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RG# 7080

Fenwick Island
RG 9015-028-000: Fenwick Island Lighthouse

Fenwick Island is named for Thomas Fenwick who owned the land at the turn of the eighteenth century. It was, at the time, actually an island due to inlets through the narrow strip of barrier land which currently makes up much of the Delaware coastline. These inlets were deep enough that ships could sail from the Atlantic Ocean into Little Assawoman Bay. In the late nineteenth century, a bridge was built from the mainland to the island allowing access to the area and in 1893 the Fenwick Island Company was formed with the purpose of selling and managing real estate in the area. Many small cottages were built but there were no modern utilities. By the mid-twentieth century, the residents of the area, under the leadership of the Fenwick Island Beach Association, demanded incorporation as a Town in an effort to prevent the level of overdevelopment that was taking place in Ocean City, MD, just to the south. 

1950 – 1999

The Town of Fenwick Island was incorporated in 1953. As described, the corporate limits included a half square mile of land, marsh, and water. All property owners over 21 years of age were allowed to vote in the election for the Town Council. The Town Council was to consist of seven members who were elected to two-year terms. From the Council members, a President, a Secretary, and a Treasurer were to be chosen. Regular meetings of the Town Council were to be held in January and in June, July, and August with a majority of the members constituting a quorum. In addition to presiding over the Town Council meetings and generally supervising the affairs of the Town, the President of the Town Council was also charged with keeping the peace unless the Town Council chose to appoint an Alderman. The Town Council also appointed a Police Chief and an Assessor. They could also choose whether they would appoint a Board of Health or would themselves assume the duties of this body. The Council’s powers are laid out in the Incorporating Act. In addition to the general powers afforded to all municipalities, there were certain enumerated powers among which were: keeping peace and order; preventing vice, drunkenness, and immorality; establishing the boundaries of streets and removing any encroachments; laying out new streets, jetties, bulkheads and piers; regulating the route and franchise of such public services as communication services, electric lights, power, gas, sewer, and water; overseeing contracts the construction or operation of railways; establishing a building code which among other things may restrict the height and number of stories of buildings; establishing licensing for businesses and overseeing vendors; and compelling owners to maintain vacant lots under their ownership. The Town Council was also given the right of condemnation in order to provide sites for public buildings, parks, sewers, sewer disposal or other municipal purposes. The Town of Fenwick Island was able to levy a tax on residents of not more than ten cents per $100 of assessed value.1

Since 1953, Fenwick Island has not been re-incorporated although there have been many amendments to the Incorporating Act. Two years after its incorporation, the maximum amount of taxation to be levied was increased to fifty cents per $100.2 In 1959, the Act was amended to require that four members of the Town Council reside within thirty miles of the Town and that Town Council meetings be held monthly.In 1965, new provisions contained in amendments to the 1953 Incorporating Act allowed Fenwick Island to borrow money, up to $100,000, for municipal improvements. Such borrowing required specific voter approval and voters were afforded one vote for every dollar which they paid in taxes.4 In 1971, the amount of maximum annual taxation was again increased with each taxpayer required to pay $1 per $100 of assessed value.5 In 1973, the election procedures were amended and the minimum voting age was changed to 18. It was also specifically required that the Town Council meet at least ten times per year.6 In 1979, the provisions in the 1953 Incorporating Act on the qualifications of voters were revised.7 A year later, the voting procedures were amended, and the Town’s specific power was expanded by adding the power to prohibit adult bookstores and massage parlors.8 The next year, the requirement that a Town Council member live within thirty miles of the Town was changed to allow them to live within fifty miles, as well as specifying that they must be eligible to vote in Town elections.9 The next year, the qualifications to vote were amended so that only those that had a direct ownership claim in a property (e.g. not an LLC) had the right to vote.10 In 1984, the Treasurer was given the right to charge a penalty for non-payment of taxes by the date due.11 In 1985, the amount of the maximum annual taxation was increased to $1.50 per $100 of assessed value, and Town employees were prohibited from sitting on the Town Council.12 In 1986, changes to the 1953 Incorporating Act established that only those eligible to vote in Town elections could serve on the Town Council, and further revised the voting procedures.13 In 1989, the Act was amended to allow the Town to collect a real estate transfer tax. The funds collected from this source were to be placed in a special account to be used for beach re-nourishment.14 In 1980, a revision to the Act eliminated the requirement that the President of the Town Council sign all checks.15 In 1992, the process for collecting taxes was amended with and the maximum amount of tax collected annually to be no greater than the amount which the Town Council could reasonably anticipate be required to cover its budget; and the process for borrowing money was revised with the maximum amount increased to $500,000.16 Additional changes to the assessment process were approved in 199817 and in 1999.18

2000 – Current

In 2004, the 1953 Incorporating Act was amended to indicate that the President of the Town Council was also to be known as the Mayor.19 In 2008, the sections of the Act which related to elections, nominations for office and qualifications of voters were amended so as to conform to state law.20 Further revisions to the 1953 Incorporating Act were made in 2009 when changes were made to the provision for the Town to borrow money,21 and in 2010 related to vacancies in the Town Council.22 In 2018, further amendments were made to who qualifies to vote, and short-term borrowing was limited to 5% of the total value of the town’s assessable real estate.23

For the fully amended text of the current Charter, see

CITATIONS in Del. Laws

1 49 Del. Laws, c. 302 (1953) [pp. 602-23]

2 50 Del. Laws, c. 162 (1965) [p. 269]

3 52 Del. Laws, c. 177 (1959) [p. 443]

4 55 Del. Laws, c. 89 (1965) [p. 360-62]

5 58 Del. Laws, c. 101 (1971) [p. 209]

6 59 Del. Laws, c. 65 (1973) [pp. 112-14]

7 62 Del. Laws, c. 3 (1979) [p. 4]

8 62 Del. Laws, c. 410 (1980) [p. 975]

9 63 Del. Laws, c. 371 (1982) [p. 775]

10 64 Del. Laws, c. 53 (1983) [p. 110]

11 64 Del. Laws, c. 268 (1984) [p. 627]

12 65 Del. Laws, c. 85 (1985) [p. 105]

13 65 Del. Laws, c. 321 (1986) [p. 603]

14 67 Del. Laws, c. 82 (1989) [pp. 265-68]

15 67 Del. Laws, c. 308 (1980) [p. 697]

16 68 Del. Laws, c. 316 and c. 352 (1992) [p. 1093 and pp. 1191-92]

17 71 Del. Laws, c. 266 (1998) [p. 711]

18 72 Del. Laws, c. 186 (1999) [p. 318]

19 74 Del. Laws, c. 251 (2004) [p. 569-70]

20 76 Del. Laws, c. 363 (2008) [vol. II, pp. 215-16]

21 77 Del. Laws, c. 25 (2009) [vol. I, pp. 30-31]

22 77 Del. Laws, c. 250 (2010) [vol. II, p. 36]

23 81 Del. Laws, c. 258 (2018) [

Delaware Laws from 1935 to present can be found online at


Town of Fenwick Island records at the Delaware Public Archives include:

  • Minutes of the Town Council (1972-1991): 7080-000-001

jnl / June 27, 2018 | April 23, 2019