18th-Century West house waiting for next chapter to unfold

When Basil Claire restored the West house, he also added another smaller house, moved - according to Hazel Brittingham - from the St. Paul Street area of Lewes.  That's the left section of the overall structure shown in this current photograph. BY DENNIS FORNEY
September 20, 2013

On Lewes Beach, the Washington-area Lewis family's development of several lots in a parcel fronting Anglers Road is among several projects coming back to life after hibernating a few years during the recession.

The project stands out because of its unique location on Lewes Beach, but also because of the historic 18th-century West house contrasting starkly with the land preparation going on around it.

Back in 1983, the house constructed by William West in 1800 was included in the annual Lewes Historical Society House Tour during the Christmas season. That was when it sat at the corner of Market Street and Anglers Road and was in the full bloom of restoration work completed under the direction of its owner at the time, Basil Claire.

“Bas was the lawyer for a good friend of mine,” said Dale Parsons, whose Fisherman's Wharf property lies across the street from where the Claire house used to stand. “He was the district attorney for the city of Chester, Pa., for many years. He used the restored house as his summer place and enjoyed doing restoration work. He died many years ago. I don't think he'd be very happy with the way the place looks now.”

Realtor Dick Bryan said the Lewis family was planning to use the house as a gateway statement for the community it was developing behind where it sits now. “But things got held up in the project and the house was just kind of left to sit there.” He said he doesn't know current plans for the structure.

Lewes Mayor Jim Ford said he recalls that the house was moved down Anglers Road a few years ago from its previous location at the corner of Anglers and Market so the property on which it sat could be subdivided for the heirs of Basil Claire's estate.

Since the house was moved, it appears that nothing more has been done, other than the ceaseless work wrought by nature. Its paint is peeling, boards are starting to curl, and grasses around it are growing tall and unchecked. That's not to say it can't be brought back to the glory achieved when Claire invested heavily into its preservation. Many of the stately and historic houses in Shipcarpenter Square looked a lot worse than the West house when they were first trucked into Lewes - sometimes in hundreds of pieces - for restoration.

When Claire started on his restoration project, he had to first move the structure from its original location at the corner of what is now Savannah Road and Fourth Street. That corner is now owned by Beebe Medical Center and occupied by a clinical building used for doctors' offices.

According to Lewes historian Hazel Brittingham, when West first built the house, it fronted on what was then known as South Street, now Savannah Road. Years later, she said, the house was rotated 90 degrees to front on Fourth Street. That's how it was oriented when Claire took ownership of the structure and moved it to the Anglers and Market corner.

The Sussex County cypress shingles William West used to clad the house when it was originally built are known to wear thin before they rot. They are still protecting the house until its next chapter unfolds. In the meantime, however, few would argue with Lewes Historical Society Executive Director Mike DiPaolo's assessment: “It just looks sad in its current condition.”

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