Tunnell-West House eligible for register
Members of the Ocean View Historical Society were in Dover last week to present the Tunnell-West House, formerly known as the Shores House, to the State Review Board for Historic Preservation, in the hopes of being added to the National Register of Historic Places.
Madeline Dunn, curator of education for the State Historic Preservation Office, presented to the board on behalf of the society.
“This house is somewhat different than some of the most recent nominations, because it is a restoration in process. It is considered to be a three-bay, vernacular, gothic revival-style dwelling constructed in the late 1800s,” she noted. “This is the second oldest house known to survive in Ocean View today.”
Dunn noted that OVHS member Richard Nippes has been doing research at the Delaware Achieves to try to determine the exact year the house was built and by whom.
“Research suggests that there is a possibility, around 1868, that a man named John Tunnel actually constructed the house,” said Dunn. “There is documentation to suggest that property was inherited by his daughter Eliza, who married Captain George Tunnell, who had a son, John T. West.”
Nippes added that the society might never know whether that was the case, as John Tunnell did not leave a will. Dunn said that since it is not clear who built the house, the society decided to name it the Tunnell-West House.
Dunn said that the house, located at 39 Central Avenue, is on the “community’s main thoroughfare” and was originally established as part of a rural community.
She added that the society has made a conscious effort to preserve the house’s integrity and has been able to preserve a great deal of the home’s original features, including the original weatherboarding, floorboards and baseboards with molded trim.
“The initiatives taken by the OVHS, they’ve been very careful, with an in-kind material, and I compliment them for their preservation efforts.”
Dunn said that, although it is not considered a contributing building for the National Register, the society also recently relocated what might be the town’s original post office to the Tunnell-West property, with hopes that the site will be the town’s “focal point of history.”
Nippes said that, following the complete restoration of the house, the historical society plans to open it as the Coastal Towns Museum, which will include historical artifacts and information from neighboring towns, as well.
He added that the society had recently received a number of artifacts that will make the museum house “unbelievable.”
“People will be able to see dresses and things from this period of time,” he said.
Board members noted that they were impressed with the application presented by Dunn and the society but said that Dunn’s presentation to them gave them an even greater understanding of the historic significance of the house that was not included in the application.
“While it is concise… I think that Madeline has provided us with a lot more information than what is in the document,” said board member Flavia Rutkosky.
“I’d like to see this house placed in context,” added board member Cara Blume, regarding the Tunnell-West House application. “I think there needs to be a little bit of a description, even in the context of that particular style in Sussex County and in the rest of Delaware. To give an idea how this basic Delaware farmhouse was modified.”
The board voted unanimously that they found the Tunnell-West House eligible to be listed in the National Register of Historic Places, with the stipulation that the home’s application be enhanced, to include the importance of the house in the town of Ocean View and what it represents.
“It’s been interesting journey, trying to uncover the story of this particular house,” said Nippes. “I wish the timbers would talk, because they would tell us a great deal.”