Your new friends need help.
The New Friends of the Fenwick Island Lighthouse are desperately seeking volunteers, with a goal of keeping the historic structure open every day in the summer.
“There’s no minimum requirement!” promised Jan Thompson, volunteer coordinator for the New Friends. She added that they will take any time people can give them, and she is in the process of producing resource materials for volunteers so they can feel confident in sharing the lighthouse’s rich history with visitors.
Thompson is ready to teach the visitors and volunteers alike all about the heritage of Fenwick Island’s famous landmark — and the special area around it that hosts a monument stone of the Transpeninsular Line.
The monument displays the coat of arms of the Lords Baltimore, the Calvert family, on one side and the coat of arms of the Penn family of Pennsylvania and the “lower three counties upon Delaware” on the other. It marks Delaware’s southern boundary with the state of Maryland, but it is not the famed Mason-Dixon line, even if the two have often been confused and run along a similar latitude.
An original salt pot used by the Brasure family to make salt during the end of the 18th century and the beginning half of the 19th — a time when Fenwick Island was know for it salt mining — can also be seen just inside the fence of the lighthouse area.
“We have such a rich heritage,” said Thompson. “And the lighthouse and the area surrounding it is such a historical window of a certain time — geographically and historically. And most people aren’t even aware of it.”
Thompson herself has been re-introduced to the history of the lighthouse in an unusual way and wants to bring that to new visitors and supporters alike.
“It was the neatest thing — these two little girls came in one day and said to me, ‘All right — which house did she live in?’” Thompson recalled. The girls were referring to the two now privately-owned houses next to the lighthouse itself.
They were talking about a girl in a book called “A Light in the Storm: The Civil War Diary of Amelia Martin” by Karen Hesse — a work of fiction depicting Fenwick Island as home to a girl named Amelia. It is part of the “Dear America” series written especially for young girls, showcasing the diaries of fictional girls from Colonial times through the Vietnam War era.
“Even as a work of fiction, it shows a fascinating piece of history,” Thompson said. “People ask me all the time for my copy. We would like to sell the book at the lighthouse,” she noted.
Thompson and her husband, Greg, were “friends” of the Fenwick Island Lighthouse for 20 years and became volunteers nine years ago — volunteering every Tuesday to help tour buses full of lighthouse junkies and other visitors to understand the rich heritage of the Fenwick Island landmark.
After meeting the president of the revitalized New Friends group at a reception last year Thompson agreed to take on a new role as its volunteer coordinator. And Greg Thompson is currently scanning historical documents and pictures that will be framed and hung around the lighthouse.
Other changes for this year include a new program where the New Friends have asked businesses to be a “keeper of the light” — a program in which they would get a plaque to hang in their place of business in exchange for monetary support of the lighthouse. They also plan to have membership cards naming as “keepers” individuals who donate.
“Everyone is optimistic,” added Donna Schwartz, secretary of the New Friends, as well as a staff member at town hall. “We’re motivated, and we want to share it with people. Besides just saving the lighthouse and maintaining it, we want to share it. From when we took over in July of last year, you’d be amazed at how many people came through there in a short period of time. It shows people are interested.”
The goal for the New Friends of the Fenwick Island Lighthouse is to have the lighthouse be open for visitors every day in the summer. But, for the time being, the hours are Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. from May 1 to Oct. 31. They will be open Friday, July 4, and Thursday, Aug. 7 — National Lighthouse Day. Group tours are available.
Current officers are President Winnie Lewis, Vice President Gail Warburton, Secretary Donna Schwartz, Treasurer Tracy Lewis and Volunteer Coordinator Jan Thompson.
For more information on volunteering, call (302) 732-3216. For more information on the lighthouse or to donate, call (302) 436-8100 or contact The New Friends of the Fenwick Island Lighthouse at P.O. Box 1001, Selbyville, DE 19975.