggs Museum of American Arts
406 Federal Street
Dover, DE  19901
View map »

More information

Prehistoric marine reptiles that ruled the primeval seas more than 100 million years ago are taking over Adventure Aquarium on the Camden Waterfront for a limited-time exhibit starting January 16....

Cost: $25.95 for adults; $18.95 for children ages 2-12

Where:
Adventure Aquarium
1 Riverside Drive
Camden, NJ  08103
View map »


Sponsor: Adventure Aquarium
Telephone: 856-365-3300
Website »

More information

This summer, Camden’s largest residents, Adventure Aquarium’s hippopotamuses Button and Genny, invite you to join them in their exciting new home, Hippo Haven. As the only aquarium in the...

Cost: $18.95 - 25.95

Where:
Adventure Aquarium
1 Riverside Drive
Camden, NJ  08103
View map »


Contact Name: Amanda Perez
Website »

More information

Somerville Manning Gallery presents a solo exhibition of works by Jamie Wyeth concurrent with the artist’s major retrospective on view at the Brandywine River Museum in Chadds Ford, PA.  The...

Cost: Free

Where:
Somerville Manning Gallery
101 Stone Block Row
Brecks Mill, 2nd Floor
Greenville, DE  19807
View map »


Sponsor: Somerville Manning Gallery
Telephone: (302) 652-0271
Contact Name: Marisa Nolan
Website »

More information

Visitors may take a two-hour guided tour of Hagley’s 235-acre site. Stops include Eleutherian Mills, the first du Pont family home built in America; the First Office of the DuPont Company; a...

Cost: Free

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


Sponsor: Hagley Museum and Library
Telephone: 302-658-2400
Contact Name: Meg Marcozzi
Website »

More information

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

Where:
Longwood Gardens
1001 Longwood Road
Kennett Square, PA  19348
View map »

More information

Delaware native, Carson Zullinger, has been exhibiting his figural and landscape fine-art photographs for forty years. Zullinger often subordinates his dynamic and thoroughly modern compositions to...

Cost: Free

Where:
406 Federal Street
Dover, DE  19901

More information

Tobacco Cessation Location: Bayhealth Kent General, Private Dining Room 1–2, 640 S. State St., Dover Time: 5 p.m.–6:30 p.m. More info: Must be at least 18 years old to register...

Where:
Bayhealth Kent General
Private Dining Room 1–2
640 S. State St.
Dover, DE
View map »

More information

The Lighthouse Church will be starting a Training Center for Deliverances beginning Friday September 12, 2014.  The school will be focused on all aspects of ministering deliverance and healing...

Cost: Free

Where:
The Lighthouse Church Inc.
6 South Railroad Avenue
Wyoming, DE  19934
View map »


Sponsor: The Lighthouse Church Inc.
Telephone: (302) 632-4679
Contact Name: Bro. Christopher Gore
Website »

More information

Chips for Charity is a Monte Carlo-style cocktail event that boasts table games and dealers, an open bar, catering, a photo booth, a silent auction, 50/50, raffle prizes, a DJ and much more! Unlike...

Cost: $75/ticket

Where:
Delaware Center for Contemporary Arts (DCCA)
200 S. Madison St.
The Riverfront
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »


Sponsor: Next Gen North
Telephone: 609-665-6001
Contact Name: Danielle Dick
Website »

More information

“Smokey Joe’s Cafe” is a high-energy song and dance celebration honoring the works of two rock 'n' roll pioneers, Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. The show includes 40 of their hits, including...

Cost: $12-$20

Where:
Wilmington Drama League
10 W. Lea Blvd.
Wilmington, DE  19802
View map »


Sponsor: Wilmington Drama League
Telephone: 764-1172
Website »

More information

Epifania is pretty boss when it comes to making money. Finding love, though? Not so much. But when the richest woman on earth finds a guy who holds her fancy, will she meet his challenge to live...

Where:
Resident Ensemble Players/Thompson Theatre
110 Orchard Road
Newark, DE
View map »


Website »

More information

These ain’t your granddad’s matchboxes—check out 60 rare examples of decadent 19th-century cases.

Where:
Delaware Art Museum
2301 Kentmere Pkwy.
Wilmington, DE
View map »


Telephone: 571-9590
Website »

More information

Make no beans about it—you won’t want to miss Jack face off against the mighty Giant. 

Where:
Delaware Children’s Theatre
1014 Delaware Ave
Wilmington, DE
View map »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Delaware native, Carson Zullinger, has been exhibiting his figural and landscape fine-art photographs for forty years. Zullinger often subordinates his dynamic and thoroughly modern compositions to...

Cost: 5.00

Where:
Biggs Museum of American Arts
406 Federal Street
Dover, DE  19901
View map »

More information

Prehistoric marine reptiles that ruled the primeval seas more than 100 million years ago are taking over Adventure Aquarium on the Camden Waterfront for a limited-time exhibit starting January 16....

Cost: $25.95 for adults; $18.95 for children ages 2-12

Where:
Adventure Aquarium
1 Riverside Drive
Camden, NJ  08103
View map »


Sponsor: Adventure Aquarium
Telephone: 856-365-3300
Website »

More information

This summer, Camden’s largest residents, Adventure Aquarium’s hippopotamuses Button and Genny, invite you to join them in their exciting new home, Hippo Haven. As the only aquarium in the...

Cost: $18.95 - 25.95

Where:
Adventure Aquarium
1 Riverside Drive
Camden, NJ  08103
View map »


Contact Name: Amanda Perez
Website »

More information

Somerville Manning Gallery presents a solo exhibition of works by Jamie Wyeth concurrent with the artist’s major retrospective on view at the Brandywine River Museum in Chadds Ford, PA.  The...

Cost: Free

Where:
Somerville Manning Gallery
101 Stone Block Row
Brecks Mill, 2nd Floor
Greenville, DE  19807
View map »


Sponsor: Somerville Manning Gallery
Telephone: (302) 652-0271
Contact Name: Marisa Nolan
Website »

More information

Visitors may take a two-hour guided tour of Hagley’s 235-acre site. Stops include Eleutherian Mills, the first du Pont family home built in America; the First Office of the DuPont Company; a...

Cost: Free

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


Sponsor: Hagley Museum and Library
Telephone: 302-658-2400
Contact Name: Meg Marcozzi
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 Offenbach’s “Les Contes d’Hoffmann” on...

Cost: $15 - $25

Where:
Cape Henlopen High School Theater
1250 Kings Hwy
Lewes, DE  19958
View map »


Sponsor: Rehoboth Beach Film Society
Telephone: 302-645-9095
Contact Name: Jeri Kaplan
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 Offenbach’s “Les Contes d’Hoffmann” on...

Cost: $15 - $25

Where:
Cape Henlopen High School Theater
1250 Kings Hwy
Lewes, DE  19958
View map »


Sponsor: Rehoboth Beach Film Society
Telephone: 302-645-9095
Contact Name: Jeri Kaplan
Website »

More information

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

Where:
Longwood Gardens
1001 Longwood Road
Kennett Square, PA  19348
View map »

More information

Delaware native, Carson Zullinger, has been exhibiting his figural and landscape fine-art photographs for forty years. Zullinger often subordinates his dynamic and thoroughly modern compositions to...

Cost: Free

Where:
406 Federal Street
Dover, DE  19901

More information

Tobacco Cessation Location: Bayhealth Kent General, Private Dining Room 1–2, 640 S. State St., Dover Time: 5 p.m.–6:30 p.m. More info: Must be at least 18 years old to register...

Where:
Bayhealth Kent General
Private Dining Room 1–2
640 S. State St.
Dover, DE
View map »

More information

Chips for Charity is a Monte Carlo-style cocktail event that boasts table games and dealers, an open bar, catering, a photo booth, a silent auction, 50/50, raffle prizes, a DJ and much more! Unlike...

Cost: $75/ticket

Where:
Delaware Center for Contemporary Arts (DCCA)
200 S. Madison St.
The Riverfront
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »


Sponsor: Next Gen North
Telephone: 609-665-6001
Contact Name: Danielle Dick
Website »

More information

“Smokey Joe’s Cafe” is a high-energy song and dance celebration honoring the works of two rock 'n' roll pioneers, Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. The show includes 40 of their hits, including...

Cost: $12-$20

Where:
Wilmington Drama League
10 W. Lea Blvd.
Wilmington, DE  19802
View map »


Sponsor: Wilmington Drama League
Telephone: 764-1172
Website »

More information

Epifania is pretty boss when it comes to making money. Finding love, though? Not so much. But when the richest woman on earth finds a guy who holds her fancy, will she meet his challenge to live...

Where:
Resident Ensemble Players/Thompson Theatre
110 Orchard Road
Newark, DE
View map »


Website »

More information

Make no beans about it—you won’t want to miss Jack face off against the mighty Giant. 

Where:
Delaware Children’s Theatre
1014 Delaware Ave
Wilmington, DE
View map »

More information

These ain’t your granddad’s matchboxes—check out 60 rare examples of decadent 19th-century cases.

Where:
Delaware Art Museum
2301 Kentmere Pkwy.
Wilmington, DE
View map »


Telephone: 571-9590
Website »

More information

It’s a tag team on the pipe organ for this month’s Dickson Theatre Organ Society concert.  See them put it down at John Dickinson High School

Where:
John Dickinson High School
1801 Milltown Road
Wilmington, DE
View map »


Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...
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