The Fort Was Named "Miles" / The Port of Lewes
The Fort Was Named "Miles"
by Hazel D. Brittingham
On August 8, 1941, the concealed fortification on Cape Henlopen that had been under construction for several months received its name. The Harbor Entrance Control Post for Bay and River Delaware was christened "Fort Miles" in honor of the late Lieutenant General Nelson Appleton Miles (1839-1925) who was commander in chief of the U. S. Army from 1895 until his retirement in 1903. The naming of the military base covering more than one thousand acres of dune-land occurred on the 102nd anniversary of the birthday of its namesake who had spent 42 years of his life in an action-filled and colorful military career.
The people of Lewes and vicinity, in the summer of 1940, knew that something strange was afoot. First, Army engineers were seen stealthily surveying the sandy Cape Henlopen. And soon tents for soldiers began to spring up as buildings for housing the men were hastily constructed. Some called the encampment Camp Henlopen. Official government papers referred to the fort that was a-building beneath the dunes as The Cape Henlopen Reservation.
The road through the new project was closed to civilian use and, worse yet, the big sand hill was placed off-limits as Easter Monday of 1941 approached. Halt was called to an established and popular local custom of rolling eggs down the incline annually on the day following Easter Sunday. In a few monthson December 7 of that yearthose who had been mystified by the transformation taking place gained an appreciation for the secrecy and the urgency that had reigned as the armed protection for the industrial centers of the Northeast was produced.
Word was that the fort was to be named Fort Miles. Newspaper accounts of the day hint that the folks of Lewes were not pleased with the proposal, simply because General Nelson A. Miles was unknown and had no connection to the area. The names of native Delawareans, including Colonel David Hall, Major Henry Fisher, and Colonel Samuel Boyer Davis, were tossed about as preferable nominations. It was reported, however, that the name honoring General Miles had come directly through channels of the federal government, and Fort Miles it was to be.
Research has provided biographical information about the officer who was born on August 8, 1839, near Westminster, Massachusetts. The young man left his employment in a Boston store at the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861, and he organized a company of volunteers for the Union Army. His Civil War service took him through many battles and resulted in four injuries. Exceptional activity on his part at Chancellorsville in 1863 was rewarded with the rank of brigadier general at age 25. By war's end he was in temporary command of a corps of 26,000 men.
Soon after joining the Regular Army, at the close of the Civil War, Miles became a colonel of an infantry regiment. He advanced up the ladder of his chosen career to become the Commanding General of the Army. The years 1869 through 1886 found Miles at the helm of difficult but successful campaigns against various hostile Indians west of the Mississippi. He accepted the surrender of the Apache under Geronimo and figured prominently in the 1891 truce signed at the Pine Ridge Agency in South Dakota. Army scout "Buffalo Bill" Cody had served under General Miles. In post-war years Cody reenacted the Indian surrender to Miles at Pine Ridge in his world-famous Wild West Show.
The Spanish-American War took the general to Cuba and Puerto Rico. Thus, upon retirement which took effect on his birthday in 1903, at age 64, General Miles' service had stretched from the Civil War through the Spanish-American War. He was the sole officer to hold such a record. General Miles wrote three books of recollections and observations, the last published in 1911. His death came at age 86 in the nation's capital where he resided.
Speaking personally, my only acquaintance with the memory of General Miles is an appreciation for his life-size likeness that has been on public display locally in three locations. The portrayal of the general, measuring four feet square, was hanging in the officers club at Fort Miles when the base was deactivated in the early 1960s. The oil painting was presented to Lewes by the 2nd Army, and the ceremony took place in the painting's second homethe council room of the new Town Hall. It remained there until it was moved to the municipal meeting room located above the new Lewes Public Library.
The impressive portrait was painted by Mary P. Marshall (1894-1975) who made Lewes her home after marrying local banker Joseph L. Marshall. An accomplished artist, Mrs. Marshall had previously portrayed in oil several high-ranking World War II military officers. Her research for the portrait of General Miles was assisted by Colonel Riley E. McGarraugh, commanding officer at Fort Miles from 1952 until 1954. When Colonel McGarraugh retired in the latter year, following 37 years of active service, he chose to remain in Lewes where he made significant contributions to the community until his death.
Cape Henlopen State Park today is spread over the sands and along the seashore that a half century ago was Fort Miles. The evolution from wartime fortification to peacetime park is reminiscent of the Biblical prophesy of beating swords into plowshares. Contemporary tents shelter campers, not soldiers; the pier that accommodated the laying of mines on the harbor floor is a joy to fishermen. Of the observation towers dotting the coastline, enduring World War II relics, one has been fashioned as a visitor attraction. The tower, rising 70 feet skyward, allows those who climb the 115 steps of the spiral metal staircase to view the peaceful domain that formerly was Fort Milesand far beyond.
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The Port of Lewes
by Hazel D. Brittingham
Lewes, in coastal Sussex County, Delaware, has always danced to the tune of the sea. The nature and character of the place have been fashioned by its unique geography. Often called Lewistown in olden days, Lewes claims frontage on Delaware Bay, boasts of proximity to the Atlantic oceanfront at Cape Henlopen, and bridges the Lewes and Rehoboth Canal which separating the town proper from the beach.
The history of the community commenced in 1631 with the ill-fated and short-lived commercial settlement of Swanendael by the Dutch. Toward the end of the century, William Penn's government brought relative peace to the Three Lower Counties of Pennsylvania (New Castle, Kent, and Sussex) on the Delaware following years of the area's innocent involvement in the claims of other nations, reflecting those countries' wars. Except for the appearance of pirate ships upon the horizon, and especially when the men of the skull and crossbones came ashore to sack and plunder, the peaceful sea was the friend of the coastal dwellers.
By the time 1700 arrived, Lewes had been known by that name for almost two decades. It was in 1682 that Friend William Penn chose Lewes as the name for the seat of the county that he simultaneously dubbed Sussex. Both place names derived from Penn's native England. The new name of Lewes placed in the past the village's former identities of Deale, Whorekill, and Swanendael.
When the legendary privateer-pirate Captain Kidd made Lewes a port of call in the spring of 1700, he came in peace. The captain desired to trade with the local suppliers and customers the fabricssilk brocade, muslin, calicoand other valuables that were bounty from Spanish ships he had overpowered. Local folk did business with Kidd and wound up in trouble with William Penn's government which prohibited such commerce. Reports that the pirates buried chests of treasure in the dunes have remained only rumors to this day.
Relegating the previous years of history to the books let us dwell here on the 1700s and 1800s when mention of the "Lewes road" did not refer to dirt paths braced for the tread of horses' hoofs. The Lewes road was the waterway between the capes of the DelawareHenlopen and Maywhere ships' anchors served as hitching posts. Even taking into consideration the treacherous shoals encountered by mariners as they entered the mouth of Delaware Bay, the better channel upriver lay closer to the Delaware shore. For that reason, activities in and around Lewes were directly influenced by shipping in the road. Concerns centered on developing a better harbor, providing a more accommodating port, and promoting safety measures to assist ships and crews at peril on the sea. And of course wartime pressed its own priority with a corresponding increase in the tempo of the fiddler from the deep.
There is evidence of a "customs man" serving the port in the days before it was called Lewes. The majority of these office-holders remain nameless but the personage of Henry Brooke illuminates the subject. From a family background in the English aristocracy, the young man accepted the post of collector of customs in 1702 and remained a resident of the port town until his death in 1735. He rose to positions of trust and responsibility, becoming speaker of the assembly of the Three Lower Counties, a member of the Governor's Council, and a judge of the Supreme Court of Sussex County.
A scholar, poet, and translator, Collector Brooke possessed the finest library in the county. He took an interest in a local youth, Joshua Fisher, who had little formal education but displayed a natural ability for mathematics. As Brooke allowed the boy the use of his extensive collection of books, Fisher learned first-hand the skills of seamanship and, later, studied and practiced surveying. This Joshua Fisher became the man who produced the first high-quality survey of Delaware Bay which was published, to much acclaim, in 1756. There were later, expanded, editions of the accurate charting which served as the basic representation of the bay and river for almost a century.
One example of the duty and result of the activities of Henry Brooke, the collector of customs, takes the reader back to 1709 when a French privateer and his 60 men plundered Lewes. Records show that Brooke, upon recognizing the intent of the approaching pirate, departed by sloop, destined for New Castle with a plea for aid. Brooke's news caused a sensation not only in the colonial capital, but in Philadelphia. By the time the collector returned to Lewes with armed vessels, the pirate and his men had left. However, Brooke's demands that the British navy provide better protection for the town were heeded, and a royal frigate was stationed off Lewes.
Another personage to place his lasting mark upon the coastal scene was Ryves Holt who in 1721 received the title of Naval Officer of Port Lewes. It is possible that the position was in succession to Collector Brooke who by this time was immersed in official capacities that frequently called him away from the lowest of the Three Lower Counties. Ryves Holt proved himself either of great ability or of "good connections," or both. He continuously held high offices, many overlapping in term, that included high sheriff, member and speaker of Penn's Assembly, and chief justice of the Supreme Court of the Three Counties.
Holt's home in Lewes was the house that bears his name today, the Ryves Holt House at the corner of Second and Mulberry Streets. Long recognized as the most ancient house in the town, the older part of the structure, has been determined by scientific study to be the oldest house in Delaware, dating to 1665.
A granddaughter of Ryves Holt's, Penelope Holt Jones, resided for a time in the dwelling with her stepson, Jacob Jones. A physician who turned to ships, Jones gave credit to his love of the sea from his childhood years in the seaport. As Commodore Jacob Jones he won acclaim when, during the War of 1812, his ship Wasp captured the British warship Frolic.
The famous British evangelist, George Whitefield, after 11 weeks on a storm-tossed sea, wrote this in his journal on October 30, 1739: "Being near Cape-Lopen, a pilot came on board. In his boat [three of us] went to Lewis Town in order that we might go to Philadelphia by land...." When arriving in the village, the Rev. Whitefield was urged by chief inhabitants to give a sermon before he left, the news of his ability as a preacher having preceded him. George Whitefield ushered the Spirit of Methodism into the New World through the port of Lewes.
Whitefield's mention, of the pilot's assistance is an early record of the need for professional navigational service now performed by members of the Pilots' Association for the Bay and River Delaware. The group's Lewes base is composed of the former U. S. Coast Guard station on Delaware Bay and a tower at the point of Cape Henlopen operated in conjunction with the Philadelphia Maritime Exchange.
The loss of personnel, ships, and cargo in the shoal-laden entry to Delaware Bay had been of concern to Philadelphia merchants and investors for years. If, indeed, a crude wooden structure with a light, situated at the point of Cape Henlopen, had provided any protection for seamen, it was woefully insufficient. The need for a lofty and efficient light was common knowledge. With the initial funds garnered through a lottery, the Cape Henlopen Lighthouse was ready for sentry duty by about 1765. The tallest structure south of Philadelphia, the lighthouse was an impressive eight-sided granite tower with the lighting apparatus placed above its seven stories of stone. Cape Henlopen light was perched on a high sand dune about one quarter of a mile from the Atlantic Ocean amid a pine and cedar forest.
Except for two occasions when the light was extinguished during wartime, the beacon served mariners for nearly 160 years with an ever-increasing intensity of light as advanced technology was utilized. Because of the encroachment of the sea, with increasing peril for the building and any occupants, the tower was last illuminated on September 30, 1924; and then it went out of business. It fell seaward on April 13, 1926. Both in fact and in memory, the Cape Henlopen Lighthouse was a symbol of the area and the era.
Enter the War of the Revolution when Sussex County was home to more Tories (loyalists) than Whigs (patriots, rebels). Formidable citizens standing for independence were brave risk-takers, to say the least. The little creeks and inlets along the bay and river shores made ideal hiding places for the small boats used by local folk to supply provisions to the British afloat offshore. Political diversities of the time fostered contention, and riots were commonplace. There was a constant threat of landowners being kidnapped and held for ransom to secure food and water for the English.
Probably the most noteworthy change in Lewes, after the war, came in 1791 when its position as county seat of Sussex came to an end. Because of the enlarged land area of Sussex with the settlement of the Penn-Calvert boundary case, western Sussex residents exerted sufficient effort to have the county seat established at a new community made expressly for the purpose at a central spotGeorgetown.
Modern-day Lewes still sways in the wake of the loss of the HMS DeBraak in a sudden squall on May 25, 1798. The British brig capsized and sank with a heavy loss of life. A listing of attempts to locate the remains over the years would present a fugue of failures. Until the mid-1980s search resulted in seizure, that is. The salvagers had already produced a quantity of artifacts from the submerged wreck, but very little treasure in the traditional sense of the word, when a portion of the ship's hull was raised on August 11, 1986. That night, the tune of the sea was not only animated and loud, but accompanied by foot-stomping. Despite disappointment in not finding hoped-for gold, silver, and gems, the artifacts brought to the surface by the searchers represent a wealth of untold worth, historically.
The DeBraak exhibit at the Zwaanendael Museum in Lewes, prepared by the State's Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs and its Bureau of Museums and Historical Sites, tells the tale. A visit to the display should top everyone's list of "Must do soon."
The War of 1812 brought personal wartime involvement to the populace of Lewes. The opening salvos of an account of the activity at the local coastal area, by this writer and published earlier, state:
Cannonballs and Congreve rockets shattered the calm of coast and countryside on April 6-7, 1813, during America's "second war for Independence." The War of 1812 washed ashore at little Lewistown on Delaware Bay when for a dramatic 22-hour period there was an exchange of cannonballs.
Among the British warships in the bay were the 74-gun Poictiers and the 36-gun Belvidera. The British needed food and water. Their requests, including the offer to pay for the provisions at Philadelphia prices, were denied by the spunky Americans, and the enemy attacked the town by cannonade. Although there was no loss of life and little property damage, it took great courage for the defenders led by a native, Colonel Samuel Boyer Davis, to retort under such odds. Cannon facing seaward today and the Cannonball House- Marine Museum, in the vicinity of the post office on Front Street, are reminders of the brave stand.
Seasonal hazardssummer storms and winter ice floeshad for years emphasized the dire need for protection for ships in the strategic Lewes harbor. At times in the early 1800s, schooners in numbers ranging from 100 to 200 would be clustered in the bay's entrance, awaiting favorable weather conditions to proceed up the river. Here was evidence that merchants and investors in Philadelphia were anticipating the arrival of goods. Repeated attempts by shipping interests to have the federal government install a breakwater to form a sheltered harbor were finally rewarded in 1828. That was the year that America's sixth president, John Quincy Adams, who favored large federal improvement projects, fostered legislation to fund the Delaware Breakwater. The artificial barrier would be the first of its kind attempted in the Western Hemisphere and second only in dimensions of the stone breakwater in Cherbourgh, France.
On April 18, 1829, Lewes merchant and former governor of Delaware, Daniel Rodney, wrote in his journal: "The first Schooner arrived from N. York and began to throw stone for the Breakwater opposite Lewes...." Although the project would be substantially completed before Rodney's death in 1846, it was not considered finished until 1869. The design of the Delaware Breakwater had left an interval of 1350 feet between the placement of huge granite boulders to form the breakwater and the icebreaker pier. It was soon determined that the structure's efficiency was being undermined by shoaling induced by the open space called the gap.
The gap was closed through work performed from 1882 to 1898, resulting in a continuous run of granite measuring 5336 feet, somewhat over one mile. Before the completion of the gap closure, a second breakwater was commenced, located nearer the shipping channel, 6500 feet north of the first one. Named the National Harbor of Refuge and measuring 7950 feet in length, this prodigious bulwark against the sea, including a series of ice piers, was completed in 1901.
The completion of the second breakwater was responsible for casual identifications of "the inner breakwater" for the original work, "the outer breakwater" for the second construction, and "the Harbor of Refuge" for the 1000-acre haven between the two. Each breakwater has a lighthouse, now automated, on its eastern extremitythe dark-colored cylinder rising from its base on the (inner) Delaware Breakwater and the white tower from the (outer) Harbor of Refuge.
Striving for its share of the transportation pie, the Junction & Breakwater Railroad tracked into Lewes in 1869. The line ran to the bay shore and then continued on a pier where it connected with a regular line of steamships plying between Lewes and New Yorkthe Old Dominion Line. It is said that the local growers of fruit and grain welcomed the accommodation of the steamship transportation for their produce. Old Dominion, however, operated only until 1885, and the Junction and Breakwater railroad line soon lost its identity as it was absorbed by another company through merger.
The Philadelphia Maritime Exchange had been established in 1875 to promote and encourage the commerce of the port of Philadelphia. An essential element of the private, non-profit corporation was the establishment of ship reporting stations on the approaches to Philadelphia. A principal unit was established 88 nautical miles from the large port, at the capes of the Delaware. The uninterrupted service of the Maritime Exchange has continued to date, with an interesting history of the utilization of various buildings and locations in the Lewes area. The locations have ranged from sites on the breakwater; on the sand dune with its neighbor being Cape Henlopen Lighthouse; on the Iron Pier; and for the past several years in the air. The Cape Henlopen station, recently receiving extensive remodeling and acquiring the most modern ship monitoring equipment, sits atop a World War II observation tower on the point of the cape. It is operated in conjunction with the Pilots' Association which was formally organized in 1896.
With the intention of implementing governmental operations and shoring up port facilities in the Lewes area, the government passed an act in 1870 to build the U. S. Pier (Iron Pier) to extend 1700 feet into Delaware Bay near the cape point. The project was started two years later with man and mule power but operations shifted to steam before its completion in 1880. The structure's supports were of iron imported from England and screwed into the bottom of the bay. Transferred to the Marine Hospital Service in 1890, the Iron Pier was eventually sold to private commercial interests.
It was in 1884 that the government had established the Delaware Breakwater Quarantine Hospital (later upgraded in status to Station) on Cape Henlopen. The flow of immigrants arriving by ship and concern for disease being introduced into American cities by steerage passengers were responsible for the initiation of this service.
A memorial plaque near the fishing pier at Cape Henlopen State Park acquaints viewers with the location and function of the former Quarantine Hospital. No vestige remains of what was an extensive spread of buildingsframe and brick connected by wooden walkways.
The government recognized the need for a formal system of vigilance and assistance, and the establishment of the U.S. Life-Saving Service in the early 1870s added to previous measures: the breakwater complex, lighthouses, and lightships to mark especially treacherous shoal formations. The forerunner of the U.S. Coast Guard, the Life-Saving Service saw the implementation of a series of stations along the coastlines of Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia. The rescue station at Cape Henlopen appeared in 1876 and the Lewes edifice, in 1884. These two stations were very active, often assisting each other in their efforts.
In 1898 a second railroad reached Lewesthe Queen Anne extending eastward 60 miles from Queenstown, Maryland. This line brought Baltimore within easy reach of the Delaware shore by way of the Chesapeake Bay ferries. The Lewes terminus was the Queen Anne (or Transportation) Pier jutting into the bay. The pier was used as dockage for ferry boats that once ran between Lewes and Cape May, New Jersey, years in advance of the present ferry system.
Queen Anne Avenue, off of Pilottown Road, is only a reminder of the location of the station and the place where the tracks crossed the canal to carry the locomotive and the cars in its wake directly to the shore of Delaware Bay. Commerce on the Delaware portion of the line was insufficient to maintain it beyond 1924, the year it was sold.
An account of artwork in three stained glass windows will anchor this salty review of two centuries of area history. The windows adorn a small turn-of-the-century Methodist church located on Savannah Road in Lewes and situated between Manila and Dewey Avenues. The street names provide an appropriate dating: It was May 1, 1898, that ships commanded by Admiral George Dewey victoriously engaged the Spanish fleet in the harbor of Manila in the Philippines, during the Spanish-American War.
Artwork in three windows of the Groome United Methodist Church, mingled with traditional religious symbolism displayed in the remaining windows, is considered unique. Each is considered to be one of a kind. One window, donated by the "Crew of Over Falls Lightvessel-69" presents a lightship in detail, identified on its side as "OVER FALLS." Another depicts a breakwater lighthouse and includes a man rowing a small boat nearby; it was presented by "Light House Keepers." The smaller of two triple-lancet windows in the sanctuary, furnished by "U.S.L.S.S. Crews," has a medallion in the center. The miniature scene in the circlet is of men in a lifeboat, rowing toward a ship in distress.
By the time formal steps were taken in 1904 to build the church, many of those responsible for the undertaking were themselves, or had family members, in U.S. government maritime service. As they manned lighthouses and lightships, and furnished the power behind the oars of rescue craft, the song of their livessolo and in chorushad been accompanied by the tune of the sea.
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