Lewes Historical Society debuts new exhibit

Visitors taken through the history of Lewes
Sen. Tom Carper tours a new Lewes Historical Society exhibit about the history of Lewes with society executive director Mike DiPaolo. BY NICK ROTH
August 13, 2014

From the discovery of Lewes in 1631 to Dutch-made ice cream of the early 20th century, a new exhibit at the Lewes Historical Society's Hiram Rodney Burton House covers the history of the First City of the First State.

“This is for the visitors who really expressed a desire to have a good overview experience,” said executive director Mike DiPaolo. “We listen to the questions we frequently get, and we keep track of all these things. So we see what's popular and we try to respond to it as best we can.”

The exhibit takes guests chronologically through Lewes' history, beginning with the settlement of the town by the Dutch in the early 17th century. Along the way, visitors learn about Lewes during the Revolutionary War era, Civil War era and the parts in between. When the tour reaches the 20th century, folks can check out a hand-drawn map of downtown Lewes, showing three crossings over what is now the Lewes-Rehoboth Canal, few homes on Lewes beach and even remnants of slave quarters on Pilottown Road.

Since the exhibit's opening Aug. 4, DiPaolo said, he's heard a common thread among visitors. Many people are curious about the origin of Lewes, he said. They are also interested to learn that Blue Hens come from a Revolutionary War regiment with a reputation for having feisty and successful gamecocks, he said, a well as the state's late adoption of the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery in 1901.

“They are really stories that resonate with people,” DiPaolo said. “My philosophy is, if they get out of this exhibit the reason why Lewes is the First City in the First State, then we've done our job. That's probably the most important fact that we want to get across. If they get anything else, then that's icing on the cake.”

Accompanying the exhibit is a short nine-minute Emmy-nominated movie about Lewes. With the city's strong connection to waterways, the common theme is Delaware pilots. Narrator Russ McCabe, retired state archivist, takes viewers through a brief history of Lewes, following the pilots from beginning to end.

“The video was designed to be a complementary piece to this exhibit,” DiPaolo said. “We wanted to try to tell the story of what was happening with the pilots during each of the periods. That's why it opens with the pilots and closes with the pilots.”

DiPaolo is hoping the exhibit will be a popular attraction for the 96,000 people who visit the historical society each year. The society's main complex is located at 110 Shipcarpenter St. The society has several other museums throughout Lewes, including the Lewes Life-Saving Station on the canal and the Cannonball House at the corner of Bank and Front streets.

As part of Society for Museum Advocacy Week Aug. 9-16, the historical society will offer free admission at all museums Thursday, Aug. 14. For more information about the society, go to

Salaverria joins LHS staff

Along with a new exhibit, the Lewes Historical Society also boasts a new director of education. Marcos Salaverria joined the society's staff Aug. 4, after working for several years at the Historic Annapolis Foundation in his hometown of Annapolis, Md.

He said he is eager to pass Lewes' rich history on to those who visit the historical society's museums.

“There's energy; there's a vibrancy here,” he said. “I'm so happy now to be a part of it.”

What makes Lewes special, he said, is the pride and passion its citizens have for the city's history. He hopes to use that pride to his advantage.

“We hope to keep that pride, but tell the story in a new way so interest to the public never fades,” he said. “That's the challenge of a lot of museums.”

Salaverria said he wasn't too familiar with Lewes before applying for the job, but his wife was a frequent summer visitor as a child. Through his wife's description of Lewes, he realized he had visited the Cannonball House in his youth as well.

“There's a picture of me as a 10-year-old kid touching the cannonball,” he said. “And God bless my mom because written on the back is my question for the tour guide: 'Where is the other half of the cannonball?'”

His passion for history has been part of his life since childhood. He vividly remembers an encounter between his grandfather and a George Washington reenactor while visiting Mount Vernon as an 8-year-old boy. His grandfather, a Pearl Harbor survivor, referred to Washington as The General because of his military background. The reenactor in turn called Salaverria's grandfather a hero for his service.

“History can change lives,” Salaverria said. “It changed mine. That's why I'm in education. The duty and job of anyone who loves history is to bring it alive for anyone who is interested in it.”


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