Rehoboth Beach, Delaware

Rehoboth Beach

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Dunes at Rehoboth Beach, Delaware.

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The Art League in Henlopen Acres in Rehoboth.

Every summer my family went to the beach. We started our summer journeys by visiting Ocean City, MD, going back to at least 1961, where my parents rented a series of beach houses, moving farther north each summer until they found Rehoboth Beach in Delaware. Each beach house holds memories. I can see the rooms and replay days made blissful not just because of the setting but because we were all together and because there would be no phone calls in the middle of a game of wiffleball, or in the middle of the night calling my father to the hospital to usher a child into the world. This was vacation not just to a place where both of my parents and all the children were present. This was a treat especially the younger children hungered for – to have all the older children and our hard working father around and available and away from the tyranny of the telephone. I think that younger children see older siblings as other ‘parents’ who by rights should love the younger ones unconditionally and, older siblings see the younger ones as significant inconveniences. I am certain neither older children nor parents realize the power of the hunger for their company felt by the little ones.

So, in this treasured company of our great huge family, we screamed in terror and joy on the roller coasters on the boardwalk in Ocean City, lazily rode waves, and drifted from one unpressured activity to another. One summer we had so much extended family in a 3 bedroom apartment in Ocean City, we took all the mattresses off the box springs to double our sleeping surfaces and still had kids sleeping on the floor. More family, more chaos, more bliss. Ocean City became a big city, not so family friendly so we eventually moved on to other towns.

We suffered through a stay in York Beach where the water smelled probably of sulfer and where I caught a flounder half as tall as I was.

One summer, we moved up to more upscale accommodations in Dewey Beach, Delaware. Here my parents rented a house. It was modern with a high pitched roof, a 60’s modern fireplace in the middle of the living room and a row of bedrooms set off from the rest of the house by a screened porch. It also had a gas stove in the kitchen to which we were not accustomed. One night returning from a game of wiffleball on the beach, the house was silent. No joy, no chaos and no father. He had lit a match to light the stove and as he opened the door a fireball of gas exploded onto his legs and arms. He came back that night bandaged and did his best with third degree burns to preserve the treasure of our time together.

In 1971 our parents built a house in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. With our own retreat at the sea the children already married and raising families could come for vacations. We could continue to be together even as the family continued to expand.

Rehoboth Beach was a sleepy little beach town perfect for families. It had a modest boardwalk with a lovely amusement area, Funland, where the rides are inexpensive and everything is family friendly. There is a beautiful merry-go-round, little boats, fire engines, Paratrooper and other rides on both ends of the thrill spectrum. The cornerstone of the Rehoboth Beach boardwalk is Dolle’s. Dolle’s makes their own salt water taffy and caramel corn. The building looks as it has for years, at least since it was last devastated by a hurricane decades ago. Rehoboth Beach is a completely walkable and very bicycle friendly town. The streets are tree-lined and shady, the houses perfectly beachy with big screened porches. There are ponds with ducks and one pond that is set aside as for children only to enjoy fishing. On the beach there remain several World War II watchtowers. The Atlantic beaches were on the alert for approaching German submarines and their cache of invading German sailors. These towers are hollow shells but step inside and, if you ignore the graffiti, you are transported to a time of uncertainty.

The town of Rehoboth Beach remains a sleepy, family friendly town. However, real estate developers have turned the outskirts of this wonderful beach town surrounded by corn fields into a wonderful beach town surrounded by outlet shopping malls. Miles and miles of farming are gone and a few real estate families have sold the soul and land of the outskirts of Rehoboth for a lot of money. Each year as I journey to our quiet little beach enclave I am saddened by the loss of another farm to development of tracts of homes and shopping malls. This year, Nassau Orchards where we could pick our own fruit was sold. I hope other wonderful family towns will more carefully control their zoning to protect what makes their wonderful family towns wonderful. And yet, I love Rehoboth. I would prefer that the development had not happened but I still I love the town. The beaches are still wide and white and the the caramel corn is still delicious and family still congregates in my parents' house by the sea.

You can see the boardwalk and a bit of the sea at http://www.rehobothbeachcam.com

Jean McGavin
2010
Bethlehem, CT

Rehoboth, Art and Politics

Rehoboth has done a good job of promoting the “family friendly” beach community and some have accepted the idea, but Rehoboth's development has another side. Just north of Rehoboth is the town of Henlopen Acres that began its life as a massive estate. The principle building remains a historical landmark that was constructed in the mid 1700's and renovated in the 1970's. Louise Corkran and her husband donated a portion of the estate to establish an art community on the grounds that has become the Rehoboth Art League. Eventually, the Art League and the Homestead were combined and the remainder of the estate became Henlopen Acres.

The presence of an artist community, protected by a separate set of laws, since before World War II allowed Rehoboth to attract attention and many visits from artists and others with alternative lifestyles. The city has long been a popular vacation spot for the portion of the gay community that sought quiet vacations without attracting attention to their activities. Located less than 3 hours by car from Washington, D.C., this meant the many of the nation's power brokers were able to enjoy Rehoboth and its culture without concern for repercussions.

Some may remember Senator Thomas Eagleton who was nominated to run for Vice President on the ticket with Senator George McGovern. Eagleton left the ticket in a cloud of controversy when his psychiatric history and rumors of drunk driving on his weekend trips to Rehoboth with young men became public knowledge. This kind of attention to our “Nation's Summer Capitol” has been carefully managed by the city fathers in Rehoboth. The resort remains largely unchanged over the last 40 years as some of the older structures are remodeled or replaced gradually. It is the cities surrounding Rehoboth that have thrown open the doors to development and created the 10 mile strip center that is now Midway, Delaware.

Even the Art League is feeling the crunch of resort development and escalating land values. The Art League occupies several acres within two blocks of the ocean. The commercial value of the property is staggering, even in the most bearish of real estate climates. Henlopen Acres and the Art League find themselves in series of battles that give every appearance of sounding a death knell over the dedicated portion of the town. Parking and traffic restrictions are impacting the annual summer shows and making it difficult for artists and patrons to access the grounds. The town and the Art League have been in court over refusal to continue the variances that allowed the Art League to remain a cultural icon that has impacted the very nature of a resort community.

Lee McGavin, Leander, Texas

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The towers guarding the Delaware Bay at Cape Henlopen are highlighted in this picture from the beach at Rehoboth.

Cold War Target Practice

The watch towers on the Delaware shore were part of a system that protected the mouth of the Delaware Bay and remain a feature of the beach at Cape Henlopen. You can still catch a ferry across the Bay to New Jersey if you do not wish to drive up the coast to the nearest bridge on Interstate 95. In the late 50's and early 60's Delaware National Guard units would spend the summer practicing shooting at aircraft over the ocean. Their targets were drones or targets that were hauled by single engine airplanes. Several summer vacations were spent listening to the guns blasting away at those targets. Today, similar aircraft pull advertising signs up and down the beach in a pattern that is strikingly similar to days of target practice. There are times that I would like to see those Guardsmen return and aim at their modern target.

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