Nov 042011

Published by Coastal Point

Last month, Ocean View made strides towards the preservation of the town’s history with monetary donations planned for the growth of the Ocean View Historical Society and the proposed development of a Coastal Towns Museum. This month, the town of South Bethany is following suit, as they aim to progress interest in their historical society, as well.

The South Bethany Historical Society currently has roughly two dozen members, including Maria Johansen, who is hoping to spark more interest and involvement from residents, homeowners and visitors who have enjoyed South Bethany in its cherished, albeit brief, history.

“We are a relatively new town,” noted Johansen, “as opposed to a town like Lewes, which was founded in the 1600’s. We’re getting started rather early, and we really want to reflect upon what we have here.”

Initially, the land that South Bethany sits upon today was part of a land patent known as South Petherton, granted in 1695. By 1926, George McClellan, a Long Island, NY resident, purchased four adjoining land tracts which consisted of 140 acres. These tracts were conveyed to the Delaware Shore Land Corporation.

In 1952, Mr. and Mrs. Richard Hall purchased nearly 130 acres of swamp, marsh and farmland from the Delaware Shore Land Corporation, and named it South Bethany. By 1959, the development reached 500 property owners, and in June 18, 1969, after some struggle drafting incorporation papers and a town Charter, South Bethany was incorporated.

Town resident Jim Cleveland, who played a big role in the town’s incorporation, was elected the first mayor of South Bethany, and a short street on the bayside was named “Cleveland Drive,” in his honor. In the early years of South Bethany, the town government was coming together, but prior to the construction of a town hall, council meetings were held at the home of May Felerski, who later became the first Town Clerk.

Little has been documented about the town’s development, including the construction of the canals and bulkheads, the assembly and maintenance of the first roads and the dune and beach restoration following the storm of 1962.

“Even though our town is young,” said Mary Suazo, member of the historical society, “there is a lot of history here. People are beginning to forget about the town’s start. It’s important to understand why the town was formed, why we’ve had the annexations that we did. If we don’t have a way to document it, it is going to be lost.”

Members of the historical society are currently working on locating and archiving documents and records of South Bethany’s history. On Thursday, Nov. 17, during the Women’s Meeting at 1 p.m. in the South Bethany Town Hall, the Historical Society will hold a presentation of their efforts, while featuring guest speakers to share the progress and advancement of the town’s historical society.

Among those speakers will be Margaret Young and John Spears, as well as Roger Knox, the first lifeguard captain in South Bethany. South Bethany is also working with Salisbury University’s history department and students who plan to assist in the archiving and documentation of the town’s past.

“Once we have the funding and support we’re looking for,” said Johansen, “we’d like to bring someone from Salisbury in to do part-time work for our Historical Society.” While little space is currently available for a facility, Johansen expressed interest in working with Ocean View’s proposed Coastal Towns Museum, too.

The South Bethany Historical Society is currently seeking volunteers and all residents, particularly ones who have been a part of the town in its earlier years to share memories, old pictures, and other memorabilia about the town’s past. The Historical Society meets the second Friday of each month at 10 a.m. in the Town Hall, located at 402 Evergreen Road. Furthermore, all South Bethany homeowners and residents are invited to join the presentation set for Thursday, Nov. 17 at the Town Hall, during the Women’s Club meeting.

The meeting will begin at 1 p.m. with guest speakers beginning their presentation around 1:30 p.m. For more information, contact Historical Society members Dee Burbage at (302) 539-3653 ext. 218 or Mary Suazo at (703) 963-6663 or via email at

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