Delaware's only seaport town, Lewes is named for a community in Sussex, England (hence “Sussex” County, Delaware). Lewes originated with an abortive Dutch effort, Swanendael (Valley of Swans) in 1631, the first European outpost on Delaware soil (ES13). Permanent occupation did not come until 1658, and then only slowly and with disheartening setbacks. “The houses are most of them built of wood,” observed the evangelist George Whitefield when visiting in October 1739. Many dwellings, built of frame and shingle, have been moved at one time or another. Lewes sank into some decay in the early nineteenth century, with loss of colonial fabric; unlike New Castle, it has no early church, courthouse, jail, or arsenal (though a much-altered Methodist meeting house of c. 1790 survives as a home on Mulberry Street). Nevertheless, Lewes boasts possibly the oldest building in Delaware, the Ryves Holt House (late seventeenth century; ES18). Mosquito control made the town more popular after 1935, and growth after World War II was steady as vacationers discovered the charming community, which faces the Lewes and Rehoboth Canal and has an appealing nautical flavor. A far greater boom came in the 1990s, with many dwellings expensively restored or rebuilt. A historic district covers much of the town, but explosive growth promises further change.
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