Erased by storms and a broader boardwalk, Surf Avenue was once Rehoboth’s place to be

By Michael Morgan

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Today, Surf Avenue is a quiet residential street at the north end of Rehoboth just beyond the boardwalk. Beginning in the shadow of the Henlopen Hotel, the tree-lined street runs alongside the beach for five blocks before it becomes Zwaanendael Road at Henlopen Acres. What remains of Surf Avenue today is only a hint of the glory it enjoyed as the early resort’s most prestigious address.

 

In 1873, when leaders of the Rehoboth Beach Camp Meeting Association (an outreach of the Methodist Episcopal Church) established the town, the focal point of the resort was the meeting grounds about three-quarters of a mile from the beach. Several streets, including what was foreseen as the town’s most important artery, Rehoboth Avenue, radiated from the campground eastward until they intersected with Surf Avenue, which ran along a sandy bluff parallel to the beach. At 100 feet wide, this roadway could easily accommodate the many horses and carriages that early visitors drove to get an unobstructed view of the rolling breakers. When the Camp Meeting Association began to sell lots (at prices ranging from $75 to $150 apiece) in the nascent resort, those along Surf Avenue were quickly gobbled up first. Sales on Rehoboth Avenue, which the association believed was “destined to be one of the grandest avenues in the world,” were not as brisk, and many lots near the campground remained unsold.

After the Surf Avenue lots were sold, cottages were built, and the resort’s first grand hotel, The Surf House, began to rise on the northern edge of the beachfront. Opened in 1873, during Rehoboth’s first summer season, the new hotel was a wooden, three-story rectangular building with its long side facing the ocean. The first floor was outfitted with three parlors, an office and a dining room; the two upper floors were divided into three dozen guest rooms. The Surf House was such an immediate success that prior to the resort’s second summer season, it was enlarged when 10 dormer windows were added to the peaked roof, increasing the inn’s capacity by about 40 more guests. A portico gave guests a pleasant place to sit and watch the waves that broke about 50 yards in front of the hotel.

 

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