In a few short years, the Ocean View Historical Society has been able to restore the Tunnell-West house on Central Avenue and the town’s old post office, build a replica of Cecil Steele chicken house and promote their mission throughout the community.
“I’m sure there are some people who didn’t think we’d ever be able to do what we’ve done,” said Richard Nippes, vice president of the group. “Now that we have, we’re bringing a lot of positive publicity to the town. Shortly, we will start to see the benefits of this, as people come to the complex to visit. It will bring people from all over the state, and anytime you bring people in, they always stop in stores and spend money.”
The society’s hard work and dedication has not gone unnoticed, as a resident recently approached them, offering to donate her home, barn and the property the two sit on to the nonprofit organization.
“She is our strongest supporter,” said Nippes of Carolyn Brunner, the homeowner who is making the donation. “She essentially has her own museum on her property and has given most of artifacts from her own collection and items from the house to us already.”
Nippes said Brunner asked him to visit her and her son to discuss a few things. Upon his arrival, he was informed that the Brunners wished to donate the property to the society.
“She is very anxious to see this house preserved as a historic site. She was so impressed with all we’ve done that she felt we would keep her house and the barn,” he said. “We’re excited in terms of this, because this was a surprise. Not too often do you have people donating houses that you could sell for quite a bit of money.”
Nippes said the home’s 1900-era barn, in the common style of the area of that time, is in need of repair, and the society plans to renovate it.
“There are very few of them left,” said Nippes of that type of barn. “And her house is in perfect condition.”
The home is located across from John West Park.
“The donation of this property gives us a lot of leverage to do a lot of things that we certainly couldn't have done without it.”
Nippes said that, with the donation, which had yet to be formalized as of Coastal Point’s Wednesday deadline, the society would take ownership of the house in three years, but could begin work on the barn immediately.
“We will convert it into a second museum,” he explained. “The house was built in 1900. The Tunnell-West house was built in the 1860s. So, in this house, the furniture and displays will be different. We should be able to open this new house upstairs, because the stairs aren’t as dangerous in terms of steepness. So people should be able to go upstairs and see what bedrooms looked like.”
Nippes, who was instrumental in getting the Tunnell-West house on the National Register of Historic Places, said that he plans to do the same for the donated house and barn.
“The first thing I will do is put it on the National Register, which will be easier,” he said. “We know who built it. Her grandparents built it, and they have all the information that we would need.”
With the donation of the house, barn and property, the historical society no longer plans to build a two-story museum on the property it has leased from the Town of Ocean View.
“That should save us a lot of money to do that,” he said. “There’s an old garage that sits on the property that we were going to demolish. Instead, we’ll do some work to the outside of the garage and convert it into a classroom.”
The society hopes to have the classroom completed by the fall, so that it may be used by area schoolchildren. Along with the classroom, they also hope to erect a small reception center on the Tunnell-West property.
“It really helps you to have an appreciation for the town you live in if you understand the people who actually made it possible,” said Nippes of the society’s hopes in educating the public about the town and its surrounding areas, “what they went through, their sacrifices, accomplishments and all of that.”
According to the society’s website, the group’s mission is, “to preserve, interpret and collect the history of Ocean View and the surrounding Baltimore Hundred area, sharing our past with all communities that comprise the Ocean View area, visitors, and locals; thereby building an identity that will enable us to wisely approach the challenges the future will bring to Delaware’s coastal towns.”
“You really can’t know where you’re going unless you know where you came from. The history of this town is very rich but disappearing fast, because people know it but many of them are well up in years. When those people disappear, the stories and information is going to disappear, unless it is preserved. That is what we are attempting to do,” said Nippes.
“We’re trying to preserve the value systems that the people in Hall’s Store held dear, such as community, family and education. We will be emphasizing those value systems and how they used them to keep the community going. That’s why we want to preserve it.”
At this week’s Ocean View Town Council meeting, Nippes — along with George Keen, who is on the board of trustees and is the chairman of the society’s building committee — requested that the Town change the lease agreement for the West Avenue property where the Tunnell-West house sits. They requested that the stipulation to remove the garage building from the property be altered, so that it may instead be revamped and used as a classroom.
The town council voted unanimously to allow the revision of the lease, after the council approves the final draft.
“This is a win-win for everybody,” said Mayor Gordon Wood. “Our park is less encumbered, and the town and community benefits from having another old house retained and another museum there.”
“The historical society has just done an extraordinary job over the years in resurrecting the Tunnell-West house,” said Councilman Bob Lawless. “Ocean View is a destination because we have things that, in addition to the jewel that is our park, will attract people to come and visit us.”
“The Town has been exceptionally supportive, particularly Mayor Wood,” said Nippes. “Charlie McMullen has been unbelievable helpful. We would not be as far along with everything if it wasn’t for his guidance and expertise. It has been a positive thing for everybody so far.”
For more information on the Tunnell-West House or to make a donation, visit www.ovhistoricalsociety.org. The Tunnell-West House is located at 39 Central Avenue in Ocean View.