Finding something off the beaten track…on the beaten track

Have you ever walked (or driven, or whatever) past something regularly, on your normal route somewhere?  It’s easy enough to do.  I do it all the time.  When it catches my eye the first time, I’ll think to myself, “Oh cool.  I’ll need to go check that out.”  And invariably I forget until the next time I go past…lather, rinse, repeat.

So it was with the Rehoboth Beach Museum.  You can’t miss it – it’s at the west end of Rehoboth Avenue, just barely west of the traffic circle; you’ll drive past it coming downtown from the highway.  Well…actually, you could miss it, if you’re like me and have your sights set on a square of sand to sit on, just off the Boardwalk.

Who goes to a museum in a beach resort town, anyway?  The reason I probably hadn’t given it much thought is because, well, I usually come to sit on the beach and visit with old friends and haunts.  So when I’d come to Rehoboth on my own this time, and the Museum had been at the forefront of my mind (because, well, I’d remembered it the last time I’d driven out of town), it seemed like a good enough time to check it out.  On my unseasonably warm February Saturday, I remembered the Museum sometime late in the afternoon, as I was debating whether I’d soak up more sun, or find another way to kill time before dinner.  I looked them up on my phone to ascertain their winter hours – 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on the weekends – and then looked at my home screen to check the time: 3:20 p.m.  Whoops.

On my unseasonably warm February Sunday morning, I meandered down to the Boardwalk to try the breakfast at Gus & Gus, with plans to go sit on the beach afterwards…and maybe check out the Museum if I remembered.  It was sunny when I arrived, but when I finished my pancakes, the clouds looked…ominous.  It almost looked like a summer storm could be approaching.  In February.  I checked my phone’s weather app – the sun was supposed to come back out early afternoon.  Here was my perfect opportunity.

Rather than give up my fantastic parking spot on the beach block of Wilmington (it was one of those weekends that downtown parking is harder to come by than a bottle of sunscreen in July), I hoofed it all the way up Rehoboth Avenue, past the fire station, past the impending new city hall building, even past the Royal Farms and coin laundry – up to the Rehoboth Museum.

It lies just next to the Visitor’s Center, which used to be Rehoboth Beach’s train station.  To the north of the museum lies a public park and playground, also obscenely crowded for February.  The museum itself was empty, save for the woman at the desk.  She turned from her computer and greeted me with a broad, friendly, small-town-historian smile as I stuck my donation into the fishbowl (the museum does not charge an entry fee; they suggest a donation of your choice).  She asked if I’d ever been before – and I chuckled sheepishly that, for how many times I’d driven or walked past, this was my first time.  She gave me a 3-minute tour – which she ended by telling me that she’d let me get to it without hovering or holding my hand.  My kind of docent.  She went back to her computer for the whole hour plus I was there; it was comforting to know that she’s friendly enough to ask questions, but not so invasive that I couldn’t explore in my own speed.

The museum is laid out into two main rooms – a permanent exhibit on the history of Rehoboth, and a rotating exhibit (currently on postcards; it will change in March to an exhibit on needlework).

The main room starts with a corner detailing the history of the building itself – a converted ice-making factory, started up by the Lingo family patriarch in 1919, providing ice to the town for decades before refrigerators became commonplace in homes.  (When you’re in Rehoboth, you’ll see how prevalent the Lingo name is around town; of course the name goes back that far.)  Meandering around the room leads to more stories on the founding of Rehoboth as a religious camp, its evolution into a resort town, the history of the Rehoboth Beach Patrol (apparently, their tradition of taking photos of their – let’s face it – astoundingly good-looking lifeguards goes way back).  There are also stories of the lighthouse and various storms that have wreaked various havocs on the shoreline, and a timeline of bathing suit fashions that have graced the town through the decades.  (Note to self: Thank goodness woolen bathing suits are not a thing anymore.  Oof.)

I’d have to go back to make a “fair assessment” of the rotating exhibits, but the post card exhibit was just right – just informative enough, while being small enough not to be boring.  The room featured Rehoboth post cards scattered through the history of the post card as a type of mail (my personal favorite was a post card featuring a Scottish terrier sitting on the beach, looking out over the sea, with the caption “Wish my pals were here”).  Walking out from this room, the hallway currently features the winners of the Delaware Beach Life Photography contest.

Sure, it’s a tiny museum.  Despite being so obviously on the beaten path, it’s easy to miss, especially when my eyes are set on claiming my few feet on the sand just ahead.  But is it worth the stop?  I’d say yes.  It’s small enough to not be overwhelming, and engaging enough to stay for a minute.  The nice manager will welcome you, and happily answer any questions, without bothering you while you explore.  So meander on in on a rainy or cloudy day, or even to take a break from the intensive sun.  Or, as the museum itself says, come on by to “dive into history.”

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