The legendary Bing’s Bakery got a nice shout-out in Southern Living magazine this month, getting props as a “favorite spot for fresh-baked treats and old-fashioned surprises.” Newark’s Main Street landmark earned lavish praise for “rows of cannoli oozing with filling … decadent cream pies, the classic black-and-white cookies, and (of course) the flaky pastries.”
Bravo Bing’s! (More on them shortly.)
But can a place where people root for the ‘Iggles,’ speak with a Delco accent and vote overwhelmingly for Hillary Clinton really be considered “the South?” Unless you are from Nova Scotia, that seems a stretch.
So what exactly should determine our southiness, northernliness or mid-Atlanticness? Perhaps an obvious place to start on those questions is the biggie, the Civil War.
Delaware was on the Union side of the War of Secession. Chalk that up for the North.
But not so fast. The First State was also a slave state.
As the 2014 UD exhibition “A State Divided” made clear, Delaware had a complicated identity in this era.
“During the Civil War, Delaware was one of five border states—in addition to Kentucky, Maryland, Missouri, and later West Virginia—slave states that remained in the Union but bordered states that joined the Confederacy,” curator Maureen Ceh wrote. “Delaware represented a microcosm of the nation as a whole on matters of states’ rights, slavery, and support for the Union cause. Although Delaware remained firmly in the Union, widespread division of Union and Confederate sympathies within the state caused considerable tension among the State’s population.”
Zeroing in on geographic boundaries leads us to the Mason-Dixon Line, “the iconic dividing line between North and South,” which relative to our purposes here “is an invisible line running across the backyard of many Delawareans,” according to our friends at the Delaware Geographic Survey.
Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon’s milestone markers still dot the Maryland-Delaware-Pennsylvania border more than 240 years after they completed their survey. Jutting out of the dirt on rural roadsides, highway medians and private property, the 81 original oolitic-limestone markers and six replacements run like a dotted line from near Delmar to north of Newark.[i]
“To north of Newark” … which brings us back to Bing’s.
First, more background on the MD Line:
Mason and Dixon’s job was to settle a three-generation-long boundary dispute between the Penns and the Calverts. Both families had been deeded land by British kings, but the deeds overlapped. The landlords had trouble collecting taxes from colonists because it was unclear who owned what. One colonist poked more than a dozen rifles through his log-cabin walls to protect his property. Ironically, less than eight years after the survey was finished, the American Revolution would make it inconsequential. Their line became shorthand for slave states and free states when it was mentioned on the floor of the U.S. Congress in raucous debates over the Missouri Compromise of 1820. It became the invisible border between Southern culture and Yankee culture.
This survey project started because of a border dispute between Maryland and Pennsylvania. That is, it was actually meant as much to be a demarcation between East and West as North and South. And when it is said the line runs “north of Newark” that is technically correct as the crow flies (or 18thCentury surveyors gambol), but not really meaningful for our investigatory purposes here.
From the Delaware Geographic Survey, again: “Present-day Delaware is east of the Mason-Dixon Line, but it was once part of William Penn’s land, called the lower three counties along the Delaware.”
However Southern Living decides what’s in the South is ok by us. Bing’s is on the southside of Main Street, I know that, and the glowing article tells a great story about the proud bakery’s history.[ii] Turns out they’ve been making moonpies and bear claws since 1871 (!), when it was known as Fader’s Bakery. The magazine goes on:
It became Bing’s in 1946, and now … belongs to head baker tom Guzzi and his wife, Carla. “Tom was hired by Mrs. Bing and he worked for her for 10 years,” Carla [Guzzi] says. “She hand-selected Tom and me to carry on her legacy.”
So well done and congratulations Bing’s – or (take your pick) attaboy / you’re sweeter than a cherry pie, y’all.
[i]Re “oolitic” – geologists may be familiar with that one but it’s the first time I’ve seen that word referring to sedimentary rock formed from ooids, which are spherical grains composed of concentric layers. So there you go.
[ii]Not to pick a nit, but Newark is north of our own unofficial in-state north-south boundary, the C&D Canal.