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The Origins of Rehoboth Beach

Today’s City of Rehoboth Beach traces its beginnings as a municipality to March 19, 1891, when the Delaware General Assembly issued a new charter stating: “The purpose of said incorporation is the providing and maintaining of a permanent seaside resort, and to furnish the necessary and proper conveniences and attractions required to the success of the same.”

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The City’s actual origins as a seaside resort go back to January 27, 1873, when “The Rehoboth Beach Camp Meeting Association of the Methodist Episcopal Church” was founded here to provide for summer religious gatherings. Using that name, and led by a Reverend Robert Todd, thirty incorporators secured a Charter from the state Legislature to create a “Christian sea-side resort.” Their plan was to encourage interested persons to take advantage of the seaside atmosphere and to fund the enterprise through sales of shares and property.

The Reverend Todd and his associates chose “Rehoboth Beach” as the name of their Camp Meeting Grounds. The source for the name is the Bible (Gen. 26:22); in early Hebrew, Rehoboth meant “broad places.” English explorers had given this name to nearby Rehoboth Bay in the 17th Century - no doubt in appreciation of its beautiful, broad expanse.

That same year, 1873, the Camp Meeting Association oversaw the construction of its religious Encampment Grounds and several small wooden structures known as “Tents,” such as the one on Christian Street which now serves as the museum of the Rehoboth Beach Historical Society. A Post Office was also established, the first of several hotels was built, and the original Rehoboth Boardwalk was constructed-eight feet wide and 1,000 yards long!

In 1878, the railroad was extended from Lewes to Rehoboth Beach, bringing more and more visitors to the City. Soon the seaside resort aspects overshadowed the Association’s religious orientation and activities. In 1879, the name of the enterprise was shortened to “The Rehoboth Beach Association,” and by 1881 the annual religious camp meetings were discontinued. New managers continued promoting investments in property and gave increased encouragement to resort-style facilities and entertainments. Although the number of permanent residents remained small, concerned business leaders, including some of the Association’s directors, now saw the need for a more conventional government. This led to the March 1891 action of the Delaware Legislature, revoking the 1873 Charter and its amendments and creating a municipal government under control of a Board of Commissioners.

The 1891 Charter gave the municipality a completely new name: Cape Henlopen City. This name was unpopular from the beginning. So, in 1893, the Legislature changed the name to, simply: Rehoboth. And, in 1937, the official name was changed again to its present form: The City of Rehoboth Beach.

Throughout it’s more than 100 years, Rehoboth Beach has remained proud of its religious beginnings and its family oriented atmosphere. Generous, regular attention has been given to continuous fulfillment of the original purpose of the municipality: the furnishing of proper conveniences and attractions for the maintenance of a successful seaside resort.

Source: Warren H. MacDonald, Rehoboth Beach Historical Society