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What to know about the Lewes Historical District

For Quaint Attractions and Walkability, Consider the Lewes Historic District

Delaware is full of neighborhoods offering lovely suburban homes alongside community pools, club houses, tennis and pickleball courts and, in some cases, hiking and biking trails. Yet if you enjoy strolling through downtown Lewes, you might be enamored by historic properties on tree-lined streets within walking distance of wonderful restaurants, cultural sites like the Lewes Historical Society campus, Canalfront Park and the Historic Lewes Farmers Market.

Youre not alone! Downtown Lewes, including its designated Historic District, continues to be one of the most desirable places to live. Thats why Bill and I were thrilled to have the opportunity to purchase our historic home on Second Street, which we renovated to accommodate our Active Adults Realty office along with our wonderful living space above.

Thanks to the very high demand for a limited supply of properties, downtown Lewes homes are also a smart investment as long as youre willing to abide by stringent standards for preservation and restoration. Fortunately, Active Adults Realtors are well-prepared to walk you through some of these particulars:

Point One: All of that historic charm isnt happenstance.

When we purchased our circa 1925 craftsman-style home we knew that our renovation would require us to preserve its historic features even though we were adding a commercial aspect to its use. We worked with a preservation-minded architect who took our design ideas and put them on paper. Like everyone who renovates in Lewes Historic District, we had to get our plans approved by the Historic Preservation Architectural Review Commission (HPARC).

HPARC is staffed by volunteers with extensive knowledge about historic architecture and design. They meet about once a month as a group to review building and site plans submitted by property owners and/or their architects. The properties that come under their review are those within the Lewes Historic District, most if which extends from the intersection of Pilottown Road and Marina Drive to the intersection of Gills Neck and Rodaline Avenue, and several blocks east and west of Savannah Road up to School Lane. For a detailed view, check out page 12 of this presentation.

As youll see when reviewing this document, the regulations are very detailed. But thats the very reason why Second Street downtown is lined with quaint shops and restaurants instead of chain stores and fast food, and why you can marvel at so many beautiful homes dating back to before 1800 that have been updated for todays lifestyles yet preserved to protect their Colonial, Victorian and Craftsman heritage.

Simply put, youre going to have to take a lot of extra steps if you want to make changes to these buildings, but rest assured your investment is sound.

Point Two: Did we mention the extra steps?

As REALTORS, we know many buyers crave two-car garages and the kind of light you get from two-story great rooms and sliding glass doors. Yet happiness in the Historic District depends on different tastes and a willingness to obtain HPARCs review of:

  • The footprint youll create by renovating, with additions required to align with your homes existing style and scale.

  • The exterior materials, which are typically limited to brick, stucco, cedar shake or cement fiberboard (which is allowed because so many older homes in town were built with it).

  • The windows, which should be restored if they are original, or replaced with models that use the same sash, sill and pane configuration.

  • Roofs and porches, which must be built or renovated to reflect the prevalent historic styles of the district. Roof-wise, were talking about gable, gambrel, mansard barn roofs and dormers that can only be added if they are aligned in scale. Porches must also reflect historic scale with ornamentation thats likewise approved by HPARC, and without the use of vinyl, aluminum or other metals. 

Point Three: Consider your cars and your guests!

Much of downtown Lewes historic charm comes from its heritage as a town built before the invention of the automobile. Thats why most of its historic homes are built right up to the edge of the sidewalk with porches or stoops in front and gardens and garages behind. 

That means youll have to look elsewhere if you want three-car parking facing the street. It also means you might face challenges if youre a multi-car household with a lot of friends wholl be driving here to visit you. Parking on the street for your guests during the summer in the blocks that abut downtown can be a challenge with so many people visiting to enjoy the shopping and restaurants. And the town is still struggling to figure out how to provide additional public parking to deal with these summertime crowds.

Despite all of this, most those of us who live and work downtown absolutely love the historic buildings, public parks and year-round cultural attractions. While finding a home here wont be easy given the very high demand for the limited number of properties, its a worthwhile challenge for Active Adults in search of a beautiful, neighborly community thats an easy bike-ride to Cape Henlopen State Park and Lewes long, beautiful beach.