Lewes, which is pronounced "LOO-IS," is one of the oldest settlements in America. Known as “the first town in the first state,” it was originally populated by Native Americans and later by Dutch settlers in 1629-1631, and then English settlers in 1664. The town wasn't formally titled "Lewes" until 1682, and served as the Sussex County Seat until 1791.
Lewes has always been recognized as a seafaring town because of its ideal placement between the Delaware Bay and the Atlantic Ocean. Cutting through town is a deep canal passage, which lends to an excellent harbor. Today the harbor services a large fleet of charter fishing boats, private sailing crafts and has even served as a port for the Delaware Tall Ships, including the Kalmar Nyckel. Additionally, Lewes is being considered as a possible port-of-call for cruise ships in 2011. And don’t forget that the Cape May-Lewes Ferry crosses the 17-mile stretch of water between Lewes and New Jersey, so you can stroll the streets of historic Cape May, or grab a fudgie-wudgie ice cream treat in Wildwood, roll the dice in Atlantic City, or head up to Manhattan to catch a Broadway show - after a short, relaxing 80-minute ride on the Ferry.
The downtown historic area of Lewes is a half-square mile district that offers visitors and residents many things to do, from the stores on Second Street; surrounding antique shops; a working blacksmith; tours of historic buildings, including the Lewes Historical Society’s Ryves Holt House, circa 1665, which is the oldest house in Delaware; and museums, such as the Cannonball House & Marine Museum, which -- to this day -- bears the scars of the British bombardment of 1812 in the form of a cannonball that is still lodged in the home’s foundation, and the Zwaanendael Museum, which was built in 1931 to celebrate the 300th anniversary of the first European settlement in Delaware.
Of course, with an extensive maritime background, Lewes has its share of pirate stories! One legend tells a tale of a chest of gold buried by Captain Kidd in Cape Henlopen - remember that tidbit when you’re spending the day in the dunes or on the beach at the Cape Henlopen State Park; although, with the Park’s miles of beaches for swimming, surf fishing, and the endless nature trails, you may just forget to hunt for gold. Note: Entry fees to the State Park are approximately $35 for an annual pass for Delaware residents, and $70 for out-of-state residents (senior discounts are available) or you can pay a daily entry fee of approximately $5 for Del. tags or $10 for out-of-state tags. Bicyclists and pedestrians may enter the Park for free. Additionally, Lewes has a public beach, with metered parking, at the end of Savannah Road.
By the way, if you want a souvenir LOO-IS cap or shirt, please stop in at Marsha’s, located at 112B Front Street, near the post office.