Fenwick Island resident Mary Pat Kyle has seen a lot since she first started to come to the Delaware coast for vacations as a young girl. After Bethany Beach got “too crowded,” according to her father, they started vacationing in Fenwick Island in 1936.
Their family was among the first squatters to build structures on what was then state-owned land and, although they did not have electricity or plumbing, they called it their home away from home. Those were also the days before Route 1 and before the dunes.
“We lost that house in [the storm of] 1962,” recollected Kyle this week.
The family rented for a while before building on the same land in the early 1970s. Her father, an attorney, was instrumental in convincing the State of Delaware to let the people who had already built houses there buy the land they were built upon, and Kyle said they could purchase one lot for $250.
“A group of people were trying to convince the legislature to enact something to enable us to buy it,” she said, adding that, as an attorney, her father helped them with legal advice. “It wasn’t as if people were lining up to come here. There were no services. When we came down, we were sort of like pioneers moving to a desolate place.”
Eventually, the state agreed to sell the land.
“Corner lots were only $200,” she noted with a chuckle. “But you have to look at it how it was, not how it is now. It was entirely reasonable. There was no Route 1, and this was the end of the road.”
She added that she still has a letter from among her father’s things, in which someone wrote that the $250 price tag was “highway robbery.”
Kyle said that, in 1942, the State subdivided the lots in Fenwick Island and had everyone else who had built structures on state-owned property from the Indian River Inlet south bring them to Fenwick Island – accounting for the “peculiar architecture of Fenwick Island.”
After moving to the area full-time with her own family, Kyle started writing for area newspapers, covering meetings in area beach towns. She received several press awards and eventually went back to college and earned her master’s degree in liberal studies from the University of Delaware in the mid-1990s. She started working on her thesis, which eventually turned into her book, “Fenwick Island: A Brief History.”
At first, the book self-published with the help of Jack Childers of Sea Shell City, as “Fenwick Island: From Jet Age to Ice Age.” But History Press recently contacted Kyle, asking her to revamp it. While it is basically the same book, Kyle said the newer version has some added pictures and materials.
Kyle got involved in the politics of Fenwick Island over the years and has served as the town’s mayor and president of the homeowner’s group. She founded the Fenwick Island Women’s Club and sat on the Board of Adjustments, although now she is on “hiatus” from that work.
“I am interested in the preservation of Fenwick Island as a low-density family-oriented resort, and that battle has consumed me for the last 20 years or so,” she added with a laugh.
Kyle was among three Delaware authors invited to sign their books at Delaware Tech in Georgetown, on Wednesday, Oct. 6, outside the Jason Technology Center. (The other authors included James Deihl and Nancy Lynch.)
Although currently on hiatus from politics, Kyle’s interest in history has not waned. She will be teaching a Delaware history class at St. Matthew’s by the Sea every Wednesday from 3 to 4 p.m. for four weeks, starting Oct. 14. For the fourth week, the class will include a showing of recollections of people who were around during the infamous storm of 1962. The classes are free, but people are asked to sign up through St. Matthew’s by the Sea.
Kyle’s book, “Fenwick Island: A Brief History,” is available at Atlantic Books in Fenwick Island, at McCabe’s Gourmet Market in South Bethany, at Border’s and online at Amazon.com.