When Bethany Beach was founded in July, 1901, there were only three cottages in the fledgling beach town.
Most summer residents stayed in tents in those beginning years, when Bethany Beach was conceived as a “haven of rest for quiet people,” seeking a “safe and rational way of spending the heated term” in the words of Dr. F. D. Power, a Washington, D.C. minister and founding father of the resort.
Members of the Christian Church, also known as the Disciples of Christ, settled on Bethany Beach as the home for their summer retreat.
The centerpiece of the town was an octagonal tabernacle, with sliding doors that opened to the pleasant ocean breezes. The tabernacle was the site of many religious services and camp meetings for more than 60 years before it was torn down. More than 40 years later, the Christian Church – which still occupies a large tract in the center of town – built its new conference center in a style reminiscent of the old tabernacle.
Although many of the original cottages are gone, a few remain as reminders of the town’s past. Today, Bethany Beach is not just a summer place. Comfortable homes line the oceanfront and the town’s main streets. Increasing numbers of shops are open all year to serve the growing population.
But before modern transportation made Bethany Beach accessible, the trek to the resort was certainly not an easy one. Visitors from Pittsburgh, for example, had to travel by train to Baltimore, then by boat across the Chesapeake Bay, another train ride to Rehoboth, then by steamer through the Lewes-Rehoboth Canal, across the Rehoboth and Indian River Bays, and then a horse-drawn bus for the final two miles of the trip.
Bethany Beach’s boardwalk has been a centerpiece of the town since 1903. Due to its seaside location, it has been rebuilt serveal times due to storms. The great storm of March 1962 was the most destructive – destroying not only the boardwalk, but also the town’s pavilion, the landmark Seaside Hotel, and many homes and other buildings.
One building, the Addy Sea, weathered the storm of ‘62 and many others before and since. Considered by many to be the “grande dame” of Bethany Beach, the cedar-shingled beauty on Ocean View Parkway was built around 1902 by John Addy for his family. It has been open to guests since 1935, and although it has been moved west and repaired a number of times, it stands as a Victorian showplace and a window to Bethany Beach’s glorious past.