Did anyone ever ride the Wilson Line down the Delaware River for a day at Riverview Beach Park?
The last of the Wilson Line ships laid abandoned and half-sunken in the Delaware for many years, but Riverview Beach Park is still there, not the amusement park of our memories, but what it is now, open park land in Pennsville, NJ, across the river from New Castle, DE. It still keeps the old original wooden archway that was the main entrance, and pilings from the Wilson Line docks are still visible. Next to the park, overlooking the river, is the Riverview Inn, a large, surprisingly upscale restaurant that is a pleasant place for lunch.
Crossing over to New Jersey from Delaware on the Twin Memorial Bridges (I-295) takes you immediately into rural South Jersey and Pennsville. Front yards are often decorated with petunias in planters made from tires turned inside out and painted white. Signs in the yards offer white corn and tomatoes for sale, pay by the honor system. Pennsville is essentially a business district along a main shore route and small, waterfront houses from the 1930s lining the river a few streets over. I thought living on the river would be idyllic until someone told me the winter winds whip up water spray from the river that freezes in two-inch thick coatings of ice on the facing side of the houses.
This is where I often kayak in summer. I transport the kayak on a rack on my car and put in at a small beach in Pennsville called Church Landing. A historical sign says this is where early settlers crossed in rowboats to attend church in New Castle.
(New Castle, by-the-way, is a local gem. William Penn first landed there and it has a central section of colonial houses and buildings that few non-locals know about. It also has a pretty park with a walking path along the banks of the Delaware River, so you can do two very different things at one stop. We often take visitors there.)
Paddling to the right, I can go under the Memorial Bridges, around the huge, massive piers anchoring the supporting cables where the traffic roars on the bridge roadway that is high above and soars off into the distance.
Paddling to the left takes me along the park promenade, among the old dock pilings and past the restaurant. I talk to people on the shore, young mothers pushing strollers, retired men supervising toddlers. A kayak is small and intimate enough that people on shore feel free to speak, to actually strike up a conversation as if we were standing side-by-side enjoying the day. I have often been pleased by this. “Do you ever tip over?” they usually ask, and I explain that I do not, that, despite its looks, a kayak is much more stable than a canoe because I am sitting below the water level and always bracing with my knees and on footrests. An occasional six-foot high wake towering over me from a passing tanker simply lifts me gently up and down without the slightest feeling of instability.
Even on the hottest days, the air on the river is cool. I see all kinds of ships close-up: tankers, tug boats, dredges, the battleship New Jersey on its way to Camden, and a reproduction of Henry Hudson’s Half-Moon sailing to New York. I have waved to curious deckhands from all over the world, their first welcome to the USA.
All this has been much more fun than the original amusement park ever was.