Breakwater Harbor is formed by a set of breakwaters located on Cape Henlopen just east of Lewes, Delaware, off Delaware Bay. Breakwater Harbor is about 60 nautical miles south-southeast of Wilmington (107 kilometers or 67 miles by air). Breakwater Harbor is closer to Cape May Harbor (22 nautical miles southwest across the mouth of Delaware Bay) and Atlantic City (47 nautical miles southwest), both in New Jersey. The breakwaters were listed on the US National Register of Historic Places in 1976. Built in 1828 and the first such structures in the Western Hemisphere, Breakwater Harbor is now included in the National Harbor of Refuge and Delaware Breakwater Harbor Historic District.
Breakwater Harbor serves the city of Lewes, Delaware, a historic community first established by Dutch colonists in the early 1600s. It was the first white settlement on the Delaware River, making Lewes' seafaring tradition is more than 300 years old. Today, Breakwater Harbor and Lewes are known best for their great saltwater fishing. In 2005, over three thousand people called Breakwater Harbor and Lewes home.
Lewes, Delaware, is the oldest settlement in the State of Delaware. Since Delaware ratified the new US Constitution before any other state, the town happily describes itself as "The First Town in the First State."
Breakwater Harbor and Lewes became an early whaling center and trading post established by Dutch settlers. Founded in 1631 with the name Zwaanendael, the early colony did not survive long. The indigenous Lenni Lenape tribe killed the 32 settlers in 1632.
In 1813, the British Navy attempted to bomb Lewes from Breakwater Harbor during the War of 1812, but their efforts were in vain. There is still a cannonball left from that unsuccessful mission in the foundation of the town's maritime museum, Cannonball House.
Fort Miles was built by the US government on Cape Henlopen to the south of Lewes and Breakwater Harbor in 1941. Constructed to defend the Delaware Bay, Delaware River, and the city of Philadelphia, the fort also protected oil refineries and factories on Breakwater Harbor shores. Fort Miles saw little action during World War II, firing its Breakwater Harbor guns only one time during the whole war. In 1991, the fort was given to the State of Delaware.
Near Cape Henlopen State Park and Rehoboth Beach's outlet malls, Breakwater Harbor and Lewes are connected to Georgetown by the Delaware Coast Line Railway. Breakwater Harbor and Lewes are popular vacation and resort locations for people who live in Washington DC metro area.
The town's main street, Second Street, offers shops, historic places, and restaurants. Fisherman's Wharf is a popular dock lining the Lewes and Rehoboth Canal. In season, the Wharf hosts hundreds of boats that travel into Breakwater Harbor to enjoy Lewes. The Wharf is home to several restaurants and many bait shops. Moored in Breakwater Harbor, the US lightship Overfalls is one of only seven surviving lightships in the US.
In 1884, a lighthouse was commissioned to be located at the east end of Breakwater Harbor and the Delaware Bay. The Delaware Breakwater East End Lighthouse replaced the older and deteriorating Cape Henlopen Beacon. A temporary light was placed on a wooden frame and located near the building site when construction of the new lighthouse began in 1885. The original fourth-order Fresnel lens is still in the Breakwater Harbor lighthouse today. In 1886, the wharf and oil house was completed.
The Great Blizzard of 1888 gave the Breakwater Harbor lighthouse tower its first major test. While a new light was added in 1903 as the front range for Breakwater Harbor and the Delaware Bay, the Delaware Breakwater East End Lighthouse continued to serve as a rear range until 1819. In 1950, the light was automated. Heavy fogs in the area caused the fog signal blare almost constantly, blowing for 400 straight hours at one point in 1897. In 1905, the signal sounded for 645 continuous hours.
The light at Breakwater Harbor was discontinued in 1996, as shoaling had reduced the need for such a warning. The State of Delaware took over ownership of the Breakwater Harbor lighthouse in 1999 and leased it to the Delaware River & Bay Authority. In 2004, the Authority and the Bay Lighthouse Foundation entered into an agreement to preserve and maintain the lighthouse, and tours have been regularly throughout summers since then.