This Is The Oldest Place You Can Possibly Go In Delaware And Its History Will Fascinate You
Do you know which town is the oldest town in Delaware? Here’s a hint: it’s probably your favorite beach town when you’re looking for a quiet day along the shore. Yes, Lewes was the first area of Delaware to be settled by the Europeans. No wonder they wanted to stay!
Today, Lewes is a top beach destination that somehow retains its charming, small-town feel, even in the busy summer months.
But if you step back in time, you'll find that Delaware's favorite town was also Delaware's very first town, and the history of Lewes is truly unbelievable.
The story of Lewes is one of resilience - and a little bit of humor.
If you've ever seen "Monty Python and the Holy Grail", you might remember the Swamp Castle scene. In the scene, the King explains that he built his estate, and then it sank into the mud. He rebuilt it, and it sank again. He built it a third time – and then it burnt down, fell over and again sank into the mud. But on the fourth time, it stood.
That's pretty much the story of Lewes.
In June of 1631, the first Dutch settlers laid claim to a small spot along the Delaware coast, and called it "Zwaanendael." They were the first European settlers in the area. Within a year, a local Native American tribe clashed with the settlement, killed them all, and destroyed the outposts. The Dutch wanted to let it go, but they were determined to keep Cape Henlopen out of British hands. In 1663, they established another settlement, and started to get used to life along the Delaware Bay. Unfortunately a year later, the English burned the town to the ground and destroyed all the buildings. They didn't even leave rubble - they took that for themselves.
The Dutch once again slowly rebuilt the area around Cape Henlopen, but in 1673, soldiers from Maryland again burned it to the ground. England kept a presence here until 1682, when Delaware was given to William Penn. Penn renamed the possibly-cursed settlement "Lewes."
Today, the history of Delaware's earliest European settlers is preserved in the quirky Zwaanendael Museum.
The Museum pays tribute to both early settlers and natives to the area, and features dozens of impressive and dated artifacts. One section of the museum is even home to a preserved mermaid! You can't make this stuff up - you've got to just see it for yourself.
The nearby Zwaanendael Park is a great place to relax and take in the sights of Lewes, as well as read up on the various historic markers found here.
Each one tells another story about the town, its history, and the way of life for these early Delawareans. You'll learn something new on nearly every street!
Lewes is full of modern history too. In Cape Henlopen State Park, you can visit World War II-ear barracks and climb an Army watchtower. From the top of the tower, you'll be greeted with a breathtaking, panoramic view.
So next time you head to the beach, spend a little time in the town of Lewes. The historic landmarks, Zwaanendael museum, and evidence of modern history are something that you'll find fascinating.
For more about the historic ruins at Cape Henlopen State Park, check out our featured article on Fort Miles Historic Area here:
Exploring These WWII Ruins In Delaware Will Take You Back In Time. The history of Delaware is truly amazing!
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Address: Lewes, DE 19958, USA