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Delaware Breakwater: Another First for the First State

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Delaware Breakwater, ca. late 1800s

The Delaware Breakwater, which forms Lewes Harbor, is a landmark of early American engineering. It is considered to be the first such structure in the Western Hemisphere. From earliest exploration and settlement, sailors knew that Cape Henlopen was a dangerous place to anchor. The federal government studied the area in 1822, and in 1828, work began on the first part of the breakwater. William Strickland, a noted architect and engineer, worked on the project. The first phase of the breakwater consisted of a 1,700-foot-long icebreaking pier and the 2,800-foot main breakwater. The structures saved ships even before they were completed. By the 1870s, ships had become larger and more numerous. Between 1883 and 1897, a connector was built between the two structures to provide a safer harbor. As shipping continued to increase, more accommodations were needed. In 1896, Congress authorized the National Harbor of Refuge a little over a mile north of the original breakwater. The final structures were icebreaking piers to the north of this built in 1900. All of the structures were federally funded, and the breakwater is under the care of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

 

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