For 50 years, the Cape May-Lewes Ferry has been helping travelers cut miles off of a trip along the Atlantic coast. And, on Thursday, Sept. 11, from 7 to 9 p.m., the South Bethany Historical Society (SBHS) will host a free history talk on the ferry’s half-century of service at the South Coastal Library in Bethany Beach.
The talk will be presented by Mike DiPaolo, the executive director of the Lewes Historical Society.
“He came down to talk to us about preservation, about our materials,” said Maria Johansen, president of the SBHS. “After we had the meeting with him, before he left, he offered to do this talk. He said he had this presentation ready to do and would be willing to do it down here.”
The 17-mile, 85-minute cruise between the New Jersey and Delaware shores has served more than 11 million vehicles and 34 million passengers during its existence.
“I think people would really enjoy it. It’s just a nice piece to listen to for all of us. We’ve probably all taken the ferry at one time or another. Just to hear the background, how it all came together, and how long it took them to pull it off — I think everyone would be interested in hearing about it.”
SBHS tries to host two historical talks every year, to help educate the community in regards to the past.
“The next one in October — Dr. Clara Small will be talking about the Underground Railroad,” said Johansen. “We feel it’s an ongoing process to keep educating the public and all those around us. People see a need for that and seem to really enjoy it.”
Johansen said that the society’s mission is to “create interest in the history of South Bethany through improving awareness of the history of the coastal community.”
“We do that by sponsoring two programs on the coastal areas during the year. We also collaborate with the other coastal towns,” she said, noting the society has been researching the development of the town’s canals.
Last summer, the society worked with other area towns to host the traveling Smithsonian exhibit “The Way We Worked.” From that collaboration, Johansen said the towns and societies hope to join together to create a museum that shares the history of the local coastal towns.
“We’ve been pulling together to work on the Coastal Towns Museum,” she said, adding of SBHS, “One of our big goals would be to collect artifacts and request donations of them from around the time the town was first developed in 1959…
“We only have three artifacts,” she noted of the collection thus far. “One was a T-shirt that was hand-painted by Tempe Steen’s sister many years ago. Another is a red metal lifesaving buoy from the old days when the lifeguards started here, and we have the Bible that May Felerski used — the town’s unofficial first mayor. That was just donated to us.”
The society also does a number of fundraising efforts that also help educate the public on the town. Currently, the society is selling reproductions of old street signs from the town and is holding an art auction, and it publishes a yearly calendar of old photos taken in South Bethany.
“This year, we had a calendar contest, and people in South Bethany took pictures all over the town.”
In June 2014, the society published “The Best Little Beach in Delaware,” a book about the history of the Town of South Bethany, which includes old photographs and interviews with longtime residents. The book can be purchased for $25 at McCabe’s Gourmet Market and Made by Hand in the York Beach Mall in South Bethany, as well as at Jayne’s Reliable in Dagsboro.
The South Bethany Historical Society meets on the second Friday of every month at 10 a.m. at South Bethany town hall. Currently, there are 60 members, with approximately 20 active members.
“We’ve been a pretty active little group. We have a lot of very, very hard workers. In a small period of time, we’ve been able to accomplish quite a bit. I’m very proud of the group that I work with.”
Johansen said she hopes that many people attend the history talk and learn more about their community, and the local ferry that had helped transform how people travel to and from the Delaware beaches.
“I hope there will be a good attendance. I just think it’s something that everyone could enjoy and benefit from.”
The South Coastal Library is located at 42 Kent Avenue in Bethany Beach. Those who are interested in becoming members of the South Bethany Historical Society may contact Johansen at (302) 539-8294 or at BethanyBabeJ@aol.com. For more information on the South Bethany Historical Society, visit http://sbpoa.sharepoint.com/Pages/SBHistoricalSociety.aspx.