The Ocean View Historical Society has gotten a boost for its mission to “preserve, interpret and collect the history of Ocean View and the surrounding Baltimore Hundred area” after receiving a $100,000 grant from the Crystal Trust Foundation.
“It establishes the legitimacy of our organization,” said OVHS’s Richard Nippes. “Here you have an outside agency that feels that what we are attempting to do is a very worthwhile project and is willing to commit $100,000 to it.”
Nippes said Crystal Trust had previously given the society three $25,000 grants to help restore the Tunnell-West House, showing their commitment to the organization’s mission.
“He called and said he’d gotten a real thin envelope from Crystal Trust,” recalled Carol Psaros, president of the society. “Then he told me we had gotten $100,000, which is approaching halfway to our goal.”
Nippes said the award gives validity to what the society, a 501(c)3 non-profit, is trying to do and shows that the foundation, created in 1947 by the late Irenee du Pont, believes that OVHS is a worthwhile organization to support.
“I think it speaks favorably to what we have done in the last six years, to what we have done with the Tunnell-West House, the replica of Cecile Steele’s chicken house, moving the old post office… We’ve created a mini-village, a turn-of-the-century community, on our small property,” said Psaros.
The historical society plans to use the funds to build its new education center — Hall’s Store — a re-creation based on the general store that “gave rise” to the town of Ocean View. The building will be a visitor’s center, housing local artifacts, a meeting room, kitchenette and restrooms.
“It will give us a classroom, where, after people go through the Tunnell-West House, they will have a place to go to do an activity,” said Psaros. “We’ll be able to use it for small group lectures. It will also give us a meeting space for our historical society, so we don’t have to go to other spots.”
“Hall’s Store, being what we believe to be the first general store — it actually spawned the community that has become Ocean View. I think this will give people a focus to be able to say, this is where this community originated,” added Nippes.
A key feature of the building will be a front porch where people can, as they did when the original Hall’s Store existed, congregate and socialize with neighbors.
“Our replication of Hall’s Store will have a big side porch with a patio off of it that we want to use for social functions and for educational purposes. That’s where we think we’re going to place the memorial bricks that we’ve been selling,” said Psaros.
The construction of the facility is estimated to cost $250,000, toward which the $100,000 donated by Crystal Trust will go. The society has been able to raise an additional $40,000 but is still actively seeking donations.
As part of that effort, the society has kicked off its brick campaign, wherein businesses and community members may purchase a brick that will financially support the project and be laid at the new facility.
“This is a way people can leave something, that they were a part of this program. We hope to have enough bricks so that we can build at least a 12-by-12 [foot] patio. Then there’s the walkway from the parking lot to Hall’s Store — we hope to have enough bricks to have them there,” said Nippes.
“I’d like to see a greater participation from the community. We’ve certainly have had a number of people that have been helpful. We also have a lot of people outside of Ocean View who have bought bricks and contributed.
“We encourage people not only to buy bricks but to become part of the organization. We always need new members, young blood, to carry on.”
Those who wish to participate in the buy-a-brick program may purchase a 4-by-8-inch brick for $50 or an 8-by-7-inch brick for $100. They can be engraved with a business or family’s name, or a message.
On April 22, the society will officially kick off its capital campaign to raise the additional funds to build Hall’s Store.
Coastal Towns Museum in the works
According to Psaros, the society anticipates taking ownership of the Evans-West property, located just adjacent to John West Park, in February. The society has already worked to restore the property’s barn (one of the oldest in Sussex County) and place the home on the National Register of Historic Places.
“We’re going to have a big ribbon-cutting/yard party that day. We’ll have lots of dignitaries there, and we’re going to invite the community to come,” she said. “While the house won’t be reconfigured at that time, we want to turn it into the Coastal Towns Museum. That’s going to take a year or so.”
The Evans-West property is being donated by Carolyn Brunner, who has been a staunch supporter of the society for years.
“She has given us, over the years, so many things. Many of the furnishings in the Tunnel-West house have come from Carolyn Brunner,” said Psaros. “We’ll be saying ‘thank you’ to the Brunner family, who is giving us the property.”
“It means a great deal to her to be able to honor her grandparents, who built the house — James Evans. They just feel they would love to see this house preserved and give people the opportunity to see history,” added Nippes.
The ultimate plan for the Evans-West house is to turn it into the Coastal Towns Museum — with the society teaming up with local municipalities, such as Fenwick Island, South Bethany, Bethany Beach and Millville, to create a museum for the area’s history.
Along with seeking public donations, the society has hired a grant writer to help seek additional funds.
“I just took a shot in the dark,” said Nippes of the Crystal Trust grant.
“And he hit the lucky jackpot,” added Psaros.
Hiring a grant writer takes the pressure off of the society’s officers and places the responsibility in the hands of a professional, they noted.
Psaros said that, over the last seven years, the organization has received “wonderful local support — from locals, in terms of talent and time, as well as in monetary donations.
“A lot of our board members don’t even live in Ocean View… So, there’s definitely a lot of good will. People aren’t just saying, ‘I’m not joining because I don’t live in Ocean View.”
Along with their fundraising efforts, the society also has a number of events coming up this year for the community to enjoy and learn about the area’s history.
In March, Nippes will be offering a public lecture on the Order of the Red Men, “which was for a brief time a very important men’s organization in Ocean View.”
At the end of May, Psaros — whose father was part of the Civilian Conservation Corps — will be giving a public lecture on program.
Also in the month of May, the society hopes to host a history mix in local craftsman Norman Justice’s yard.
“He makes antique chests… He has an old chest that actually came from New England, that has this newspaper inside that has this list of slaves and the slave transaction — what they were sold for. He has samples of other old chests in there. They are really unique,” said Psaros, noting that the event will be limited in attendance, with registration required.
In the fall, the society also plans to host a historic house tour of Ocean View, featuring five to six homes.
Preserving the past is key to ensuring a prosperous future, said the pair — noting that education is important.
“If you understand your past … it helps bring the community together,” said Nippes. “Your history tends to bring you back to the values, because of the times they went through. It gives you an appreciation for what the people of the past had to go through. If they weren’t successful, the community probably would’ve died. You have to look at those people and give them credit for what they have done.”
“You can always learn a lot from the past — particularly how people dealt with obstacles or uncertain times,” added Psaros. “History can teach us a lot about how to behave in those instances, no matter whether you’re talking about the Civil War, World War II, slavery or the Depression. Whatever era it happens to be, you can learn from it.”
Donations to the Ocean View Historical Society’s Capital Campaign may be made by sending checks, made payable to the Ocean View Historical Society, to P.O. Box 576, Ocean View, DE 19970, or by calling (302) 541-9237.
For more information about the Ocean View Historical Society, or how to become a member, visit www.ovhistoricalsociety.org or www.facebook.com/oceanviewhistoricalsociety. Those who are interested in purchasing a brick may email firstname.lastname@example.org or contact Nippes at (302) 539-8374.