Historical Tidbits

  • The site of the Canalfront Park has been at the heart of Lewes, Delaware since the year 1631.This is where the earliest Dutch settlers created their homes and built and launched their ships.
  • By 1677, an active shipbuilding industry dominated the site.
  • During the War of 1812, a cannon battle was waged across the canal with British invaders.
  • River pilots began to build large, tall homes along the canal in the 19th century. From the roofs, they could see ships that came to anchor in Delaware Bay.
  • Congress approved funding for the construction of a canal six feet deep and 50 feet wide to run from the mouth of the Lewes Creek to the Broadkill River and join with a second route from Rehoboth Beach.
  • In 1956, the Lewes menhaden catch was still the highest in the nation. However, DDT contaminants from upriver and over-harvesting led to a decline in the local fish population that would last for 20 years. Fishermen from Lewes began to go offshore.
  • In 1974, Dick Thompson purchased a row of wooden houses along the Lewes-Rehoboth Canal and created the Lewes Boatyard and Marina for pilot boats that ferried the Delaware Bay pilots to large ships offshore.
  • Dale Parsons bought the business in the mid-1980s. He operated the boatyard and tackle shop until 1993.
  • In 1999, developers proposed a large retail and residential complex at the site. Alarmed citizens and the Greater Lewes Foundation took action and planted the seeds for what would become the Canalfront Park. 
  • The original 1723 boundary stone marking the (then) city limits to Lewes sat for over 220 years at the corner of Shipcarpenter and Pilottown – across from the tennis courts A truck ran over it – a large piece of that stone now sits in the front yard of Pete & Betsy Hansot,  242 Second St, With a marker.
    • Also, at this house a small schooner was built in the backyard and rolled by logs down to the launch area.  Where the Overfalls sits is where the boats were put in.
  • Constructing small wooden vessels was a significant industry for Lewes (until all the trees were felled), making it the most active shipbuilding site on the eastern shore for a number of years.  The industry later moved north to Maine.
  • One of the shipbuilders was, it is believed, the first African-American shipbuilder in the US, named Cato.
  • Through the 1930s, rough shacks were erected where the Park is now, to house fishermen who came to Lewes for the season – there are old photos of these.  Men came primarily from Philadelphia and Baltimore.
  • Its believed ,During the bombardment, a rough “fort” with cannons was also built along what is now the top of the bank by the Net House.  Cannon balls were found for years in front yards along Pilottown Rd.  and used by residents as doorstops and weights to close gates.