RG# 7010

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RG 1325-003-037: Bethel Ship Carpenter’s House c. 1969

1900 – 1949

Throughout the nineteenth century, a community called Lewisville was prospering as a trading and shipbuilding community along Broad Creek. When a post office was established in 1880, the name was changed to Bethel.

In 1907, five men were appointed to engage a surveyor who would establish the limits of a Town, make and describe its streets, alleys, lanes, and sidewalks. The plot was to be recorded with Sussex County, and the Town was to be incorporated as “Commissioners of the Town of Bethel.” The Incorporating Act included certain actions and responsibilities related to governing the Town, and the process of electing Commissioners who would oversee the Town government as well as their duties. They were required to determine the amount which residents within the Town would be taxed (the maximum amount of taxation was to be not more than $300 annually), and to use these funds for the salaries of certain Town officials who they were to appoint, and for the general improvement of the Town. The improvement of roads (to be assisted through annual funding from Sussex County) and the paving of sidewalks (a responsibility of those property owners who owned property fronting on the street) were important issues and were specifically addressed in the Act. In addition to a Treasurer, a Clerk and a Constable, an important official within the Town was the Alderman whose main duty was to keep the peace within the Town limits.1

Six years later, in 1913, the 1907 Incorporating Act was amended in order to require that the Commissioners publish an account of their expenditures and balance of funds annually.2 In 1920, these provisions were further revised and clarified, and in the same year, the maximum amount of taxes which could be levied annually was increased from $300 to $600.3 In 1941, the amount of taxes that could be levied was once again increased to no more than $1,000 annually.4

In 1947, Bethel was re-incorporated in the corporate name of the “Town of Bethel,” and a Town Charter was established which vested the power of governing the Town to Town Council made up of five, tax-paying residents over the age of 21. The Charter spelled out the process for the election of the five Council members as well as their duties. Council members served for three-year, staggered terms and Council meetings were to be held monthly. The Council was to choose members to serve as President, as Secretary, and as Treasurer. The Council was required to appoint a Collector of Taxes, an Assessor, and an Auditor, and may choose to appoint an Alderman, a Police Officer, and a Town Solicitor. The Act also provided for a fair and impartial assessment of and collection of taxes, applying this assessment only to male residents over 21 years of age. The maximum amount of taxes which could be levied annually was increased to $5,000. The specific powers of the Council were enumerated, as well as its power to use the funds in the treasury for the general benefit of the Town and authorization to borrow funds up to $1,000. The Council was to submit an annual report of their expenditures. Among the specific issues addressed in the Charter included: obstructions and nuisances; unsanitary conditions and health; paving, guttering, curbing and the repair of streets; water, lighting, drainage and sewer systems; and zoning, licensing and building permits.5 There was only one amendment to this Charter when the western boundary of the Town was expanded in 1951.6


1950 – 1999

A re-incorporation of the Town took place in 1978. The new Town boundary was acknowledged as was the power to annex land into the Town, a right which had previously not been addressed. In addition, this Charter discussed how new developments or sub-divisions within the Town would be reviewed. Some changes were made in the method of carrying out elections including the possibility of using voting machines. The language which limited voting in Town elections to males over 21 was revised so that all Town residents over 18 years of age were now eligible to vote in the Town elections which were held in February. The powers of the Town were no longer enumerated but were instead referenced as all those allowed to the Town under the Constitution of the State of Delaware. These were to be exercised by ordinance or resolution of the Council. The powers of the Council and certain actions related to its operation as well as the responsibilities of certain Town officials were addressed as they had been in the previous Charter. In addition to the Town officials named in the previous Charter, a Town Manager was to be appointed. The Charter specified that the amount of short-term indebtedness was increased to a maximum of $5,000 and the maximum amount of taxation in the Town could not exceed $40,000 yearly.7

Various laws amended the 1978 Charter with the first passed in the same year when DelDOT allocated $1,060.91 to Bethel for street and road improvements.8


2000 – Current

In 2013, a law was passed which made major revisions to the provisions of the 1978 Charter among which were changes to process for carrying out elections; to the duties and responsibilities of Council officers and other Town officials; to the method for carrying out the annual audit; to the process of raising revenue and borrowing money; to how assessments would be carried out including specials assessment; and to ways in which new development and sub-divisions would be reviewed. Sources of revenue were noted to be real estate taxes, fees, and permits, head or per capita tax, and franchise taxes, and water and sewer fees. While short-term borrowing continued to be capped at $5,000; long-term indebtedness covered by general obligation bonds was set at $25,000.9 In 2014, the Charter was amended to restrict the powers of the Police to within the Town limits. There was also a minor amendment as to how vacancies among elected officials would be handled.10 A 2016 change in the Charter related to the Treasurer.11

For the fully amended text of the current Charter, see http://www.Charters.delaware.gov/bethel.shtml

CITATIONS in Del. Laws

1 24 Del. Laws, c. 216 (1907) [pp. 563-70]

2 27 Del. Laws, c. 234 (1913) [p. 756]

3 31 Del. Laws, c. 42 and c. 43 (1920) [p. 10 and p. 101-2]

4 43 Del. Laws, c. 156 (1941) [pp. 520-22]

5 46 Del. Laws, c. 282 (1947) [pp. 814-56]

6 48 Del. Laws, c. 106 (1951) [p. 216]

7 61 Del. Laws, c. 272 (1978) [pp. 835-55]

8 61 Del. Laws, c. 358 (1978) [p. 977]

9 79 Del. Laws, c. 94 (2013) [http://delcode.delaware.gov/sessionlaws/ga147/chp094.shtml]

10 79 Del. Laws, c. 233 and c. 306 (2014)



11 80 Del. Laws, c. 380 (2016) [http://delcode.delaware.gov/sessionlaws/ga148/chp380.shtml]

Delaware Laws from 1935 to present can be found online at http://delcode.delaware.gov/sessionlaws/


Town of Bethel records at the Delaware Public Archives include:

  • Minutes of the Commissioners/Town Council (1907-2001): 7010-000-001
  • Administrative Files (1965-1989): 7010-000-002


jnl/ April 25, 2018 | April 22, 2019