History

From the first Dutch settlers in the early 17th century to the present day, Sussex County has seen many visitors. Some of those visitors have stayed, farming the land, harvesting resources, working and calling this new land home. The largest, but historically least populous, county in the state of Delaware, Sussex County has had its share in the limelight of history. Below are some key dates in Sussex County and Delaware's history:

  • 1609 – Henry Hudson and his crew aboard the Half Moon enter the mouth of what will become known as Delaware Bay.
  • 1631 – Dutch established a trading post in what is present-day Lewes, calling the colony Zwaanendael, or "Valley of the Swans".
  • 1681-1682 – The King of England grants Pennsylvania and Delaware to William Penn, an English proprietor who names Delaware's southernmost county for his home county of Sussex in England. The land grant sets off years of disputes with the Calvert family of neighboring Maryland, who challenge the boundaries between Delaware and Maryland.
  • 1704 – Delaware, also known as the "Three Lower Colonies," is established as its own government independent of Pennsylvania, though still under English rule.
  • 1763 – Deep Creek Iron forge established outside Georgetown; iron working industry begins in Sussex County.
  • 1768 to 1774 – English surveyors Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon survey the boundary of Delaware, beginning in Delmar, working their way north to Pennsylvania and then west for the boundary between Pennsylvania and Maryland; the survey formalizes the boundary, and thus brings an end the decades of dispute that began with the Penns and Calverts.
  • 1776 to 1783 – Revolutionary War.
  • 1787 – Delaware becomes the first state to ratify the U.S. Constitution.
  • 1791 – Georgetown platted out and established as the new County seat; the County seat had been located at Lewes, but was relocated to a more central portion of the County.
  • 1813 – Lewes bombarded by the British during the War of 1812.
  • 1830s to 1840s – Canning industry begins.
  • 1859 – Railroad reaches Delmar. Farmers are now able to ship perishable goods outside of Delaware to cities such as Wilmington, Philadelphia and Baltimore.
  • 1860 to 1865 – The Civil War period sees Delaware become a border state, siding with the Union. But Confederate sympathies run deep in southernmost Sussex County.
  • 1871 – Strawberries first planted near Selbyville.
  • 1872 – Rehoboth Beach founded as a tent revival meeting grounds.
  • 1878 – Rail line reaches Rehoboth Beach; popularity of beaches spreads south.
  • 1903 – Sussex County Levy Court is abolished by Delaware General Assembly and reformed as a 10-member panel.
  • 1915 – The Delaware General Assembly again abolishes and reforms the Levy Court, this time as a three-member board of commissioners; the new Levy Court takes effect in 1917.
  • 1919 – Last ship built in Bethel, which had been a popular ship-building port along Broad Creek, a tributary of the Nanticoke River and Chesapeake Bay.
  • 1923 – Cecile Steele of Ocean View orders 50 chicks for her egg-laying business, but instead receives 500 birds thanks to a clerical error. The foul-up gives birth to the modern broiler industry, and will make Sussex County not only the birthplace, but the leading county of broiler production in the United States.
  • 1924 – du Pont Highway opens, connecting Sussex County to points northward.
  • 1943 – Levy Court of Sussex County purchases ground near Georgetown for airport. U.S. Navy, and later a private firm, All American Engineering, use the property for training and testing grounds.
  • 1970 – Sussex County, by authority of the Delaware General Assembly, shifts from Levy Court system to County Council form of government. Two Council seats are to be added to the new County Council, beginning with the legislation's effective date of Jan. 1, 1971. That act brought to five the total number of elected members on the panel.
  • 1974 – Sussex County Council adopts first official County flag, a design based on merged imagery: the Dutch flag and the sheaf of wheat from William Penn’s County seal. The flag was designed by William C. Scott of Selbyville.
  • 1996 – County offices relocate from the Sussex County Courthouse on The Circle in Georgetown to the current County Administrative Offices building next door.
  • 2006 – Robert Stickles, the longest serving County Administrator under the County Council form of government, retires. David B. Baker appointed as County Administrator.
  • 2007 – The prototype of the first-ever County flag, designed by William C. Scott of Selbyville in 1974, is generously donated to the County by Mr. Scott in December 2007. The flag remains on display in the County Administrative Offices building in Georgetown.
  • 2008 – A new $13 million state-of-the-art Emergency Operations Center opens next to the Sussex County Airport outside Georgetown, giving the County a modern facility to process 911 calls and coordinate responses to emergency events.
  • 2009 – A new 3,109-foot runway opens at the Sussex County Airport near Georgetown, giving pilots an alternate runway to use when landing smaller aircraft in crosswind conditions. The runway is the second at the airport, joining the main 5,000-foot runway.
  • 2011– David B. Baker in January announces planned retirement from County government after 33 years of service, five of those as County Administrator; Georgetown-area native Todd F. Lawson named as successor in July. Baker retires Dec. 31, 2011.

Use the menu on the left to navigate through our history.