Rehoboth Beach history to be ‘lit up’ by Illumination Night Sept. 9

August 12, 2017

On Saturday, Sept. 9, the Rehoboth Beach Historical Society will bring an 18th century-style Colonial Williamsburg tradition to Rehoboth Beach when it sponsors an Illumination Night of historic homes and buildings throughout the city "to illustrate the evolving architectural heritage of our beach community," said Rehoboth Beach Museum Director Nancy Alexander.

An illumination is an outdoor ceremony involving the simultaneous activation of lights throughout a community, such as the lighting of Christmas lights. The modern concept is based loosely on the Colonial and English tradition of placing lighted candles in the windows of homes and public buildings to celebrate a special event.

The Rehoboth Beach Illumination Night 2017 event will focus on lighting up the many historic structures in the city from 7 to 9 p.m. Alexander said, "We are inviting residents, businesses, and everyone who owns Rehoboth Beach homes or commercial buildings built before 1950 and not substantially altered, to join us September 9 by illuminating their business or home with anything ranging from simple paper bag luminaries, to fancy lanterns and parasols. Residents and visitors will be encouraged to walk or drive throughout the city to view the homes and businesses that will be illuminated to illustrate the history of our city."

Alexander said the Illumination Night will also include a celebration at the Rehoboth Beach Bandstand, including music and a greeting from Roger Truitt, portraying the Rev. Robert Todd, founder of the Rehoboth Beach Camp Meeting Association, which beginning in 1873 developed Rehoboth Beach. This will be followed by tours of the historic Anna Hazzard House, with a portrayal in costume by Roger Truitt as Rev. Todd, and by Patricia Truitt as Anna Hazzard, the matriarch of early Rehoboth Beach real estate development and civic leadership.

While the historic homes illuminated throughout the city will not be open to the public, owners are welcome to be on hand to answer questions about their houses for passersby, hand out written histories of their homes, or allow a visitor or two on a front porch.

The September event is an expansion of last year's RBHS Illumination Night 2016 when the historic Anna Hazzard Tent House was decorated with lanterns, and free tours were offered.

The Grand Illumination concept has local roots in early religious camp meetings, such as those organized in the 1870s by the Rev. Robert Todd, founder of the Rehoboth Beach Camp Meeting Association, the organization that developed Rehoboth Beach. During these camp meetings, the tabernacle lights would be dimmed and the congregation would be asked to hold up candles or display colorful lanterns on their tents.

A Grand Illumination, in addition to its regular observances in Colonial Williamsburg, is also well-known for an annual observance on Martha's Vineyard, Mass., where it is one of the most significant events each summer, immediately preceded by a Community Sing. Island homeowners decorate their houses with Chinese lanterns and painted parasols, and allow visitors to peek inside the tiny cottages.

Alexander said participants can decorate their property in any way they wish. She said the Rehoboth Beach Historical Society can also provide participants with simple luminary bags and tea lights for display in exchange for a donation to the Rehoboth Historical Society.

She said that anyone interested in planning and/or participating in the Illumination event should call her at 302-227-7310, or email her at director@rehobothbeachmuseum. "This will be an exciting evening, and can be the beginning of a new, annual tradition for our historic beach city, just as is done in Colonial Williamsburg. Let's celebrate the history of our town together."