A time when no one was a stranger at Fenwick Island

There’s little that brings bigger smiles to us here at BoomerCafé than the good memories of our childhoods. And for us, nothing’s better than if they’re our own. Which brings us to BoomerCafé’s publisher and co-founder David Henderson, who still remembers a place where no one was a stranger.

Don’t ask me how our minds work as we get older. All I know is that I tend to remember more in my mind’s-eye, and that helps to fit all the many pieces, people, places, times, and events of my life into some kind of meaning. I would like to think it’s mostly true … I certainly hope so. Maybe it’s partly a perception or reflection of times past.

At any rate, it was a postcard I found that my mother had sent to me in the 1960s that released a flood of memories about Fenwick Island, Delaware, the place where my mother, sister, and I would spend a week or two each summer long ago. Relatives and family friends would join us. And, what I remember most is that it was a good time.


A postcard photo of the Fenwick Motel.

We always stayed at the Fenwick Motel, located on the ocean side of the Coastal Highway. Fenwick Island was then a sparsely populated village on the border of Maryland and Delaware, between Ocean City, Maryland, to the south, and Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, to the north.

No one in those days was a stranger at Fenwick Island. During the days, we would ride inflated car inner tubes in the rough surf, often getting ground into the sand by large waves.

The beach at Fenwick Island, Delaware.

The beach at Fenwick Island, Delaware.

My sister, Elizabeth, also remembers …

“It was so exciting! The senator from Wyoming and his kids were there at the same time … every year. Sand everywhere! Our annual trip to the beach … the weekend after Labor Day. I remember you would get chigger bites on the walk to the lighthouse.”

By night, people would light bonfires from driftwood, and would all gather around to laugh, tell stories, and watch the sparks from the wood fire fly into the night sky.

The old Fenwick Island lighthouse.

The old Fenwick Island lighthouse was built in 1858.

My mother would point out the stars of Orion, a formation that I believe secretly held special meaning for her. I look at Orion now on clear nights and think of her.

The shoreline then had large sand dunes covered with wild grasses. Sand dunes that had lasted through the ages until construction projects to build more houses and motels disrupted the natural protection … and, the dunes became little more than ripples of sand down to the beach.

Every few miles along the coastline were remnants of World War II -– tall watch towers, part of the coastal defenses.

Old shoreline defenses from World War II.

Old shoreline defenses from World War II.

The local residents told stories of how German submarine crews occasionally would send a few crew members ashore in rubber boats to buy medicine and food. Sure, local residents were apprehensive, but the German seamen were courteous, spoke English, paid for their food and medicine in dollars, and politely thanked merchants as they left in darkness to return to their subs.

Over the years, I have met others who had visited Fenwick Island in their youth, and we all remembered it fondly as a magical place in our memories.


  1. What a lovely reflection of yesteryears. My family also had a magical place in the 1960’s.
    We drove from Pittsburgh to Nagshead, North Carolina and always stayed in the Crowsnest. The dunes were high then, and we stayed out the entire day riding the waves with our foam mats.
    Just old cottages lined the oceanfront and not the MacMansions they have today. Sweet memories will never be forgotten.

  2. David’s Fenwick Motel resonates with many of us and offers an insight into good parenting. What is one of the best things you can do for your children or grandchildren? You can help set up a tradition of an annual summer vacation at some special spot. It will tighten the bonds of the family, plus plant the seeds for a life-long memory of those carefree good old days with family and friends. We all need those memories to sustain us through the turbulence of life. Thanks David for reminding us of how to carry the past back into the present!

  3. Did not know that about the German subs!

    I do remember my mother, who lived on an Army base in Alabama with my 2nd. Lt. dad during the war, mentioning that German POWs did the landscaping around the pool, and were trusted with the necessary tools.

    Many of them did not return home after the war.

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