Before starting on our next historical blog entry, a quick thank you to everyone who commented, shared and/or “liked” our last post on Fort Miles in Cape Henlopen State Park.
It was one of our most active blog posts yet, and we hope you’ll continue enjoying these writeups on coastal Delaware’s most interesting and historic people and places. Keep letting us know what you think, and if there’s anything you'd like us to delve into, please don’t be shy about sending us a note.
Now, on to the next feature in this series. This time, we’re going to focus on the history of the Indian River Inlet and the bridge that spans that once elusive gateway to the Atlantic Ocean.
It’s a wild and interesting history, to be sure. We hope you enjoy it, and maybe even learn a thing or two in the process.
But first, a quick intro on the bridge that spans the Indian River Inlet from our friends at WRDE TV in Rehoboth.
The picturesque Indian River Inlet is a popular playground in the summer months, welcoming tens of thousands of visitors each year. From boaters, surfers, swimmers, fisherman, jet skiers – whatever the water-related activity, you'll find people at the inlet who love to do it.
It’s one of southern Delaware’s most popular destinations between Memorial Day and Labor Day, a small water opening that essentially separates the area’s northern resort communities from the smaller southern ones.
But what many people don’t know, except for older residents, local historians and those who have a particular interest in the inlet, is that the small opening between the Atlantic Ocean and the Indian River Bay has not always been found at it’s current location.
For decades, the Indian River Inlet migrated along a two-mile stretch of coastline, appearing after a storm, then closing with sediment shortly thereafter, before opening again at another location. Even inlets dredged by state officials closed quickly, keeping the inlet on the move.
In fact, there have been five known locations of the Indian River Inlet, including the current one about seven miles south of Dewey Beach. The current, and permanent, home of the inlet features strong currents that provide one of the area’s best opportunities for fishing and surfing and makes it a very popular destination during the warm weather months.
But that’s the current location. What about the other known locations of the inlet?
Well, since the location of the Indian River Inlet was constantly shifting due to the scouring waters, a bridge clearing the span was impossible until 1928 when the United States Army Corps of Engineers began stabilizing the gap by dredging.
Eleven years later, the Corps completed the construction of two large steel and stone jetties, which kept the inlet from widening and permanently locked it in place. And that’s the Indian River Inlet that locals and vacationers know and love today.
It’s interesting to note that, until the jetties were built, the water at the inlet was rather shallow due to its constantly changing location. But the inlet today is 100 feet deep in spots, more than four times its original depth.
As far as bridges go, there have been five spanning the Indian River Inlet, including a wooden one that was built in 1934 and a movable swing bridge that was built in 1938 and destroyed by ice flow and extreme tides 10 years later. The current bridge opened in 2012 and replaced the old one that was constructed in 1965.
This Delaware Public Archives photo shows the construction of the Indian River Inlet Bridge in the late 1930s. The bridge to the right was the original inlet bridge, a wooden span that was built in 1934.
This Delaware Public Archives photo shows the Indian River Inlet Bridge that was destroyed by ice flow and extreme tides in the late 1940s.
The current Indian River Inlet Bridge was dedicated by the state of Delaware in 2012 and is the third bridge over the inlet named for former State Highway Commission Chairman Charles West Cullen.
It continues for 2,600 feet and was built using 28,000 cubic yards of concrete and nearly 9 million pounds of rebar.
The Indian River Inlet is part of the 2,825-acre Delaware Seashore State Park and, as mentioned before, features some of the best fishing on the entire east coast of the United States. Trout, stripers and bluefish are caught by the thousands each and every year from the jetties at the inlet.
But those same jetties can also prove dangerous. They're wet and slippery and the winds at the inlet can often kick up to where remaining upright on the jetties is difficult. And due to the extreme nature of the currents, getting back out of the water after falling in can prove extremely challenging.
So while the fishing is great, caution must also be exercised if casting your line from these jetties.
Dangerous jetties or not, sometimes you just need to catch that fish, as evidenced by this photo from Delaware-Surf-Fishing.Com.
Today, the Indian River Inlet is one of coastal Delaware’s most popular summertime destinations, a warm weather playground that people come to visit from all over the United States.
But it has a unique and storied past for sure. And that, as radio personality Paul Harvey used to say, is the rest of the story.