Sussex County Delaware Beach Area Towns and Villages are Unique and Historic!
This in an area of much history…
I love Sussex County Delaware. I am native born, multigenerational and proud to be one of those who, as they say; “are from here”.
The earliest records of our family show we were here well before the Mayflower arrived in 1620; some our ancestors were here in the early 1500’s or before; when the only records here were all the family Bibles that each family kept.
In this area, we were populated by those escaping religious persecution in Europe. This heritage has much to do with the names and character of our area. Many local ancestors fled Ireland, Wales, Scotland, Isle of Man, when Henry IV dethroned Richard II and the subsequent political and religious purge sent religious zealots to places out of the reach and care of England. I’ve learned that many were foragers only and did not farm or hunt, only fished, from directions they read in the Bible.
Some of these folks evolved into local farmers, plain woodsmen, wild plant pickers and eaters, herbalists, tanners, soap makers, hunters, and under all they were missionaries in the areas of what are now Lewes, Milton, Angola, Long Neck, Broadkill, Nassau, Cool Spring, Whitesville, Quakertown and Red Mill Pond.
These folks worshipped only God, the Christ, and read only the most original scriptures or were as they say just PLAIN… This was all deadly illegal under the British rule, except as licensed by the King. Others were burned, hung, drawn, quartered, drowned slowly and otherwise tortured to death publicly and imprisoned in terrible conditions meanwhile.
I was raised at what is now Eagle Crest Aerodrome, on what was early known as the White Farms, near Milton. I started school at Milton school then went to Lewes School and graduated 1967 from Lewes School. Since then I’ve lived in several areas of what we locals sometimes call “Saltwater Sussex” and what I used to call The Henlopen Quadrant; that is the locations within 25 miles of Cape Henlopen.
The Whites, Taylors, McIntires, Potters, Fishers, Maulls, Brittinghams, etc. were of my mother’s family and were or descended from the earliest teachers and missionaries here that I know of. Many of these early settlers established mills and mill ponds where (perhaps) America’s first manufacturing industry, that of grinding oak bark and developing it into tannin was done. This damming of the creeks to make mill power, caused our first swellings of little creeks and springs into what became larger mill ponds. Red Mill Pond was such an early example, as was Milton Pond, Millsboro Pond, and several smaller ones such as Beaver Dam Pond, and Saw Mill Pond, etc. As the mills were abandoned and dams burst, many of these ponds receded and disappeared.
These “plain people” as they were often known, to themselves, were just plain and not bound to any king, or religion, except God and the Bible in it’s original languages and in early German. I recall some hand written Bibles, in ink and pen, Bibles in our family home at what is now Eagle Crest Road and Route One.
Route 1 by the way was the first road in what is now America and connected all the original settlements, although it was first useful only on foot, later by mule and horse. Much later by wagon. There were many fords and later bridges as road one, traversing this land from south to north, crossed the many creeks, streams and rivers that fed from the land to the Delaware Bay.
Cape Henlopen is the anchor point of Salt Water Sussex County, where the Delaware Bay meets and flows into the Atlantic Ocean at Lewes. When you stand at Cape Henlopen Point, you can see the razor line of color change where the dark waters of the Bay meet the blue waters of the ocean in a diagonal line extending from the beach out into the sea. This darkness of the waters is caused by the nutrient rich, therefore muddy, waters that seep out of the great marsh which borders almost all of Delaware.
This Great Marsh is, even today, one of the most ecologically rich and diverse lands in the world; were thousands of native plants and numerous animals live. Here they have no native predators to speak of. A most wonderful book about this Marsh is Progger: A Life on the Marsh, by Tony Florio. Only in the last few years have predators plied these lands, feral dogs and cats loosed from the tourists, visitors and new townspeople into our great marsh, no longer household pets, these thousands of wild cats and dogs, bring a deadly new addition to the lands.
We have, here in Saltwater Sussex, a conspicuous absence of poisonous snakes. The early Plain People were unique in that they learned to live here year ’round, (although the American Indians did not) especially in and along this fertile great marsh. These Plain People gave this land and any others who came here their full admiration, acceptance and friendliness. They loved and were loved by the natives who browsed, hunted and fished here. This character caused them to be known as kind, strong, courageous and resourceful — and thus they gained the trust and admiration of these natives.
Because of the relatively large number of missionary settlers here, and the prosperity they created by ingeniously trading goods they made and services to the native peoples – along with the good will that was enjoyed among all… there was much peace between the native hunters and fishers with these Plain folks.
This region was found to be of great importance to the Dutch and English. The plain folks tended to stay well away from each other as a show of privacy and independence. They did not ordinarily join the dangerous, politically combative and disease ridden towns for generations after these towns were established here – as the area colonized. In fact there were many of the Colonial towns that died out or were burned out by the natives – because of the unhealthy conditions and attitudes that prevailed. The Plain Folk recorded the facts. Thus we have numerous histories of places where everyone was killed or died and these histories were written by the local Plain Folk.
Lewes: This region was hotly contested by the Swedish, Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch and English. The first officially recorded settlement here at the beach, was established by Dutch patroons, or proprietors, in partnership with the Dutch navigator David Pietersen de Vries; it was called Swanendael and was established (1631) on the site of the town of Lewes. However, within a year it was destroyed by a Native American attack. This attack notwithstanding, the Native Americans were generally friendly and willing to trade with the newcomers. And, notably the native people, who seldom lived here but hunted and fished here during the non mosquito seasons, got along well with the Plain People and not the settlers.
The Dutch West India Company, organized in 1623, was more interested in trade on the South River, as the Delaware was called at that time, than in settlement (the North River was the Hudson, in the Dutch colony of New Netherland). Several Dutchmen, interested in settling the area, put their services at the disposal of Sweden and colonized the area for that country. The best known of these was Peter Minuit, who had been governor of New Amsterdam (later New York). In 1637-38 Minuit directed the colonizing expedition for the Swedes that organized New Sweden . Fort Christina was founded in 1638 on the site of Wilmington and was named in honor of the queen of Sweden. The colony grew with the arrival of Swedish, Finnish, and Dutch settlers.
The waters of the Delaware Bay are tributary and watershed runoff from the Great Marsh and all the little streams, creeks, rivers and wetlands of eastern Delaware and New Jersey as well as the effluent of the Delaware River flowing down from Pennsylvania and New York. Thus the darker waters of the Delaware Bay are that way as a result the particles and filtered organic matter from the Great Marsh and wetland areas. These darker waters then flow generally south along the Rehoboth, Dewey, area beaches until the clear waters of the Indian River and Bay pushing out the Indian River Inlet force the darker waters away from the coast and out to sea. Thus the ocean water on the beaches south of Indian River Inlet tends to be far clearer than that north of the inlet.
Lewes is known as the First Town in the First State, because of this Dutch settlement, even though it didn’t survive. Lewes was the first town settled in Delaware and Delaware was the first state to ratify the Constitution of The United States – hence the title we proudly proclaim for Lewes — First Town in the First State. Lewes was first settled by the Dutch and Swedes. There are numerous books on the history of Lewes in the local book stores, perhaps as many as two dozen different historical and entertaining books on this fair town. Each has a different version of history to some extent. Amazon.com shows over a hundred.
Lewes has become one of the most historically sensitive and aware towns in the area. Some people still call Lewes by another older name Lewes Towne. Some of our visitors have nicknamed it Williamsburg North with a bit of a wink and a smile to go with their love. We have a wonderful little downtown along Second Street, Pilottown road, Market Street, Savannah Road and King’s Highway. There are numerous specialty shops, restaurants and even the famous King’s Ice Cream shop on 2nd St. to entice our numerous walkers. Lewes is, more than any other town in our region, a great place to walk all over town as you discover the little nooks, shops, businesses and trades that are usually in historically attractive buildings. In is not unusual to see hundreds of people walking the streets in Lewes, even in the off season. In the summer season, spring and fall, it is customary to see thousands of people and families slowly walking and looking at our old homes, businesses, museums and scenic views.
The Lewes Harbor is a wonderfully scenic deep water port, the only one in eastern Sussex County. There are sailboats and larger boats moored along the Lewes and Rehoboth Canal from the Roosevelt Inlet at the north end of Lewes down to the Canal Bridge where Kings Highway and Savannah Road combine to cross the drawbridge and connect historic Lewes to Lewes Beach.
Lewes Harbor as taken from The Lighthouse Restaurant.
Lewes Beach is more recently developed than the town of Lewes. The homes of Lewes Beach have seldom been there longer than 50 years and many of the older, smaller fixer-upper homes are being removed and larger modern homes built on the lots there. The lands of Lewes Beach, all of the lots, are owned by the town of Lewes. Residents, property owners and businesses get a 99 year lease which is renewable. This lease was originally supposed to be only for the growing of rabbits but, without changing the terms or law, is now used to support many lovely beach homes. The modest lease fee is paid to the town of Lewes annually. The lots in Lewes do “sell”, actually the leases are transferred to the new land tenants at the same price as land would be deeded.
Cape Henlopen State Park includes most of the bay front and ocean front land and beaches around Lewes. There are some communities; Pilot Point, Cape Shores, Port Lewes, and the Delaware River and Bay Pilots Association along the Bay. The Cape Henlopen State Park was once Fort Miles the Army base. Fort Miles was set up between World War I and World War II to protect the Delaware Bay shipping traffic from the German submarines. Now the thousands of acres of beach, dunes, wetlands and woods that stretch between Lewes and Rehoboth are all part of the park and the military buildings have other beachy uses.
William Penn was a much loved European and politically active adherant of plain folks that remained under the yoke of England, while hiding their distaste for the religions of the Kings and meeting secretly. Penn was convicted of various political crimes and exiled over here were it was supposed other like minded plain folks already resided in horrid and deadly and uncivilized residency with the Indians. This land of Penn’s exile, named Penn’s woods or Pennsylvania was in deference to his social and political popularity. In 1682 a duke transferred the Lewes claim to Penn, who wanted to secure a navigable water route from his new colony of Pennsylvania to the ocean. The three counties of Delaware thus became the Three Lower Counties (or Territories, as Penn called them) of Pennsylvania. The individual counties were called New Castle, Kent (formerly St. Jones), and Sussex (formerly Hoornkill, also known as Whorekill, and Deale). The English proprietors of Maryland contested Penn’s claim to Delaware, and the boundary dispute was not fully settled until 1750.
The inhabitants of the Delaware counties were at first unwilling to be joined to the “radical” and very political Quaker colony of Pennsylvania or to have their affairs settled in Philadelphia. They finally accepted the Penn charter of 1701 after provisions were added giving the Three Lower Counties the right to a separate assembly, which first met in 1704. Delaware maintained quasi-autonomy until the American Revolution. The two colonies maintained strong ties, however, and two of Delaware’s leading statesmen during the Revolution—Thomas McKean and John Dickinson—were also prominent in Pennsylvania affairs.
Rehoboth is the next historic town south of Lewes. Rehoboth Beach is known as the Nation’s Summer Capital; because so many of the power elite of Washington D.C. vacation and visit here. Rehoboth Beach; The Nation’s Summer Capital has another name as well – Weekend Washington, a name popular in particular with the college crowd from George Washington University in downtown D.C. The traffic flow from Washington D.C. is so heavy that it is not unusual for people to spend 4 to 8 hours each Friday or Saturday driving the 100 miles from the city to our beach. Rehoboth was originally settled as a result of it being a place for Christian Camp Revivals where preachers and parishioners would come to renew vows to God and to bath in the waters of the sea for baptisms and spiritual and physical health renewal. They did not come during the mosquito seasons for many years and when they did start coming more in the summer would wear head to toe coverings for reasons of modesty and protection from the flies, gnats, and fog like swarms of mosquitoes.
We are a focal point for D.C. area college students to come for beach and fun. As these students age many join the highest ranks of government and it’s myriad consultants; and they still come to the beach here in Rehoboth, Dewey and Bethany. The universities of Washington D.C. are noted for being the power training bases for this nation’s and the world’s social and ruling elite. The Georgetown University Department of Government, in cooperation with the School for Summer and Continuing Education, offers undergraduate students a unique opportunity to spend an exciting semester as an intern in the nation’s capital, while living and studying on the campus of one of the oldest and most prestigious universities in the United States. Students gain valuable practical work experience necessary to be competitive in today’s job market, while enriching their academic resume with undergraduate credits from Georgetown University. G.U. is known for its tough standards, especially at the Law school and the Medical school. This pressure is continued for the summer sessions as well. These students will become some of the finest and most famous Doctors and Lawyers in America. Almost 100% of these G.U. students exit the downtown campus on Friday after lunch and drive straight to Rehoboth and Dewey Beach. The party starts when they start the car, or in most cases the Jeep or SUV.
George Washington University sprawls throughout downtown D.C. along Pennsylvania Avenue and over toward the Watergate. G.W. or G.W.U. either one is correct, is noted as the place where the future leaders of our country are educated and interned. The school is running over with students whose parents rule and work on “The Hill”, Capital Hill in D.C. G.W. students are often some of the first to escape the city and speed toward the Beach, especially Dewey Beach.
As the student guide for prestigious American University in DC says: there are many resort areas along the coast, such as Bethany Beach, Fenwick Island, Rehoboth Beach, known locally as the “nation’s summer capital” because of its popularity among Washington, D.C. residents. The summers are hot and humid in Delaware and the beach is the major recreation area. American University is famed for educating the future leaders of the world. Many of the students are expected to help rule their particular countries after graduation. For this reason among others, the sitting President of The United States gives the Commencement address at A.U. each June – no other school in the world can make that claim.
A.U. is a huge sprawling campus that meanders all over the D.C. area. These thousands of well connected students From G.W.U., G.U., A.U., and other DC area schools, are particularly expected to lead their individual countries, including ours, or if they are not quite that well connected they are expected to intern and then work as executives in one of the Embassies, the European Union, the International Chamber of Commerce, World Court, International Monetary Fund, Organization of American States, Peace Corps, World Bank, World Health Organization, World Intellectual Property Organization, World Trade Organization, or the United Nations. So when you see some “kid” at the beach in Rehoboth or Dewey – pay attention, it is just possible that these “kids” may be ruling and running countries and making international headlines in a few years.
Dewey Beach is noted for it’s motto’s “It’s A Dewey Thing”, “Just Dewey It”, “Live IS a Beach”, “Dewey – A Way of Life” and more. Dewey Beach is the primary party spot for well financed singles with fit bodies. Dewey is the Happy Hunting Ground for the high pressured professionals of the DC area. Many have pseudonyms that are used in Dewey to protect their other place identities. Some of these Dewey People start living the summers in a Dewey House in college and never stop. There are Group Houses now where most of the participants, the partiers are in their 40s and 50s and act like they are still in their 20s – and always will. There are over two dozen party houses in Dewey on the Web alone. This represents several hundred singles that spend most of their disposable income in Dewey – and that can be substantial.
Dewey Beach is known around the world for the famous Rusty Rudder Restaurant and Ruddertowne. There is also the famous or more properly infamous Starboard, the rowdy Bottle and Cork, The Waterfront, and The Lighthouse. The customary Dewey lifestyle is to party all night, get up and run early then go to the beach and sleep off the night before while tanning. Then perhaps a little volley ball, some more running and then checking out the other “hard bodies” for someone to hook-up with for the nights partying and on it goes. The “Professionals” are able to keep this up for the Hundred Days during college and then after employment, usually in DC, they try to keep up the same average action on just the weekends and recuperate during the week. There is a famous quote, no longer legal to put in rental ads for beach houses, “4 bedrooms – sleeps 50” and the tenants try to stretch even that occupancy. Beds are often used for sleeping anyway, except by accident. Do you have an idea of what “A Dewey Way of Life” might be?
Bethany Beach is just a few miles down The Ocean Highway or The Coastal Highway or Route One or Delaware Sea Shore Highway or whatever name they change it to next week. The ride from Dewey Beach is a pleasant and beautiful one of only a few miles but the two towns are universes apart in difference. Bethany Beach is “The Quiet Place”, “The Family Resort”, and “The Quiet Resort” and is a town with little going on, outside of the homes. There is very little commercialism and lots of just staying at home or in some cases going to the beach or the boardwalk. Bethany Beach and South Bethany, Delaware are nestled between the Atlantic Ocean and the inland bays. Bethany Beach and South Bethany Beach are situated on the Atlantic Ocean just south of Rehoboth Beach and Dewey Beach, Delaware, and north of Fenwick Island, Delaware and Ocean City, Maryland. Each of these little beach towns is a world different from each other one.
Fenwick Island is the southern-most town in the state of Delaware and is nestled between the ocean and the bay. Fenwick Island was incorporated in 1953 and is also locally referred to as “The Quiet Resort.” This little town has maintained its own unique quality, charm and small-town atmosphere. The pristine beaches and bays offer a myriad of recreational opportunities to please even the most discerning vacationer. Activities can range from boating, sailing, water skiing, fishing to biking. The ocean water is the clearest and cleanest in the state. The Fenwick beaches are the most spacious and least used and the primary activity outside of staying home is just lying on the beach for that perfect tan. Come see how relaxing Fenwick Island can be for you and your family. Outdoor activities are backed up with friendly home-town services. Family operated motels and restaurants provide the ultimate in comfort.
Let’s NOT forget some of the lesser known beaches of Southern Delaware – those hidden little places that not even the locals know much about. These are all along the Delaware Bay, north of Lewes. They are in order: Broadkill Beach and some call it the old name Broadkiln Beach; next to the north are Prime Hook Beach, Slaughter Beach and then Bowers Beach. These little beaches, each one with a unique personality of its own have no commercial establishments to amount to anything, no boardwalks and very little rental property market. The homes are mostly very modest older homes but that is changing fast.
Broadkill Beach, where I had an office for several years, was originally just squatters who did not own the land but had little “cottages” there, usually made of spare pieces of lumber and stuff picked up in the personal junk piles of the farmers who spent time there. Broadkill Beach still has some incredibly unique and sometimes ugly homes scattered among the beautiful modern showcases. Gradually the older homes are being removed by the new owners and larger and usually spectacular homes put in their place. Prices in Broadkill are less than half of those in Lewes, sometimes far less than half! There are no lifeguards, no beach cleaning, no town hall, no police, no mayor or government of any kind and few restrictions. This is a great fishing community. There are thousands of prehistoric Horse Shoe Crabs that mate and die on the beaches each summer but the locals consider that keeps the citified
people away and they like that.
Prime Hook Beach or Primehook beach depending on which map you use is far less expensive than Broadkill. There are far fewer modern homes there but the trend has started. Little by little the older, sometimes rough homes at Primehook are being refurbished. The waterfront homes at Primehook were always far larger and nicer than those at Broadkill. Many of them are not being removed, but are one by one, being restored.
Broadkill and Primehook as well as Slaughter Beach are all surrounded by huge barriers of wetlands behind them and between them. Fishermen can surf fish in the bay but mostly it is just the view from these beaches that the residents enjoy and the lost in time lack of modern restrictions and commercialism. Slaughter Beach does have its own volunteer fire department which serves as the social focus of the town. But mostly there are just good neighbors and a laid back life available at these old beaches. If you want something else, you’ll have to drive a half hour or so to one of the small towns inland to find it.
Bowers Beach is a strange and wonderful world out of place. For one thing you can’t get from south Bowers to north Bowers by car or foot – only by boat, unless you go many miles inland and back. The channel is only a hundred feet wide that divides the town but the two sides of town are remote from each other – except for the residents who just hop on a dingy and slip across. Bowers, on a busy day, in the height of the summer season
might see six or seven tourists in a day – but not usually that many.
Each beach as you travel north up the bay has lower prices, less swimming enjoyment, less fishing as a rule and less government and restrictions. Each has its lovers and most people will have a love or hate response to any given one of the beaches. I love them all, each in a different way and will gladly help you find your utopian dream location. Just let us know when you are ready to choose!
Copyright 2002-2005 by www.JodyHudson.com
Article is found at [http://www.kate-jody.com/essays/beachareatowns.html]