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Lewes, Delaware
Second Street in downtown Lewes in 2006
Second Street in downtown Lewes in 2006
Official seal of Lewes, Delaware
"The First Town in The First State"
Location in Sussex County and the state of Delaware.
Location in Sussex County and the state of Delaware.
Country United States
State Delaware
County Sussex
Founded June 3, 1631
 • Total 4.3 sq mi (11 km2)
 • Land 3.7 sq mi (10 km2)
 • Water 0.6 sq mi (2 km2)
13 ft (4 m)
 • Total 2,747
 • Density 742.4/sq mi (286.6/km2)
Time zone UTC-5 (Eastern (EST))
 • Summer (DST) UTC-4 (EDT)
ZIP code
Area code(s) 302
GNIS feature ID 214214
Website City of Lewes Delaware Website

Lewes /ˈls/ is an incorporated city on the Delaware Bay in eastern Sussex County, Delaware. According to the 2010 census, the population is 2,747. Along with neighboring Rehoboth Beach, Lewes is one of the principal cities of Delaware's rapidly growing Cape Region. The city lies within the Salisbury, Maryland–Delaware Metropolitan Statistical Area. Lewes proudly claims to be "The First Town in The First State."


Lewes was the site of the first European settlement in Delaware, a whaling and trading post that Dutch settlers founded on June 3, 1631 and named Zwaanendael (Swan Valley). The colony had a short existence, as a local tribe of Lenape Native Americans wiped out the 32 settlers in 1632.

The area remained rather neglected by the Dutch until, under the threat of annexation from the English colony of Maryland, the city of Amsterdam made a grant of land at the Hoernkills (the area around Cape Henlopen, near the current town of Lewes) to a group of Mennonites for settlement in 1662. A total of 35 men were to be included in the settlement, led by a Pieter Cornelisz Plockhoy of Zierikzee and funded by a sizable loan from the city to get them established. The settlement was established in 1663, but the timing of the settlement was terrible: In 1664, the English wrested New Netherland from the Dutch, and they had the settlement destroyed with British reports indicating that “not even a nail” was left there.

The area was slow to resettle, but a new settlement gradually regrew around the Hoernkills. In late December 1673, when the area was briefly held again by the Dutch, the settlement was attacked and burned down again by soldiers from the English colony of Maryland. In 1680, under the authority of James Stuart, Duke of York, who had been granted such authority by his brother, King Charles II, the village (and county) was reorganized and known for two years as New Deale, Deale County, Delaware. A log courthouse was authorized to be built at this time. A Church of England congregation was established by 1681 and a Presbyterian church was built in 1682.

In 1682, the Delaware colonies were given to William Penn by English King Charles II in payment of a family debt. When Penn arrived in the New World later that year, he renamed the county as Sussex and the Hoernkills settlement as Lewes, in commemoration of sites back in England. Lewes became and remained the county seat of Sussex County until 1791, when it was moved to a more west-central county location, the current town of Georgetown.

On April 5 and 6, 1813, during the War of 1812, British naval vessels led by HMS Poictiers under the command of Captain Sir John Beresford briefly and ineffectually bombarded the town. A cannonball from the bombardment is lodged in the foundation of Cannonball House, which now serves as the town's maritime museum.

Lewes was incorporated by an act of the state assembly on Feb. 2, 1818. The act provided for five persons to be chosen as commissioners to be known as "Trustees of the Town of Lewes."

Lewes Beach itself was an important stop on the Underground Railroad in the years leading up to the American Civil War. As a "border state," Delaware was not part of the Confederacy, but was still quite dangerous for fugitive slaves. Several houses in Lewes thus housed escaping slaves; these "safe houses" were identified by the residents placing a single candle in the top window of the house.

In 1941, the United States built Fort Miles on Cape Henlopen, immediately south of Lewes, to defend Delaware Bay and the Delaware River and the oil refineries and factories on its shores, as well as the city of Philadelphia. It was one of the largest and most heavily armed coastal fortifications ever built.

Fort Miles never saw any major action; except for range practice, it fired its guns only once between its establishment and the end of World War II. Fort Miles ceased operation altogether in 1991 and was deeded to the State of Delaware.

Lightship Overfalls, preserved as a tourist attraction.

In addition to Fort Miles, the Cape Henlopen Archeological District, Coleman House, Cool Spring Presbyterian Church, De Vries Palisade, Delaware Breakwater and Lewes Harbor, Fisher Homestead, Fisher's Paradise, Col. David Hall House, Hopkins Covered Bridge Farm, Lewes Historic District, Lewes Presbyterian Church, Lightship WAL 539, Maull House, National Harbor of Refuge and Delaware Breakwater Harbor Historic District, Pagan Creek Dike, Roosevelt Inlet Shipwreck, William Russell House, St. George's Chapel, Lewes, Townsend Site, and Wolfe's Neck Site are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Mayoral history

  • Theodore Becker 2014–present
  • James L. Ford 2004–2014
  • George H.P. Smith 1994–2004
  • Dr. John Adams 1992–1994
  • Al Stango 1968–1992
  • Otis H. Smith 1950–1968
  • H. Edward Maull 1944–1950
  • Thomas H. Carpenter 1940–1944
  • William E. Walsh 1938–1940
  • David W. Burbage 1936–1938
  • Dr. Ulysses W. Hocker 1931–1936
  • Dr. James T. Thompson 1927–1930 (died in office, May 20, 1930)
  • Willard H. Collins 1926–1927
  • Dr. James T. Thompson 1914–1926
  • Thomas B. Schellenger 1913–1914
  • Dr. James T. Thompson 1900–1913
  • Alfred L. Burton 1898–1900

Home to governors

Six men who served as Delaware governor were born in or made their home in Lewes. Three of the men lived on Lewes' Second Street. Brothers Daniel and Caleb Rodney, descendants of Caesar Rodney each served as governor of Delaware. Each a member of the Federalist party, Daniel served from 1814–1817 while Caleb served as acting governor from 1822–1823. Ebe Walters Tunnell moved to Lewes in 1873 to enter the drug and hardware business in part of the old Caleb Rodney House on Second Street. Tunnell worked his way up the state government hierarchy before unsuccessfully running for governor in 1892. Four years later, the Democrat won the election, and served from 1897–1901.

City motto and name

As Lewes was the earliest settlement in the state, and Delaware was the first state to ratify the Constitution, the town refers to itself as "The First Town in the First State." Lewes is named after the town of Lewes in England, which is situated in a county named Sussex (from which Sussex County, Delaware, takes its name). Lewes, Sussex, England, also has the same seal.


Lewes is located at 38°46′28″N 75°08′22″W / 38.77444°N 75.13944°W / 38.77444; -75.13944 (38.7745565, -75.1393498).

1655 Ryves Holt House, the oldest structure in Delaware

According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 4.3 square miles (11 km2), of which 3.7 sq mi (9.6 km2) is land, and 0.6 sq mi (1.6 km2) (14.69%) is water.


Situated on the Atlantic Coastal Plain, Lewes's weather is moderated by the Atlantic Ocean and the Delaware Bay. Lewes has a mild subtropical climate consisting of hot, humid summers and mild winters. The average daytime high in July is 87 °F (30.6 °C) and a low of 70 °F (21 °C); in January, the average high is 45 °F (7 °C) with an average low of 30 °F (-1 °C) The month of highest average rainfall is July with 4.78 inches of rain, while February is historically the driest month, receiving an average of only 3.23 inches (80.5 mm) of rain.

The highest official temperature ever recorded in Lewes was 102 °F (38.8 °C) in 1997. The lowest official temperature ever recorded in Lewes was -11 °F (-28.8 °C) in 1982.


Historical population
Census Pop.
1870 1,090
1900 2,259
1910 2,158 −4.5%
1920 2,074 −3.9%
1930 1,923 −7.3%
1940 2,246 16.8%
1950 2,904 29.3%
1960 3,025 4.2%
1970 2,563 −15.3%
1980 2,197 −14.3%
1990 2,295 4.5%
2000 2,932 27.8%
2010 2,747 −6.3%
Est. 2015 3,010 9.6%
U.S. Decennial Census

As of the census of 2000, there were 2,932 people, 1,338 households, and 797 families residing in the city. The population density was 801.5 people per square mile (309.3/km²). There were 2,368 housing units at an average density of 647.3 per square mile (249.8/km²). The racial makeup of the city was 87.31% White, 9.89% African American, 0.14% Native American, 1.02% Asian, 0.03% Pacific Islander, 0.72% from other races, and 0.89% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 1.67% of the population.

There were 1,338 households out of which 15.1% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 49.3% were married couples living together, 8.4% had a female householder with no husband present, and 40.4% were non-families. 35.1% of all households were made up of individuals and 14.4% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 1.99 and the average family size was 2.53.

In the city, the population was spread out with 13.6% under the age of 18, 3.7% from 18 to 24, 18.0% from 25 to 44, 31.5% from 45 to 64, and 33.1% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 55 years. For every 100 females, there were 78.2 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 76.1 males.

The median income for a household in the city was $66,387, and the median income for a family was $72,605. Males had a median income of $39,500 versus $35,227 for females. The per capita income for the city was $36,685. About 3.1% of families and 6.0% of the population were below the poverty line, including 11.3% of those under age 18 and 5.4% of those age 65 or over.

Arts and culture

Museums and other points of interest

Zwaanendael Club Lewes DE 1898
Based on the Statenlogement building in Hoorn, the Netherlands, used as a women's club starting 1930, now the Zwaanendael Museum

Lewes serves as a vacation and resort spot popular with residents of Washington, D.C., and the surrounding suburbs. Even though the city limits primarily sit on the lower reach of the Delaware Bay, it is nonetheless considered an ocean resort, particularly as the ocean is nearby at Cape Henlopen. Lewes is among those communities which have banned smoking in its public parks.

Lewes is the home of the Zwaanendael Museum, which features exhibits about Delaware's history. Savannah, Second and Front Streets are the town's main streets and have many shops, restaurants, parks and historical venues. Fisherman's Wharf is a dock that stretches along the Lewes and Rehoboth Canal. It features multiple restaurants and bait shops, and in season the dock hosts hundreds of boats from all over.

The Lewes Historical Society promotes the preservation, interpretation and cultural enrichment of the Lewes region through museum exhibits, educational programs, historical research and publications.

Lewes in Bloom is an organization that promotes and maintains the beauty of Historic Lewes. Lewes in Bloom won America in Bloom's contest in 2003, 2005, 2010 and 2015 for cities with population under 5,000. In 2012 and 2015 Lewes in Bloom was honored in the AIB “Circle of Champions”.


Harbor of Refuge
Lighthouse in the National Harbor of Refuge

United States Lightship Overfalls (LV-118/WAL-539), one of nine surviving lightships at museums in the United States, is moored in Lewes along the Lewes and Rehoboth Canal

Lewes is home to several iconic Lighthouses in the Delaware Bay. Just offshore lies the National Harbor of Refuge which is home to the Delaware Breakwater East End Light and the Harbor of Refuge Light.

Parks and recreation

Lewes Beach from Savannah Road
Lewes Beach on the Delaware Bay

Lewes is adjacent to Cape Henlopen State Park. Lewes also maintains several parks within the city limits:

  • Blockhouse Pond Park
  • Stango Park
  • Zwaanendael Park & Herb Garden
  • 1812 Memorial Park (Cannonball Park)
  • Mary Vessels Park
  • George H.P. Smith Park
  • Canalfront Park & Marina
  • Lewes Beach
  • Great Marsh Park

DNREC maintains a boat ramp just outside the city limits along the Broadkill River, adjacent to the Roosevelt Inlet.


Lewes Ferry port
The Lewes terminal of the Cape May–Lewes Ferry

Delaware Route 1 (DE 1) passes just outside city limits at Five Points where DE 1, U.S. Route 9 (US 9), DE 404, DE 23 and DE 1D (Plantation Road) intersect. There are three main arterial roads that connect Lewes to DE 1: New Road, Savannah Road (US 9 Business) and King's Highway (US 9). US 9 passes to the southeast of the city on the Theodore C. Freeman Memorial Highway.

The southern terminus of the Cape May–Lewes Ferry is located in Lewes. The ferry provides passenger and automobile ferry service between southern Delaware and southern New Jersey, crossing the Delaware Bay to North Cape May, New Jersey, and serves as part of US 9. The ferry crossing is 17 miles (27 km) long and takes 85 minutes.

DART First State operates the year-round Route 206 bus, which connects Lewes to Rehoboth Beach and Georgetown. They also operate two seasonal bus routes during the summer months that provide access between Lewes and the Rehoboth Beach Park and Ride via DE 1. Route 204 provides daytime service and Route 205 provides late night local service. The Delaware Department of Transportation is constructing the Lewes Transit Center Park and Ride just outside Lewes along DE 1. Groundbreaking took place on March 9, 2016 and the park and ride will open in summer 2017. The Delaware River and Bay Authority operates a shuttle bus in the summer months that connects the Cape May–Lewes Ferry to downtown Lewes, the Tanger Outlets, and the Rehoboth Beach Park and Ride.

Lewes is served by a branch of the Delaware Coast Line Railway that originates in Georgetown.

Notable events

On 21 August 2013, a helicopter reportedly dumped $10,000 in multiple dollar bill denominations over Lewes Harbor in the fulfillment of a deceased local resident's last wish.

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