A Place For Us
Back in 1991, 39 Baltimore Avenue was the first home of CAMP Rehoboth and in 2001 became the first property that CAMP Rehoboth purchased. Today, it houses much of the CAMP Rehoboth Courtyard and income from its rental properties helps to sustain the main CAMP Rehoboth complex located next door at 37 Baltimore Avenue.
I clearly remember the first time I really focused on the property at 39 Baltimore Avenue. In 1990, though we spent much of the summer in Rehoboth Beach, Steve and I still lived in New York City. As that summer came to a close, I noticed that the entire 39 Baltimore Avenue property was empty and the thought crossed my mind that we might be able to do something with it.
Later that fall, Blue Moon owner Joyce Felton visited us in New York. “I think it’s time you moved to Rehoboth,” she said.
“Murray’s not going to leave New York!” Steve was convinced.
“Hmmm…don’t be too sure of that,” I said, thinking about the property I’d seen a few weeks earlier.
As it turned out, 39 Baltimore did have an apartment, and it (along with the rest of the building) was still empty. We threw caution to the wind, moved to RB, and over the next few months started organizing what was to become CAMP Rehoboth.
Fast forward 22 years: CAMP Rehoboth has expanded to both 39 and 37 Baltimore Avenue; construction has been completed on a new wing and on the CAMP Courtyard; and the organization has grown into a full service Community Center serving both the LGBT community and the greater community around it.
One afternoon recently, Sal Seeley (our Health Services Director) was working in his office. I was working in mine. For some reason the downstairs office had closed a little early that day, and the staff and volunteers had all gone home.
“Hello,” I heard someone calling up the steps.
“What can I do for you?” Sal responded.
Then I overheard someone introducing themselves and talking about having photos of the property. I was hooked, and quickly came out to join them.
Laura Taylor was our visitors name (she and her husband live in Richmond, Virginia), and she was carrying an old photo album filled with pictures from her summers in Rehoboth Beach.
“I hope you don’t mind my stopping in,” she said. “I’ve wanted to for a long time.”
She went on to explain that, along with a large group of friends, she used to rent the houses at 39 Baltimore. Houses? Though we were certainly spending our summers in Rehoboth during that same time period, I didn’t remember more than one house on the property. By the time we moved in, the back of the site was all new construction.
Laura opened her album to the photo reprinted on this page. “Eight of us stayed in this building,” she said, “and ten in this one.” She pointed to the building that houses Boxwood. (You can just see the corner of it on the far left side of the photo.)
I loved it! “I don’t remember that house at all,” I said, fascinated.
Even better, Laura explained that she and her husband live in Richmond, and that she has had a subscription to Letters from CAMP Rehoboth for years.
“When my issue arrives,” she said, “everyone knows to leave me alone. I read it all. I love Fay Jacobs,” she added. “I’d love to meet her. I have all her books.”
Laura made quite an impression on me that day, for a number of reasons. First of all, the property is fascinating to me: my history and CAMP Rehoboth’s history is all wrapped up in it and I enjoy learning something I didn’t know about it. Even more importantly, is what this says to me about the very mission and vision of CAMP Rehoboth, and why we have always tried so hard to create an inclusive community that connects with everyone—no matter their sexual orientation, or age, or race, or anything else that has the potential to divide us into different “camps.”
In the very earliest years of CAMP Rehoboth, there were those among us who argued that it would be cheaper for the organization to move out of town. Steve and I were always adamant that our location in downtown Rehoboth Beach was, and still is, crucial to who we are as an organization. We knew that we had to be visible in order for us to succeed.
The modern LGBT movement has been about making a place for ourselves in the larger community around us. We had to make ourselves visible. We had to come out to ourselves and to the world around us. We have made tremendous progress over the years, but our efforts to claim an equal place in the world are not yet over.
As human beings—gay and straight—we are learning from one another. We are evolving, perhaps in ways that none of us realize. Why, we should ask ourselves, do gay issues continue to be such a volatile topic? Deep seated cultural beliefs? Ancient biblical references? Fear of change?
Big questions and the answers are not easy. Maybe in a few hundred years, humanity will have a more enlightened view of sexual orientation and what it all means. In the meantime, though, we must continue to be visible and continue to create a place—both within the community and within our own hearts—that is open to all “colors” in the vast spectrum of the rainbow.
CAMP Rehoboth has always sought to be a place of connection—a place where we can connect to our neighbors, to our community, to the world around us, and even to ourselves. We have tried to create a community place that is both a physical home and at the same time moves us emotionally into the heart of who we are as a people.
Thank you Laura, for reminding me of not just this amazing physical space we occupy on Baltimore Avenue, but also of the continuing need for all of us to interact, to connect, and to stay visible to one another and to the world around us.
Murray Archibald, CAMP Rehoboth Co-founder and President of the Board of Directors of CAMP Rehoboth, is an artist in Rehoboth Beach. Photos: 39 Baltimore Avenue then and now.