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Rehoboth’s historic Martin house not being demolished

April 19, 2019

Rehoboth Beach’s oldest structure, the Lorenzo Dow Martin House, is not one of the buildings being demolished this week. It is part of the Walls’ Apartments complex at the corner of Christian Street and Scarborough Avenue where two buildings have been razed. But, according to Bryce Lingo, there are no plans to take down the Martin house.

Bryce is part of the Jack Lingo Realtor family that purchased the Walls’ Apartments complex from Ann Walls McCool several years ago. McCool operated the vacation apartments and cottages for several decades, almost right up until her death in her mid-90s.

Lingo said the two cottages taken down were in bad shape. “They might have been old, but there wasn’t much historic about them,” he said. Lingo said the tree-shaded cottages which have hosted families for many decades are making way for three 50-by-150-foot single-family residential lots fronting on Scarborough Ave. He said the design for the lots is working around the tall trees that are part of the city’s impressive canopy.

A farmer named Lorenzo Dow Martin owned several hundred acres surrounding the house and built the structure prior to 1870. It is nearing its 150th anniversary.

In a Barefootin’ column published in the Cape Gazette in January 1997, McCool talked about what was called the Corner House in the Walls’ complex. “It’s a story-and-a-half building,” she said. “The rooms upstairs are very small and not much can be done with them because of the slope of the roof. But there are ways to see the building’s age. The supporting members under the first-floor boards are full logs and the floors themselves are random-width pine boards. The house was put together with pegs - no nails.”

Lingo said he would like to figure out a way to further authenticate the age of the structure.

Cottages still being rented

Many of the same families have come for decades to stay for a week in the old house, walk to the beach and sit on the added screened porch shaded by old cedar trees. Two double beds fill the single bedrooms in each of the cottage’s two apartments - with seven-foot ceilings - which also include a small kitchen and bathroom. Wall-to-wall carpeting and linoleum hide the ancient floorboards.

Lingo said there are also no plans to take down two other old houses alongside the Martin house that are part of the Walls’ complex and which also front on Christian Street. “Mrs. McCool lived in one of those houses during the summer,” said Lingo. “She lived in Lewes - in the Quakertown area - in the winter months. She taught school for many years in the Lewes area and was class advisor for my father’s graduation class at Lewes High School.”

Lingo said his firm still rents out the cottages and apartments fronting on Christian Street.

The Rehoboth Association, a church-affiliated organization, bought several hundred acres of land from the Martin family on March 17, 1871. The organization looked to establish a seaside retreat with building lots interspersed between broad streets and avenues.

McCool said William Tappan was one of Rehoboth’s first realtors and around 1900 was selling lots in Rehoboth Beach for $25. A branch of the United States Post Office came to Rehoboth in 1873 as well as two oceanfront hotels - the Bright and the Surf. But the major boost to Rehoboth’s fortunes as a resort came in 1878 when the railroad made its way down the coast from Lewes, giving people from northern Delaware a more convenient means to get to the developing seaside city.

Through the century and a half since that time, the humble Lorenzo Dow Martin House has stood as a cornerstone for Rehoboth Beach and its history.

  • Dennis Forney has been a journalist on the Delmarva Peninsula since 1972 and has been writing his Barefootin’ column for The Whale and then the Cape Gazette for more than 30 years. Contact Dennis at dennisforney@capegazette.com.