“Along about 1898, however, F. D. Power, a minister at the Vermont Avenue Christian Church in Washington D.C.,” James D. Meehan wrote in “Bethany Beach Memoirs…a long look back,” “told a convention of his sect (also known as the Disciples of Christ) about his idea to create a Christian meeting ground on the Atlantic shore … where they could spend summers and Christian fellowship.
“A special committee later suggested the Delmarva Peninsula and eventually selected the area now known as Bethany Beach.”
By 1900, Bethany Beach had been divided into 40 by 125 foot lots, offered for sale at prices that ranged from $75 to $200. Lots could be purchased for as little as $10 down with payments of only $1 a week.
In addition to the residential lots, the Christian Church reserved a large area near the center of town to serve as the “Assembly Grounds,” where they erected an idiosyncratic auditorium known as, “The Tabernacle.”
Milford Chronicle reported on May 29, 1903, “The new auditorium, which is being erected by the Bethany Beach Company, is rapidly nearing completion and will add very much to the appearance of the beach.”
Bethany seemed to have it all: a great beach, the Atlantic surf, inexpensive lots, and a distinctive building The tall, octagon-shaped auditorium was designed with sides that could be opened to allow the sea breeze to cool the audience.
The brown-shingled Tabernacle was used for religious services, slide presentations, political meetings and musical concerts. In addition, the building was used to show some of the first motion pictures at the beach.
The only thing that Bethany lacked was good, hard-surface roads. The roads in and about the budding resort were unpaved, and vehicles were often stuck in the sandy soil. That, however, did not deter Louis Drexler, a native of Pittsburgh, a Delaware state senator, and an early leader of Bethany Beach.
Drexler was also a car enthusiast at a time that automobiles were still called, “horseless carriages”; and if a car broke down, the driver was subjected to mocking cries of, “Get a horse!” On June 10, 1904, the Milford Chronicle reported, “Mr. Drexler, of Pittsburgh, has shipped his automobile to Ocean View, and will arrive with wife and boys in the near future.”
Despite the conditions of Delaware roads, Drexler dreamt of a time when cars would move freely along coastal roads. After he shipped his car to Bethany Beach, it did not take long before more horseless carriages joined Drexler, bumping their way along the primitive roads of coastal Delaware.
In the next 10 years, the popularity of driving your own vehicle increased as cars were improved, and many roads, particularly between cities and towns were paved. Coastal roads, however, remained in poor shape.
In 1913, when State Senator Drexler attended the organizational meeting of the Sussex County Automobile Association in Rehoboth, there was no road across the dunes from Bethany Beach to the older resort south of Cape Henlopen. Drexler could take a circuitous route inland to Dagsboro and around the western shore of Rehoboth Bay, or he could take the boat from the Loop Canal to Rehoboth.
He chose to take the boat that day; but Drexler continued to dream for better roads in southern Delaware.
Two decades later, in November 1933, a modern, hard-surfaced road was finally opened linking Bethany Beach and Rehoboth. The Delaware Coast News commented: “About thirteen miles of Senator Drexler’s dream has come true.”
James D. Meehan, “Bethany Beach Memoirs…a long look back,” Bethany Beach: Harold E. Dukes Jr., 1998, pp. 17.
F. D. Power, “Bethany Beach as Seen from the Dome,” The Christian Worker”, Sept. 29, 1905, p. 4.
Philadelphia Inquirer, Oct. 24, 1903, Newspaper Abstracts, http://www.newspaperabstracts.com/link.php?action=detail&id=53982
Delaware Coast News, Aug. 2, 1935.
Milford Chronicle, May 29, 1903; June 10, 1904.