A BRIEF HISTORY OF SOUTH BETHANY
South Bethany, a residential community on the South Delaware coast between the bay and ocean, was originally part of a land patent known as South Petherton, granted in 1695. In 1926, George McClellan, a resident of Long Island, New York, purchased four adjoining land tracts totaling 140 acres and conveyed them to the Delaware Shore Land Corporation. In 1952, Mr. and Mrs. Richard Hall purchased about 130 acres from the Delaware Shore Land Corporation and called the land “South Bethany.” By 1959, there were 500 property owners throughout South Bethany. Mrs. Hall initiated a move for incorporation without success. After moving into his house on S. 4th Street and Ocean Drive, Jim Cleveland, with the help of some other residents, including May Felerski and Lew Jarrell, organized the first association to address community needs. The meetings were held in Mr. Cleveland’s garage. In 1962, there were 37 homes built directly on the dunes when South Bethany was severely disrupted by an exceptionally destructive storm in March.
In December 1965, Governor Terry signed the bill for incorporating South Bethany; however, the Town was not ready. Jim Cleveland and others, including Newt Porter, Bob Terrill and Jack Williamson, drafted the incorporation papers. In April 1966, the first Charter was presented for Town referendum and was firmly defeated. Finally, in 1969, the Charter was accepted by referendum, and on June 18 Governor Russell signed Senate Bill 246 providing for the incorporation of the Town. The first election was held for seven commission seats, and Jim Cleveland was elected the first Mayor. A few years later, a short street on the bayside towards the north end of South Bethany was named “Cleveland Drive” in honor of Mr. Cleveland’s commitment to the Town. May Felerski, a devoted citizen, helped to establish a Town government, became Town Clerk, and held Town Commission meetings in her living room. By then, South Bethany had 240 homes, 496 property owners, and a year-round population of 15 families. In 1971, Harry Nelson became South Bethany’s first Police Officer, and on June 18 the first Lifeguard crew of Captain Roger Knox and Lifeguards Ron Clausen and Granny Grant set up their freshly painted white towers on South Bethany’s beach.
In 1972, York Beach and Paradise Shores were annexed to South Bethany, and Sussex County placed a moratorium on building permits within 1,000 feet of the ocean in an attempt to ensure restoration of the primary dune. Also, in 1972, installation of the public sewer began. In 1977, South Bethany received a federal grant to build a Town Hall on land donated by Mrs. Hall, traffic lights were installed at each end of Town, and the sewer system was completed. In January 1981, the Delaware Supreme Court cleared the way for renewed beach development, lifting the moratorium on permits for construction on the dune. In August 1983, the South Bethany Property Owners Association was formed, and South Bethany’s population grew to 1,282 pieces of property, 748 houses, and 105 year-round residents. In the mid-1980’s, a beach replenishment program was initiated giving South Bethany an engineered beach to recover sand lost during major storms. On November 19, 1987, the area known as “Cat Hill” became part of South Bethany. On March 22, 1992, 22 acres of wetlands were conveyed to the Town from Cat Hill. In 1998, the Town entered into an agreement with Artesian Water Company to put water lines throughout the Town and a water tower on Town Hall property at which time the Town obtained clear title. Also at that time, Chesapeake Utilities installed lines adjacent to the water lines in anticipation of one day being able to provide South Bethany residents with propane gas provided by Sharp Energy. In October 2003, the Town started the process of having an underground propane gas storage facility installed behind the Town Hall. In 2007 the original Town Hall was demolished and replaced by a new Town Hall and Police Building.
Today, South Bethany is the “Best Little Beach in Delaware.” There are approximately 1,387 properties with less than 175 vacant lots remaining and a year-round population of about 600 people. The Town is flourishing through the help of the South Bethany Property Owners Association.
The next time you are driving down Evergreen Road towards the Town Hall, please notice the sign in front of the park which has been dedicated to the Hall Family.
Following is a list of former Mayors in recognition of their efforts and dedicated service: