Delaware History: Bethany Beach in the 1940s

Kids used to be pleased as punch to walk the boards and dig for clams. Note the absence of technological devices and logo-covered T-shirts. Their parents, at least the non-locals, rented bathhouses to store suits and dresses in lockers while they swam, then to shower before driving home.

Of course, driving to the beach would’ve been tough without the capital improvement project that “paved the way for development of the beach resorts,” says Ellen Rendle, curator of images at the Delaware Historical Society.

Starting in the late-1910s through 1925, T. Coleman du Pont offered cash and expertise to build the DuPont Highway. Wealthy and influential women suggested that federal funds for the Works Progress Administration be spent on work relief projects. Laborers dug drainage ditches to clear standing water, since it was a breeding ground for mosquitoes. Visitors were spared miserable conditions.

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About a decade after this photo was taken, Delaware beach towns became known as the nation’s summer capital, attracting Washington, D.C., folk, as well as New Castle County and Kent County residents—all escaping one form of madness or another.

Next time you cruise DuPont Highway, think about those mosquito-bitten men who dug those ditches—and the women who put them to work.

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