SEAFORD, Del. (AP) The roads less traveled around Seaford and Laurel showcase a rich history formed by the railroad industry, the Civil War and the Methodist Church.
There is the old Laurel Railroad station, now a museum; the Ross Mansion and Plantation — owned by a former Delaware governor, the state’s largest slave owner in his day and a Southern sympathizer who spent much of the war in exile in Italy; and Bethesda Methodist Episcopal Church — a throwback to the day when the country church was the center of all social activities.
It is these gems that state and local officials hope to showcase with the Nanticoke Heritage Byway, a 39.7 mi. driving loop that tells the story of western Sussex County through historic sites, roadside markers and more.
The byway will be the state’s fifth, joining the Brandywine Valley National, Route 9 Coastal Heritage, Lewes and the Red Clay Valley byways. The designation makes byways eligible for federal grant money to develop management plans, market the byway and pay for safety improvements.
The byway, sponsored by Sussex County officials, is a way to bolster tourism in the western part of the county and showcase the area’s history, said Daniel Parsons, the county’s historic preservation planner.
It is “a way for people to explore the back parts of our state and get them out of their car to enjoy nature and our heritage,’’ said Ann Gravatt, the state byways program coordinator.
State transportation officials hosted a public workshop in November to get public input on a proposed corridor management plan.
Debbie Mitchell, tourism chairwoman of the Laurel Chamber of Commerce, said there has been talk of developing a history trail in the region for several years, but this project is a more galvanized way of getting visitors to the area and keeping them here longer.
“We’re so spread out,’’ she said of the wide geographic area that spreads from Trap Pond State Park west to Laurel and north to Hearns and Rollins Mill just north of Seaford.
Consultant Andy Nicol said the area has a lot going for it. Nicol and his colleagues started their work on the Nanticoke Heritage Byway just as a new visitor to area would. He said they were blown away by many things that locals might take for granted, such as the boats they noticed in driveways on most farms or the straight rows of corn and soybeans.
To qualify as a scenic byway, an area has to have at least one of six qualities: scenic, historic, natural, cultural, recreational or archaeological.
He said the plan is to focus on the area’s recreational and historic experience, specifically the agricultural industry and heritage.
Nicol said there are many great stories to tell to visitors, such as the early Nanticoke reservation that was once in downtown Laurel or the Bog Iron Industry that operated at Old Furnace.
Sterling Street, a Nanticoke tribe member who attended the workshop, said he was pleased that state officials were incorporating the Nanticoke name into the byway. Street said it lets people know “we were here and we still are here.’’
The Laurel reservation started around 1711 and totaled about 3,000 acres, but by 1742 the Nanticoke people started migrating east to the Indian River area, Street said. The river system that also links the region is named for the Nanticokes, who once lived in the region.
During the meeting Nicol emphasized developing a logo to identify the byway to visitors. Nicol said it is important to come up with a “brand’’ for the trail because that will guide future marketing effort.
“You need to let people know: ’Hey, we’ve arrived,’” he said.
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