LHS continues to grow

“It’s not just the preservation of buildings and objects,” said Marcos Salaverria. “The Lewes Historical Society is meant to preserve the memory of Lewes.”

This summer, 12 to 14-year-olds spent a week doing just that, learning a former way of life in Lewes: boatbuilding.

Salaverria is the director of education at the historical society, which usually hosts family boatbuilding every summer. When the opportunity arose to host a kids’ camp, boatbuilding fit nicely within the week-long camp, taught STEM skills and provided campers with a tangible accomplishment.

A partnership with the Wilmington nonprofit Summercollab made the camp happen. Summercollab helps equip organizations like the LHS with the tools to host quality camps to prevent summer learning loss. All 22 campers this year were from the Dagsboro Boys & Girls Club. It was free for them.

“Some of these kids had never been on a boat,” Salaverria said.

The boatbuilding camp is a far cry from the historical society's early days. It was founded by volunteers in 1962 to preserve historic buildings. Since then, the LHS has acquired 15 buildings, hired 11 employees, created and expanded an educational program and most recently opened a museum.

Growing and expanding

Salaverria is 33 and originally from Annapolis. He’s been with the LHS for three years now and has worked in the history field for 12. He attended St. Mary’s College in southern Maryland, on the other side of the Chesapeake, for undergraduate studies and finished a master’s degree in British Colonial American studies at Washington College in Chestertown.

There have been some big changes since he came on board – the opening of the Margaret H. Rollins Center, or the Lewes History Museum, in the former Lewes Public Library.

After beating out several other organizations for the right to use the building, the museum finally opened July 3. It’s open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. seven days a week, and saw over 1,200 visitors in its first month.

Salaverria is already looking forward to a children’s wing that’s being developed.

“I think the new children’s wing will be the first dedicated space south of Dover kids can come out to experience historical exhibits and interactives, with a focus on the pilots [mariners responsible for the safe navigation of commercial vessels on the Delaware River and Bay and its tributaries] and why they are so important,” he said.

In addition to the new kids camp and museum, the LHS has a long list of annual programming. The Christmas house tour grows bigger and more popular every year. They’ve established a partnership with Cape Water Tours and Taxi to provide historical boat tours, and in October, they’ll launch a haunted lighthouse tour.

The LHS also offers numerous walking tours. Salaverria said one he helped create, the Lewes Legends Tour, has been one of the most successful.

“It targets millennials somewhat,” he said. “It’s not this straightforward history of this is what happened and this is what year – it tells some of the darker stories of Lewes’ past, like some of the murders, supposed hauntings. There’s some factual history too, though, like the shipwrecks that were a part of life here in the past.”

Over the winter, the LHS started “Family Fridays,” which featured living history stories and children’s crafts. The program had a fairly successful run and Salaverria hopes to continue it in the museum’s children’s wing.

Executive Director Mike DiPaolo was the LHS’s first employee 16 years ago.

“To see the changes and to see the growth, not just in the organization but the town … just to be a part of that is great,” DiPaolo said. “It started off as a historical preservation group, acquiring couple buildings to make sure nothing would happen to them. Now we have education, collections and exhibits … it’s a great thing.”

Kids’ camp success

The boatbuilding camp came to an end on Aug. 11. A crowd gathered to watch as the campers launched the boats they’d built that week into the Lewes canal. Once they’d all taken a ride, they invited family members and others who had gathered to see their accomplishments to take a spin with them. Their pride was evident.

“Just the look in the kids’ eyes - they’re outside, working with their hands, getting out on the water. It’s awesome to give them that experience,” said DiPaolo. “It really speaks to the community support and the belief that it’s an important thing to do.”

Salaverria, who’d spent all week with the campers, said he was thankful for the handful of men who volunteered to help.

“They are proud. These guys have been woodworking for years and are really teaching the next generation a skill,” he said. “Today, one of the kids was measuring and cutting and he got through it in about three seconds. One of the volunteers said, “Did you ever think about working in construction? You could be a carpenter. You’re really good at that.’ And the camper was like, ‘Really? I never thought I could do anything.’ That was a nice takeaway for me.”

Pati Candelario is the Sussex County Director of Summercollab. She’s a teacher at Seaford High School.

“We’ll definitely be continuing this partnership next summer,” she said. “This was so educational, I mean, the amount of math they had to use to build these boats!”

Camper Ja’Onna Lee, of Millsboro, concurred. When asked what she had learned, she said without hesitation, “Measurements!”