Tourist at home

Discovering history along the Nanticoke Heritage Byway and beyond

November 6, 2017

This month's armchair tour focuses on additional sites in western Sussex County along the Nanticoke Heritage Byway. Traveling south on Route 13 from Greenwood toward Bridgeville, turn right onto Bridgeville Highway, and at the corner of Hearns Pond Road you'll find the Hearns and Rawlins Mill. This site has had a mill on it since 1820. That first mill burned down in 1879 and was replaced shortly afterward with the present one. This mill was one of the few water-powered gristmills still operating in Delaware when it was damaged by major flooding in 2006.

While the mill is not open to the public, many wanderers enjoy viewing it from the road. From there, turn right on Hearns Pond Road, make another right onto Wesley Church Road and, finally, a third right onto Atlanta Road. On your right is the Cannon-Maston House which was built in 1727 and enlarged in 1733. The Cannon-Maston House is one of the oldest surviving buildings in Sussex County and reflects the architectural traditions of early plantation owners in the Chesapeake Bay region. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1975.

Next on your tour are sites along Woodland Road west of Seaford, where it passes the Chapel Branch Nature Trail which offers good hiking and ample opportunities for bird-watching. You'll also find the Woodland School House, a nearly 100-year-old, one-room schoolhouse. At Woodland Ferry Road, turn right and continue on until you reach the Nanticoke River. Turn right and you will see Cannon Hall, the most prominent building on the Woodland Village part of the Nanticoke Heritage Byway. Built in 1820, it was originally intended as a home for Jacob Cannon and his bride, but after she declined to marry him, he never moved in, and the house stood empty for many years.

Just past Cannon Hall you’ll find the Woodland Ferry, one of the oldest - if not the oldest - cable-run ferries in continuous operation in the United States. In addition to its longevity, the ferry is of historical importance as one of the locations where slave runner Patty Cannon embarked with kidnapped refugee slaves and free blacks. The story is a horrific one that is  available in a book and is the subject of a display at the Seaford Museum.

By the 1740s, a ferry service was being regularly operated at this Nanticoke River location by James Cannon, and the ferry continued to be operated by members of the Cannon family until the mid-19th century. Landing areas on both sides of the river have been improved and are jointly maintained by the State of Delaware and local citizens. The ferry is free - go for a ride!

After disembarking from the ferry, make your way to Bethel Historic District. The Sailor's Bethel Methodist Church and graveyard is at the corner of Main Avenue and 1st Street. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, this is the burial site of Kendall Lewis, founder of Bethel, and his three wives.

The historic Town of Bethel was first settled as a landing known as Lewis' Wharf in 1795 and became the bustling Town of Lewisville by the 1840s. In 1880, when the town established its first post office, its name was changed to Bethel. Bethel developed along Broad Creek, a tributary of the Nanticoke River. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Bethel Historic District includes many clapboard houses that were built by the mariners who learned their carpentry skills in the village shipyards. Although the interiors of some of these historic structures have been altered, the ones that survive tell the story of this small town's place in 19th century folk architecture.

Bethel's shipbuilding and seafaring past is particularly evident today in the many nautical symbols that appear throughout the village on homes, churches, gravestones, and other objects and structures. Bethel offers a quaint look back into the 19th century shipbuilding center that it once was.

You'll find the Bethel Market at 7743 Main St. Built in 1900, the retail establishment is open seven days a week and known for its great sandwiches. It also sells burgers, grocery items and T-shirts. The pillars in the center of the store are salvaged masts from old sailing ships. Inside the store, visitors will find books on local history and several antiques on display.

Make a left onto 1st Street, and down this road you'll find the Bethel Maritime Museum, open from 2 to 4 p.m., the second and fourth Sundays of each month. Close by, you'll find Bethel Memorial Park, which showcases the town's connection to Delaware's maritime history. A unique and highly specialized sailing schooner, the Chesapeake sailing ram, originated in Bethel in the late 1800s. It required less water depth to navigate, which opened trade to remote and previously inaccessible areas of the Chesapeake Bay.

The Nanticoke Heritage Festival will be held from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 30, at the Woodland Schoolhouse historic site, 27866 Woodland Road, Seaford. It will feature local vendors, historical organizations, live music, an antique car show, food vendors, crafters, farmers market, kids' activities and more. Also, the Living History of Delaware 2nd Regiment will be doing an encampment there over the weekend and demonstrations will be occurring throughout the day.

For more information and maps of the Nanticoke Heritage Byway, go to

As always safe travels and please watch your speed as you travel through our small towns. Speed limits are enforced. To do more armchair exploring of Southern Delaware, go to, then go take a ride.

Hildegard W. Rieger is owner of Relaxing Tours LLC. Read more of her columns at