Now Available: The Roofed Graves of Delmarva

The Roofed Graves of Delmarva is now available at baldcypressbooks.com. Books ordered there will come directly from me, so this is ideal for online orders, since I can sign books (if requested), or weed out printing defects, which is always a possibility with books ordered from online retailers like Amazon. I will also have plenty of copies at our official book launch event at Abbott’s on Broad Creek in downtown Laurel on Saturday, March 28th, at 2:00 p.m., hosted by the Laurel Historical Society.

There is a substantial discount for booksellers, historical societies, or anyone else wishing to buy multiple copies to re-sell.

– Chris Slavens

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March 2, 2020 · 6:21 am

Publishing a paperback through IngramSpark

A little over two years ago, I had a partial draft of a paper about roofed graves which I’d been working on, off and on, for over a year. I vaguely planned to submit it to a historical journal or similar publication. It was dry—academic, professional, accurate, and rather boring, not only to read, but also to write. I don’t recall exactly when I decided to turn the manuscript into a book, to give myself more freedom in the writing process, but it didn’t take long for me to decide to self-publish. It was doubtful that even a regional publisher would be interested in the obscure subject—a specific style of grave marker documented in only seven cemeteries in two counties on the Delmarva Peninsula—and I had no interest in so-called hybrid publishing, or paying a company thousands of dollars to produce the book.

After looking into self-publishing options including CreateSpace (now KDP), Lulu, and IngramSpark, I decided to go with IngramSpark, primarily based on reviews which agree that the quality of their printed books is superior to other options. Their distribution to numerous retailers is also attractive, although I expect to sell most of my books locally.

One of the biggest cons—it was said—was that it would be difficult to create the required files for IngramSpark, they wouldn’t help, and I’d have to pay for each submission of a revised file, whether a cover file or interior (text) file. These turned out to be nonissues. It was relatively easy to use Adobe Acrobat Pro and Adobe Distiller to convert a Microsoft Word file into the specific kind of PDF file required by IngramSpark. (I purchased Adobe InDesign, but ended up using it only in the creation of my cover file.) My very first file submission went through without a problem, and although I did have to make several revisions, I was able to use a promo code each time, and have yet to pay IngramSpark a dollar for file uploads.

The next step was to order a print proof. I ordered two, so I could give one to my dad, a careful proofreader, while I looked over the other copy. This turned out to be a good decision for a different reason, which I’ll explain in a moment. It was $3.15 per book for rush service—“usually prints in one business day”—compared to $2.43 per book for economy service—“usually prints in 5 business days.” I paid the extra $1.44 to speed things along and chose ordinary residential ground shipping. Although I’m not complaining, I got a bit impatient during this process, as the order showed that it was “printing” for two days before I got an email from IngramSpark stating that it had shipped, with a UPS tracking number. The tracking number didn’t work for two full days, which is when I think UPS actually got the package, so the literal shipping date—when UPS scanned the package and began transporting it in my direction—was February 3rd, for an order placed on January 30th. The package arrived on February 10th. Again, I’m not complaining, but I think it might be helpful for other users to know that “rush service” isn’t all that fast. In my case, it didn’t matter. I was just eager to receive a print copy. It’s just something to keep in mind if you’re really in a hurry for some reason, and it would probably be a good idea to allow plenty of time if you’re ordering copies ahead of a specific event or date. In today’s world of Amazon delivering packages within one or two days of receiving an order (or sometimes sooner), twelve days feels like eternity when you’re excitedly awaiting your book.

Anyway, the books arrived. I was thrilled when I opened the box and picked them up. The text and images on the cover were perfect, even sharper than they looked on my computer screen. (One cover seems slightly darker than the other, but both look good, and a reader would never notice or care about the slight difference.) The matte lamination looks and feels professional, because it is. The spines were—off center. Womp, womp, womp. My book is short—only 102 pages—and the cover template called for a .211-inch spine. In reality, each book’s spine was slightly wider, and not entirely uniform from top to bottom. I’d designed a solid black spine with white text, in contrast to the black-and-white historic images on the front and back covers, but this black area was not perfectly centered on the actual spine of either print copy. One was just a little off—no big deal—but the other was far enough off that I wouldn’t have wanted to sell it to a reader. If the book had been significantly thicker—say, a few hundred pages—it probably wouldn’t have been noticeable. But when the spine is already pretty thin, a margin of error of a few millimeters makes a big difference, visually.

That’s why I’m glad I ordered two copies. If I’d only received one or the other, I would have assumed that all future copies would look like one or the other. Seeing the differences between the two copies gave me a better understanding of the variation that occurs in the print-on-demand process.

After thinking it over, I decided that the best way to avoid this would have been to design a cover with a spine that matched the front and back covers with little to no contrast. Perhaps a background color or image that wrapped around the entire book. In fact, I discovered that that’s exactly what BookBaby, another self-publishing company, recommends. I didn’t want to redesign my cover from scratch, so I widened the black background of the spine slightly, hoping that would compensate for the margin of error somewhat. After making several other minor changes, I ordered three proof copies, and nervously awaited their arrival, worried that one or more would be unacceptable.

When I received them, I breathed a sigh of relief. They were fine. Not perfect, but much better than the one copy that had caused concern. I now suspect (or hope) that that one was an anomaly. Still, when I receive copies to sell locally, I plan to simply remove any that I deem unsellable. Maybe I’ll be able to get them replaced, or maybe not. However, I am mildly concerned about online orders; I’ll have no control over what customers receive. That’s an unavoidable con of the print-on-demand model, which is otherwise filled with pros.

Once I was satisfied with the book, I enabled distribution through IngramSpark. The book appeared on Barnes & Noble’s site by the next morning, and on Amazon later that day. Interestingly, Barnes & Noble offered a pre-order discount of 30% for a couple of days, which then disappeared.

I’d read about weird things happening to IngramSpark titles on Amazon, like books being wrongly labeled “out of stock,” and that sort of thing. Some people think it’s a conspiracy, since Amazon and IngramSpark are competitors. Whether there’s any truth to that or not, there was, indeed, some weirdness during the first week that my book was on Amazon. After being available for pre-order for a couple of days, its status abruptly changed to “usually ships in 1 or 2 months.” This was somewhat true, since my initial release date was about a month away—but the listing no longer said anything about pre-orders. The typical customer probably wouldn’t realize that the book hadn’t been released yet. And who’s going to buy a book that might not arrive for two months? Fortunately, this status only remained for a day or two. Unfortunately, it was followed by “temporarily unavailable,” which was followed by the dreaded “out of stock.” At this point, there was no option to place an order at all. Not good.

Meanwhile, Barnes & Noble’s listing for pre-orders never changed.

Seeing no reason to delay the online release of the book any longer, I changed the on-sale date to February 20th. Thankfully, this step seemed to solve the Amazon problem. The updated listing even shows an estimated delivery time of about five days. However, I’m going to keep an eye on it. I don’t buy the conspiracy theory, but there do seem to be some kinks in Amazon’s listing process.

At the moment, I’m waiting for a bulk order of copies, which should arrive in a week or two. With the creation of the book behind me, I’ve shifted my attention to promoting it. I’ve found IngramSpark to be incredibly useful during every step of the process, from setting prices to uploading files to making the book available to retailers, and I would not hesitate to recommend the company to any author considering self-publishing.

– Chris Slavens

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Coming Soon: The Roofed Graves of Delmarva

Book cover photos courtesy of the Delaware Public Archives.

I’m pleased to announce that after three years of research, writing, and/or procrastination, my book The Roofed Graves of Delmarva is in production and will be available in the near future, probably mid-March. It’s about the little-known local tradition of building a wooden, shingled roof over a new grave in the mid- to late 1800s. No roofs are known to survive today, but old newspaper articles, photographs, and eyewitness accounts shed light on what was once a popular custom in Sussex and Wicomico counties. This book is my attempt to gather all of the available information about roofed graves, learn more about them, and investigate connections to Southern grave shelters and American Indian burial customs.

I’ve chosen to self-publish the book under the name Bald Cypress Books. This is a DIY effort, including interior and cover design (so it’s not perfect, but hopefully it doesn’t look too amateurish). I’m working with printing and distribution platform IngramSpark, so the book will be available through Amazon and other online retailers, and brick-and-mortar booksellers can order discounted copies, as they can from any other publisher. I’ll also be ordering a quantity to sell locally.  I’m also looking into organizing some kind of book launch event, so stay tuned.

– Chris Slavens

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Old Forge A.M.E. Church and Camp

This article appeared in the Winter 2020 issue of the Laurel Historical Society’s newsletter.

Old Forge A. M. E. Church was located beside James’ Branch a short distance s. w. of the old Broad Creek Bridge. Near this point, a forge, a saw-mill and a grist-mill were erected in the late 1700’s. The forge was the first to be abandoned, the saw-mill was closed about 1880 and the grist-mill was closed some time later.

On Sept. 16, 1848, James Horsey donated a half-acre church site to a group of free Africans headed by Samson Mathews. Old Forge Church was built and a graveyard was laid out. An active camp-meeting was conducted each year in the woods beside the church. The church was closed about 1909 and the land reverted to Wm. De Shields who had purchased the Horsey farm. There were no tombstones in the graveyard and there is nothing to mark the old site.

– Frank R. Zebley, The Churches of Delaware, 1947

It is unclear when, exactly, Frank R. Zebley wrote the above entry in his wonderful book, since he spent years researching, visiting, and photo- graphing hundreds of Delaware churches before its publication, but some of his photos of Laurel-area churches date to the mid-1930s, a mere twenty years after the annual camp meeting at Old Forge was said to be one of the most popular black camp meetings on the entire peninsula. It seems unthinkable that all visible evidence of a church, campground, and cemetery—the center of a community for countless people over several generations—could vanish so quickly, and that so little of its history would be remembered.

Yet even today, with easy access to newspapers and other records via searchable online databases, we have only been able to learn a little more of that history. Most of the story of Old Forge A.M.E. remains unknown.

It begins, as Zebley stated, in 1848. For the sum of ten dollars (the site wasn’t truly donated), James and Bridget Horsey sold one-half acre of land to trustees “Samson Matthews, Isaac Rodney, Isaac Morris, George Polk, William Sipple, John Saunders, Peter Truitt and Robert Sipple free Africans” under the condition that they would build “a house or place of worship for the use of the African people. . .”

The rectangular lot was described as beginning at “a post on east side of a road leading from Polk Mills (originally) down the western side of said Mill Branch out into the state road leading from Georgetown to Salisbury Maryland and intersecting said road near Broad Creek Bridge so called and then running from said post along or nearly along the East side of said road. . .” Like the church, these roads no longer exist, and the entire site is shrouded in forest.

Little is known of most of the trustees. There were two “free colored” men named Samson Matthews living in Sussex County at the time. John Saunders was involved in the Union Temperance Benevolent Society. The most prominent trustee, by far, seems to be William Sipple, a successful Laurel blacksmith and landowner who provided land to Mt. Pisgah A.M.E., served as a trustee of the local African-American school, and is even believed to have been involved in the Underground Railroad.

Although it is assumed that the new church was named Old Forge A.M.E. upon its construction, the name does not appear on the deed. Evidently the church began holding annual camp meetings in 1855, but we only know this because the camp celebrated its 60th anniversary in 1915; the known records are silent about both church and camp meeting during the early decades. Hopefully, more information will be discovered.

As if to make up for years of inattention, somebody began submitting brief notes about the camp to the newspapers in the early 20th century. On July 23, 1902, Wilmington’s Every Evening reported that Old Forge camp meeting was in progress and drawing a large attendance. The same article implies that some of the attendees were robbing nearby watermelon fields under the cover of darkness, while farmers guarded their fields with shotguns. Three weeks later, on August 15, Every Evening reported that Old Forge was still drawing a crowd from Laurel. That’s some camp meeting!

Alleged watermelon heists paled in comparison to the news that came from the camp two years later. After a violent brawl erupted in or near the campground, during which knives, blackjacks, razors, and pistols were brandished if not actually used, participant Lee Ackwood—a rough character who makes several appearances in Maryland and Delaware newspapers for various crimes—returned to the camp later that evening and shot John White, a popular and respected black merchant, badly injuring him. Both the Morning News and the Philadelphia Inquirer reported that a posse searched for Ackwood on the night of the crime, but the latter clarified that the posse consisted of black men: “…if caught he will be lynched by his own race, as White was extremely popular, and his friends are determined to wreak vengeance upon his assailant.” The shooter was arrested and jailed the next morning.

The camp continued to have a tainted reputation; the ten-day meeting in 1909 was said to be the first without shootings or fights. It seems that the church was closed at about this time—probably due, in part, to the condition of the aging structure—for in 1910 the annual camp meeting was continued by Mt. Pisgah A.M.E. Church. In 1914, the Morning News contradicted the various reports of violent incidents, stating that the camp had “always been free from shooting scrapes.” The 60th annual camp meeting, in 1915, was described as one of the most successful in the camp’s history—yet it also seems to have marked the end of the camp’s history. Old Forge is conspicuously absent from state newspapers after 1915. The seemingly abrupt demise of the camp corresponds with a peninsula-wide crackdown on black camp meetings due to a perception that they frequently turned disorderly or violent. Prejudice was certainly a factor, but, surprisingly, some black ministers were in agreement, citing alcohol use, gambling, and arrests at so-called “bush meetings.”

Whether the camp was affected by new legal restrictions or it simply couldn’t survive without an active church at the site, its closing marked the end of an era in the community. With its lost cemetery and incomplete history, the wooded site of Old Forge A.M.E. Church in today’s state-owned James Branch Nature Preserve continues to be one of the most intriguing locations in Laurel.

– Chris Slavens

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Broad Creek Bridge and the Old Forge

This article appeared in the Fall 2019 issue of the Laurel Historical Society’s newsletter.

One of the lesser-known chapters in the history of the Laurel area concerns a vanished community which was located in the wooded area south of Sandy Fork and the American Legion home, commonly called Old Forge. The mysterious site was an important one in the 18th and 19th centuries, featuring a bridge over Broad Creek for travelers using the original stage road. The Pomeroy & Beers Atlas of 1868 depicts a sawmill, gristmill, store, and several houses clustered around the bridge. There was also an A.M.E. church on the south side of the creek at that time, but it does not appear on the map. In the early years of the 20th century, “Old Forge Camp” was described as the largest “colored” campmeeting in Sussex County. Today, the forge, mills, houses, church, campground, bridge, and even the road are long gone.

Old Forge has received little attention from historians, probably because the name doesn’t appear in early records. Local journalist Orlando V. Wootten wrote two fascinating articles about Old Forge for the Daily Times and The Archeolog in 1968 and 1975, respectively, based on his own visits to the site as well as information from Carmel Moore. Both were accompanied by striking photos of abandoned millstones and other features. The second article was reprinted in The History of Nineteenth Century Laurel in 1983. Wootten lamented the absence of “documentary evidence or primary sources of historical information on Old Forge,” despite the fact that Scharf’s History of Delaware mentioned that the forge and mills had been built “many years before” 1807, when they were owned by Josiah Polk.

But the reason for Old Forge’s apparent absence from early records is simple: The community wasn’t called Old Forge back then. It was called Broad Creek Bridge.

Possibly the earliest references to Broad Creek Bridge were made in 1723, when the area was part of Nanticoke Hundred in Somerset County, Maryland:

“Thomas Gordan appointed Overseer of the roads in Nanticoak hundred from Broad Creek bridge to the Cows bridge at the head of the Indian river…”

“Henry Friggs appointed Overseer of the roads in the afsd hundred from Broad Creek to Gravelly Branch…”

A similar reference appears the following year:

“Ordered that James Bowcher be overseer of the road from Broad Creek bridge halfe way to the Cow bridge it being the halfe of Wm. Burtons Limmitts from the Cow Bridge…”

Friggs is probably the same man called Henry Freaks in 1711, who was awarded 3,000 pounds of tobacco in damages due to the creation of the Nanticoke reservation known as Broad Creek Town. James Bouger was another early landowner.

The bridge was also used as a landmark in surveys of nearby tracts of land. In 1726, “Cypress Swamp” was surveyed for Robert Givans, and described as beginning at a red oak on the northeast side of the creek, “about a mile & halfe above ye Bridge…” Three years later, the first bounder of “Givans Lot” was a cypress tree a mere two poles (approximately 33 feet) below the bridge. Another survey for Givans mentions a cart road leading eastward from the bridge to a swamp; this road might have been the basis of part of today’s Route 24. Givans owned several hundred acres of land around Broad Creek Bridge, as well as lands along Deep Creek to the north.

A noteworthy reference appears in 1736, when Paris Chipman petitioned for permission to clear a new road, at his own expense, between Broad Creek Bridge and Chipman’s mill dam. Evidently Chipman had built a sawmill downstream of a wading place where the old road crossed a branch, causing the wading place to become impassable. It is likely that this record describes the creation of Chipman’s Pond, and that the new pond flooded the old road and wading place.

Another interesting reference appears in 1747, when Presbyterian minister Rev. Charles Tenant mentioned Broad Creek Bridge in a list of places for “public service and preaching…” This is significant, because the early religious history of Broad Creek is a bit mysterious. In the 1880s, Scharf’s contributor Rev. Benjamin Douglass suggested that Christ Church, built in 1771, replaced an earlier structure, vaguely citing local tradition.

 

 

Sandy Fork and vicinity, c. 1723-1868. Composite map of early roads, plus structures known to have existed in 1868, hint at what the Broad Creek Bridge community may have looked like during its early years. Today’s Routes 13 and 24 included for context.

Additionally, it is known that a Presbyterian church was built along the same branch sometime prior to the Revolution, during which it was burned. Tenant’s mention of Broad Creek Bridge is also significant because he seems to be using the name to refer to the community located around the bridge, as opposed to earlier records which seem to use the name to refer to the literal bridge. However, although his list specifically mentions meeting houses at other locations, it does not actually say that there was one at Broad Creek Bridge. The history of the Broad Creek Presbyterians between the 1740s and 1780s deserves further research.

The 1750s saw several surveys for Joseph Marshall which mention Broad Creek Bridge, roads, and other features. Perhaps the most important is a 1755 resurvey of a tract including land formerly owned by Robert Givans, and excluding land which had been “taken away by water.” The new 114-acre tract was called Saw Mill Lot. Although the document does not say whether there was already a sawmill there, the reference to encroaching water suggests that the creek had already been dammed to create a mill pond. This could have occurred as early as the late 1720s or early 1730s, under Robert Givans. In any case, it is clear that Saw Mill Lot surrounded the section of Broad Creek which would later be known as Old Forge Pond.

In 1770, the Maryland legislature authorized the purchase of “a Lott of Ground at or near Broad Creek Bridge in [Stepney] Parish and Erecting and Building thereon a Chapel of Ease to the said Parish,” resulting in the construction of Broad Creek Chapel between 1771 and 1772. Tradition holds that the iron nails, hinges, etc., used in the structure were produced at the nearby forge. It’s not clear why the site at Chipman’s Pond, about a mile north of Broad Creek Bridge, was chosen, but the decision seems to support the theory that the name Broad Creek Bridge was used to refer to the entire community at that time.

By 1807, as mentioned previously, Josiah Polk owned the forge, gristmill, and sawmill at the site. When he died—probably in the late 1830s—ownership passed to his brother, John, although the old forge was abandoned. The mills were called the Polk Mills during this period, even after they were sold to the Chipman family. They were operated during most of the 19th century, changing hands several times.

Both the mills and the bridge were mentioned in 1848, when James Horsey donated a half-acre parcel on the south side of the creek to a group of free blacks led by Samson Matthews. The church they founded would be known as Old Forge A.M.E., though the name does not appear in the deed. The congregation hosted an annual campmeeting beginning in 1855. The church was closed in 1909, but sister church Mt. Pisgah continued to hold campmeetings for several years. In The Churches of Delaware, published in 1947, Zebley stated that nothing survived to mark the site. The history of this church and campmeeting will be explored in greater detail in a future article.

The community at Broad Creek Bridge can be considered a direct ancestor of the town of Laurel, and it is to be hoped that we will be able to learn more about its story, from its mysterious beginnings in the colonial era until its seemingly rapid abandonment in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Specifics about the Old Forge, in particular, are elusive. The search continues.

Notes:
1. The Archaeological Society of Delaware provides PDF copies of The Archeolog at delawarearchaeology.org.
2. Colonial court and land records are held by the Maryland State Archives; searchable at msa.maryland.gov and plats.net, respectively.
3. Tract maps created by John Lyon and Mike Hitch identified original landowners around Broad Creek Bridge.

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Jefferson Davis’s Thanksgiving Proclamation, 1861

WHEREAS, it hath pleased Almighty God, the Sovereign Disposer of events, to protect and defend us hitherto in our conflicts with our enemies as to be unto them a shield.

And whereas, with grateful thanks we recognize His hand and acknowledge that not unto us, but unto Him, belongeth the victory, and in humble dependence upon His almighty strength, and trusting in the justness of our purpose, we appeal to Him that He may set at naught the efforts of our enemies, and humble them to confusion and shame.

Now therefore, I, Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederate States, in view of impending conflict, do hereby set apart Friday, the 15th day of November, as a day of national humiliation and prayer, and do hereby invite the reverend clergy and the people of these Confederate States to repair on that day to their homes and usual places of public worship, and to implore blessing of Almighty God upon our people, that he may give us victory over our enemies, preserve our homes and altars from pollution, and secure to us the restoration of peace and prosperity.

Given under hand and seal of the Confederate States at Richmond, this the 31st day of October, year of our Lord, one thousand eight hundred and sixty one.

By the President, JEFFERSON DAVIS

 

 

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There Ain’t No Such Place as West Fenwick: Rewriting the Geography of Sussex County

In 2007, I worked for a company which dealt with many new homeowners in the ritzy Bayside community, located just east of Williamsville, Delaware. Though their zip code was that of neighboring Selbyville, our work orders and bills said their location address was in Williamsville, while their billing address was in Selbyville. This was factually correct, as well as practical; secretaries used the location addresses to schedule jobs in a particular neighborhood. Frequently this resulted in a new client—perhaps a wealthy retiree from D.C. or New York, or an out-of-state resident who wanted a second (or third, or fourth…) home near the beach—politely mentioning that we’d gotten their address wrong. “This says Williamsville. Shouldn’t it be Selbyville?” At this point, a brief geography and history lesson was offered. “No, technically this community is considered Williamsville. After its post office was closed, the mail started going through Selbyville. So your zip code is 19975—Selbyville—but you’ve just bought a house in Williamsville.”

Typically, the client reacted to this revelation with confusion or disbelief. Sometimes they scribbled out Williamsville on their bill anyway.

The situation became even more confusing when an assisted living facility was built directly across the road, and misleadingly named “Brandywine Living at Fenwick Island.” This occurred during a period of time when many hundreds of new homes were being built along Route 54 between Williamsville and Fenwick Island. (As of 2019, this building boom continues, and shows no signs of slowing anytime soon.) The Williamsville-Selbyville debate began to look insignificant compared to a much more flagrant geographical error: The neighborhood was marketed to would-be homebuyers as Fenwick Island, even though Fenwick’s boundary was miles away. This became a source of great amusement to my coworkers and I, as it was not unusual for us to meet new clients who truly didn’t know where they lived.

The local business community, desiring to be associated with the beach, created the fictitious location of “West Fenwick,” erasing references to not only Williamsville—which was somewhat understandable, since it was a bit of a stretch to apply that name to the area east of Route 20—but also nearby Bayville, which I found to be rather puzzling, since that name already had a waterfront, beachy connotation. It survives in names like Bayville Shores and the Bayville Package Store, but it seems doubtful that any local resident under the age of 70 would say that they live in Bayville, particularly if they moved there in the last 10-15 years.

Meanwhile, the company I worked for stopped using the name Williamsville in location addresses. It stuck around on many of the older accounts, but new ones used Selbyville. I suspect that today, many of the current residents of the community in question have never heard the name Williamsville.

This shift in local place-names—due partly to ignorance and partly to clever commercial rebranding—is only one example of the rapid and ongoing rewriting of Sussex County’s geography, and to an extent, its history.

Another example is found a few miles north, where, several years ago, a developer bought up hundreds of acres of farmland in the eastern reaches of the Frankford zip code and began building a gigantic community named Millville-by-the-Sea. At the time, my coworkers and I thought it was hilarious. It wasn’t in Millville, nor was it by the sea! However, it seems that the developer had the last laugh; within a few years, the boundaries of Millville were officially expanded to include the new Frankford development, though its location relative to the distant sea appears to be unchanged.

Just a couple of miles away, there is a new subdivision called “The Woodlands at Bethany.” Not only is the development in Frankford instead of Bethany, but in an ironic twist which was surely unintentional, the developer cleared most of the woodlands there before building.

The Frankford zip code was already bizarrely large considering the small size of the town in which the post office is located, encompassing communities like Omar (formerly Baltimore), part of Clarksville (formerly Blackwater), Roxana (formerly Centerville, presumably because it is in the center of Baltimore Hundred), Bayard, and Miller’s Neck. To the west, Frankford stretches far across 113 and through the swamp into what is rightly known as Gumboro. Speaking of which. . .

In 2009, I rented a home in Gumboro. This is probably one of the most poorly understood place-names in Sussex County, used for both Gumboro Hundred and the unincorporated community (practically, but not officially, a town with its own churches, stores, and fire department) at its heart. A nearby branch of the Pocomoke River has been known as Gum Branch since at least the 1750s, and is probably the source of the name. Most of the folks in Gumboro have Millsboro mailing addresses, but unlike the come-heres in the beachy resort communities of eastern Sussex, they’re not confused about where they live. They know they live in Gumboro, and they say so with pride. My house on King’s Crossing Road was located closer to Lowe’s Crossroads (another former post office site) than to the old town of Gumborough, but well within the boundaries of Gumboro Hundred. When my electric bill came, it said Millsboro. Today, when I click on the location on Google Maps, it says Frankford.

Who knows?

I live in neither Gumboro nor Millsboro nor Frankford today, but even though my Laurel mailing address on Laurel Road in the Laurel School District seems consistent enough, all of the older neighbors know we live at Whaley’s Crossroads. Previous generations got their mail through the post offices at Bull’s Mills or Lowe’s Crossroads, depending on the time period. Even earlier, the closest dot on the map was Terrapin Hill. Much, much earlier, the colonial settlers called the neighborhood Wimbesocom Neck—a name which was completely forgotten until recently. Once I asked a fellow in his 90s, who had grown up about a mile down the road, whether he would have said that he lived in Laurel back then. He shook his head adamantly: “I didn’t live in Laurel. That’s not Laurel. I lived at Trap Pond.”

Place-names in western Sussex evolve and change naturally, almost on their own, over decades or centuries, but names in eastern Sussex seem to be rewritten overnight, oftentimes by a developer who wants to link yet another inland community to the beach to bump up the price of tiny lots awaiting cookie-cutter homes and cookie-cutter homeowners of the Salt Life variety. Nowhere is this more evident than in the territory north of Indian River and east of Route 113. Lewes, for example, once a small yet important town just inland of Cape Henlopen and the Delaware Bay, has devoured nearby communities like Pilottown, Quakertown, Nassau, Belltown, Marshtown, and—bizarrely, since it’s not even close—the whole of Angola Neck, once home to its own post office. The name Angola doesn’t seem to be going anywhere, thanks to the presence of a number of older developments which were named before it became fashionable to name every new development after the beach or bay, and every new street after a seagull, but even so the local businesses cause confusion at times by claiming to be located in Lewes. Which they are. . . sort of. . . but not really.

By the way, there’s a newish community in Angola called “Bayfront at Rehoboth.” Its mailing address is Lewes.

If Angola Neck’s takeover by Lewes seems odd, the zip codes of the next two necks heading southwestward are nothing less than absurd. The first, a tiny neck accessible only from Route 24, is shared by Millsboro and distant Harbeson. How Harbeson, a small village surrounding the intersection of Routes 9 and 5, managed to claim this territory is a mystery. The second neck is Long Neck; its thousands of homes have Millsboro mailing addresses. Generally, however, its thousands of residents know they live in Long Neck and call it as such. Sometimes confusion arises when a chain of businesses has locations in both Millsboro proper and Long Neck; officially, both are in Millsboro. If any coastal community deserves to be the recipient of a new zip code, it’s Long Neck.

As if the sprawling Millsboro zip code hadn’t already devoured enough communities, it claims Oak Orchard, too. This area was once derogatively known as Down Sockum, supposedly because many of the residents were Sockums, with mixed Indian ancestry. The name has connections to the historical Nanticoke Indians at Broad Creek and Puckamee in western Sussex and western Wicomico, respectively. Though the Sockum surname is no longer found in Indian River Hundred, many of the members of the modern Nanticoke Indian Association have Sockum ancestors in their family trees.

Times change, and names change, sometimes with good reason, sometimes not. Perhaps in a not-so-distant future, long-established local place-names will be forgotten or butchered beyond recognition in our collective mad dash from agricultural community to oceanfront resort. The hundreds have already been forgotten by practically everyone except surveyors and historians. Perhaps Sussex County—a name with roots in England—will be renamed Schell County, its county seat Georgetown-by-the-Sea, each of its public roads officially renamed after various waterfowl. Surely Angola won’t survive, with its assumed connection to Africa and the slave trade. (Why, just a week or two ago, the Cape Gazette quoted an activist who pointed to the name Plantation Road as evidence of an alleged race problem in Lewes!) Selbyville might be swallowed whole by West Fenwick, while other Route 113 communities like Frankford and Dagsboro could be rebranded West Ocean View. Never mind that they don’t offer a view of the ocean; neither does Ocean View.

An alternative strategy would be to simply keep all of the existing place-names in Sussex, but tack on the word beach; i.e., Millsboro Beach, Milton Beach, Seaford Beach, Laurel Beach, etc. Current beach towns could get an extra beach, just to drive the point home: Rehoboth Beach Beach, Bethany Beach Beach, and so on. Each municipality will probably adopt “Life’s a Beach!” as its official motto.

Future generations, accustomed to such names, may find them to be perfectly logical. But I’d like to imagine that someone in lower Delaware’s bustling coastal metropolis, equipped with a knowledge of history and a taste for authentic local culture, will look back at the maps of the 19th and 20th centuries, and savor the quaint, exotic, archaic names we’re so hastily discarding.

– Chris Slavens

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Filed under Delmarva Geography, Maps, Sussex County