The (Not So) Great Divide
The difference between upstate and downstate isn’t what it used to be. Here’s why.
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In short, the lines that once separated north and south are being rubbed out. Yes, there are differences that can be roughly defined as the difference between Punkin Chunkin’ and Point-to-Point. No one is dressing in a Victorian top hat and tails to drive a horse-drawn carriage across a soybean field while some rattle-trap catapault launches an orange gourd, and no one is tapping a keg in the back of a dump truck at Winterthur. But even as Martha Stewart has staked a claim upstate (well, Chadds Ford, to be precise), a parade of celebs, from Kathy Lee to Al Gore, have made the beach resorts their own—at least for a time.
So as new residents change old attitudes, stereotypes are breaking down. The vibrancy of New Castle County is traveling south—even as it moves north, west and east to create a continuing thread of culture, tastes, ideas and enterprise. Just as New Castle County residents flock to the multi-day Clifford Brown Jazz Festival every June, people from all over attend the Rehoboth Beach Jazz Festival every November. The caliber of the headliners at both is near equal.
“Delaware is in the midst of a cultural osmosis, and the lines are starting to blur,” says Dennis Forney, publisher of the Cape Gazette in Lewes. “You will have some of the attitudes from Northern Delaware going south, and some of the attitudes from Southern Delaware drifting north.”
Populations and population projections for Southern Delaware tell part of the story. The current population of Kent County, 155,000, is a dramatic increase over the 127,000 who lived there in 2000, and the Delaware Population Consortium predicts the number will rise to about 175,000 by 2018. Sussex County, where 157,000 people lived in 2000, now boasts a population of 188,500. By 2018, it’ll be popping at 229,000. In contrast, New Castle County is anticipating a smaller population increase over the next 10 years.
Who’s driving the boom?
In the late ’80s and early ’90s, large numbers of people began moving to Kent and Sussex, not for jobs, but to plan their retirement there or to commute to their job in parts north while planning their retirement.
As a result, these transplants are helping to create a new environment that makes Kent and Sussex 12-month communities and Delaware a year-round state.
Before Barbara Morales moved to Rehoboth Beach five years ago, she and her husband would flee their home and jobs inside the Washington, D.C., Beltway for their weekend place at the beach, which they had purchased in 1993. Though it was only a two-hour drive, the distance gave the illusion that they were escaping to a far away sanctuary, one that seemed to roll up its streets from October to April. Not anymore.
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