South Bethany residents and officials gathered, along with area dignitaries, at the town hall on Saturday, Sept. 26, to slightly belatedly celebrate a momentous event — the town’s 40th anniversary.
The small coastal town was incorporated in April of 1969 after property owners decided officially becoming a town would be the best way to move forward into the future, offering benefits such as eligibility for disaster recovery — at the top of many minds in the wake of the infamous storm of 1962 that so severely damaged the town and its neighbors.
Last Saturday, that shift to a municipality was celebrated by dozens of people who gathered in a standing-room-only crowd to hear the recollections of past mayors, two proclamations celebrating the milestone and a reflection on how much the town has changed in the last 40 years — and how much it has stayed the same.
Kicked off by Mayor Gary Jayne, the event included an invocation by one of the organizers of the event, resident Carolyn Marcello. That was followed by a town proclamation honoring the town’s history and values, read in series by many of those who helped bring Saturday’s event to fruition about a month after the idea for it was germinated, as well as town staff members.
Sussex County Councilman George Cole stopped by with a second proclamation, from the county council, delivered in the stead of Council President Vance Phillips, who represents South Bethany on the council but was unable to attend the anniversary celebration.
Former mayors recalled significant moments in the town’s founding and growth, such as the creation of Iggy Hall Park — named in honor of patriarch of the town’s founding family but most often described as the triangular wooded area adjacent to the town hall. The town was also the first local beach town to get central sewer service, it was noted.
Ron Steen, who was mayor from 1977 to 1979, recalled when his family moved into their home on Henlopen Way in 1967 and the home offered the only light on the whole street for much of the year.
“It’s grown up nicely,” Steen said of the town.
South Bethany certainly has come a long way since the first lots were put up for sale and people started purchasing them for summer retreats from the region’s big cities. Among the town’s first oceanfront property owners: conservative columnist Robert Novak. Early on, lots cost just $25,000 — substantial investments that have since come to be valued at many times that original price.
Much of Saturday’s focus was on the town’s first 40 years, with a reflection on the town’s past delivered by resident John Speer and historical displays — including pictures from the 1962 storm — showcased inside the town meeting room.
A highlight of the event was the filling of a time capsule that serves to replace one buried next to the former town hall structure and then forgotten until construction of the new building in 2007 unearthed it once again.
The contents of that capsule were destroyed by the elements, but town staff promised the replacement will be both weather-tight and lastingly situated with a marble marker.
Inside: a South Bethany phone directory; a booklet titled “Reflections on South Bethany”; copies of the original advertisements for lot sales in what would become South Bethany; aerial photographs of the town from 1960, when much of the town was under construction; a map; the plans for the new town hall and an artist’s rendering of the structure; and the most recent issues of the town newsletter, The Zephyr, and the South Bethany Property Owners Association newsletter, Shorelines.
Also inside the new time capsule: a Coastal Point article describing the planning of the 40th anniversary event; the front pages of the most recent issues of the Coastal Point and Wave newspapers; a copy of the Coastal Point editorial congratulating the town on its 40th anniversary; a history of the incorporation of the town; the town proclamation read at the event; a small print of a painting by South Bethany Resident Sue Purvis that has the town’s beach rules printed on the back; a pin depicting the South Bethany town seal — which was also handed out to those attending the Sept. 26 event; and a sign-in sheet for those who attended the anniversary event.
The capsule was buried adjacent to the sidewalk leading to the town hall entrance, and the town’s former mayors took turns shoveling ceremonial shovels of dirt to bury it.
The capsule is due to be unearthed again in 10 years, at the town’s 50th anniversary.
Those attending the Sept. 26 event then adjourned inside town hall for one thing every 40-year-old should have for their birthday: cake.