Nobody loves South Bethany as much as the people who call it their home (or second home). The town will celebrate its 50th anniversary of incorporation this weekend with the annual Boat Parade on Saturday and anniversary street fair on Sunday.
The 50 Year Anniversary Celebration will be Sunday, June 30, from 1 to 4 p.m., held rain or shine at Town Hall, 402 Evergreen Road. All music, food and entertainment are free and open to the public.
This won’t be a Town Hall reception, said organizer and Town Council Member Carol Stevenson.
“This is a street party,” she said. “It’s not too serious, and it’s going to be fun.”
All food will be free, including hotdogs, Grotto Pizza, McCabe’s Gourmet sandwiches and Go Melco snoballs.
Kids’ activities are also free: face painting, make-and-take crafts and a giant claw machine with stuffed animals and toys.
There will be live steel drum music, and the first 100 guests will receive free T-shirts. Door prizes and giveaways include gift certificates donated by local businesses and sponsors.
A major photo-op is the new decorative lifeguard chair, donated by the South Bethany Historical Society.
Displays will be put up inside tents, in case of inclement weather. People can meet the town council and visit informational booths by the South Bethany Police Department, Communications & Public Relations Committee, Canal Water Quality Committee and Community Enhancement Committee.
Each committee will be giving away free gifts, such as geraniums for community enhancement; sunscreen for safe beaching; gun locks and bike helmets from the police; and flashlights for pedestrians to use at movies on the beach.
The South Bethany Property Owners Association (SBPOA) will sell apparel, have signups and do voting for next year’s executive board.
Teams are already practicing for a cornhole tournament set for 1:30 p.m., hoping to win custom-designed cornhole boards with local photography of the sunrise and moonrise over South Bethany.
Town administrators will give welcoming remarks around 1:15 p.m., followed by a group photo of all available past mayors. Trainers Melvin and Kim Royster will give a fitness demo at the South Bethany Outdoor Fitness Area at 2 p.m. A yoga demonstration follows at 2:15 p.m.
Awards from the June 29 South Bethany Boat Parade will be announced at 2:30 p.m.
Other exhibitors include South Bethany Women’s Club, South Bethany Historical Society, the Coast Guard Auxiliary, Delaware Center for the Inland Bays and Bethany Beach Volunteer Fire Company.
“The town staff and a lot of volunteers have been working hard to make it a fun event … all hands on deck,” said Stevenson.
Parking is very limited, so the public is being encouraged to walk, bike, use drop-offs or park on the side streets. Currently, vehicular parking is free west of Route 1.
From marsh to municipality
“We’ve come a long way. … We’re the ‘best little beach in Delaware,’” said Stevenson. “We particularly moved here because we like the lifestyle, the ambiance, the water, the beach, the sense of community,” she said.
“We have so many things going on. We have the historical society, the women’s club. It’s easy to get involved and make friends here. I think it’s a happy little community. We have things going on, and much of it’s done by volunteers. … You can have a lot of fun here.”
Just one mile long, the Town of South Bethany was founded in 1969 to help the previously unincorporated area obtain more government services. The original housing development was begun in 1952, when Richard Hall and Elizabeth “Iggie” Hall purchased around 130 acres from the Delaware Shore Land Corporation, naming the community “South Bethany.”
The Halls for 10 years had canals dug and raised the marshland into buildable lots. From almost nothing, they created a town with miles of canals (although it turns out they maximized land space at the cost of water quality, due to the fact that some canals are set so far back from the inlet).
People have always loved vacationing nearby (even Native Americans summered in coastal Delaware), so they happily bought these 50-by-100-foot residential lots.
After serving as secretary to the South Bethany Association, town matriarch May Felerski was hired as town clerk. She offered her own home as town headquarters until a proper town hall was built in 1978.
York Beach Mall, along with York Beach and Paradise Shores (behind the mall), were annexed into town in 1972, followed by Sand Piper Pines in 1983 and Cat Hill in 1985.
It’s worth celebrating that progress, from “not even having bulkheads and just being random little houses on the beach, to being a real town,” Stevenson said. “It’s a great celebration of 50 years of coming together.”
South Bethany Boat Parade to set sail on Saturday
The annual South Bethany Boat Parade is scheduled for Saturday, June 29, at 5 p.m., hosted by the South Bethany Property Owners Association (SBPOA).
Like a parade on land, each boat is decorated in various themes, often with costumes.
The idea originated among a handful of people in 2014, and “It has become the iconic event for South Bethany,” said organizer Kent Stephan. “People have really gotten into it,” he said, sharing his own past themes of “Christmas in July” and “Sharknado.”
It’s roughly an hour long. Participation is free for South Bethany boats and spectators. Registration is appreciated beforehand, by emailing email@example.com, but entrants are welcome at the lineup.
“The first time that we did this … we had nine people that signed up, and we had 12 that lined up,” and audiences soon flooded the sidelines. “By the time we turned around in that canal, it was full of people. We knew we had something pretty big at that point.”
Watercraft large and small are welcome, as long as they can fit and turn around. Even kayaks can take part, placed at the end of the parade, “so you don’t worry about getting run over,” he said.
Boats will assemble at 4:45 p.m. in Jefferson Creek. The boats sail on a clockwise route through the town’s widest north-south canals, Jefferson Canal, S. Anchorage Canal and York Canal.
On land, viewing spots are available on the west and east sides of S. Anchorage Avenue, the east side of York Drive and west side of Carlisle Drive. Street parking is currently free west of Route 1, but people must obey safety rules.
“It’s fun … but it’s also been appreciated. People in town like it,” Stephan said. “I look at South Bethany as a fun little place. This is part of it.”
A running joke is that the parade follows “the route that Magellan would have followed if he had explored South Bethany,” Stephan said.
The public is welcome to find a spot to watch the floating parade. Awards will be presented for most creative, funniest, most patriotic and more. The winners will be announced and awarded prizes on Sunday at 2:30 p.m. at the town’s 50th Anniversary Party.
“The people in the boats just seem to have a great time, hollering at people on shore,” Stephan said. “There are usually water-gun fights. It’s just a nutty, good time. … It’s about the most non-serious thing you can come up with.”
By Laura Walter