Valley of the Swans: Explore Lewes History at the Zwaanandael Museum 

The iconic Zwaanandael Museum on King’s Highway in the Lewes Historic District is striking. While it is a popular destination for tourists and visitors, many local residents may be surprised to learn of the diverse exhibits and interactive events offered by the museum. 

In celebration of the 300th anniversary of Lewes’s settlement by the Dutch in 1631, the museum was established in 1931, although completion of the building was in 1932. It was designed by Wilmington architect E. William Martin and is an ode to City Hall of the Dutch city of Hoom.  

Lewes was the first permanent European settlement in America, hence the city’s motto, “First Town in the First State.” (Delaware was the first colony to ratify the United States Constitution.) Of course, Native Americans were here long before the colony was established, but European colonization marked land ownership for the first time.  

The museum building incorporates distinctly Dutch elements such as terra cotta roof tiles, a façade with intricate wood carvings, painted shutters and a gabled entry. A statue of David DeVries, the ship captain who brought colonists from the Netherlands sits symbolically on its rooftop. There are strikingly vibrant colors on the exterior. 

Inside the Zwaanandael Museum, there is plenty of activity, from historical exhibits to craft classes such as making origami tulips or a DIY Delft tile. 

The museum educates about Lewes’s maritime, military, shipwreck and lighthouse history. Visits are self-guided, but staff are available for any inquiries. Programs also include its popular “Mysteries of History” walking tour.  

Examples of other diverse programs have included: 

  • Lewes’s segregated beaches and other Black history subjects 
  • Women on Ships 
  • Nanticoke Indians 
  • Horseshoe crabs 
  • Dutch poetry 
  • Identifying beach treasures 
  • Local railroad history 
  • Dickinson Plantation 

Currently, on the museum’s Facebook page, they are featuring posts about Lewes’s numerous shipwrecks. The Museum’s popular mascot, “Merman” is humorously photo-shopped into all sorts photos posted on Facebook. (Merman, a clever skeleton made from marine life is on display in the museum.) 

Zwaanandael Museum certainly celebrates Lewes’s Dutch heritage, but there is so much more that it offers. Admission is free, with donations accepted. The museum is located at 102 King’s Highway in Lewes. Hours are Wednesday through Sunday, 10 am – 4:15 pm. For more information, visit Zwaanandael Museum or (302) 645-1148 for class and tour registration information. 

By Bridget FitzPatrick 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Sign up for our FREE Updates

Keep in the loop with life in Sussex County DE!  We'll share fun, local events on a Thursday, and great articles on local life each Monday. 

Skip to content