Digest>Archives> November 2002

Lewes Historical Society: Preserving Our Lighthouse Heritage for Future Generations

By Bob Trapani, Jr.


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The fourth order Fresnel lens from Fourteen Foot ...
Photo by: Bob Trapani, Jr.

Lighthouse preservation requires a broad team effort that covers a diversified field ranging from the lighthouse structure itself to the educational and cultural heritage associated with artifacts and real-life stories experienced by lightkeepers and their families. National and State museums and archives are wonderfully supported by progressive lighthouse organizations throughout the country, as well as regional and local historical societies when it comes to responsibly caring for America’s priceless lighthouse and maritime heritage.

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E. Michael DiPaolo stands next to the 1884 fog ...
Photo by: Bob Trapani, Jr.

One such organization doing its part to save and preserve the artifacts and human-interest aspects of our lighthouses is the Lewes Historical Society, located in the legendary maritime town of Lewes, Delaware. For the past 40 years, the Lewes Historical Society has developed a highly respected reputation in the State of Delaware and throughout the mid-Atlantic region as the trusted caretakers and educators for a wealth of history - including lighthouse history related to Delaware River and Bay.

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E. Michael DiPaolo displays a uniform once worn ...
Photo by: Bob Trapani, Jr.

The collections maintained by the Lewes Historical Society are sure to appeal and satisfy the most ardent of lighthouse researchers, yet are catalogued and accessible to assist even the casual enthusiast who might be seeking information on a specific lighthouse. The Society’s vast collection of artifacts, books and photographs include many hundreds of past and present images of lighthouses along the waters of New Jersey and Delaware, Light Lists for the Delaware River and Bay dating back to the 1880s, personal collections from retired Pilots of the Delaware Bay and River, artifacts from the fabled Cape Henlopen Lighthouse and a splendid collection of research books and accounts related to one of America’s most historic waterways.

E. Michael DiPaolo, Executive Director for the Lewes Historical Society, is quite proud of his organization’s historic lighthouse collection and the educational impact derived from it by researchers and enthusiasts, stating, “Lighthouse researchers will find wonderful black and white and color photographs of regional lights, home movies that capture the lights on film, a library that provides unparalleled access to lighthouse history of the Delaware River and Bay, as well as an archives that provide a human touch to the sometimes too-technical results that can be found at national repositories.”

The lighthouse artifact of greatest pride to the Lewes Historical Society is the gorgeous fourth order Fresnel lens from Fourteen Foot Bank Lighthouse, Delaware Bay. Serving as the crown jewel for the Society’s maritime exhibits, the sparkling lens never fails to inspire the many visitors strolling through the Cannonball Museum where the lens is housed. Mr. DiPaolo talks of the artifact’s impact and future plans, stating, “The lens is the centerpiece of one of our galleries - literally and figuratively. We are working on plans to gradually integrate interactive experiences for visitors to learn more about not only how lighthouses work, but to gain a better appreciation for the lights of Delaware Bay and the men who served at them.”

In addition to the Fresnel lens from Fourteen Foot Bank Lighthouse, the Lewes Historical Society exhibits a variety of different lighthouse artifacts that range from the 1884 Perkins Island Light Station (Maine) fog bell to a United States Lighthouse Service uniform once belonging to a long-time keeper of the Delaware River and Bay lights by the name of Aaron Kimmey. The Lewes Historical Society also served as the caretakers for Lightship LV 118 for nearly thirty years before turning the vessel over to the Overfalls Maritime Museum Foundation in late 2001.

Today, the Society is not only active in the preservation of lighthouse artifacts and information, but the organization also plays an important role in providing assistance to the endeavors of the Lewes Greenways Trails Committee at the site of the former Delaware Breakwater Range Rear Light site (known locally as the Greenhills Light site), as well as educational aspects related to the efforts of the Overfalls Maritime Museum Foundation and the Delaware River and Bay Lighthouse Foundation. To learn more about the Lewes Historical Society or their lighthouse collections, be sure to visit them on line at www.historiclewes.org

This story appeared in the November 2002 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.

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