Lewes, DE (pronounced loo-iss not lose) is probably best known as the western port for the Lewes-Cape May Ferry, a popular way to short-cut the lengthy trip around Delaware Bay for anyone headed to southern New Jersey. The route to the Ferry is along King Street, which keeps traffic out of the central business district (CBD). That’s good for residents, but a shame for travelers who miss seeing the heart of one of southern Delaware’s most unique coastal towns.
Among Delaware’s beach communities, the City of Lewes provides the best balance between the summer excitement of an ocean resort and the more relaxed year-round pleasures of an upscale small town. Don’t be confused by its designation as a city. With just under 3,000 residents, Lewes very much a village.
Located at Cape Henlopen where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Delaware Bay, this historic community offers access to both bay and ocean bathing, a walkable CBD with fashionable shops and first-rate one-of-a-kind restaurants, plus many of the year-round features that make small-town living desirable.
Among the features that make it so livable:
- Six unique people parks and one for dogs;
- No fewer than eight churches and many more only minutes away;
- A large modern high school opened in 2010 and available for community projects;
- A new library with spaces for lectures, performances and outdoor concerts;
- An active historical society which chronicles the city’s nautical past and helps to maintain its historic treasures;
- The region’s largest and Sussex County’s best-rated hospital;
- A 14-member year-round police department, which grows in the summer to accommodate visitors.
Lewes is also home to The Cape Gazette, an award-winning independent semi-weekly newspaper that keeps residents aware of municipal news and events throughout the year.
Lewes’s CBD and residential areas are conveniently close but shielded from the Coastal Highway (Route 1) and its uninterrupted miles of national retail and restaurant chains, banks, grocery stores, discounters including Wal-Mart and K-Mart, more than 150 factory outlets and a 12-screen multiplex theater. The Coastal Highway also makes travel north to Dover direct, fast and easy; travel south to Ocean City, MD passes Rehoboth, Dewey, and Bethany beaches but in summer can become congested.
Lewes is also home to Beebe Medical Center, a 55-bed acute care hospital with the highest rating in Sussex County. The presence of Beebe has also attracted a large number of private practice physicians to Lewes in a wide variety of specialties. Mental health professionals, dentists and other health-related services are also available.
As with the other resort beaches the cost of living in Lewes is higher than average, but most of that bump is from housing which is indexed at 196 where 100 equals the national average. Day to day expenses such as groceries, healthcare, utilities and transportation are only nominally higher, ranging from 101 to 118. The median price of a home in Lewes is $332,200.
As with all Delaware communities, the tax structure is among the best in the country with special consideration for seniors. Lewes has the third lowest real estate tax in the country and one of the lowest taxes on earned income. State income tax ranges from 2.2 percent to 6.67 percent for those making over $60,000.
Social Security benefits are not taxed in Delaware. Pension benefits for people over 60 receive a $12,500 exclusion. Early retirees under the age of 60 receive an exclusion of $2,500. Residents over 60 get a tax credit of $110. In Lewes residents older than 65 have half their school property taxes subsidized up to $500 after living there for three years.
Anyone considering Lewes for their new home should also know that while it’s within 30 mintes of pretty much any of Sussex County’s coastal attractions, it sits squarely between two that many people consider attractive enough to be destinations in their own right.
Cape Henlopen State Park is the state’s largest, occupying 5,193 acres. It has a 24-hour, year-round fishing pier; the remainder of the park is open from sunrise to sunset, and includes an area for surf-fishing, a disc golf course, bicycle and walking paths. The beach at Herring Point is a popular surfing spot.The park's Seaside Nature Center features marine aquariums and natural history exhibits about the park. Environmental education programs are offered year-round. It is the eastern terminus of the American Discovery Trail, which is the only transcontinental trail in the United States.
Just north of Lewes is Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge, a sanctuary expressly for migratory birds. It was established in 1963 on 10,000 acres along the western shore of Delaware Bay. The refuge contains a variety of habitats, including freshwater and salt marshes, woodlands, grasslands, ponds, and forested areas, supporting 267 species of birds and a variety of reptiles, amphibians and mammals. The refuge is open to the public for wildlife-oriented recreation. Facilities include walking trails, a canoe trail, a bird blind and other wildlife observation areas, as well as a visitors center.