At the turn of the twentieth century Rehoboth Beach was a quaint church camp village and summer residence to many who valued the ocean’s healing powers. Transportation traffic was mostly horses, wagons, and buggies. There were no paved sidewalks, crosswalks, street lamps, lifeguards, bench, water fountains, or trash cans. Lake Gerar was a smelly trash swamp and Silver Lake was a mosquito breeding ground.
In order to address some of the unpleasant and unsightly problems of the city, a number of lady friends made a courageous decision to join together to improve Rehoboth. They met in December 1909 and established the Village Improvement Association (VIA). In 1909 the officers were:
President...................................Mrs. Harry Newman
Vice President..........................Mrs. Frederick A. Ross
Secretary...................................Mrs. A.W. Dick
Corresponding Secretary......Miss Lidia Lindall
Treasurer..................................Mrs. E.B. Riley
Auditor.......................................Miss Effie Truitt
One of the first things the newly formed VIA tackled was the lack of sidewalks. The ladies were able in 1911 to establish crosswalks and crushed stone walks to promote pedestrian safety and help keep dresses cleaner. They also saw to adding a concrete plaza in front of the Rehoboth Public School and the purchase and placement of trash cans on the boardwalk.
In 1912 the VIA established the first public library in Rehoboth. This was supported entirely by the Club and private donations until 1942 when a library commission was formed to collect state and local funds. They still support the Rehoboth Beach Public Library with an annual donation as well as purchasing books in memory of deceased members. Also in 1912 they became members of the Delaware State Federation of Women’s Clubs (DSFWC).
In the 1920’s the VIA funded the building of a surf safety line so bathers with heavy water-logged wool bathing suits could pull themselves out of the water and onto the beach.
The VIA started a mosquito campaign, purchased the Cape Henlopen Lighthouse replica, installed lights in dark areas, provided boardwalk benches, and purchased and erected street signs. The clubhouse was built on a deeded property on Boardwalk and Grenoble Place given to the organization by the town of Rehoboth Beach. The VIA became members of the General Federation of Women’s Clubs (GFWC) and joined the Chamber of Commerce, an organization suggested by them.
The 1930’s found the VIA moving the Cape Henlopen Lighthouse replica to a plot of land at the entrance to Rehoboth. Many flowers, shrubs, trees and bushes were planted throughout the town to help preserve parks and beautify the town. Art exhibits were held, and the Rehoboth Art League was originated. A Well Baby Clinic was established with a nurse on duty, as well as the beginning of the Rehoboth Day Care Center. Public bubble water fountains were placed at Baltimore Avenue and the Boardwalk and Delaware and the Boardwalk.
Gardening, beautification and flower arrangement contests continued in the 1940’s spawning the Sussex Gardeners. Plans were made to construct the Rehoboth Public Library. The clubhouse was used by the Red Cross for first aid classes. The war effort found the VIA ladies sponsoring food and clothing drives. They spearheaded a war bond drive to purchase a bomber for the Air Force. They also supported local hospitals and theater groups.
In the 1950’s the VIA attempted to get kindergarten classes in public schools and started a fund as the nucleus for a convention center for the city.
A children’s fishing pier was constructed in the 1960’s as well as a micro nature park in front of the VIA boardwalk clubhouse. After convincing the town commissioners to erect a town clock, the VIA ladies helped raise the necessary funds. Beautification efforts throughout the town continued, especially at Lake Gerar. Finally, the Mildred Gray Beebe Nursing Scholarship was established.
The VIA continued serving the Rehoboth community in the 1970’s and 80s. Books were donated to the Library, Christmas gifts were given to residents of Stockley Center, a day care center opened, tutors volunteered at Cape Henlopen High School, and they became involved with the formation of the Cape Henlopen Senior Center where a VIA member continues to be represented on its board. They worked with neighboring communities to obtain economical transportation points in Sussex County. Members worked with geologists to protect and preserve the dunes. Time and money were given to the Hugh O’Brien Youth Fellowship (HOBY) program.
In the 1990’s the VIA published a cookbook, arranged a Centennial Ball for the City of Rehoboth Beach, and purchased beach wheels for the disabled to have access to the beach. They continue to feed all volunteers for National Trails Day at Henlopen State Park and provided Mammography of Delaware space for convenience of mammograms. The beginning of the annual fundraising Golf Tournament and hostessing one of the homes on the annual Rehoboth Art League Cottage Tour continue today as well.
The first decade of the 2000’s has the VIA providing coverage at the Main Street information kiosk on the boardwalk, knitting and donating caps for newborns, establishing student scholarships at the Rehoboth Art League, donating to the West Side New Beginnings youth program, beginning a book club, and planting at the veterans’ cemetery in Georgetown. In 2008, the VIA had the honor of being awarded the “Citizen of the Year” at the Rehoboth Beach Unity Dinner. It was the first time that this honor was bestowed upon an organization. Members marched in the Rehoboth Christmas Parade as its Grand Marshall. The VIA continues many annual fund raising efforts to support the needs of the local community.
As we move into our second century of service to Rehoboth Beach and environs, we, the women of the Village Improvement Association, remain dedicated to our mission. Our dedication, concern, money and time given to the well being of our beloved Rehoboth Beach and surrounding communities, the residents and visitors has been, still is, and will continue to be, constant.