Lewes’ past, present featured in historical society video

First Town stars in a role about itself
More than 300 years of City of Lewes history is compressed into a new nine-minute video produced by the Lewes Historical Society. Pilots' Association for the Bay and River Delaware pilots are used as a thread to connect the city's past and present. COURTESY LEWES HISTORICAL SOCIETY
February 15, 2013

A new video highlighting City of Lewes’ genesis condenses more than 370 years of history into nine minutes for enjoyment by those who know a lot - or those who know nothing - about the First Town in the First State.

“It’s an introduction to Lewes. When people come to visit the Hiram Burton house, the exhibits are a general overview of Lewes, and the video is meant to accompany that,” said Mike DiPaolo, Lewes Historical Society executive director. The Burton house is the historical society’s administrative headquarters.

The video opens with a shot of a pilot boat speeding through the Delaware Bay. The vessel is owned and operated by Pilots’ Association for the Bay and River Delaware.

Pilots have left from Lewes docks to ply their trade for centuries, DiPaolo said, and the video uses them as thread weaving the story together.

“I can’t say enough great things about how wonderful they were to work with. They were generous with their time and facilities, and it really shows in the final product,” DiPaolo said.

DiPaolo and Errol Webber, an Academy Award-winning cinematographer, shot, edited and produced the final product. Webber started shooting late last June, spending a week in and around Lewes.

“We got a lot of good material. It was a good week because there were some beautiful sunny days, and one really rainy day, so were able to get some nice atmosphere shots,” DiPaolo said.

Webber, who is based in Baltimore, came back to Lewes in October to shoot additional material. “When you’re telling some darker story, you don’t want a sunny summer day,” DiPaolo said.

Webber made a third trip to Lewes in November to get shots from a different perspective. This time he mounted small video cameras - the type used by surfers and skiers to capture their action - on the bow of a pilot launch.

“What everybody’s seeing now is version 1.9. We’ll be releasing a version later with some of that footage in it.  It’s spectacular,” DiPaolo said.

Earlier, Webber had taken a similar shot lying on his belly using a full-size video camera, while DiPaolo and an assistant held him by the ankles.

“He’s a riot to work with. He’s just out there, in a good way,” DiPaolo.

DiPaolo said once a week for a month, he went to Webber’s studio to assist.

“We’d sit in front of his computer from 7:30 in the morning until 3 or 4 in the afternoon. It would take that long just to get a minute or two,” DiPaolo said.

Russ McCabe, a retired Delaware archivist, narrates the video. “How could we not use McCabe? He has impeccable credentials,” DiPaolo said, referring to McCabe’s years of archive experience and extensive Delaware history knowledge.

He said everything seen in the video was shot in Lewes. “Even the sky is Lewes,” he said, adding the video’s ending shot is a time-lapse view of the sky above Cape Henlopen. “There’s another shot of sky where we were on Second Street and just pointed the camera up,” he said.

He said the pilots' association quickly gave the film thumbs up for accurately showing some of what they do. DiPaolo said during filming in October the film crew intentionally went to sea in heavy weather.

“We were going through 8- to 10-foot waves, and there’s nothing on the other side, and the boat just slams down. For pilots it’s just a typical winter day,” he said.

The video contains archival footage of pilots spanning every decade from the 1920s to today. “You can see how much things have changed but also how they’ve stayed the same. They’re still climbing up rope ladders, that’s part of the job,” DiPaolo said.

He said recently everyplace he’s gone, someone tells him how much they like the video. “It’s great that people enjoy it and have been showing it to their friends," said DiPaolo.

“What everybody’s asking is if they can buy a copy of it. We hadn’t anticipated that. We’ll probably make it available on a DVD,” he said.

The video cost about $14,000 to produce and received funding from numerous sources including Crystal Trust, Delaware Humanities Forum, Delaware Heritage Commission and Sussex County Council.

The video will be set up to run continuously at the Burton and Cannonball houses.

“It’s great to see it online or on an iPad or laptop, but to see it in high definition is spectacular; it's jaw-dropping,” DiPaolo said.

“The more people who see it the better. They see it and learn about Lewes, that’s great. If they visit the website, that’s great. If they want to come here, that’s even better,” DiPaolo said.

Watch the video below. For additional information about the Lewes Historical Society, call 302-645-7670 and visit

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