Rehoboth Beach was scarcely five years old when the Wilmington Morning Herald reported news that would shape the resort for half a century.
On Feb. 18, 1878, the newspaper announced, “The contract for building the Rehoboth railroad from Lewes to the grounds of the camp meeting association has been awarded to Joseph Hyde, of this city (Wilmington), who will start this morning for Lewes with one hundred laborers.”
As an inducement to build the railroad, the Rehoboth Camp Meeting Association, who controlled the town, gave the Junction and Breakwater Railroad Company 50 building lots and a lot to construct a train station.
Train service to Rehoboth made it easier for Wilmington residents to vacation in the resort for a week or two, and the railroad also enabled Delaware residents from all parts of the state to visit the resort easily.
Throughout the remainder of the 19th century, the railroad carried thousands of people to Rehoboth; and the train service was instrumental in making the Delaware seaside town a first-class resort.
Not only did the train bring crowds of vacationers to Rehoboth, but the railroad companies sponsored improvements in the resort.
On March 28, 1900, the Wilmington Evening Journal reported, “Active preparations are now being made for the coming season at Rehoboth, which is expected to be the most successful of its history.
“The Queen Anne railroad Company will enlarge the Casino (hotel), adding 75 feet to its length and another story in height. The Pennsylvania Railroad Company has shelled Rehoboth avenue, adjoining its tracks, and several other avenues will be thus improved.”
Unfortunately, railroad lines were also being built to other resorts on the Atlantic coast. By the first decade of the 20th century, leaders of Rehoboth felt that the railroad ticket prices gave other resorts, particularly those along the New Jersey coast, unfair advantage.
In 1908, negotiations with the railroad companies got off to a rocky start when the train executives claimed that the railroad company could not run a special express train to Rehoboth. The officials, however, relented and they agreed to streamline the schedule by eliminating several stops to make the trip from Wilmington to Rehoboth quicker.
This made it possible for residents in New Castle County to spend a day at the beach and return at a reasonable hour. In addition, a more favorable fare of $3.50 for a five-day round-trip ticket and a $4.30 extended stay round trip ticket was good until the end of the summer.
Both the railroad executives and the leaders of Rehoboth hoped that these changes would boost railroad ridership to the resort, but there was one thing that neither party anticipated.
Horseless carriages had begun to appear on Delaware roads. Many people laughed at these early cars, when they got stuck in the state’s unpaved roads with cries of “Get a horse!” Cars, however, continued to grow in popularity, and many of them crowded the streets of Rehoboth.
After the end of World War I in 1918, the resort enjoyed a decade of unprecedented growth. The booming economy created robust bank accounts, and many folks invested their new-found wealth in a summer home at the beach and a new car.
The construction of the Du Pont Highway allowed vacationers to forgo the train and drive to the beach. So many visitors to Rehoboth drove to the beach that the train service that once was the lifeblood of the resort, and whose leaders had fought so hard to maintain, was abandoned.
Morning Herald, Feb. 18, 1878.
Evening Journal, March 28, 1900; May 28, 1908.