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Ryves Holt House

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Late 17th century west section, with additions. 2nd and Mulberry sts.
  • Ryves Holt House (Delaware Division of Historical & Cultural Affairs, Dover, Del.)
  • Ryves Holt House (Photograph by Matthew Aungst)

The date of “Delaware's Oldest House” continues to be debated. A study by the Center for Historic Architecture and Design (CHAD) at the University of Delaware (1998) argues that it is unlikely to predate 1685, when Phillip Russell got a license to operate a public house on the corner, and that it might be as late as 1710. This conflicts with the much-cited results of dendrochronology in the 1980s that showed a date of 1665, but the CHAD authors answer that the building's style surely belongs to a later decade and that the wood might have been curing. Whatever its date, the original section is one-and-a-half stories and 20 × 16 feet in area with a lean-to attached; a corner fireplace (removed by 1800) stood at left in the front room, with the door at right. H-bent construction recalls Dutch practice. Strikingly, all the joists are chamfered (with lambs-tongue stops) along with the studs and window and door jambs. Ryves Holt, captain and lawyer, occupied the house starting in 1723. Later additions resulted in unevenly grouped windows. It has been owned by the local Episcopal church since 1981 and lately has been leased to Lewes Historical Society. Delaware is notably lacking in seventeenth-century survivals, making this one exceedingly valuable (although Walnut Landing, near Seaford, is c. 1700). Curiously, it is of that most perishable of materials, wood. In all of Virginia, by comparison, only one wooden house of pre-1700 remains (Williamsburg's Nelson-Galt House, dated to 1695 by dendrochronology).

Writing Credits

W. Barksdale Maynard


What's Nearby


W. Barksdale Maynard, "Ryves Holt House", [Lewes, Delaware], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—,

Print Source

Cover: Buildings of Delaware

Buildings of Delaware, W. Barksdale Maynard. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2008, 270-271.

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