In the summer of 1973, I first set foot in Lewes, Delaware: the town where my novel, Myers, is set in 1955.
The town so many of us love today, as do so many who grew up here and remember the 1950s, was very different in 1973 from what it is in 2021 as seen in the two contrasting photos below. The top photo was shared on FaceBook by John Gardoski and shows (1) a sign marking the driveway to a former Coast Guard building that had been appropriated by the University of Delaware’s College of Marine Studies as a dorm for married couples and women, (2) the ticket booth for the Cape May-Lewes Ferry that had begun service in 1964, (3) Long-time Lewes Mayor Otis Smith’s Fish Products Company plant, and (4) Bunker Row: 20 concrete homes Smith’s company provided for its workers.
I captured the bottom image a half century later at approximately the same spot the top photo was taken. UD’s “Coast Guard dorm” has become the headquarters of the venerable, Pilots’ Association For The Bay & River Delaware. The ferry terminal has had a dramatic upgrade, and Otis Smith’s processing plant and Bunker Row are long gone, having been replaced by coastal homes and condos.
When my then wife and I dropped our bags in a basement room of the UD dorm, which served as our home during the summer of 1973, the fish processing plant, shuttered in the mid-1960s, remained the most physically-imposing, man-made structure on the Delaware Bay shoreline. The plant’s appearance was testimony to the fact that in 1949 and 1950, more pounds of fish were landed at Lewes than at any other port in the world.
Bunker Row, Otis Smith, and his fish processing plant have roles in Myers, given that the Fish Products Company was still a going concern in 1955 when (the fictional) Karl Myers was serving as Lewes’ chief of police.
The changes in Lewes in the 18 years between1955 and 1973 were as dramatic as the changes that have occurred in the past 50 years, and not just because of the collapse of the Delaware Bay fishery in the intervening years: in 1955, segregation was still the adhered to law of the land in many places across the country, including Lewes, and in 1954, Brown vs. Board of Education had dropped a bomb on the law-driven, institutional racism of 17 of America’s then 48 states, one of which was Delaware.
A following post will review aspects of the institutional segregation encountered by Karl Myers in Myers in 1955.
The images in this post are a combination of two photos: the top photo was shared publicly on FaceBook by John Gardoski; the bottom photo was taken by me. Copyright infringement is not intended by the use of these images, nor is there an intent on the part of the blogger to monetize the use of the images.
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