Ocean View making plans for history

The Ocean View Historical Society may only have met twice, but Town Councilman Richard Nippes, who heads the group, is eager to maintain the momentum they have already started to build as they seek to preserve and display the town’s history.

“I noticed that the committee has doubled in size since last month’s meeting,” Town Manager Conway Gregory remarked at the group’s Dec. 11 meeting at town hall.

Indeed, some 18 people were present for the meeting Tuesday. Some of them are long-time residents of Ocean View. Others were born and raised in the town but now live in neighboring towns. And some are relative newcomers, though that hasn’t stopped them from showing enthusiasm for preserving the legacy of their new home.

At the top of their agenda currently is the possible conversion of the town-owned “Shores House” to a museum that will focus on the history of Ocean View.

The home, built between 1890 and 1900 by most estimates, sits at the rear of the town hall property and was recently toured by committee members and by representatives of the Historical Society of Delaware, who advised them on ways the group could make use of the building if the town approves their museum concept.

OVHS member Joanne Webber said the HSD experts had been “extremely enthusiastic” about the building, saying it had a lot of potential. Contrary to Nippes’ expectations, they had even recommended that the group consider use of the home’s second floor for exhibit space, despite a narrow staircase that could keep some from reaching that floor. She said they had suggested the group offer an audio tour alternative for those who didn’t want to climb the stairs.

The news was not so good for an existing sunroom on the home. Webber said the HSD experts had said it was simply too sunny to make a good room for the display of fragile antiques and historical artifacts. But they did recommend, she said, the possible use of the room for temporary exhibits by local artists — one way the group might be able to add to funds available to keep up a museum.

Additionally, the room could also serve as a location for activities for school children who visit the museum. And gardens outside were deemed to be suitable for enhancement with an herb and/or children’s garden that would then make the entire site suitable for seasonal festivals.

HSD members had recommended the OVHS consider setting up their museum with a series of rotating exhibits that could be changed every few months, allowing them to display a variety of artifacts and work with a single theme during a given time period.

The Shores House does need some repairs, however. Problems with its roof and the floor in the sunroom were noted, as well as a need to add electric lighting once the roof is up to code.

Gregory said the town’s plans for the structure were to bring it “up to code.” That wouldn’t necessarily bring it up to a fully “rentable” state, he said, but might still bring it into good enough condition that the OVHS could take it from there as a tenant.

That will be a future step, and one requiring the town to establish a rental agreement with the OVHS.

But first on the town’s agenda for the building is an engineering review of the structure by Kercher Engineering, which is already working on a review of the new police station and will next look at the town hall itself for information on its potential lifespan and maintenance needs in the future.

Gregory said it could be March or April before Kercher could get to the Shores House and determine whether it is structurally sound and how much work will need to be done to bring it “up to code.”

On that front, Gregory expressed some concern on behalf of the OVHS plans, noting that the costs to fix the building would have to come from the town’s capital improvement budget, which is already considered tight.

“Every dollar we’ve got is committed at some point in time,” Gregory said, telling OVHS members that they would have to come to the town with exactly the same kind of information town council members would for any new expenditures: provide a justification for the request (something he said he believes they can do) and offer ideas about how to pay for the new expenditures.

Gregory said that once the status of the Shores House is known, he would bring the renovation needs to the town council for their review and a decision. If they decide to do the renovations, he said, “something else will have to come off the table.”

An estimate of $200,000 was discussed as a ballpark figure to renovate the Shores House. Meanwhile, $300,000 is set to be allotted for a new, if scaled-back, public works building and another $150,000 for expansion at town hall.

“If we do this, what do we take off the table?” Gregory asked.

Still, Gregory said the plans to preserve the building were important. “It’s a very nice building,” he said, “and it needs to be utilized. He added that he expected that it would degrade if left unused. “Our intention is to bring it up to code. We will not let that building go or fall apart.”

He noted, however, that needs that are not dire for the town might need to be postponed until money is available for such uses. Despite that, he said, “We would be foolhardy not to maintain it.”

Nippes noted plans to apply for grants that the group hopes will go a long way toward getting a museum up and operating. The first item on the agenda toward that end is obtaining 501(c)3 non-profit tax status for the OVHS from the Internal Revenue Service.

On Dec. 11, Nippes presented committee members with a number of documents involved in that process, including a draft narrative of their plans for the group and museum, and applications forms that will need to be filled out.

He asked them each to review the documents for their input at a January meeting, as well as to consider which of them is willing to serve on the board of trustees and as officers for the group, as required for that non-profit status.

The process of obtaining non-profit status is expected to take about a year. But Nippes said he was already looking for someone to take the lead with the seeking of grants, to keep track of available grants and begin researching how to apply for them so that the group can move forward quickly once they are certified as a 501(c)3 organization.

“We’re on the cusp of really getting things rolling,” he said.

Oral history project under way

Along with the museum initiative, OVHS members have also begun work on an oral-history project, interviewing several long-time residents of the town, including OVHS member Wanda Powell and resident Norm Justice.

“We have a wealth of knowledge that most people have no idea about what went on in this community,” Nippes said of the interviews.

The group has also been given a copy of a history of Mariner’s Bethel church by Mary Collins that contains a substantial history of town events, and the permission to use segments of the document as a component in a future book that the group could publish and sell as a fund-raising device.

In that proposed book, Collins’ writings could be combined with work by local author Gordon Wood, who has already published “Letters to the Little Ones,” detailing the histories of four of the town’s original families.

OVHS members also continue to look for town residents who have artifacts related to the town’s history, as well as stories to tell about its past.

“We can’t wait,” Nippes said of the interview process, noting that many of those who know the most about the town’s history are getting into their older years. Gregory also encouraged the group to videotape the interviews, in addition to audio recordings, saying that would help preserve not only the stories and language of the area but also its native mannerisms.

Historical film showing discussed

Part of the area’s heritage is already being preserved on film, with the film “The ’62 Storm,” which has been shown several times throughout the region in various versions.

On Dec. 11, Rehoboth Beach Film Society Education and Outreach Coordinator Wendi Dennis attended the OVHS meeting, proposing that the OVHS partner with the RBFS in a showing of the most current version of the film in or near Ocean View.

“The film society is seeking to expand into the Bethany area,” Dennis explained, noting that most of its events and showings have been in the Rehoboth, Lewes and Milford areas, which may have kept southern coastal residents from attending.

Dennis said she was looking for venues suitable for an audience of about 100 people and inquired as to whether the OVHS could help in locating a venue or would be interested in splitting proceeds from a showing ($2 to $3 per person).

The group was enthusiastic about the idea on Tuesday, recommending Dennis work with Gregory to see if the new Ocean View public safety building would not be suitable. Gregory said the town might be able to waive the usual fee associated with use of the building, since Ocean View residents would likely be attending such a show.

Dennis said she was also looking into a possible showing at Bear Trap Dunes, wherein the restaurant facility there would sell refreshments from its kitchens. She also said she would like to add to the film showing with a period for local residents to talk about their experiences of the infamous 1962 storm, as is planned for an upcoming Delaware historical film series in Milton in mid-March.

The Ocean View showing, if it comes to pass, would likely be planned for late March or early April, Dennis said.

Wood noted that the showing of the film would provide an opportunity for current residents to see the damage potential of a severe storm in the area, before the new dunes existed.

“This would be a huge public service,” he said. “People could learn about the bullets we have dodged over the years.”

The Ocean View Historical Society is scheduled to meet next on Tuesday, Jan. 8, at 10 a.m. at the town hall. The public is invited.