See link for interactive map of demo permits since 2012

Rehoboth’s Oak Avenue: Mule barn to du Pont hunting lodge

As demolitions continue, some property owners work to save city’s history
December 4, 2020

Story Location:
Little House
17 Oak Avenue
Rehoboth Beach, DE 19971
United States

The 100-year-old Little House at 17 Oak Ave. in Rehoboth Beach may not have had the pedigree of the 100-year-old, du Pont-built Shell House to the south, but its history does include mule rides on the beach and one of the founders of the Rehoboth Art League.

Eric Boving’s family had owned the house at 17 Oak since 1920. It was put on the market early this February and sold a few months later. The city issued a demolition permit Oct. 7 for the one-story, single-family dwelling and an accessory structure. Demolition wasn’t allowed to commence until Nov. 9, but by Nov. 10 the house was gone.

Boving, 72, said the ocean-block cottage was actually an old stable used to house donkeys and mules that were ridden on the beach in the early 1900s. He said his great-great-aunt, Rose Verdon, had the stable moved atop the tallest dune in the area, which is where it sat for the last 100 years. Verdon was the aunt of Ethel Pennewill Brown Leach, one of the Rehoboth Art League founders, who also spent a significant amount of time at the cottage. Leach and Boving’s grandmother were sisters.

“It was bought from a company that offered rides up and down the beach,” said Boving, adding the family owned 15 Oak Ave. at one point too, but that lot was sold years ago.

Boving said the house was put on the market because taking care of it was becoming too tedious. It’s not modern in any way and was beginning to take too much time to maintain, he said.

“There’s no heat or AC. No TV,” said Boving. “But that was part of its charm.”

Boving said the walls inside the house were simply the exterior wood paneling, nailed to round cedar posts that had been flattened on the board side. The roof had cedar shake shingles, which could also be seen from the inside, he said.

It’s remarkable that his aunt and uncle lived in the house year-round for a number of years, said Boving.

The house is old enough that it predates the trees on the property. In old pictures, there are no trees, said Boving. “The pine trees and oaks have grown up since the house was moved there,” he said.

Boving said the house was the family’s home base for years. They would close it down for the winter and reopen it every spring. 

“I’m very attached to it,” he said. “It was a neat place. I wish it was still around.”

Some houses in Rehoboth are being preserved

Not all the old houses in Rehoboth Beach are being demolished. A prime example is located at the other end of Oak Avenue. Known as Goose Landing, the home at 80 Oak Ave. is situated on the western finger of Lake Gerar. It’s a house so nice, it’s been renovated at least twice.

The current owners are Steven Linehan and Tom Gaynor. Prior to that, it was owned by James and Mary Campbell. James was an oil man who was appointed as the American ambassador to El Salvador by President Richard Nixon. Mary served on the Rehoboth Beach Planning Commission for nearly a decade.

The Campbells purchased the property from John Townsend Tubbs, owner of a local lumberyard and member of local organizations, in the late 1960s. According to a real estate listing from when the house was for sale in 2016, the property was used as a du Pont hunting lodge in the 1930s.

Gaynor said he and Linehan purchased the home in 2017 and renovated it because they wanted to own a piece of Rehoboth Beach history. He said anything with running water – kitchen, bathrooms – was gutted and made new; all the wood paneling and floors were stripped, sanded and refinished.

“All we did to the bedrooms was paint,” said Gaynor.

The biggest change was to the yard – trees were cleared, a pool and pool house were added, and yards and yards of fill was brought in to flatten out the slope of the backyard leading to Lake Gerar. Gaynor said he’s still surprised by how much wildlife – rabbits, ducks, cranes, deer – there is on the property. 

“It wasn’t easy, but we were up to the challenge,” said Gaynor. “We took the long view and hope to retire here. The house has given us as much as we’ve given it.”

Demolitions continuing in Rehoboth Beach

Keeping with a years-long trend, the Oak Avenue mule barn isn’t the only house to recently have the city’s scarlet sign placed on the front lawn. Recent examples of demolition permits by date are:

• Oct. 1: two-story, single-family dwelling and an accessory structure at 216 Laurel St.

• Oct. 2: two-story, single-family dwelling with an accessory structure at 338 Hickman St.

• Oct. 7: two-story, single-family dwelling at 138 Henlopen Ave.

• Oct. 21: one-story, single-family dwelling and an accessory structure at 326 Munson St.

• Oct. 26: two-story, single-family dwelling at 320 Stockley St.

• Nov. 4: two-story, single-family dwelling with an accessory structure at 90 Henlopen Ave.

• Nov. 4: one-story, single-family dwelling and an accessory structure at 21 6th St.

• Nov. 4: two-story, single-family dwelling with an accessory structure at 78 Columbia Ave.

• Nov. 9: one-story, single-family dwelling and an accessory structure at 220 Philadelphia St.

Permits issued annually since April 2012:
  • 2012: 14
  • 2013: 15
  • 2014: 23
  • 2015: 23
  • 2016: 30
  • 2017: 30
  • 2018: 27
  • 2019: 34
  • 2020: 27 to date
Permits issued by month since April 2012:
  • January – 19
  • February – 12
  • March – 24
  • April – 8
  • May – 6
  • June – 3
  • July – 9
  • August – 50
  • September – 28
  • October – 32
  • November – 21
  • December – 11

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