Bethany resident recalls town’s journey through history
Bethany Beach has been a home to Margaret Young since she was just 1 year old, when she joined her family in their annual summer treks south from upstate Delaware and southern Pennsylvania.
For the first few years, they stayed at the old Atlantic Apartments; then they moved closer to the beach, into their first of two homes on Second Street. In 1983, as her family expanded, they settled into a house in Bethany West, where Young still lives today with her dog Nacho.
When she was little, she said, they only came down for a week or two at a time. But after a few years, her family started coming down to the beach for a month or more, and Young settled into the rhythm of summer life at the beach.
On those mid-1900s summer days, Young said that, just like today, “Everybody went to the beach with their friends all day long, and you went to the boardwalk with your friends at night.”
However, back then, she said, there were only a few beaches and a significantly smaller lifeguard force.
“When I was growing up, there weren’t very many lifeguards — and you knew them all. At that time, there were only five beaches with lifeguards.
Smiling, she ticked them away on her fingers, one by one: “Main beach (now known as Garfield), Middle Beach, the South End, Second Street and the North End.”
Ultimately, it was the infamous storm of 1962 that began to change the face of Bethany Beach toward the town that today’s visitors know and love.
“People who don’t live here think it was a hurricane,” Young said. “It wasn’t a hurricane; it was a nor’easter. And it lasted for a couple days — it lasted through four high tides. After that, we had no boardwalk and almost no buildings on the boardwalk.”
When all was said and done for that storm, Young’s Second Street home was flooded with about 3 feet of water, but, she said, the only thing they lost was their upholstered furniture in the living room. The rest of the town wasn’t so lucky.
“It took out the bowling alley. It took out the Seaside Inn. It took out any houses that were up there. It took out Holiday House.”
Some homes and businesses were rebuilt, but many just sold the land and left, laying the foundation for a new era at the beach.
But some things — like the town’s community driven charm and spirit — remained unscathed.
Young recalls a night that, while forever etched in American history books for different reasons, sticks in her mind as a time when neighbors and strangers alike gathered together in community.
It was Aug. 9, 1974, and word had trickled out from Washington, D.C., that, in the wake of the Watergate scandal, President Nixon planned to resign from office via a televised speech.
“In that day and age, not many houses had cable TV — especially the rental properties, because it was so expensive,” Young said.
Her family, since they stayed down all summer, was one of a few exceptions.
“We had people coming up to us all day long, saying, ‘Could we stop in your house?’”
By the time Nixon was ready to deliver his resignation address, Young said, “You would not believe — we had wall-to-wall people in our living room. It was like making lifelong friends in one evening. All these people — half of which I never saw before in my life.”
Young and her husband decided to make a permanent move to the beach in 1997, after he retired and their youngest son finished school.
“Everybody was in place, if you know what I mean. That’s when we made the move.”
Over the next few years, she started settling into the local community, serving on the board of the Bethany Beach Landowners Association and the pastoral council of Saint Ann’s Catholic Church — to which she has belonged since its establishment — and as part of the Bethany Beach Historical Society, later becoming involved in the Bethany Beach Farmers’ Market, too.
She said that she’s most proud of the way she convinced the council to officially commemorate U.S. Navy Ensign Henry Clay Drexler, who was posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor after he perished fighting a fire aboard the U.S.S. Trenton in 1924.
Drexler’s family lived in the historic Drexler Cottage, on the corner of Atlantic Avenue and Campbell Place in downtown Bethany Beach. A plaque was installed at the Loop Canal Park flower garden in his memory.
Amongst locals, Young is most prominently known for her time on the Bethany Beach Town Council and her efforts to preserve town history on the Cultural & Historical Affairs Committee.
While on the council, Young fought hard for the issues that mattered to her.
“I know what I believe in,” she said. “I know what I’m for and against.”