The History of the Zwaanendael Museum


The Zwaanendael Museum was built as a museum by the State of Delaware in 1931 to commemorate the 300th anniversary of the 1631 Swaanendael settlement. The design is a careful adaptation of the old statdhuis (City Hall) in Hoorn, the Netherlands. Architecture of the building is typical of the Dutch style step-gable buildings that can be seen in cities and towns in the Netherlands and the roof is constructed of terra-cotta (baked clay) tiles. The very top of the front of the building features a sandstone statue of David Petersen DeVries. The face of the building is decorated with intricate sandstone carvings, such as the Coat of Arms of Hoorn, the Netherlands.


Zwaandael Museum contains exhibits that tell of Southeastern Sussex County’s exciting maritime history. Visit and learn stories about the ill-fated Swaanendael Settlement; the H.M. Brig DeBraak; 1767 Cape Henlopen Lighthouse; Bombardment of Lewes during the War of 1812; and Pilots of Bay and River Delaware.


Admission is free. A division of Delaware State Museums’ History Store features items for sale that relate to Delaware’s heritage


Zwaanendael Museum


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Learn more about the Delaware Bay, Cape Henlopen, the Cape Henlopen Lighthouse, Mermen, and the Bombardment of Lewes – the War of 1812

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The history of Zwaanendael Museum

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A timeline history of Delaware’s first settlement and other significant dates

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A Historical Timeline of the H.M.B. DeBraak

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New Castle Court House Museum

Located in the historic district of New Castle is the New Castle Court House Museum. Administered by Delaware State Museums, it is one of the oldest surviving courthouses in the United States and a registered National Historic Landmark Site. The original 1732 court was built over the remains of Delaware’s first courthouse of 1689, with additions and modifications throughout the 18th and 19th centuries. All jurisdictions of Delaware’s courts have met in the building including the Federal courts. The courts removed to the City of Wilmington in 1881 with the changing of the county seat.


The New Castle Court House was also Delaware’s first statehouse and meeting place of Delaware’s colonial and first State Assembly. In the Assembly Room, the legislature who met on June 15, 1776 passed a resolution to separate from Great Britain and Pennsylvania, creating the Delaware State. Two months later, September 20, 1776, the first Constitution for the Delaware State was adopted. In 1777, the capital moved to Dover.

The Court House cupola was designed in 1732 as the center of a 12-mile radial circular boundary, which created Delaware’s unique curved northern border.


Significant events took place at the New Castle Court House involving slavery and the Underground Railroad. Delaware’s most prominent abolitionist and station master on Delaware’s Underground Railroad, Thomas Garrett, assisted in aiding a runaway slave family to escape from New Castle to Pennsylvania. He and fellow abolitionist, John Hunn, stood trial before the Federal court seated at New Castle on charges violating the Fugitive Slave Act of 1793. The trial was presided by United States Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger B. Taney. Garrett and Hunn were found guilty and fined thousands of dollars, losing both homes, businesses and personal property. But here in the Court Room, Garrett would defiantly proclaim that he would continue with his efforts in helping those oppressed by slavery regardless of the cost.


Visitors to the New Castle Court House Museum learn about Delaware’s colonial history, early system of law and government and how its legislative and judicial decisions affected the lives of its citizens. Featured at the museum are exhibits on Delaware’s colonial court and assembly, Delaware’s Underground Railroad and Abolitionists, and The Right to Trial by Jury, featuring important Delaware jury trials and verdicts and their impact on Delaware law and African American civil rights.



Welcome to the Zwaanendael Museum

Welcome to the Zwaanendael Museum, a showcase for Lewes-area maritime, military, and social history. Modeled after the town hall in Hoorn, the Netherlands, the museum commemorates the founding of Delaware’s first European settlement by the Dutch in 1631.

Visitor Information

About the Zwaanendael Museum

Virtual Tour of the Latest Exhibit

Museum Activities



Welcome to the Museum of Small Town Life

Image of an 1897 Pearl printing press


Welcome to the Museum of Small Town Life where visitors can travel back in time to late 19th Century Delaware. Stroll through this museum and visit exhibits depicting a variety of ‘main street’ businesses and services including a general store, print shop, pharmacy, post office, and woodworking shop.

Exhibits at the Museum of Small Town Life emphasize society, commercial industry, trade, cost of living, occupations, and consumer goods utilized by the ordinary citizens of late 19th century Delaware small towns.


Visitor Information


See the Museum of Small Town Life


Museum Activities


About the Building


Welcome to the State House Museum

Image of the State House exterior at night, with lights




The Delaware State House was the first permanent capitol building in Dover, Delaware. Begun in 1787 and completed by May 1792, this Georgian-style structure was originally home to both state and Kent County governments. Located on the historic Green in Dover, the State House has served as a focal point in the state’s civic life for over two centuries and continues to hold a special place in the eyes of Delawareans and visitors alike.

Over the course of 140 years of continuous governmental use, the State House had undergone a number of structural and stylistic changes that had radically altered its original 18th century appearance. These changes included the addition, over time, of a number of wings to accommodate increasing governmental needs, and the Victorian-style remodeling of the building’s exterior in 1873. In 1933, the General Assembly re-located from the State House to its new, more spacious, home in Legislative Hall, and in 1976, the State House was restored to its original 18th century appearance as part of Delaware’s bicentennial celebration commemorating the signing of the Declaration of Independence.


The first floor of the State House features an 18th century-style courtroom while the second floor features the former chambers of the state legislature. The House chamber contains notable portraits by Thomas Sully of Commodores Jacob Jones and Thomas Macdonough, heroes from the First State who served in the War of 1812. The Senate chamber houses an imposing portrait of George Washington painted by Denis A. Volozan.


Notable architectural details include the gilt sunflower ceiling sham, and the grand, dual stairways, known as a geometrical staircase, that served as the portal of entry to the state’s legislative chambers. This geometrical staircase, designed by John Howe in 1791, was reproduced by restoration architects based on information derived from original documents and physical evidence found in the building.


Although Delaware’s General Assembly now meets in Legislative Hall, the State House remains the state’s symbolic capitol-unique in design and rich in history!


Would you like to know what the State House looks like inside?


Welcome to the New Castle Court House Museum

Image of the courtroom at the New Castle Court House


Welcome to the New Castle Court House, the oldest surviving government building in Delaware. Visit this historic structure, located in the heart of old New Castle, and learn how New Castle, Kent, and Sussex Counties declared their independence from Pennsylvania and England, creating the Delaware State.

Visitor Information


See the New Castle Court House


Museum Activities


Landmark Events in New Castle History


Welcome to the Johnson Victrola Museum

Second floor of the Johnson Victrola Museum


The Johnson Victrola Museum is a tribute to Delaware’s native son, Eldridge Reeves Johnson, who founded the Victor Talking Machine Company in 1901. Exhibits include phonographs, recordings, memorabilia, trademarks, objects, and paintings that highlight Mr. Johnson’s successful business enterprises and chronicle the development of the sound-recording industry.

Visitor Information


See the Johnson Victrola Museum


Museum Activities


About E.R. Johnson


Welcome to the John Dickinson Plantation

John Dickinson Mansion


Welcome to the home of John Dickinson, one of the founding fathers of the United States, signer of the Constitution, and “Penman of the Revolution.” We invite you to visit this historic plantation and take a trip into the fascinating world of 18th Century America!

Visitor Information


See the Plantation


Plantation Activities


About John Dickinson


Museums Owned and Operated by Historical & Cultural Affairs

New Castle Court House Museum

Built in 1732, this building served as Delaware’s first court and state capitol. Here in 1776, New Castle, Kent, and Sussex counties declared their independence from Pennsylvania and England creating the Delaware State.



John Dickinson Plantation

Home of John Dickinson, one of the founding fathers of the United States and “Penman of the Revolution.”



Delaware Visitor Center & Galleries

Featuring changing exhibits on various aspects of Delaware history and culture, the visitor center also serves as a source of information on local and statewide attractions, events, and activities.



The Old State House

Now open after three years of restoration

Built in 1791, the Old State House served as Delaware’s capitol during the United States’ critical early years as a nation. With additions and modifications, the building continued to serve as the state capitol until 1933.



Johnson Victrola Museum

The museum highlights the life and achievements of Delaware’s native son, Eldridge Reeves Johnson, founder of the Victor Talking Machine Company and a pioneer in the development of the sound-recording industry.



Delaware Archaeology Museum

Encompassing more than 11,000 years of Delaware archaeological history, the museum exhibits artifacts from the last ice age in North America to the 20th century.



Museum of Small Town Life

Housed in the former Presbyterian Church of Dover Sunday School, the museum highlights small-town life in Delaware in the late 19th century.



Zwaanendael Museum

The museum commemorates Delaware’s first European colony, Swanendael, established by the Dutch in 1631. It serves as a showcase for Lewes-area maritime, military, and social history.