Some people never look up when they enter Selbyville Post Office. But look up, and you’ll see an idyllic mural depicting Delmarva farm life in the 1940s.
The mural shows a girl surrounded by chickens, a man nearby and farmhouse with horses in the background.
Look a little closer, and you’ll see water damage starting to consume the ceiling and walls nearby.
Now, the Selbyville Community Club has stepped up to protect the mural and help ensure its historic impact remains for years to come.
“We want to make sure we can do everything possible to protect that mural,” said Dawn LeKites.
The club contacted the U.S. Postal Service and Delaware’s U.S. Congressional delegation for more support and action.
“Selbyville Community Club wants to put the spotlight on a unique piece of public art that is often seen but rarely appreciated,” they wrote.
The mural and the brick building itself are an impressive show of federal support in a small town.
“It was recovery from the Great Depression that we got this federal building,” LeKites said.
The 1940 building itself put people back to work during the New Deal, and the 1942 mural was intended to bring art to the people and boost morale after the Depression. Around 1,500 postal and other federal facilities were planned as part of the effort. But only a handful got murals, which were supposed to depict life in their local communities.
Originally, Selbyville’s mural was supposed to be a mill and waterwheel, according to an old Life magazine article. But artist William H. Calfee must have had other thoughts when he visited Sussex County, where the broiler chicken industry was helping people survive the Depression. He pained the idyllic “Chicken Farm” instead.
Rumor has it that Franklin Roosevelt’s administration helped secure the building as a thank-you for then-postmaster and political delegate Inga Tubbs.
“She was so helpful in getting FDR get the nomination, he patted her back with the federal post office in Selbyville. That’s the story that goes around, anyway,” LeKites said.
Selbyville also had a busy postal service and agricultural concerns, including the old Bunting Nursery, which shipped seeds and plants all over the country.
LeKites hopes to put the building (which still serves its original mission) on the National Register of Historic Places.
That could be years away, but the Selbyville Community Club is off to a good start with its efforts. LeKites was surprised to receive a USPS response within a week of her initial letter.
“The United States Postal Service intends to engage a contractor to investigate water intrusion issues,” LeKites reported. “So I’m hoping there’s not just a standoff, but somebody is going to take action. They said a contractor would be here to look over the situation and make any necessary repairs. We hope that will take place.”
Mayor Clifton Murray has offered Town Hall’s services, if needed.
By Laura Walter