Wednesday, June 16, 2021 / by Jay Lesko
Delaware’s small beach towns offer a unique charm that resonates well with nature lovers and beachgoers. Lewes offers miles upon miles of beaches for an easygoing beach-bound life. The quaint town is nestled cosily along the banks of the Delaware Baway between Cape Henlopen State Park and the Great Marsh Preserve.
Although Lewes is not located directly on the Atlantic coast, it is still recognized as a beach community, since it’s at the mouth of the Delaware River which empties into the Atlantic Ocean. Lewes attracts thousands of visitors and part-time residents during the hot summer months. Residency during winter is usually on the sparse side.
Something for Everyone
Beach bums will love the easy beach access Lewes provides, but the outdoor activities are not limited to basking in the Delaware sun. Fishing, sailing, jet skiing and kayaking are popular water-bound activities while the Cape Henlopen State Park provides hiking trails, ball fields and picnic areas for a tranquil breakaway.
The Zwaanendael Museum, Lewes Historical Society and the Cannonball House are great spots to visit in order to learn more about the history of the area. The Fisherman’s Wharf houses some of the best restaurants in the area and ample retail stores are located along Main Street, Front Street, Second Street and Savannah Street.
Coastal Delaware comes with sun, sand and boardwalks. The homes have an East Coast charm and distinct architecture, with some buildings dating from the 1700s. The summers are normally fun and busy due to robust tourist activity and exciting local events. During the winter transforms the area into a crisp and scenic wonderland.
Interesting Property Numbers
Of the estimated 1565 homes and apartments to be found in Lewes, the greater majority of them are single family homes. A quick glance on NeighborhoodScout will reveal that around 466 of these dwellings date from 2000 or more recent. The greater majority of these available homes have 3 bedrooms on average.
Most residents in Lewes are home owners and the average rental market requests $1342 per month.
A Rich History
Proudly bearing the title of “The First Town of the First State,” Lewes has one of the longest American histories. Henry Hudson discovered the land when sailing for the Dutch East India Company during 1609, fast forward twenty-two years and a Dutch established a whaling station on Cape Henlopen.
A variety of lesser-known pirates and even the infamous Captain Kidd visited the small village up until 1698. During the war of 1812 the small town came under attack from a British frigate. The only losses suffered were reportedly one dead hen and a wounded pig. A building in town still displays a cannonball from that very battle!
Lewes’s harbour played a significant role in the town’s success and today the Lewes remains a seafaring haven with several restaurants situated along the water.
Originally called Swanendael, or Valley of the Swans, the small town cycled through a variety of less tasteful names before finally settling on Lewes. In case you wondered, it is pronounced “Loo-iss” or “Lewis”.
History plays an important role in shaping the Lewes we know and love today. The area stays true to its nautical roots and preserves historical locations. Some of the best locations are:
Ryves Holt House
To the best of our knowledge this particular house, under the care of the Lewes Historical Society, is the oldest house in all of Delaware that still has an original foundation. The home was dated as a 1665 build through an analysis of the structure’s wood. After having served as a colonial inn, the building became the home of the first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court in the Three Lower Counties in Delaware. His name was Ryves Holt.
Built in 1938, the Overfalls Lightship served until 1971 and acted as a floating lighthouse along the East Coast. When in service the 15,000 candlepower light flashed once every 3 seconds and could be seen up to 12 miles away with clear skies. The foghorn sounded every half minute and could reportedly be heard up to 5 miles away. The Overfalls Maritime Museum Foundation has converted the Overfalls Lightship into a museum since the decommissioning in 1972.
St. Peter’s Episcopal Church
The current church building sits at the heart of Lewes and has served the community since 1681. Four Delaware governors have found their final resting place in the surrounding cemetery.
The 300th anniversary or Delaware’s initial European settlement deserved a special commemoration. The Zwaanendael Museum houses the maritime history of Lewes and the building was designed as an adaptation of Holland’s city hall, Hoorn, as a tribute to the Dutch roots of the Swanendael colony.
Second Street is home to one of the most exciting shopping experiences around. Get ready to spend an entire day simply browsing the shops alongs Second Street. There is a store for almost any kind of boutique experience one could hope for in a beach community.
From designer clothing, cute kitchen wares, bath and beauty as well as luxury lifestyle items offers plenty of opportunity to release your inner fashionista in a distinctly Lewes-themed style.
For a rare find be sure to visit the Lewes Mercantile Antiques. From art to jewelry to decor, the vendors in this shop have a satisfying variety on offer.
Living in Lewes
Lewes is probably best known as the western port for the Lewes-Cape May Ferry. This popular shortcut is often utilized by travellers heading to southern New Jersey and it effectively cuts out the lengthy trip around Delaware Bay. The route to the Ferry lies along King Street, which keeps traffic out of the CBD. While travellers may miss seeing the heart of southern Delaware’s unique coastal town, the reduced traffic in the CBD is a boon for residents.
Striking a balance between the summer excitement of an ocean resort and the relaxed pleasures of an upscale town, Lewes is a popular retirement destination as well. With a population of just over 3,000 people the town provides an ideal getaway from the rat race while remaining in a 200 mile radius of New York and Pennsylvania.
The tax structure, as with all Delaware communities, is among the best in the country, with seniors receiving special consideration. As home to the third lowest real estate tax in the country, it is quite understandable why this quaint coastal town is so desirable. Social Security benefits are not taxed in Delaware and pension benefits for individuals over the age of 60 receive a $12,500 exclusion. Early retirees (under the age of 60) will benefit from an exclusion of $2,500. Lewes goes one step further as residents older than 65 can have half their school property taxes subsidized after living there for three years.
Individuals and families considering Lewes for their new home will be delighted to find that the town is within 30 minutes of most Sussex County coastal attractions. Sitting squarely between two attractive destinations, Lewes is a small town with a big heart that provides a safe family environment.