Sussex County: A land divided and invaded

There is no doubt Sussex County is a land divided – a diverse landscape separated by Route 113.

There are easternsussexians and westernsussexians, and never should the two mix. I guess those who live in the middle could be called middlesussexians, although they tend to side more with those on the west than on the east.

Technically Seaford is the largest town in the county, not counting summer populations in beach towns of course, and Milford’s bi-county population.

And, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, the county is defined as the Seaford Micropolitian Area. So those people who think the world revolves around the First Town in the First State or the Nation’s Summer Capital are dead wrong. At least according to Uncle Sam, Sussex County is anchored by Seaford – on the western side of the county.

Yet most easternsussexians have never taken the 40-minute drive, without beach traffic of course, to the largest town in the county.
Heaven forbid should anyone from the east ever venture west across Route 113 or across Route 13 into hillbilly country. But, believe it or not, most of the people who live there do have indoor plumbing and wear shoes – at least when they go to town on Saturday nights.

All kidding aside, most people agree that soybean Sussex and sand castle Sussex are two different places. Generally, people in the west are looked on as more conservative while those in the east are more liberal. While there are many exceptions to this generalization, that is pretty much the case.

People in the west tend to keep their opinions to themselves, or at least close to home, while those in the east tend to broadcast those opinions at every available moment.

People in the east tend to be a lot more passionate about everything – from saving stray cats to school board elections.

People in the west seem to be more reserved and more laid-back, and actually more in touch with the environment around them – although most easternsussexians would dispute that.

I know. I have lived on both sides of the county.

When I left my hometown in Seaford of 50 years and moved to Lewes, it was a bit of culture shock.

But not as much as most would think. I grew up during the heyday of the DuPont days when the company attracted some of the best and brightest engineers and scientists from all over the world to the then sleepy town of Seaford. It was soon called the City of Seaford.

They brought with them smart kids, progressive ideas and a penchant for community activism and they made lots of money that helped the community prosper.

They also brought a worldview to a rural town. Those who were willing to listen learned a lot. Some of the most influential people contributing to Seaford’s growth between 1945 and 1990 were DuPont employees, who were encouraged to get involved.

Since the sale of the DuPont plant and a large-scale cutback in employees, down to fewer than 600, the influence the plant had has evaporated.

But in eastern Sussex, the influx of newcomers has been happening over the past decade, but on a much broader and diverse scale.

Retirees, and some who work from home or even commute, from the Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, Pa., and Baltimore, Md., metropolitan areas are bringing their big city attitudes and lifestyles to rural Sussex.

Others have come to the area to open businesses to take advantage of the strong tourist market. Many of those who are in the forefront of significant movements are from somewhere else – not Sussex County.

There is only one born and bred Delawarean on the Lewes City Council, yet the same does hold true in western Sussex – at least not now.

However, the invasion of eastern Sussex is spreading westward as people discover that life on the other side is not really that bad, and actually a little cheaper.

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3 Responses to “Sussex County: A land divided and invaded”

  1. Ted Ferragut Says:

    Ron,

    Thank you for your great article. As a property owner in Lewes for two years and a full-time resident for 16 months, I see already the split in Sussex County. But with the split, I feel the tension. But with the east as the victim.

    I believe the tense tone in the county is a by-product of the Sussex County Council and its attitudes towards zoning, environmental issues, traffic, transfer taxes, parks and recreation, etc. The Council members mostly come from central to western parts of the County and have a self professed conservative, almost arrogant tone, towards the eastern portion.

    I hear things like: “Throw the growth over there; develop over there; change zoning requirements; build without transportation solutions; redefine environmental buffers; bring on the fight, and the like.”

    My wife and I have traveled all through the county and met wonderful people, lovely traditions, and don’t want to get into east-west battles.

    It seems to me that the westerners of the county, seeing the political fights in the eastern part, might want to rise up and say something. They have the power to tone down the rhetoric, to unite and not divide. Or for a long time to come, we will see an us-them mentality with rising tensions.

    O well, maybe it is just inevitable that we will have vicious republican-democratic splits mirroring national politics. Maybe fighting is all we will do in Sussex County. As a newcomer, I hope not. I really hope not. But I don’t know what to do about it.

    Ted Ferragut

  2. billsammons Says:

    Ron – I definitely agree it’s like two different worlds. Everybody talks about how different Upstate is compared to Downstate…but nobody talks about Eastern vs Western Sussex. I grew up in Milton – and now live in Bridgeville. We like Bridgeville but want to get back to the Milton area one day. It seems we are heading East all the time anyway..whenever we want to see a movie, go to dinner, shop…and of course, hit the beach. Property values are the reason we’re currently living on this side of 113.

  3. Janna Says:

    Hi Ron,
    Just found your blog through the Cape Gazette. I enjoyed this article! I was born and raised on McFee St. in Lewes and never traveled over to the Western side of the county unless we were passing through on our way to the Salisbury Mall. Then, in high school, I was a member of the girl’s soccer team and the marching band and we travelled to the western side of the county for games. I have to say that I assumed everyone that went to school over there was probably a hillbilly and less educated than we were at CHHS. Boy was I wrong!

    To be honest, I’m usually annoyed by the newcomers in Lewes/Rehoboth for the exact reason you stated; they never shut up. They complain about every thing, want every thing that made Lewes what it is to be changed, insist that they deserve more representation in County Council, etc. Lately, they have left such a bad taste in my mouth that I think about moving to the western side of the county!

    I worked at the county administration building for 3 years and met the most wonderful people from Seaford, Laurel, and Bridgeville. It took some of them a little while to warm up to me because after hearing I was from Lewes I think they assumed I was a snob that thought they weren’t as smart or cultured as I was. Luckily we grew to be good friends.

    I know that not everyone that moves to Lewes is a pain in the behind but it seems like they are the ones in the news, complaining the most, and ahem…running for county council.

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