Amidst the quiet tranquility and natural beauty of Henlopen Acres, located just a few streets away from downtown Rehoboth Beach, sits a grand dame of history. The Peter Marsh Homestead embodies that all too rare quality, when a home seems to have become personified. The cypress shingled, weathered exterior is akin to a well-worn face signifying both knowledge and comfort. The interior space is home to period antiques, original architectural details, and floorboards that have been the pathways for many—the passing of time through the generations is evident, as is one’s place in it. The gardens and trees that surround envelope the house and all who enter its grounds in a warm embrace, the kind that can only be plausible when roots have been established for many years.
The Homestead was built in 1743, although the lands surrounding have an even older history. In 1675 the Duke of York granted a land patent to one George Young called “Young’s Hope,” of which present-day Henlopen Acres was included. No records have been found to indicate that the property changed hands until 1743 when a portion was sold to Peter Marsh. At that point, the Homestead was built and was referred to as “The Mansion House of the Plantation.” An interesting fact, according to one of the volunteers at the Homestead during the recent Rehoboth Art League Cottage Tour, one of the plantation’s products was salt, cultivated from the nearby Atlantic Ocean.
Peter Marsh was an ensign in the Sussex County Regiment during the French and Indian wars. Upon his death in 1769 Marsh bequeathed to his son, Thomas Purnell, the tract of the land called Young’s Hope and 300 acres. Thomas Purnell left the Homestead and a portion of inherited land to his son, named Thomas Purnell Marsh, in 1821. The house and surrounding land belonged to the Marsh family until 1871, when it was sold to the Dodd family. The house was primarily occupied by tenant farmers during the Dodd’s ownership.
The property did not change hands again until it was purchased by the Colonel and Mrs. William Corkran in 1930. The Corkran’s meticulously restored the property, preserving the original floorplan, (though adding an addition), and used remains from other eighteenth century buildings that had fallen to ruin when the Homestead’s materials needed a replacement. It was Colonel Corkran who laid out the plans and plots and developed the community of Henlopen Acres. His wife, Louise Chambers Corkran founded the Rehoboth Art League in 1938. The Peter Marsh Homestead and its outbuildings are now the home of the Rehoboth Art League, a 3.5-acre campus nestled in Henlopen Acres.
Throughout its 269 years, the Peter Marsh Homestead has only changed owners three times before becoming part of the Rehoboth Art League campus. It retains much of its original detail, and is a fine example of an eighteenth century Sussex County farmhouse. This bastion of time and capsule of history is open for tours. Visit the Rehoboth Art League for more information, and view interior and grounds images in the gallery below.
Note: J. Conn Scott Interiors designed the interior space, adding contemporary and modern elements to the original antiques, enhancing the cottage feel for the Rehoboth Art League Cottage Tour recently held July 11th and 12th, 2012.
Photos by Ami Reist.