Assawoman Canal


The Assawoman Canal was constructed in 1891 by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The purpose of the canal was to be part of an intercoastal waterway connecting Lewes, and Rehoboth Beach, Delaware with Virginia. The proposed inland waterway was to stretch from the Chincoteague Bay off of the Delmarva Peninsula to the Delaware Bay. Proposed in 1884, at a cost of around $2,000,000, the inland waterway system was to move goods from Virginia to Delaware without venturing out into the Atlantic Ocean.

Although the proposed inland waterway was repealed by the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1905 as being too expensive and located too close to the Atlantic Ocean for providing a permanent canal, a portion of the inland waterway network was completed three miles inland from the Atlantic Ocean and resulted in the creation of the Assawoman Canal and a portion within Rehoboth, Delaware. In 1893, the Assawoman Canal was described as being “…four (4) miles in length, 20 feet wide at the bottom, and 4 feet deep below the mean level of Assawoman Bay across the neck of land lying between Little Assawoman Bay and Whites Creek, a tributary of Indian River Bay…” (Annual Report of the Chief of Engineers for 1893).

The Assawoman Canal has a unique connection with the Town of Ocean View. The three mile section of the canal from South Bethany to Whites Creek was dug by Italian immigrant laborers. One of the laborers died during construction of the canal and was buried in the Ocean View Presbyterian Church Cemetery. The tombstone heading in the cemetery simply reads “Italian.”

During the turn of the Twentieth Century, travelers on the Assawoman Canal could board a shallow draft motorboat to make their journey. One such motorboat was the “Allie May.” Located in Rehoboth Beach and designed to make the journey to Bethany Beach, the “Allie May.” is a good example of the type of boats that plied the canal. In 1910 a loop canal was dredged from the Assawoman Canal to the First Street Dock in Bethany Beach to allow the “Allie May” to make the return trip to Rehoboth Beach. Prior to the loop canal being constructed, travelers to the area would have to make the final leg of the journey from Bethany Beach to Rehoboth Beach in a two horse drawn bus through deep sand. This was not a pleasant experience for most travelers and discouraged visiting the area. The Assawoman Canal contributed to promoting tourism between Bethany Beach and Rehoboth Beach.

When the Assawoman Canal was dug, it became the northern boundary of the Town of Ocean View. The canal effectively separated the citizens of Cedar Neck, where a majority of citizens considered themselves residents of Ocean View from the municipality. While not residents of Ocean View, these Sussex Countians still receive their mail from the Ocean View U.S. Post Office.