- The Ryves Holt House, which is 358 years old, holds the title of the oldest house in Delaware.
- Constructed in 1665, the Ryves Holt House remains the oldest building in Delaware to be still standing on its original foundation.
- The wooden structure was originally built as a two-bedroom tavern and inn.
Delaware is a state full of history. The first state in the nation to ratify the United States Constitution, and the site of the first European settlement, Delaware is home to many buildings older than the nation itself. In the small town of Lewes, stands the oldest house in Delaware, the 358-year-old Ryves Holt House.
The History of Delaware
Delaware was one of the original 13 colonies. In 1609, Henry Hudson discovered the area now known as Cape Henlopen. In 1631, the Dutch founded the area of what is known today as the town of Lewes, Delaware. Originally the Dutch named it Zwaanendael, or” Swan Valley.”
The original Dutch settlers traded beaver furs with Native Americans. However, this peaceful arrangement was short-lived. A disagreement led to the Native Americans invading and destroying the settlement, killing all 32 settlers, only one year later.
Before it became the picturesque seaside town of today, Lewes was the scene of many historic battles. It was even raided by pirates, including the notorious Captain Kidd.
Although settled in 1631, the town of Lewes wasn’t formally established until 1682, when the land was ceded to William Penn. The town was named Lewes after a village in Sussex County, England. This is why Lewes doesn’t always make the “first cities” lists in the state, despite its storied history.
Often called “The First Town in the First State,” in Lewes stands an enduring structure.
History of the Oldest House in Delaware
The Ryves Holt House is located in the charmingly quaint, historical section of Lewes. Maintained by the Lewes Historical Society, a visit there feels like a visit back in time.
Originally built in 1665, the Ryves Holt House is Delaware’s oldest building to stand on its original foundation. The house has endured architectural changes, fires, and pirate invasions. Sections of the house date still back to the original 1665 building.
The property was first used as an inn and run by Quaker, Philip Russell. Interestingly, Russell was reported to be a cupbearer to William Penn. A cupbearer is an honorific title for a high-ranking officer. In 1721, Ryves Holt, the first Chief Justice of Sussex County purchased the house from Penn and lived there until his death.
After Holt’s death, the house changed hands several times but was finally acquired by the Lewes Historical Society.
Construction of the Ryves Holt House
The wooden structure was originally built as a two-bedroom tavern and inn. The initial section is one and a half stories high and only 20 by 16 feet. The house used to have a corner fireplace, but it was removed in 1800. Later alterations included an uneven grouping of windows.
Amazingly, the oldest house in Delaware has stood the test of time, despite being made of the highly perishable material of wood.
The Ryves Holt House Today
In 2014, the Ryves Holt House was added to the First State National Historical Park. Located at 218 Second Street in Lewes, guests can step inside the house and visit the Lewes Historical Society Visitor Center and Museum Gift Shop. Walking tours provide visitors with the rich history of the Ryves Holt House and other historical sites in the area.
Other Landmarks in Lewes
Today, the seaside town has a population of about 3,000. Located where the bay meets the ocean, the town is full of historical attractions.
Lewes encompasses a small area, and within its half-square mile, you can walk through the historic district and visit restaurants, museums, bed and breakfasts, and other landmarks.
Cannonball House Maritime Museum
Then nearby Cannonball House, situated at the corner of Bank and Front Streets, is another historical marvel in the town of Lewes. The house survived being struck by a cannonball during the War of 1812 and has since become a symbol for the city. Built in 1765, the home has also been used as a laundry, restaurant, and the mayor’s office. Today, the house is home to Lewes Historical Society’s Maritime Museum of Maritime Art and Memorabilia are on display in the house.
Located near the Fisher Martin House on Kings Highway, the Zwaanendael Museum commemorates the founding of the first colony by the Dutch. Guests can also view various exhibits showcasing Delaware’s military, maritime, and social history.
Fisher Martin House
The Fisher Martin House was built in the 1730s and subsequently moved to its current location at 120 Kings Highway in 1980. Carefully preserved, the building serves as the main office of the Lewes Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Bureau.
Fort Miles Historic Area
Located inside Cape Henlopen State Park in Lewes, and set among the spectacular dunes, sits the Fort Miles Museum and Historical Area. These days, visitors can take guided tours of Fort Miles and also climb a concrete spotting tower to enjoy the stunning seascape views. Fort Miles was one of the most important defensive fortifications along the East Coast during World War II.
Where is Lewes Located on a Map?
Often called “The First Town in the First State,” Lewes is a small town where the ocean meets the bay in seaside Delaware. Along with neighboring Rehoboth Beach, Lewes, located in Sussex County, is one of the principal cities of Delaware’s rapidly growing Cape Region. It is a quiet, quaint town for visiting to escape the hustling tourist areas down U.S. Route 1.
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