The Zwaanendael Museum in Lewes, was built in 1931 to commemorate the 300th anniversary of the first European settlement in Delaware. Delaware’s roots lie in its Dutch connection. The state’s first European colony, “Swaanendael” began in the spring of 1631 as a fort established along present-day Lewes-Rehoboth canal by the Dutch West India Company. Twenty-eight men were sent to organize a whaling station, grow tobacco and engage in fur trade with the Native Americans. Although the colony lasted less than three years, the Dutch resettled it in 1658. The British took possession of the area in 1664 and it remained under British colonial rule until Independence. Located a mile from the Museum, the fort site is marked with a granite monument.
Administered by Delaware State Museums, Zwaanendael Museum is a careful adaption of the town hall in Hoorn, Holland. A special feature at the museum is the exciting account of HM Brig DeBraak, a Dutch built vessel under British command that sank off the coast of Lewes in a violent storm in 1798. The vessel and its contents lay at the ocean’s floor for nearly two hundred years, until located in 1984. Some 20,000 recovered artifacts in multiple states of preservation are studied and carefully conserved. Together with documentation of the time, they are used in small exhibit areas to tell the rich and unparalleled story of English navy life aboard a small 18th century working class vessel.
The Zwaanendael Museum, located at 102 Kings Highway, is open six days a week. The hours are Tuesday through Saturday 10-4:30; Sunday 1:30-4:30. It is closed on Mondays and State Holidays. A museum store is available for the convenience of visitors. No admission is charged, but donations are accepted for the use of conservation projects and educational programs.
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.
The Zwaanendael Museum features exhibits and programs that illustrate and interpret aspects about Sussex County’s rich history. Information about the Dutch settlement of Lewes in 1631, the 1765 construction of the Cape Henlopen Lighthouse, the charming coastline, information learned from the study of objects recovered from the HM Brig DeBraak, which sank off the coast of Lewes in 1798, the bombardment of Lewes during the War of 1812, and changing thematic displays are among the topics emphasized.
HM Brig DeBraak: The Real Discovery(adults & students grades 4-12 recommended; 30-60 minutes): Learning activities connecting the ship’s history and its recovered artifacts to Delaware history.
Great Guns At Night: April 6-7, 1813 Bombardment of Lewes (adults & students grades K-4 recommended; 30 minutes): Program that chronicles events leading to the bombardment of Lewes during the War of 1812 and Delaware’s involvement.
Three Centuries By The Sea: Maritime Connections To Lewes(adults & students; 15 minutes): Showcases historical information about the settlement of Lewes in 1631.
Reflections Of Cape Henlopen: The Sea Conquers The Light (adults & studens; 15 minutes): Synthesizes data about the Cape Henlopen Lighthouse and Delaware’s changing coastline.
Celebrating A Dutch Christmas (recommended for students K-4; 45 minutes): Highlights Dutch traditions for the holidays.
Sir William’s Hunt For Holly -(students grades K-3 recommended; 30 minutes): A role-play activity emphasizing the significance of Delaware’s holly industry and information about the environment.
School group tours complement Delaware’s Social Studies Content Standards. For more information on these and other educational tours available, contact the Curator of Education or the Site Supervisor or call (302) 645-1148.
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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:
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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Click here for Frequently Asked Questions
Administered by Delaware State Museums, Zwaanendael Museum is a careful adaptation of the town hall in Hoorn, Holland. Exhibits inside illustrate the rich history of Sussex County and highlight its maritime connections. Included are permanent and changing exhibits that tell stories about people who lived and worked along Delaware’s southeastern coast.
Included are: Swaanendael settlement, the Cape Henlopen Lighthouse, The Bombardment of Lewes by the British in the War of 1812, Pilots of the Bay and River Delaware and the ever-changing Delaware coastline.
Please contact Zwaanendael Museum for more information at (302) 645-1148
The History Store
The History Storeat the Zwaanendael Museum is full of maritime treasures such as whale paperweights and jewelry; publications about ships and sailors and the HMB DeBraak; Dutch flags and Dutch shoes; and a host of Delaware and Sussex County souvenirs.
Did you know that Zwaanendael means “Valley of the Swans”?
The Delaware State Museums History Store’s mission is the enhancement of the educational mission of Delaware State Museums by providing items to the visiting public that relate to Delaware History and the collections, exhibits and programs of Delaware State Museums. The proceeds from the sales are dedicated to the funding of exhibits, programs and publications by Delaware State Museums.
For more information, contact the History Store at Zwaanendael Museum at (302) 645-1148 or you may email the Museum Business Services Assistant.
Purchases made in any Delaware State Museum History Store help fund our educational programs and exhibits. We accept Mastercard, Visa, Discover, and personal checks for your convenience.
Thank you for your patronage!
DIRECTIONS: Zwaanendael Museum is located at the intersection of Kings Highway and Savannah Road in Lewes. Visitors may reach the museum by following signs to Lewes from Route 1 via Route 9.
HOURS (Subject to Change) Tuesday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-4:30 p.m.; Sundays 1:30-4:30 p.m. Closed Mondays and state holidays.
FEE Admission is free. Donations are accepted.
SERVICES Museum gift shop. First floor is handicapped accessible.
TOURS Group tours require reservations. Special tours are also available.
For more information call 302-645-1148.