The tragic tale of another resident named Lewes Delaware
Regular readers of this column know I’m fascinated by the number of men whose parents chose their first name as Lewes and their middle name as Delaware. There are at least three gravestones in the Bethel Methodist Cemetery bearing the Lewes Delaware names. It has something to do with the love people have for their hometown, the deep history of our little state, and the fact that Lewes (not Looz) rolls off the tongue nicely as a man’s first name. It wouldn’t surprise me to wander the cemeteries of Milton and find a Milton Delaware Conwell buried there. Further north, up the Mispillion River, it wouldn’t surprise me to find a Milford Delaware Carlisle buried in one of that town’s cemeteries. And though I wouldn’t rule it out completely in Rehoboth Beach . . . well, maybe not.
Anyway, this fascination brings two of the area’s most venerable historians together in this column: Hazel Downs Brittingham, who is a walking encyclopedia of Lewes history, and Evelyn Dick Thoroughgood, who knows the inscription, background and date on the Rehoboth Avenue WCTU fountain by heart and everything else Rehobothiana.
Hazel told me this week that a headstone cleaning effort in the historic St. Peters cemetery in downtown Lewes has brightened many of those monuments to a brightness nothing short of dazzling. “On a sunny day you better take your sunglasses,” she told me. She also told me that when walking through recently to appreciate the effort, she came upon yet another Lewes Delaware graveyard occupant, on the side of the cemetery near the parish hall. “In this case it’s a man named Lewes Delaware Dick,” said Hazel. “I know Dick is a prominent name in Rehoboth history, but I also vaguely remember that they may have lived at one time in Lewes. Call Evelyn Dick Thoroughgood. She might be able to help.”
Evelyn answered the phone as spry as ever when I called her Tuesday night. “I’m 91 and a half so I don’t remember as fast as I used to. But I am preserved by the salt air. Let me think on this and I’ll call you back in the morning.” (There’s a beautiful innocence and kinship between small children and older folks who have reached their 90s. They tend to talk simply, they announce their age in half years and they get up early.)
True to her word, Evelyn called me back the next morning, at 8.
“Yes, that was Lewes Delaware Dick. A cousin I believe. He was born on Sept. 23, 1871 and died on Aug. 6, 1883.”
“Whoa,” I said, doing the math quickly, “he died young.”
“Fell off the roof of the Great Atlantic Hotel in Rehoboth Beach,” Evelyn said. “It was either at the corner of Rehoboth Avenue and First Street - where Lingo’s market is - or across the street. But I believe it was there. It wasn’t the Dick family’s hotel. They had a boarding house nearby. Charged a dollar a night. But the hotel wasn’t theirs.”
Evelyn said she didn’t think Lewes had been playing when the fall occurred. “They put them to work early back in those days. My guess is he was up there shingling the roof and backed off of it. The Dicks were Episcopalians and there wasn’t an Episcopalian church in Rehoboth then. And I think there were some members of the Dick family who lived in Lewes. That might explain why he was buried there. I don’t know why his family named him Lewes Delaware.”
Given the tragic nature of Lewes’ death, it’s no wonder people didn’t talk much about the reasoning behind his name.