The Ocean View Historical Society is one step closer to its goal of opening a visitor center for its historical complex after breaking ground for the future facility earlier this month.
The center will feature two covered porches, a patio area, a welcome area in the likeness of an old-time country store, a classroom area, galley kitchen and restrooms.
“The building itself is not that big, but it will give us a place to have a meeting room, small classroom for any groups that come through,” said Carols Psaros, former historical society president. “We want it to be a community resource, as well as a place for the society to meet.”
The building will stand where a garage once stood, to the rear of the Tunnel-West house, adjacent to John West Park.
It is designed to be the perfect addition to the historical society’s complex, which not only features the restored 1860 home, but a two-seater outhouse and water pump, the town’s first free-standing post office, circa 1889, a replica of Cecile Steele’s first chicken house, circa 1923, and, soon, the Hall’s Store Visitors Center.
The society also owns the nearby Evans-West house, which is the future home of the Coastal Towns Museum.
“One of our long-range goals is to create a historic feeling or district… a historic aura around the town park area in old Ocean View,” said Psaros. “Central Avenue was really the heart of Ocean View when it was first established. We’d like to keep as many of those old houses as possible, make sure that part of town has a nice look to it.
“We hope that our historical complex, which saved the Shore house — now the Evans-West house — was the beginning of that. We think that the visitors’ center will enhance the park and make it more of a community center for residents and visitors.”
With so many projects in the works, the society was approached by Contractors for a Cause, who offered their support to their fellow non-profit. Along with financial contributions, Contractors helped raze the old garage and is now helping construct the visitor center.
“This project is really under the auspices of Contractors for a Cause. They have adopted this project, and many of the contractors will be donating their time to actually help us build this,” said OVHS member Richard Nippes. “Without their support, I’m not sure we’d ever complete this thing. They are very, very dedicated and have done so much for their community — they have done so much for this community.”
While construction is under way, the society currently only has enough money to construct the shell of the building.
“We hope, once people see it, enthusiasm will grow,” said Nippes, noting that donations are greatly needed.
Those who wish to help with the project may do so in a number of ways, one being participating in the society’s brick campaign, wherein businesses and community members may purchase a brick to financially support the society’s planned Hall’s Store education center. Those who wish to participate in the buy-a-brick program may purchase a 4-by-8-inch brick for $50 or an 8-by-7-inch brick for $100. They can be engraved with a business or family’s name, or a message.
Community members may also make tax-deductible monetary donations toward the funds to finish the building.
“And the second half probably won’t be done until we raise about $150,000, which is substantial. But we’ve done it once before,” said Psaros.
The society does a number of fundraisers every year, including dine-and-donate nights at local restaurants. The next fundraiser will be a barbecue on May 19 at Doric Lodge No. 30 in Millville.
“We’ve got a lot planned,” said Psaros. “We have a fundraising committee headed by Kimberly Grimes.”
Last fall, the society started its own historical cottage tour — first focusing on the town of Ocean View. This October, the tour will feature Fenwick Island’s old cottages.
“In June, we’re going to have a spring gala. We think we’re going to do an antiques auction with it,” she said. “We also might have a lawn party. We’re trying everything to raise money.”
The society is always looking for people to help continue their mission to “preserve, interpret and collect the history of Ocean View and the surrounding Baltimore Hundred area, sharing our past with all communities that comprise the Ocean View area, visitors, and locals; thereby building an identity that will enable us to wisely approach the challenges the future will bring to Delaware’s coastal towns.”
A sense of place
“Any community that really has pride in itself has to understand from where the origins of the town have come from,” said Nippes. “Most of the people in Ocean View are transplants, like myself. You have no knowledge of what people did or how they sacrificed.
“And to really be proud of the fact that you live in Ocean View, you have to have an understanding of the people who started it, the people they were, the difficulties they dealt with, how they dealt with education… They obviously sacrificed a great deal.”
The historical society is actively trying to educate its community and visitors about the history of the town and its surrounding areas. At the complex, the society frequently hosts elementary school students from Lord Baltimore Elementary, hosts a number of public lectures, and opens its buildings to the public on Wednesdays in summer months.
For Hall’s Store, the society is looking for items to be donated to help furnish the center. For the storefront, the society is asking the community to help them with a sort of scavenger-hunt list, including a Franklin woodstove, six to eight large wood barrels, oil lamps, rocking chairs and merchandise to put in the store.
“It’ll be kind of like an old-time country store,” said Psaros. “There’ll be a potbelly stove. In the winter, all the country stores, people went in to get warm. There was always a pot-belly stove as a source of heat. That kept people huddled close, and it served as the town meeting place.”
“It will be an accurate re-creation of what a store would look like,” added Nippes. “We’ll have barrels in there because that’s how they brought most of the goods in. Everything will be made of wood… It is going to be cool. It’ll have a hitching post, because everyone would’ve come in by wagon.”
Country stores were essential for rural communities such as Ocean View, and the historical society is paying homage to that idea.
“Communities like Ocean View trace itself way back to when just a few families decided to migrate into this part of Sussex County. It was a very isolated area, very difficult to get to because of the cypress swam, Assawoman and the Indian River,” said Nippes. “It was not populated like many other areas were for quite a while.
“The families who came here mainly became farmers. Farmers could produce most of the things needed to survive on, but there were certain things that you just couldn’t and you’d have to import them from places like Philadelphia. There needed to be someone who could get the product and then sell them, but also sell farmers’ products.”
In 1820, William S. Hall built and opened a general store in what is today known as Ocean View. Nippes said the store was built near White Creek, to enable trade on the waterways.
“This store was the real start of Ocean View. It gave a name to the town from about 1820 to about 1889… Initially, this store was the town,” said Nippes. “What we’re trying to do is popularize the fact that Ocean View was Hall’s Store and give recognition to the people — particularly W.S. Hall and his family for taking initiative and risk to build the store and provide the necessary services the local people needed to survive… We’re just trying to honor those people who sacrificed so much to build the town which we have today.”
The Ocean View Historical Society complex is located at 39 Central Avenue in Ocean View. Free parking is available in the Ocean View municipal parking lots adjacent to John West Park.
Those who are interested in donating to the Ocean View Historical Society may mail donations to the Ocean View Historical Society, P.O. Box 576, Ocean View, DE 19970. For more information regarding the Ocean View Historical Society and upcoming events, visit www.facebook.com/oceanviewhistoricalsociety. Those interested in donating to the society or becoming a member can visit www.ovhistoricalsociety.org. Those interested in donating items to the society may contact Psaros by emailing Ckpsaros@aol.com.
For more information about Contractors for a Cause, to donate or volunteer, visit www.contractorsforacause.org/de or call (302) 537-8048.