If you head to Rehoboth Beach, you’ll find Poodle Beach at the south end of the boardwalk and Gordon’s Pond Beach in Henlopen State Park. Poodle has long been known as the men’s beach, with Gordon’s Pond a hit with the women.
It all started back in the late 1960s, when the Army used the Henlopen Park area as a military resort. At the time, its name was Whiskey Beach. Signs posted there remind beachgoers of its history as a drop-off point for bootleg liquor in the 1920s.
“In the late ’60s through the ’70s, it was a very rowdy spot,” recalled longtime Rehoboth resident Natalie Moss. “You could drink and buy burgers from a little stand in the parking lot.”
At that same time, Rehoboth’s fledgling gay community flocked to the beach at the southern end of the boardwalk. There, beginning in the late ’70s, the beach was mixed with men and women. Some people flaunted the rules, drinking alcohol and the women sunbathing topless. There were arrests, and antagonism between the crowds and the police.
This was long before LGBTQ nonprofit organization CAMP Rehoboth came into being and forged a better working relationship between the Rehoboth police and the LGBTQ community.
“I remember the police standing on the edge of the boardwalk, just daring people to break the rules,” Moss said. “Because of the police pressure on Poodle Beach, women started going to the newly developed state-park beach above North Shores.”
Located a mile up from the Rehoboth boardwalk, the new park no longer permitted liquor on the beach and misbehavior in the dunes.
At first, the girls congregated strictly on the right side of the rocks facing the ocean. If there were guys there, they stayed on the left side. “Every weekend, you’d see the same people there, and we forged great, long-lasting friendships,” said Moss.
In those days, it was a delight to be at the beach with same-sex pals, away from the prying eyes, stares and overt disapproval of the straight-family crowd. To keep it that way, the women who gathered on blankets and under umbrellas would react if they saw straight families encroaching on their territory. The women would start kissing their partners, and inevitably, the interlopers would disappear further down the beach toward Rehoboth.
One of the Gordon’s Pond traditions has been a July 4 “parade” led by one longtime Rehoboth resident. She and a group of about 20 women, dressed in over-the-top patriotic gear, celebrate on the beach, with other beachgoers falling in line for the parade. It’s a blast, and it was scheduled again this year.
The Gordon’s Pond beach area remains an extraordinarily popular spot for the women. These days, you are more likely to see men and women on both sides of the rocks. Leashed dogs are welcome with their humans. A renovation and expansion occurred in 2014, with the addition of a picnic pavilion.
As for the family crowd, the gayby boom has made the beach area much more hospitable to youngsters.
In an amusing twist, this year it’s an unguarded beach, so alcohol is once again permitted. No hanky-panky allowed in the dunes, though; the friendly park rangers still patrol.
The park is accessible along Ocean Drive until it dead-ends at the park. There’s a large parking area, but it still fills up quickly on the weekends. Out-of-state residents pay a $10 admission fee; Delaware residents pay $5.
You’ll see lots of women congregating, lots of dolphins swimming, a close-up look at the World War II-era towers on the beach and a historic landmark for the LGBTQ community. n