Before the first shovel of earth was moved to dig the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal about 1824, there was a tiny village about three miles east of Chesapeake City.
Called Bethel, or later Pivot Bridge, it was clustered around an old Methodist Church built in 1790 and an ancient burial ground. When the waterway opened across the peninsula, the ditch bisected the village separating some of the residents from each other and the church, school and store. So a span, a pivot bridge, was built over the waterway, connecting the divided spots.
As time moved on, the village progressed. The 18th century church was replaced by a newer edifice in 1849. Built by John Pearce at a cost of $3,000, it was dedicated in December of that year. By 1902, 30 people lived in Pivot Bridge and James R. Kirk had a store there. For a few brief years (1892-1893 & 1905-1907), villagers also had a post office operated by James R. Kirk, Sr.
This bridge arranged to connect the intersected village worked satisfactorily for about 100 years, but eventually early in the 20th century the federal government acquired the canal and started widening the route. Considering that Chesapeake City wasn’t too far away, the Army Corps of Engineers decided to abandon the Pivot Bridge crossing.
Residents of the hamlet objected, pointing out that for centuries the road the government wanted to scrap had been the main highway for the peninsula. From its origin as a Native American trail, it had served the people first using carts and wagons and then automobiles. Moreover, farmers on the south side would have to use the railroad depot at Mount Pleasant, Del., for shipping products while their neighbors 200 feet away could send their product to Elkton. The freight rate from Delaware was almost double that of Elkton. The church had an average attendance of 75, of which more than 50 came from the other side of the canal, a trip of 12 miles, they noted.
The pleas failed to move Uncle Sam and by March 1925 this once convenient route across the canal was closed. By the 1960s, the C&D needed to expand again and most of the remaining structures, including the church, were demolished.
Today, Bethel Cemetery Road stops abruptly at the canal’s edge, and little remains to inform the 21st century travelers that a thriving hamlet once existed in this area. Where the old burial ground remains at the edge of the canal, a tall simple cross memorializes the church and the relocated