About Us

The Lewes Historical Society At-a-Glance

From Captain Kidd and the eternal rhythms of the tides to the salty courage of the Delaware pilots and the nationally-recognized architecture of our historic district - Lewes' past is colorful, unique and proud. The ancient beam of old Cape Henlopen Light still haunts the local seas and local imaginations in "Delaware's Saltiest Town."

The Lewes Historical Society began in 1961 as local residents identified a need to preserve Lewes' architectural heritage and for an organization to act as a steward for Lewes' past - a history that stretches back to humble Dutch origins in 1631. The Society has been recognized as one of Delaware's greatest assets and has been honored for our efforts by the National Trust for Historic Preservation and by the American Association for State & Local History. The Society celebrates the heritage of Lewes -- "The First Town in The First State!"

Year Founded:

1961

Mission:

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

Governance:

The Society is a 501 (c) 3 non-profit corporation governed by a nine-member Board of Directors plus five officers (president, first vice president, second vice president, treasurer and secretary).

Membership:

Approximately 1,000 members mostly in Delaware and the Middle Atlantic

Volunteers:

Approximately 300 annually

Annual Visitation:

80,000 (tours, museum admissions, programs and events)

Professional Affiliations:

  • American Association of Museums
  • American Association for State & Local History
  • Delaware Museum Association
  • Historic Sussex Historical
  • Society of Delaware
  • Mid-Atlantic Regional Archives Conference
  • National Trust for Historic Preservation
  • Preservation Delaware
  • Small Museum Association
  • United States Life-Saving Service Heritage Association

Annual Operating Budget:

$186,000 in 2006 (100% derived from earned income and gifts)

Staff:

Executive Director
Executive Assistant
Director of Education
Marketing Coordinator
Special Projects & Research Assistant
Maintenance Supervisor

Museum Programs:

Burton-Ingram House, c. 1789:

The Society’s first preservation project in 1962, the Burton-Ingram House is noted for its fine Federal period architecture and colonial furnishings. Several extraordinary museum objects are displayed in this elegant home.

Hiram Rodney Burton House, c. 1730:

The only house in the Complex on its original foundation and location, the Hiram Rodney Burton House is named after a prominent local physician who also served two terms in Congress from 1904-1908.

Ryves Holt House, c. 1665:

The oldest house still standing in the State of Delaware, the Ryves Holt House has survived pirate invasions, fires, and just under 400 years of architectural change. The house is named for the first Chief Justice of Sussex County.

Midway School #178, c. 1898:

The Society’s most recent addition, Midway School #178 is one of only a handful of one-room schools left in Delaware. The Society’s educational programming is carried out within the school.

Old Doctor’s Office, c. 1840:

The Society’s Old Doctor’s Office contains excellent collections of mid- to late-nineteenth century medical instruments. Boasting the only example of Greek Revival architecture in Lewes, the Office also houses nearly 500 volumes of medical texts ranging from the late 18th century to the early 20th.

Rabbit’s Ferry House, c. 1740:

An outstanding example of rural Sussex County architecture, the Rabbit’s Ferry House reflects the hard and simple life of southern Delaware’s 18th century farmers. Hearth-cooking demonstrations are being planned for its kitchen.

Cannonball House, c. 1760:

Struck by a cannonball during the War of 1812, the Cannonball House – which is home to the Society’s immense collection of maritime artifacts – carries a long relationship with the sea. Thousands of artifacts that tell of Lewes’ storied past with the sea are exhibited, including the Fourth Order Fresnel Lens from Fourteen Foot Bank Light in Delaware Bay.

Early Plank House, c. 1690:

Constructed by early Swedish settlers in the late 17th century, the Plank House contains examples of rugged, hand-hewn timbers, lofted sleeping spaces, and a small fireplace where meals that were truly earned were cooked.

Ellegood House, c. 1800:

The Ellegood House is another example of an early Sussex County farmhouse. Sheathed in clapboards, the Ellegood House houses the Avery Exhibit.

Thompson Country Store, c. 1800:

Built in Thompsonvile, just east of Frederica in Kent County, Delaware, the Thompson Country Store functioned as just that up until 1963 when it was acquired by the Society. Step inside and enjoy a game of checkers, pick up the local papers, or gaze on the Society’s unsurpassed collection of milk-bottles from local dairies.

Lewes Life-Saving Station Boathouse, c. 1884:

The third station in Delaware commissioned by the U.S. Life-Saving Service, the Lewes Station is best known for its heroics during the Blizzard of 1888 when dozens of ships were wrecked in the Breakwater during a freak March squall.

Blacksmith Shop, c. 1790:

Formerly the home of a Lewes blacksmith, the Society’s Blacksmith Shop compliments the Ellegood House.

Annual Events:

  • Mid-Atlantic Sea Glass Festival
  • Antique Shows
  • Cannonball Run
  • Craft Fairs
  • Christmas Tour of Lewes
  • Site Host: Lewes British Motorcar Show
  • Monthly Seminar Series, September through May

Publications:

  • Swanendael In New Netherland
  • Journal of the Lewes Historical Society
  • Lewestowne Press Newsletter
  • Pilots of the Bay & River Delaware Pictorial History of Lewes, Delaware 1631-1985
  • Victorian Lewes & Its Architecture
  • Our Gardens of Lewes, Delaware
  • The Siconese of Lewes, Delaware