For years, one of Bethany Beach’s greatest attractions has been nestled amongst its best-kept secrets.
The town’s heritage walking trail — which, according to Carol Olmstead, chairwoman of the Town’s Cultural & Historic Affairs Committee, has been around several years now — offers a glimpse into the rich history and sometimes tumultuous past of the once-sleepy beach community.
Outlined in colorful pamphlets available in the front lobby of the Bethany Beach Town Hall, the trail includes more than a dozen buildings and sites that meet the committee’s two primary criteria: being built before 1930 and, according to Olmstead, “appearing primarily the way it did when it was first built.”
Margaret Young, who serves on the Cultural & Historic Affairs Committee and did some of the initial research on the older buildings, said the trail itself is easy to follow and, with a few exceptions, such as the Dinker Cottage and Addy III, all of the sites are right downtown. To follow the trail, she said “You start at the Addy Sea and make your way down toward Parkwood Street.”
As Olmstead and Young both noted, a few of the old haunts, including the old movie theater, bowling alley and Seaside Inn, can only be found by the plaques placed where they once stood. Olmstead calls those buildings, which were wiped out during the infamous storm of 1962, the “gone but not forgotten.”
Many of the buildings on the trail were originally built by and subsequently named after the six Pittsburgh businessmen who helped found the town, including John Addy, William Dinker, William Errett and R.S. Lattimer. One of the old cottages — known as the Drexler House — was built by former Delaware state Sen. Louis Drexler.
The cottages themselves have been used for various purposes over the years. The Christian Conference Center and Journey’s End were both used to house U.S. soldiers during World War II; the Dinker Cottage was briefly used as the town’s post office, from 1923 to 1924; the Addy III has been moved west, across Route 1, and is now the Town’s Nature Center; and the Addy Sea has long been used as a bed-and-breakfast.
The Bethany Loop Canal, though not a historic building, per say, offers a unique glimpse into a vastly different Bethany Beach than the one people know today. Finished in 1910, the Loop Canal served as the final stop for visitors traveling to the town by way of the old Rehoboth train station.
According to the heritage trail pamphlet, “They rode on a wood-burning steamboat down the Lewes-Rehoboth Canal to the Assawoman Canal (dug around 1890) to Pennewell’s Landing in Ocean View. There, they boarded the Allie May, a shallow-water boat, for the final mile of travel to Bethany Beach.”
Olmstead said that, while there are currently no guided tours being offered of the heritage trail, the Cultural & Historic Affairs Committee is considering making them available in the future.
“For people who are familiar with Bethany, it’s easy to take that map and walk around,” she said. But, she added, it might be a bit trickier for those who’ve just come to town for a visit.
In the meantime, Olmstead said, the University of Delaware’s Lifelong Learning Institute will be offering historic tours of the town on Sept. 20, and she encouraged anyone interested to contact the university directly for more information.