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How Fenwick Island matured into a quiet resort

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The road to Fenwick Island was never easy to navigate. 

In 1938, David Long, a longtime coastal resident, wrote in the Milford Chronicle, “When I first became acquainted with Fenwick Island, to get onto the island one had to use a large scow or lighter, large enough to take a team across. By a couple of posts settled into the ground, with a long rope reaching across the strait tied to the posts, you conveyed your own self across by pulling yourself forward or backward by the rope”.

Before the European colonists arrived, Native Americans visited the beach by hiking across a marshy spit of land that connected Fenwick Island to the mainland. After the American Revolution, a shallow trench was dug to allow small boats to pass between Little Assawoman and Big Assawoman bays, and the shallow waterway was affectionately named “The Ditch.”

The Ditch and the two narrow inlets made Fenwick an island; and the lack of a dry connection with the mainland discouraged all but the hardy from visiting the tip of the southern Delaware coast.

Fenwick Island received a boost when its signature landmark, a lighthouse, was built in 1859.

The inlets eventually filled with silt. The Ditch, however, grew deeper and wider, and it remained a significant obstacle for those traveling to Fenwick Island by land, until a wooden bridge was built across the waterway in the late 19th century.

Fenwick Island was not only difficult to reach, but ships also had problems navigating past this part of the Delaware coast.

Viewed from the unsteady deck of a sailing ship, the high wooded ground near the border with Maryland combined with the slight bulge in the southern Delaware coast to make Fenwick Island look somewhat like Cape Henlopen.

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Source: GANNETT Syndication Service