Money was scarce, times were tough, but Dick and Anne Lynam savor memories of their — and the town’s — formative years

By Chris Beakey
From the September 2017 issue

LookBackLynams A Look Back: Growing Up in Old Rehoboth - Delaware Beach LifeLike many people who visit or live in coastal Delaware, Dick and Anne Lynam appreciate the area’s modern amenities. Yet the longtime Rehoboth residents are happy to share memories of earlier days, when tourist accommodations were likely to be rooming houses adjacent to unpaved roads, and when most residents worked long hours to afford the necessities of daily life.

One symbol of that hard work endures today in the royal blue Lynam’s Beach Service umbrellas and chairs that are rented from tidy sheds adjacent to the Rehoboth boardwalk. The business was founded by Dick’s family before World War II, one of many enterprises he and Anne each became part of when their respective families moved to the area in the 1930s.

By Depression-era standards, life in those years was good for both the Lynams and the Toppins, who rented out rooms in their homes primarily to people who came to the area in search of work. Anne remembers her mother, nicknamed “Charlie,” packing lunches for boarders who were building the Indian River Inlet Bridge. Dick remembers his father, Highland, cutting meat at Lingo’s Store at Baltimore Avenue and First Street in between his property-management chores.

“Those years . . . you couldn’t just have one job; you took whatever was available to you,” Dick recalls. “My father had lost his [previous] job. They needed money to live on and to send my sister to college, so we moved into a house called The Marlyn at Baltimore Avenue and the boardwalk and rented rooms for 25 years.”

Both Dick and Anne recount other aspects of life in their small seaside town.

“I started first grade at a new school. ... The golf course was behind our house, so I’d walk down the cart path,” Anne notes. “One time, coming home from school I was with Danny Travis, another boy in my class, and we were going to catch tadpoles in the lake. I got too close and fell in — up to my neck in mud and almost over my head. ... My sister was a senior in high school so they called her. She had to take me home, mud and all.”

Such hazardous commutes weren’t particularly unusual given Rehoboth’s state of development at that time. As Dick says, “There were no paved roads outside of Rehoboth Avenue and First Street and maybe Columbia Avenue. But all the other streets were dirt roads. ... They had scrapers and they’d scrape them now and then, and then another truck would distribute some kind of a liquid salt to keep the dust down. Same way with Dewey Beach.”

 

The home front
Amid these limitations, Dick is grateful for one special opportunity his family came to realize in the emerging resort town: “One of my sisters wanted me to start the [beach] business, and she was willing to buy us some umbrellas. I was too young at the time ... so my brother, Thornton, started it. But World War II came along and my brother went in the service so I took it over.”
The boys’ father managed the business when Dick later entered the military, and ably maintained it through uncertain times. Like all Atlantic coast residents, the Lynams and Toppins complied with World War II “blackout” regulations that required darkened windows after nightfall, although Anne remembers “a gentleman who rented one single room on the third floor. They used to say he would put his blind up and down. They thought he was signaling ships at sea.”

While the couple still speculate on the veracity of that particular story, they have vivid memories of other signs the nation was at war.

“They had a prisoner camp in Harrington, at the fairgrounds,” Anne recalls, referring to a time during her elementary-school years when she lived in that Kent County town while her father worked for the Pennsylvania Railroad.

“They brought them down to clean the beach because they didn’t have beach cleaners at the time,” Dick adds. “We would see them ... nice-looking people, soldiers like we were. They did a lot of public work around that time.”

Even so, security and suspicions remained a part of life.

“We had a German baker in [Harrington] who was confined to town,” Anne says, “They wouldn’t allow him out of town during the war.”

Both Lynams also described the frequent sight of tar on the beach, which they believed to be a sign of ships that had been sunk offshore.

“Everybody had a can of kerosene or something at your doorstep, and when you got off the beach you had to clean your feet because they had tar all over them.”

After the war, Dick’s family faced other challenges, including the arrival in 1950 of Jay Dennis, a businessman from Florida who offered the town of Rehoboth a substantial sum for the right to rent his umbrellas on the beach. Dick looks back on this as an especially troubling development for area entrepreneurs “who had been doing this for years” and who “were sort of left out.” Out of necessity, he and four other industrious young men banded together to create their own enterprise, United Beach Service.

“Every place Jay Dennis had a stand, we would have a stand. And when people came down the steps from the boardwalk we would approach them and do our best to convince them to rent from us.

“It was cutthroat at that point,” he admits, but “since most of us had a vested interest in it, we probably got the best of Dennis’ employees because we were interested in making money. As the years went by, Jay Dennis’s slowly faded out.”

The five entrepreneurs also disbanded a few years on. “Little by little ... they went to college, became lawyers and had other interests,” Dick notes. Happily left behind were Dick and his cousin, Dick Catts, who died in 2014 after years of renting his own branded umbrellas through Catts Beach Service, a business that likewise continues to this day.

 

Storm of the century
Like many Rehoboth residents with deep roots in the area, the Lynams also have clear memories of the March storm of 1962, which marked an especially difficult time for Dick.

“I was teaching school in Millsboro. ... We woke up and saw some damage to the boardwalk. Anne and I were building some apartments at the time so I went to check on the progress of the building. I noticed some workers were down there on the boardwalk. … By nighttime it was gone — the boardwalk was demolished.”

Fortunately, thanks to the stage of construction at that point, the apartment building survived: “We didn’t have windows in, so the wind just blew through. We had … no damage whatsoever.”
Unfortunately, he had to make a very difficult phone call about his childhood home, which had survived many storms before.

“I called my mother up ... and I said, ‘Mother, the Marlyn’s gone.’”

Dick lists a few of the many other buildings and businesses that likewise were assaulted by the storm: The Pink Pony, Stuart Kingston Gallery, and the front sections of the grand Belhaven Hotel and Dolle’s, two beloved oceanfront institutions.

Anne’s memories of the destruction are equally vivid: “The Grier home was a huge two-story. ... I heard the crack and watched it go into the sea. It was just unbelievable the way it slowly went down like a ship. It was eerie.”

Shortly after that moment, the Lynams fled their home with their three children (at the time), including 2-month-old Robert. As Anne recalls: “When we looked out and saw the water rushing down the road, we put all our clothes on the sheet of the bed and rolled it up and went like Santa Claus out the door.”

 

Love in bloom
Today, both Lynams exude calm and a sense of accomplishment as they recount the ups and downs of the past. Hard times are described with humor, and good times with gratitude, particularly when they speak about their courtship, which began at Snyder’s on Rehoboth Avenue. The store — a long-ago precursor of the present-day Snyder’s Candy — was a favorite hangout for locals at the time, with a soda fountain, jukebox and an array of newspapers and magazines for sale.

“I had just graduated from high school, and a girlfriend of mine [and I] … drove up and parked in front of Snyder’s, like everybody did, and these two boys came over and started talking to us,” Anne says.

One of those two was Dick, and what happened afterward is still a source of amusement for the couple. There was an early misstep from the boys, who talked about meeting up with the girls at a “beach party” the following day. That led Anne and her girlfriend to do some investigative work and learn that the party story was made up, part of a ploy to get them on an actual date. And that convinced the girls to “forget these boys!” and spend the evening with family at The Dinner Bell restaurant instead — only to arrive home and find Dick and his friend tossing a ball in their front yard.

Afterward, Anne says, “I didn’t see him for a while. He didn’t like that very much.”

Fortunately, amends were made and their budding attraction flourished. As with many young people at the time, the courtship included strolls on the boardwalk, where everyone dressed up to look their best: Anne in skirts and Dick in long pants and dress shirts ironed by his mother.

Both worked summer jobs during the day, as did many locals, all of whom had one thing in common, Anne notes: “We didn’t get real tan.”

After getting married in 1953, the couple raised five children, spending most of their lives in Rehoboth except for one short stint in Dewey. They cherish those early days, and are happy the town has protected much of its historical aspects while evolving to meet the needs of modern-day residents and visitors.

“Everybody thinks Rehoboth’s changed a lot, but it’s mainly in the number of people and the differences you see in the summers,” Anne says. “I’m looking across the lake now and I remember a lot of the old houses. If you look beyond the [facades on] Rehoboth Avenue you can still see the old structures are there ... even the old Carlton Hotel.”

One thing that has changed is the summertime vibe of strolls along the boardwalk.

“We went down last night and had dinner on the boardwalk, and then we decided we’d walk back and get an ice cream cone at The Royal Treat,” Anne notes. “The people looked so different from when we were growing up. They weren’t dressed. They were so casual.”

That fact of contemporary life in no way diminishes the couples’ affection for the region, although they acknowledge that even after nearly nine decades in the area, true locals probably wouldn’t call them natives.

“You have to be born here,” Anne says.

Still, “it’s been a wonderful experience to have lived in Rehoboth,” she adds in testament to their years of hard work, the strong relationships forged along the way, and the many rewards reaped from contributing to a community they love.

 

Chris Beakey, a regular contributor to Delaware Beach Life, is the author of “Fatal Option,” a thriller published in February by Simon & Schuster.

The business was founded by Dick’s family before World War II, one of many enterprises he and Anne each became part of when their respective families moved to the area in the 1930s.

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