CHESWOLD: HOME TOWN OF
SENATOR J. CALEB BOGGS
Rise, Fall With Railroad; Strange Proud Moors Live in Area
By Jim Floyd
CHESWOLD--Among the children chattering in the Cheswold train station
in the early morning was one whose name would one day be known second
to none among Delawareans. The time was the early 1920s. The children
were waiting for a train to carry them six miles to school in Dover.
Cale Boggs, later congressman and governor, and then U.S. senator,
was among that lively knot of students. In later years he recalled
fondly the train trips which began from the station in this small
Kent Count community, his home and the home still of his mother and
brother. But Cheswold has changed since the time the senator was a
boy, and the change has largely revolved around this railroad line
he knew so well.
Cheswold began as a station on the new Delaware Railroad which poked
downstate in 1856. It grew with the prosperous business of shipping
grain and fruit and carrying passengers. Mrs. Lettie Boggs, 75, the
senator's sprightly mother, recalls when it was possible to take an
8:30 a.m. train to Dover, do an errand and be back in Cheswold by
10 a.m. Trains ran that frequently. Improvements in horseless carriages
and roads slowly worked against the Delaware Railroad, however, and
against the prosperity of towns like Cheswold. A bigger town--Dover--acted
as a sponge, soaking up much of Cheswold's economic activity.
Production of apples, peaches and strawberries, once mainstays of
Cheswold's position as a shipping point, declined. About four years
ago the depot was taken away. Then two years ago a spur was ripped
up. Earlier the freight office had gone. Now only the straight single
track bores through the center of the community, past a long line
of frame houses on the track's western side.
Older residents, and some not so old, recall when Cheswold had five
stores, David Boyce, B. H. Emory, Howard Rash, W. F. Collins and Low
Anderson were among the storekeepers. One general store is now in
business. A. T. Reynolds leased it from Nick Sawyer three years ago.
The last local business which provided substantial employment was
the W. L. Smith plant where peaches, apples and dill pickles were
packed. It closed seven years ago and the buildings are now used for
storage. At one time Cheswold was even known for a brand of Delaware
applejack, but this enterprise has also disappeared. Tomatoes were
once canned here too.
In the wake of these various enterprises Cheswold has been left a
quiet community where people are happy to make their home although
their livelihood comes from somewhere else. The last census gives
Cheswold's population as 281--11 less than a decade earlier. Few towns
of this size can boast such a well-equipped and active fire company.
Besides three fire trucks the company operates a modern ambulance
in which it has invested $14,000. This ambulance has established a
reputation for service and answers calls far outside the immediate
envelope of Cheswold.
Elbert C. "Bud" Golder, who is secretary and manager of the Greater
Dover Chamber of Commerce, is president of the fire company as well
as the chief of the ambulance service. Among his memorable calls is
one which involved the birth of triplets--one at the home, one in
the ambulance, and one at the hospital.
Then--Governor Boggs returned to his home town in 1953 to dedicate
the new Cheswold Fire Hall, which had been built on to the old Cheswold
School which closed ten years ago. It was a gala day--Golder estimates
that 3,000 persons were there. Officers of the company in addition
to Golder include: Corbit Reynolds, secretary; Joel Ridley, Sr., treasurer;
Fred Willey, fire chief; William Dempsey, first assistant; Jack Mitchell,
fire recorder; Arthur Armstrong and Paul Konitzer, trustees, and Thomas
M. Golder, assistant ambulance chief.
Wives are active too as members of the Ladies Auxiliary, which is
headed by Mrs. Corbit Reynolds. A monthly meeting is sufficient to
take care of the business of the town government. Nelson Rash heads
the town council, which has Mrs. Nelson Emory, John Chipple, Arthur
Armstrong and Nick Sawyer as members.
The name of Armstrong crops up again at the post office, where Mrs.
Arthur Armstrong is the postmistress. She has 151 patrons. Until six
years ago the post office served nearby rural areas too. Numbered
among the newer patrons are several families connected with the Dover
Air Force Base. Staff Sgt. Max Rogers, originally from Alabama, is
still a little mystified about his first taste of a Delaware winter.
He spent the past four years on a tour of duty in Alaska. "We didn't
have as much snow there as I've seen here," he says.
Bound up with Cheswold's history is the presence of a group of people
called Moors. Their exact origin is clouded by time, but a study made
18 years ago concludes that the nucleus of the group was a crossing
of Delaware Indians with white settlers. Later there was intermarriage
with other mixed-bloods of the Delmarva peninsula.
Two main concentrations of these people are found in the state, one
in the Indian River area and the other at Cheswold. Their history
and the legends surrounding their beginnings make a fascinating inquiry.
William Morgan, a white-haired, ruddy-complexioned man of "70 out,"
meaning past his 79th birthday, was asked about the history of the
Cheswold Moors. He said he didn't know too much about the beginnings,
really, except that it was a long time ago. He mentioned that in the
graveyard beside the church which the Moors attend lie soldiers who
fought in the Civil War.
Floyd Durham, a plumber who has a small airstrip and has been flying
his own plane for the past 10 years, was also asked about the Moors'
background. He referred to the book, "Delaware's Forgotten Folk,"
which was compiled by C. A. Weslager and published in 1943. This book
estimated the number of Moors in the Cheswold area at about 500. They
form a group apart from both whites and Negroes, and the yellowish
tinge to the complexion of many has resulted in the term ":yellow
people" being used.
Where is Cheswold going? Bud Golder, with his chamber of commerce
experience, is in a good position to field that question. He sees
the railroad as being a reason for a possible future upturn in Cheswold's
economy. He points out that many good locations for industry exist
along the railroad from Dover to Cheswold. International Latex Corporation
already has a subsidiary plant a mile south of the town.
The railroad built the town once. It is Golder's view it may do it
again in a new era.