History is less of a mystery with new South Bethany book

Date Published: 
June 13, 2014

Coastal Point • Laura Walter: The South Bethany Historical Society proudly presents ‘The Best Little Beach in Delaware,’ a history book spearheaded by, from left, John Speer Jr., and Lora and Tony Caputo. The front cover shows Speer’s family in 1969 with several houseguests, all leaping gleefully into the air.Coastal Point • Laura Walter: The South Bethany Historical Society proudly presents ‘The Best Little Beach in Delaware,’ a history book spearheaded by, from left, John Speer Jr., and Lora and Tony Caputo. The front cover shows Speer’s family in 1969 with several houseguests, all leaping gleefully into the air.“With the advent of the 21st century, it became increasingly apparent that much of South Bethany’s rich history was slipping away.”

That concern ignited the South Bethany Historical Society, and the sentence now introduces the colorful 160-page history of the small town, published just last week.

“The Best Little Beach in Delaware” includes memories of life in the quiet town, as told by the residents themselves. They remember clamming, crabbing, watching National Guardsmen train in Bethany Beach, running errands in Selbyville and tying boats to shrubbery before bulkheads were installed.

“We tried to make history fun,” said coordinator and chairman John Speer Jr.

The book includes many opinions, from those who remember throwing parties in their parents’ beach houses to those who wish today’s parties were a bit quieter.

“The founder wanted us to interview the old-timers before they all passed or left the area or started getting forgetful,” said Tony Caputo, writer, designer and South Bethany councilmember, of SBHS founder Mary Suazo.

About 20 volunteers did the writing and interviewing.

Besides full interviews and stories, pages are dedicated to homeowners’ association, neighborhood watch, tennis club, wildlife sightings, storms and much more.

Past mayors had their say, discussing hot topics of the day.

Photo pages even show the 1950s homes that have remained or been razed to build larger houses.

“We tried to make history fun,” Speer said.

People can see the beginnings of the town, from the first property sales to the decision to incorporate.

“It’s all small, close-knit, homogeneous group of people — a nice group of people,” Caputo said. With such a quiet, small town, he said, that there’s room for quick and rational decision-making.

“I like the memories of the early settlers who explained what life at the beach was like back then,” Speer said. “I like to know what people do and think. There was a lot going on.”

People didn’t have color television or air conditioning, so they enjoyed the beach, pausing only for major events, such as the televised moon landing, Speer said. “Everyone was outside playing or having fun.”

Some events are told differently by different people, but that’s what Speer likes.

“The essential matter of history is not what happened, but what people thought or said about it,” the book says in a quote attributed to historian Frederick William Maitland.

“It’s all personal. I was anticipating that someone would be slighted. No — the feedback’s been excellent,” Caputo said.

“We all have the same reaction. We start reading and we can’t put it down,” said Maria Johansen, president of the historical society. “It’s fantastic. We’re so happy and pleased with the job done.

Though it’s only just gotten into local hands, the book was nominated for a Gold Ink Award — the publishing industry’s contest for great design. It was designed by Group J Design in Rehoboth Beach and published by Walsworth.

Speer said he believes this may be the only community history book in Delaware printed in color. The publication was a two-year process.

Many residents have already purchased for themselves and extended family.

“The Best Little Beach in Delaware” book costs $25 and can be purchased locally at McCabe’s Gourmet, Made By Hand, Jayne’s Reliable in Dagsboro and other town events. Profits benefit the historical society.

“It’s a wonderful celebration of the town’s history, and now we have a literary history!” said Mayor Pat Voveris. “A lot of people put a lot of work into it. It brings a lot of memories, a lot of smiles.”