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History abounds near Delaware’s beaches

Written on: June 23rd, 2016 in Archaeology Collections Events Exhibits Historic Sites Museums News

For generations, vacationers have been drawn to Delaware’s Atlantic Ocean resorts—Lewes, Rehoboth Beach, Dewey Beach, Bethany Beach and Fenwick Island. Located within 250 miles of several of the nation’s largest metropolitan areas including Baltimore, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia and New York City, the First State’s coastal towns offer some of the cleanest beach-water in the nation, a plethora of dining options, arts and entertainment activities, recreational opportunities, natural areas, state parks, night life and tax-free shopping among many other amenities.

Zwaanendael Museum. Photo by Don Pearse Photographers.

Zwaanendael Museum. Photo by Don Pearse Photographers.

As the location of Delaware’s first colony and one of the earliest European settlements in America—Swanendael, established by the Dutch in present-day Lewes in 1631—the coastal region also features a wealth of historic sites that help tell Delaware’s story and the role that it played in the creation and development of the United States. Many of these sites are open for visitation, offering high-quality experiences for every type of vacationer from families looking for rainy-day activities to dedicated cultural tourists and history buffs.

Following is a sampling of some of the historic places that can be visited within a 20-mile radius of Delaware’s Atlantic Ocean beaches. Hours of operation and other information can be found on each site’s webpage.

De Vries Monument
Pilottown Road, Lewes, Del.
Telephone: Call the Zwaanendael Museum at 302-645-1148

Delaware’s Colonial history began near this site which commemorates Swanendael, meaning “Valley of the Swans,” established by the Dutch in 1631 as a whale-hunting and agricultural station. The monument, located along the Lewes-Rehoboth Canal (originally called Hoorn Kill), is named for David Pieterszoon de Vries, general administrator of the Swanendael colony.

De Vries Monument

De Vries Monument

Zwaanendael Museum
102 Kings Highway, Lewes, Del.
Telephone: 302-645-1148

Operated by the Delaware Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs, the museum was built in 1931 to commemorate the 300th anniversary of the state’s first European colony, Swanendael. Modeled after the town hall in Hoorn, the Netherlands, the museum’s exhibits and presentations provide a showcase for Lewes-area maritime, military and social history. Currently featured is the exhibit “A Seaborne Citizenry: The DeBraak and Its Atlantic World” which explores His Majesty’s Sloop of War DeBraak, a British warship that sank off the Delaware coast on May 25, 1798. In addition, tours that explore the history, artifacts and surviving hull section of the DeBraak are offered every Wednesday and Thursday through Sept. 29, 2016.

DeBraak tour participants listening to a presentation at the Zwaanendael Museum. The exhibit “A Seaborne Citizenry: The DeBraak and Its Atlantic World” is in the background.

DeBraak tour participants listening to a presentation at the Zwaanendael Museum. The exhibit “A Seaborne Citizenry: The DeBraak and Its Atlantic World” is in the background.

As the administrator of many of the state’s most important historic sites, the Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs leases the following properties to community organizations that in turn, operate them for public visitation.

Delaware Breakwater East End Lighthouse
Surrounded by water, the lighthouse is located on the inner breakwater in Lewes harbor.
Telephone: 302-226-3866 or 302-542-4432

The lighthouse was built in 1885 as a navigational aid for ships entering the Delaware Bay. It is currently closed to visitation. Cruises to the waters surrounding the structure are conducted by the Delaware River & Bay Lighthouse Foundation.

Delaware Breakwater East End Lighthouse

Delaware Breakwater East End Lighthouse

Fenwick Island Lighthouse
Located at the intersection of 146th St. and Lighthouse Lane, Fenwick Island, Del.
Telephone: 443-235-8521
Operated by the New Friends of the Fenwick Island Lighthouse.

Built in 1858 to protect shipping from the Fenwick sand shoals that extend several miles out from the Delaware coast, the lighthouse sits exactly on the eastern origin of the Mason-Dixon Line.

Fenwick Island Lighthouse

Fenwick Island Lighthouse

Old Sussex County Court House
10 S. Bedford St., Georgetown, Del.
Telephone: 302-855-9660
Operated by the Georgetown Historical Society. Open by appointment.

In 1791, the Sussex County seat was moved from Lewes to Georgetown in order to provide a more centralized location for county governmental and judicial functions. In 1793, the building now known as the Old Sussex County Court House was constructed in Georgetown to meet the exact dimensions of the former county court house in Lewes. In 1837, the building was moved from its original location on Georgetown Circle to make way for the current court house which still occupies the site.

Old Sussex County Court House

Old Sussex County Court House

Prince George’s Chapel
101 Chapel Lane, Dagsboro, Del.
Telephone: 302-732-6835
Operated by the Friends of Prince George’s Chapel. Open by appointment.

Built in 1755 as an Anglican chapel-of-ease, the structure was named in honor of the English prince who would later become King George III. Its most distinctive feature is a barrel-vaulted ceiling made of natural, unadorned heart-of-pine planks.

Prince George's Chapel

Prince George’s Chapel

Other attractions featuring Delaware history that are located within 20 miles of Delaware’s beaches include the Bethany Beach History Museum, DiscoverSea Shipwreck Museum, Fort Miles Historical Area in Cape Henlopen State Park, Indian River Life-Saving Station, Lewes Historical Society, Lightship Overfalls, Milton Historical Society, Nanticoke Indian Museum, Nutter D. Marvel Carriage Museum, Ocean View Historical Society, Rehoboth Art League, Rehoboth Beach Museum and the Treasures of the Sea exhibit. In addition, the towns of Lewes and Milton contain historic districts that are listed in the National Register of Historic Places.


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