WRDE on Tour: Leaning into Laurel
For this week's WRDE on Tour, showing us how to appreciate and understand Laurel is bonafide native Don Dykes, Executive Director of the town's chamber of commerce.
"I tell people I'm as local as you can get. I was born on Ninth Street. Didn't even make it to the hospital," said Dykes.
A small country town, Laurel thrived through its bustling railroad industry back in Dykes heyday.
"'Train Coming,'" a saying Dykes recalls, "was a big, big deal back then. Pennsylvania Railroad going back and forth through here to Delmar, all the way to Bridgeville, Greenwood, right on up."
Trains passing by all day and all night made up the sounds of Laurel's countryside.
"Many, many nights we rocked to sleep by the trains going by," said Dykes.
Laurel's train traffic is no longer what it used to be.
"As things changed and more truck traffic, then the train kind of slowed down," said Dykes.
Portal to the Chesapeake Bay, the Nanticoke River drove the town's economy too.
"That's how we got stuff moved before the trains came along," the executive director said.
So close to the water, Laurel is a well-known home to Bald Cypress Trees, especially those found at Trap Pond State Park.
On our way around, Dykes and I stop at Christ Church, a historical house of worship from Laurel's colonial days. Reverend Howard Backus was there to give us a look back in time.
"[It was] founded in 1771," said Backus, "Completed 1772. Older than the United States of America."
Unlike many Protestant churches built today, Christ Church has sectional box seating which parishioners were able to purchase to attend service.
"You paid for a box. Closer to the minister, those were the more expensive boxes," said Backus and quickly contrasted, "today the more expensive seats are in the back."
Today anyone can enjoy a front row seat to the many concerts and events the church hosts.
"During the summer on the first Sunday of the month, we do services here for everybody," said Backus.
Despite its riches, Dykes said Laurel is often overlooked as a tourism destination.
"You got Route 13 and people go up and down it all the time. But they never think about, 'hey that's Laurel. Maybe we should in there and see what's going on,'" he said.
The last leg of our trip and my personal favorite is the Woodland Ferry.
Another one of Delmarva's oldest operating ferries, the original 18th century vessel was upgraded in 2008 to carry more cars across the Nanticoke between Laurel and Seaford.
In a lot of ways, the Woodland Ferry's persistence of memory in the town's history is what fuels Laurel's persistence as a must-see in Delaware.
"Whether it's one car or two cars, whatever -- they go back and forth. That's what they do."