A Brief History of Bethany Beach
The founding of Bethany Beach has its roots in the Disciples of Christ Church and the Christian Missionary Society. Seeking to establish a seaside community for summer retreats and educational programs, the church formed a committee to locate a site on the Delmarva coast. In concluding the search, the beach area east of Ocean View, owned by Ezekiel Evans, was selected as the location for the new community. The Disciples of Christ formed the Bethany Beach Improvement Company in 1900 which raised funds to purchase the land from Evans. The company parceled out the land and sold 150 lots to families from Washington, DC, Pittsburgh, PA and Scranton, PA. Lot holders paid approximately $75 for inland lots and $200 for oceanfront lots and plans were made to build cottages on the properties.
A nationwide contest was held to name the town, and the winner would be granted an oceanside lot. Among the many submissions, the name “Bethany Beach”, offered by H.L. Atkinson, was chosen for the new town. Bethany Beach was founded in July of 1901 at the beginning of its first summer season, although the town would not become incorporated officially until 1909. An octagonal shaped auditorium named “The Tabernacle” was built in 1901 and served as the town’s central meeting place, hosting church meetings and other town festivities until 1961 when it was torn down and replaced.
Original Bethany Beach Tabernacle
Bethany Beach Archives
Due to financial difficulties, the Bethany Beach Improvement Company lost its financial support in 1902 and town development was halted. In the following year, twenty-three of the lot owners formed a committee to address the situation and six of the landowners, referred to as the “Pittsburgh Six”, invested the necessary funds by purchasing stock in the Bethany Beach Improvement Company. These six men, W.R. Errett, John M. Addy, W.S. Kidd, R.S. Latimer, Dr. T.E. Cramblet and W.A. Dinker, were instrumental in putting the town back on track toward sound financial standing. Pictured below is one of the original cottages built in 1903 and owned by Mr. Errett.
Town development resumed with the drilling of a water well and the construction of a ground level boardwalk along the beach in 1903, pictured below. The boardwalk was reconstructed in 1912 and replaced again in 1923 with an elevated structure, following the 1920 storm which destroyed the boardwalk and many beachfront homes. The boardwalk would be rebuilt again and again throughout the succeeding years as many storms took their toll on the coastline.
Bethany Beach Boardwalk, Pre-1920
Bethany Beach Archives
Improving the challenging transport route to Bethany Beach became soon became a top priority. Visitors began the lengthy journey by train to Baltimore and then travelled by steamboat across the Chesapeake Bay to Kent Island. From there, the voyage would continue by train to Rehoboth Beach. The weary travelers would then take a steamboat across the Rehoboth and Indian River Bays to Ocean View, where they would then be transported by horse drawn carriage to Bethany Beach. A plan to build a railroad extension into Bethany Beach was proposed, but the project was cancelled due to lack of interest and subsequent loss of funding. Eventually, the difficult trek was eased by the completion of the Bethany Loop Canal in 1910, led by Mr. Addy, which enabled travelers to voyage directly into Bethany Beach by motorboat from Rehoboth Beach.
Motorboat Allie May
Bethany Beach Archives
In the succeeding years, the town added more amenities such as a post office and a newspaper in 1904, a movie theater in 1923, an electric company in 1924, a bowling alley in 1930, and a boardwalk restaurant in 1933. A dirt road was completed in 1934 between Rehoboth Beach and Bethany Beach and was eventually fully paved in 1940.
The entrance of the United States into World War II greatly impacted the area, with mandatory blackouts at night with military personnel stationed throughout coastal towns. Additionally, wartime gas rationing made trips to the beach costly, so many residents remained at the beach for the entire summer season. In 1944, a devastating storm destroyed the theater and damaged the boardwalk as well as the town pavilion. After the conclusion of the war, the entire town received water service in 1946 and a volunteer fire department was established in 1948.
Until the Chesapeake Bay Bridge was completed in 1952, tourism in Bethany Beach remained relatively quiet, as compared to more accessible beach resorts such as Rehoboth Beach and Ocean City. However, once the bridge was completed, Bethany Beach became a more popular vacation destination and real estate development in the town began to flourish. With the eventual opening of the bridge’s second span in 1973, access to Bethany Beach was made easier and helped to foster the town’s further development into the charming “Quiet Resorts” town that it is today.
Features of today's real estate in Bethany Beach often include open spaces for families and friends to gather, but also important are screened porches and decks for quiet moments of relaxation near the ocean.