After more than 60 years of conducting land surveys across the eastern portion of Sussex County, Rehoboth Beach-based Wingate & Eschenbach has announced it’s closing down shop.
Founded by friends and Rehoboth Beach business owners Jay Wingate and Sam Eschenbach in 1955, Wingate’s sons, Doug and Brad Wingate, took the business over in 2002.
Sitting in the company’s office off the Forgotten Mile, Doug said the reason he and his brother have decided to put their tripods away for good is simple - the lease for their office is up at the end of September, and with both of them in their 70s, neither one is up for the moving process.
Look at this place, said Doug, pointing to 20 of the big metal filing cabinets full of paperwork, a large closet full of rolled-up surveys, bookshelves of reference books and at least three waist-high map cabinets.
“We’ve been doing this for a long time,” said Doug.
Over the years, the company has remained small. For many years it was just Jay and Sam. Doug, a professional land surveyor, began working for the company full time in 1973; Brad, a certified land technician, in 1985. But as the sons of a small business owner, they were often called upon.
“We both helped dad hold the tape measure,” said Brad.
The list of properties the company surveyed over the years is long and varied, but among the most recognizable are the Tanger Outlets, Rehoboth Beach Yacht and Country Club, the Beebe Healthcare parking garage in downtown Lewes and the Boardwalk for Rehoboth Beach after it was destroyed by the Storm of ‘62.
“That was one of the last projects for the city because dad served as a commissioner shortly after that,” said Brad.
When the company was started, there were only a handful of professional land surveyors in all of Sussex County. Now, said Doug, there’s no dearth of surveyors.
Brad said one of the things he liked about the business was the variety.
“You’re pretty much working at a different place every day,” he said, adding that land surveying is somewhat of an art because old land deeds can be hard to read. But there are a lot of legal ramifications associated with their interpretation.
Scattered throughout the office are tools of the trade that still work, but definitely fall under the category of antique. There’s a decades-old compass that works pretty much like one George Washington would have used. There’s a theodolite, the instrument most often seen on top of the tripod, used by Jay Wingate. There’s a dip meter used to find metal boundary markers that have been covered by earth over the years.
The Wingates have upgraded equipment as needed to stay current, but Doug said there’s no doubt the two of them are old school compared to other surveying companies. A number of the older maps have been sold off to friends who already knew they were going out of business. There are some more maps they plan on selling.
“We’ve got some of the nice ones at home, but we don’t have any room for more,” said Doug.
The office has two steel drafting tables, both with tools of the trade sitting on top - compasses, exacto knives, rulers, templates with different-sized holes, French curves, pencils, pens and markers.
“Those tables are solid,” said Brad. “You could put a car on them.”
The Wingates have one more surveying job to complete before they hang up their boots for good. Then the real fun begins.
Middle of the month, a dumpster is arriving out front, and it’s going to take two weeks to get all this thrown away, said Brad. At some point there will be what amounts to a yard sale to dispose of the furniture and other sellable items, he said.