Members of the Ocean View Historical Society have a tongue-in-cheek request for area residents: Start practicing the bird dance, because plans are under way for the Coastal Towns Chicken Festival next summer.
This year’s inaugural event, set for June 20 at John West Park in Ocean View, was canceled this week due to concerns about the coronavirus, and has been rescheduled for next year, also at John West Park. The 2021 date will be announced in October.
When it is held next year, among events planned at the festival — which is also fundraiser for the historical society — will be lunch and dinner platters for sale, games, giveaways and poultry-industry displays.
In the Coastal Towns event, the wildly popular Delmarva Chicken Festival — which continued for 66 years in several rotating locations on Delmarva, including Salisbury and Berlin, Md. — will be replicated on a smaller scale, but still feature the oversized metal frying pan, made in 1948 by Mumford Sheet Metal of Selbyville.
The original pan is on display at the Delaware Agricultural Museum in Dover.
Other highlights will include a billboard photo of that iconic pan, donated by the sheet-metal shop and offering photo opportunities, and chicken donated by Mountaire Farms.
It will be fried by employees of Hocker’s markets and barbecued by members of the area’s Masonic Lodge.
Attendees will receive cloth shopping bags from MidAtlantic Farm Credit and tickets for drawings.
Children will be invited to make chicken hats, then parade around the park, led by those strutting in chicken costumes.
Georgie Cartanza of the University of Delaware Cooperative Extension will answer questions about poultry farming.
The Coastal Towns Village will be open, with docents answering questions. The village includes a Civil War-era 1860s home, a 1901 Victorian-era house that is transitioning into the home of the Coastal Towns Museum, two outhouses, a woodhouse, one of the oldest barns in Sussex County, the original 1889 Ocean View Post Office, a water pump, the recently completed Hall’s Store community center and Cecile Steele’s 1923 chicken house.
Delmarva’s booming poultry industry began in Ocean View, with Cecile Long Steele — the first businesswoman to start mass producing chickens ready for market, making her the founder of the broiler chicken industry.
“In 1923, nobody knew how to do that. Her husband, Wilmer, built her a chicken house,” said Carol Psaros, who handled publicity for the historical society before Marsha Evans took over this year.
Outside the house is a plaque with the words, “Ocean View, Delaware: birthplace of the commercial broiler industry.”
The plaque explains that Steele started with a flock of 500 chicks. At 16 weeks, they weighed 2.25 pounds and sold for 62 cents a pound.
“By 1989, growers produce birds of twice the weight in half the time. Sussex County now leads the nation in broiler production, now a multi-billion-dollar industry,” it states.
If the Chicken Festival would have been held this year, “Festivalgoers would have experienced a virtual-reality chicken house and watched chicks in an incubator. And folks could have walked inside an exact replica of Cecile Steele’s first chicken house, which was located on her farm just down Central Avenue, where it all began,” said Psaros, who hopes to see 1,000 to 2,000 attend when the festival is held.
“If not for the coronavirus, we would have had a perfect weather day on Saturday, June 20, and reveled in celebrating everything chicken. But since we can’t count our chickens before they hatch, we’ll have to wait until June 2021,” she said.
“In the meantime, don’t forget to practice your moves.”