Bethany museum's future displays discussed

Information and artifacts related to the history of Bethany Beach have finally found their place once again in the cases and on the display panels of the town’s historical museum, after the $50,000 renovation project that set a revamped museum in the town hall lobby.

With that task complete, members of the town’s Cultural and Historical Affairs Committee (CHAC) have turned their attention to a number of related projects — not the least of which is the ongoing accumulation of additional information and artifacts to enhance the existing collection.

Topping that list is the hoped-for oral history project, already more than a year in the making and only now getting formally into gear.

Committee Chairwoman and Bethany Beach Vice-Mayor Carol Olmstead noted for her committee members Oct. 17 that museum consultants Lynch Industries had said they were ready to proceed with work on a computer kiosk that will house the oral history recordings, as well as digital photographs and other digital museum displays.

The committee has been slow to get into the meat of the project, recognizing that it is a large one, but is now moving into the phase of doing actual interviews with long-time town residents. Those interviews will be recorded and later edited together in an accessible format on the museum’s computer kiosk.

The kiosk will be a focal point for the renovated museum, along with a selection of items from its collection of artifacts, photographs and other documents.

The method of displaying those pieces has remained a somewhat contentious topic for the committee, with differing viewpoints on how the museum should mesh with town hall operations — being as it is located in the central lobby of the town hall — and to how much allowance can be made for the display of and access to museum displays in that setting.

Committee member Margaret Young, a member of the Bethany Beach Historical Society in which the formal town committee and museum have their origin, asserted at the Oct. 17 meeting that more room in the lobby area should be made available for museum displays, to accommodate artifacts with hands-on appeal. That would include photo albums, a seashell collection and a number of historical brochures.

Olmstead said that one reason Young had met resistance from Town Manager Cliff Graviet as to allowing the display of the items on a table with chairs, as had been done in the past, was that the more informal display would be at odds with the professionally designed museum displays from Lynch Industries.

Young also questioned whether museum displays should be temporarily removed to allow such uses as art exhibits on the display frames. She further objected to the museum’s physical space being impinged upon by town hall uses, such as the recent display of stolen jewelry by police for local store owners to claim the purloined property.

The lack of space is also limiting if and when tour groups might wish to tour the museum, Young said. She said she had already fielded a number of inquiries from school groups wishing to visit, as had been common in the museum’s previous incarnation. And items such as the 30-shell seashell collection weren’t even out on display due to a lack of space.

The lobby may just not be a good location for the museum for all those reasons, Young asserted.

Space in the lobby area is limited, Olmstead acknowledged, suggesting that meant some of the museum’s artifacts would perhaps best be accessed by museum visitors through photographs displayed on the computer kiosk in the future.

That would also be a solution for some of the historical photographs and documents that might best be protected from regular handling, she said. And some of the museum’s items are simply too large to be displayed in the museum area, Olmstead noted.

On the cusp of that cut-off line is a trunk recently donated to the museum by Tracey Mulligan after the demolition of one of the town’s oldest homes — commonly referred to as Drexler West. The western structure on the former property of the Drexler family (including Sen. Louis Drexler) was recently razed to make way for new construction on the property, which Mulligan now owns.

Having received an appeal on the structure’s behalf from preservation-minded members of CHAC, Mulligan later made the donation of the roughly constructed wooden box from among its contents.

Committee members were excited by the object and spent time after the Oct. 17 meeting conjecturing as to its age, ownership and use.

Emblazoned with the name H.C. Drexler, was the trunk the immigration luggage of a Drexler ancestor, as had been suggested? Exactly how old is it? Committee members resolved to research the object so that information on it might be displayed if it finds a place in the museum.

Also donated to the renovated museum was a book from Gordon Wood, for which the committee sent a note of thanks in recent weeks.

The committee has formalized donation forms that will be made available in the museum itself, with information for would-be donors to provide so that committee members can contact them about accepting the items.

With an ever-growing collection, the museum will have to rotate exhibited items, suggesting again that some of the items not on display be documented in photographs to be included on the kiosk display.

The committee members’ efforts to save Drexler West bore no fruit, but they do continue to work on an effort to encourage the owners of the town’s historical homes to preserve the original facades of the buildings.

Committee member Dan Costello has spearheaded that effort, focusing on a letter from one homeowner (coordinated with CHAC) encouraging others to join her in looking into tax benefits that might be obtained in exchange for preserving historical facades.

Costello noted that he had held back on sending out that letter in order to add a specific questionnaire to each one as part of the effort. It would be going out in the near future, he said.

In a related matter, Olmstead noted for the committee members that the scheduled Oct. 26 “Your Town” follow-up meeting set to be held in the town had been postponed indefinitely.

While a Nov. 4 Your Town presentation in Fenwick Island is still on the books and was particularly recommended for those who missed the original Lewes workshop some weeks ago, the eventual Bethany Beach follow-up meeting is slated to receive a makeover the Your Town organizing committee is working on for the entire series of planned follow-up meetings across the county.

Olmstead explained that the Your Town series was intended to get towns (and their residents) unified on a grass-roots basis about developing a concept for development in Sussex County in the future, leading in to the development of the next phase of the county’s comprehensive development plan.

Issues such as the preservation of older homes and the historical character of some of the county’s towns topped the agenda at the Your Town workshop and subsequent discussions by town officials throughout the area.

In addition to the postponement for that makeover, the Your Town meeting in Bethany Beach will also have a change in sponsors, removed from CHAC to the sponsorship of the town council, Olmstead reported.

She said the council will hope to bring in representatives of neighboring towns and enlarge the focus of the meeting from Bethany Beach itself to the entire Route 26 corridor. The rescheduled Your Town meeting date has yet to be determined.

With the Oct. 26 meeting postponed, members of the committee turned the open spot in their schedule to their advantage, scheduling the first of five planned events for the second year of the CHAC cultural event series.

So, at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 26, the town hall will instead serve as home to a presentation by Dale Clifton of the DiscoverSea Museum, discussing shipwrecks and the maritime history of the Delmarva Peninsula. Light refreshments, in a fall theme, will also be served.

The committee is now working to finalize the fifth of the planned events, with scheduled presentations by Don Sharp (“a night of New Orleans-style jazz”) on Jan. 25, Russell McCabe on Feb. 22, Gordon Wood (Bethany Beach and coastal Sussex County) on March 22. The fifth event would take place in late April.

The inaugural season of cultural events was routinely met with stand-room-only crowds, encouraging the committee to schedule additional events this year.