Work on Bethany museum progresses

With the inaugural edition of the Seaside Craft Show behind them and considered “an enormous success,” members of the Bethany Beach Cultural and Historical Affairs Committee (CHAC) are shifting their focus back to one of the committee’s core tasks: the town museum.

While the museum’s display cases were installed in the town hall lobby prior to the Memorial Day holiday, as promised, Vice-Mayor and CHAC Chairwoman Carol Olmstead said at the committee’s June 14 meeting that many aspects of the museum were not yet exactly how they were going to be when it is finished.

Olmstead noted that Lynch Industries, the museum contractor for the job, had had more difficulty in bringing the cases into town hall than had been expected.

During the process, some of the pre-installed mirrors had been cracked, necessitating their replacement. The number of shelves in the cases is also fewer than had been expected, and no switches were provided to allow museum staff to easily turn interior case lighting on and off.

Also, the museum’s existing story panels were not all in finished shape, requiring decorative backers and covers for the wires stabilizing them in their positions. And the planned computer kiosk (to be home to the committee’s oral history project) has yet to be put in place.

Finally, one informational display panel was apparently misplaced during the installation process and will have to be located.

All those things will be taken care of, Olmstead assured committee members. She said Lynch Industries workers were expected to return this week and would certainly be back soon to complete the work.

Olmstead said that with the cases installed and panels in place, the committee would shift its focus to placing the museum’s existing artifact collection on display.

That work will include selecting specific items to display at the outset (with others to be kept in storage for future rotation), labeling the artifacts with their nature and history, and deciding how best to organize the history panels.

CHAC members will meet informally throughout the summer to work on the museum project, with their first meeting set for Monday, June 20, at 10 a.m. in the museum area in the town hall lobby. Meanwhile, formal CHAC meetings will be suspended for the summer.

Olmstead noted that proceeds from the June 4 craft show were to benefit the general work of the committee, not just the museum. She emphasized that CHAC is the only one of the town committees to have substantial expenses — primarily the cost of cultural events and the upkeep of the museum, as well as other preservation projects.

CHAC and Seaside Craft Show subcommittee member Geri Walsh agreed with Olmstead’s assessment of the craft show as a success, saying it was “better even than we had hoped.”

One of the projects that may benefit from the craft show may be the committee’s efforts at preserving historic houses in the town. Committee member Dan Costello has been spearheading an effort to look into incentives for owners of historical homes who may wish to preserve them.

While investigation of those options continues (dependent on federal funding that has yet to be determined for the coming fiscal year), Costello has also been working with Jane Errett, who is interested in preserving her own historical home in the town.

With Costello, Errett has authored a letter that will be sent to owners of historical homes in the town, encouraging them to join her in seeking preservation for the structures.

Costello said a final list of homes had not yet been created. At least 10 such homes remain in the town, as identified in a survey during the last five years. Costello also said an additional 15 or more homes might be identified as worthy of preservation based on construction times in the 1920s or 1930s and their traditional Bethany Beach bungalow style.

Owners of those homes will likely be receiving Errett’s letter in the coming weeks and will be asked to join with her and other concerned home owners in investigation options such as façade preservation (with possible federal tax breaks). Depending on the interest received from the letter, the committee could become further involved in the effort.

CHAC members also said they would consider using some of the proceeds from the craft show to place historical markers in front of some of the town’s well-established historical homes, such as the 10 or so that are already part of the informal walking tour of Bethany Beach’s historical places. The other homes could be added to that list at a later date.

Just how to define or identify a home as “historical” was one area explored at the June 14 meeting. Costello said the definition was often given as homes 50 years or older, with additional focus on older homes whose facades had not seen substantial changes over the years.

But committee members were reluctant for the committee itself to sit as a board of judgment in determining whether a given structure was “historical” or otherwise worthy of preservation. Costello said he would enlist the help of preservation experts in collecting data about historical homes in the town.

Committee members took the opportunity to express their concern over the fate of the carriage house that was part of the historical Drexler property.

The town’s planning commission is set to hear an application for partition of the land upon which that carriage house sits at its upcoming Saturday, June 18, meeting. And committee members were concerned that it might be torn down in favor of newer structures as a result of changes to the property lines.

The committee also noted a recent meeting of historical preservationists in Ocean View, where concerns were expressed about the impact of new construction and traffic on the historical homes and character of the town, including the impact of the planned Route 26 project.

The Ocean View group was expected to meet with a preservation group from the University of Delaware in the coming months, and CHAC members supported a similar meeting with Bethany Beach preservationists. The Ocean View group is also investigating methods for preserving the facades of the nearby town’s historical homes, through some of the same programs.