Over the centuries, the Great Dune has offered commanding views, a wealth of natural resources, and no small amount of controversy

By Lynn R. Parks | Photograph by This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
From the June 2019 issue


Cape Henlopen State Park’s Great Dune, once called the Great Sand Hill, for years has been the spot where Sussex residents went to get a good view of the coast. “From the top of the Sand Hill is a broad view all around the compass,” wrote the authors of “Delaware: A Guide to the First State,” published in 1938 by the Federal Writers’ Project, part of the New Deal’s Works Progress Administration.

Among the highlights of the view were the “spires of Lewes,” the guidebook said; the “great marshy flats” of Gordons Pond; the “long line of dunes down the coast to Rehoboth”; and the Atlantic Ocean “with the waves breaking over the Hen-and-Chickens Shoals in the foreground, and the Overfalls Lightship riding at anchor 4 miles offshore, steadfastly guarding the shoals.”

Also visible: Cape May, N.J., 13 miles away, which sometimes in hot weather “appears suspended upside down in the air — a startling mirage”; the Harbor of Refuge Breakwater and the “great sweep of the Delaware Bay” beyond it; and the mile-long Delaware Breakwater with its distinctive red Breakwater Light.

But the Great Dune wasn’t just a place from which to admire such scenic views. For centuries, according to the guidebook, it was also the perfect spot for Lewes-area residents who wanted to observe the goings-on in Delaware Bay and the Atlantic Ocean:

“The Great Sand Hill, always a vantage-point, has often been a grandstand. During the 60 years of piracy that plagued this coast after 1685, many Lewestowners would come here to watch craft that flew the French and Spanish Flags, as well as the Jolly Roger, as they … fought each other.”


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