Tunnell-West to be listed on National Registry of Historic Places

Earlier this month, the Ocean View Historical Society received some exciting news — the Tunnell-West house, the society’s labor of love, will be listed on the National Registry of Historic Places.

“It’s an accomplishment that I feel really good about and will open doors for us to be able to complete the dream we have of creating this historic complex,” said Dr. Richard Nippes.

In January, Madeline Dunn, curator of education for the State Historic Preservation Office, presented to the board on behalf of the society. Tunnell-West House, formerly known as the Shores House, to the State Review Board for Historic Preservation, in the hopes of being added to the National Register of Historic Places.

“She’s very, very knowledgeable,” said Nippes of Dunn. “Without her we would’ve had a lot more difficulty getting accreditation.”

Nippes said that members of the OVHS are “ecstatic” because the new listing for Tunnell-West house will bring added credibility to their work.

“They’re ecstatic because they know it gives a great deal of credibility to the organization,” he said. “This puts us on a level with other towns that have great historic complexes and have things on the National Registry, like Lewes and Bethel.”

Nippes said that getting to this point has been challenging at times, as he spent over 100 hours doing research at the Delaware Archives learning about the house’s history.

“I think initially most people didn’t feel that we would ever be successful. So it was difficult for people to get onboard when you don’t think it’s going to happen. Obviously there were some people in the town who probably favored that the house be torn down,” he said. “I now think when people look at the house and say, ‘gee whiz, that looks pretty sharp,’ that more and more people are basically joining and coming onboard and saying this could be quite a complex and be a big feature for not only Ocean View but surrounding communities.”

Nippes estimated that the OVHS has spent approximately $100,000 to get the Tunnell-West house back to its original 1860’s Gothic Revival state, primarily through grants and fundraisers. The society is now working on finishing restorations to the house — adding electricity, fixing plaster, painting windows, and the list goes on. Nippes estimated the cost to finish the project at approximately $50,000.

“We have spent close to $100,000, if not more, and not a dime of that has come from taxes,” he said. “This has all been given by citizens of the town and other towns, grants, and things of that nature.”

The OVHS is also working on making the property where the house resides a “historic complex,” which will include the town’s restored 1889 post office and a poultry house.

“When this complex is completed, it will become a significant tourist attraction in the Baltimore Hundred of Sussex County,” said Nippes. “We still hope to be able to bring back Cecil’s original poultry house or we will build an absolute replica and we’ll put all the chicken artifacts we’ve been given in it, so people can see how chickens were raised since this was the boiler capital of the world.”

Nippes said that as a former educator, he hopes the complex will be a priceless tool for educating youth as to what life was like in the 19th century.

“My main goal is to be able to open up an era of educational opportunity for adults but primarily kids who really have no knowledge of what people had to live like to get to where we are at the present day. Being a teacher I feel this the most valuable… This house will be part of that to show them with no running water, had to pump water, go out to an outhouse, no electricity, the whole bit. I think there’s enough available to give us a pretty good picture of what life was like.”

Community members were able to get a sneak peak at what the Coastal Town’s Museum will be like during Ocean View’s Homecoming this past May. According to Nippes, the viewing public was overly excited.

“They could see what the construction looked like, they could see the artifacts and they were absolutely amazing. At that point I think they began to realize that this is something special,” he said

Ocean View councilman and liaison to the society, Bob Lawless, said that he was pleased to hear the Tunnell-West house was given the listing.

“As a councilman, I just think it’s a delightful addition to the town,” he said. “I’d like to offer recognition of the hard work and effective work that these people in the historical society have done.”

Nippes added that without the tireless efforts of the members of the Ocean View Historical Society, the house and the future Coastal Town’s Museum complex would not be possible.

“I just feel, like we’ve been in a tunnel for the last five years when we started this project,” he said. “There were times when I couldn’t see any daylight. If it wasn’t for a couple of key people in the historical society and a few other experts I’m firmly convinced this house would be in a landfill. To look back and see the challenges we’ve met and have been able to overcome is really pleasing.”

For more information on the Tunnell-West house or the Coastal Town’s Museum, visit www.ovhistoricalsociety.org. The Tunnell-West house is located at 39 Central Ave., in Ocean View.