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Tavern Talks a window into 18th century Lewes

Historical society hosts interactive experiences
May 10, 2018

The oldest building still standing in Delaware is set to become a time portal to the 18th century. 

During April, the Lewes Historical Society hosted Tavern Talks at the Ryves Holt House at Mulberry and Second streets in downtown Lewes, an interactive experience that immerses guests in a 1770s tavern that’s full of debate, games and even singalongs. 

“This is our way to reach a new audience,” said Andrew Lyter, a society historian. “What is a common denominator that everyone loves? Beer. We wanted a forum where people could go home with a little bit of history, but also enjoy themselves.” 

The society has partnered with Dogfish Head for the event. For $30, guests receive a commemorative glass, Dogfish beer during the event and period-appropriate snacks. 

The performances take guests back to 1777. Like today, many Lewes residents at that time were divided. The colonies had declared independence the year before and the British Navy now sat in the Delaware Bay. People were wondering what was next. In the months that followed, the British captured Philadelphia and pushed George Washington’s Continental Army back to Valley Forge. 

“Lewes was pretty torn with loyalties,” Lyter said.

There were those who considered themselves patriots, who were in favor of independence and secession from England, while others were loyalists and faithful to the crown.

The story centers around the tavern debate between two real life Lewes residents – Capt. Gamble, a merchant fisherman and loyalist, and Henry Fisher, a patriot. Lyter and society Director of Education Marcos Salaverria play the major roles. The Rev. Dr. Wilson, played by a volunteer, serves as the intermediary between the two main characters during their heated debate. 

“We’re putting some deep emotions in there,” Salaverria said. “We’re dealing with the breakup of friendships, death and people leaving.” 

The Ryves Holt House has been converted into an 18th century tavern for the performances. It isn’t much of a stretch for the historic building, as it served as the town’s watering hole from 1683-87. 

The society’s Director of Facilities & Grounds John McGovern and volunteer Jim Prettyman have transformed the space into a tavern setting, including a bar, period furniture and small round tables where folks may mingle, learn period games or read newspaper clippings from the era.

The entire performance is rooted in history. Though the characters’ dialogue may not be attributable to their real-life counterparts, the general feelings of a loyalist and a patriot in Lewes during the 18th century are accurate. 

“We’re taking on some pretty bulky, in-depth subjects from history,” Lyter said. “There’s a lot to this, and we’re condensing it down to the simplest form and telling it in a way that folks can relate to.” 

The society plans to continue with more experiential events in the fall, picking up where this one leaves off. 

“We want to carry this to our different buildings and tell the stories of many different figures in Lewes,” Salaverria said. “We may not have a Washington or a Jefferson, but we’ve got the characters who lived through the very same events. We’ve got four centuries of stories here.” 

To learn more about Tavern Talks, go to www.historiclewes.org or call 302-645-7670.