Historic complex offering free tours this summer

For the second year, the Ocean View Historical Society (OCVHS) is offering community members and visitors the chance to visit their historic complex free of change on Wednesdays in the summer months.

“Last year, we had restored our historic buildings to the point where we thought it would make a good display for the public to visit,” said Carol Psaros, president of the society.

Every Wednesday through Sept. 2, from 1 to 4 p.m., docents will be at the complex, welcoming visitors with the opportunity to learn more about the area’s history.

The Tunnell-West House, the society’s first renovation project, was saved from demolition in 2008. The Gothic-revival house was built around 1860 by John Tunnell of Muddy Neck and is listed on the National Registry of Historic Places. Currently, the house is furnished in period furniture, most of which was donated by the West family. During the past four years, the society has been able to raise approximately $100,000 to restore the historic home.

The complex also boasts the Town’s first post office, built in 1889 as a source of income for Annie Betts.

“She was a widow; her husband was a sea captain who got lost at sea. She was the postmistress who also, besides putting the mail out for everybody every day, she had a hat shop in the back of the post office, so she could make additional money,” shared Psaros.

The property also has an 1860s outhouse and functioning water pump, which would have been the sole source of water for the home until the early 1930s.

“We do have an outhouse now. It’s a two-seater that came from a property in Ocean View, donated by the Archut family.”

Through fundraising efforts, the society was able to build an exact replica of Cecile Steele’s 1923 chicken house, which is identified by a State of Delaware Historic Marker.

In 1923, Steele was mistakenly delivered 500 biddies instead of the 50 baby chicks she ordered, inadvertently jumpstarting Sussex County as the broiler chicken capital of the world.

“The chicken house is outfitted with water fountains, feed troves, old crates, a coal stove, and a corn grinder — all the implements that you would have found in a 1923 chicken house.”

Along with its free Wednesday tours of the complex, the society also does community outreach by hosting free history lectures and public open houses and participating in the town’s annual Homecoming event.

“When people come to the complex, we have an information sheet that describes all of our buildings.”

Last month, 120 Lord Baltimore Elementary School fifth-graders were able to visit the complex and learn about the town in which they go to school.

“That was really successful that day,” said Psaros. “I was dressed up as Cecile Steele. We had other people dressed up in period garb, and we had students play period games. The kids really enjoyed it, which made us think, ‘Oh, good! This is why we did it!’”

The society’s goals include the development and operation of a Coastal Towns Museum, which will include the towns of Fenwick Island, South Bethany, Bethany Beach, Ocean View and Millville.

“We have wonderful plans to create a Coastal Towns Museum in the Evans-West House,” which was deeded to the society by the Brunner family last year. “We are working with representatives from area towns to think about how we might go about creating a Coastal Towns Museum in that house we will receive.”

According to the society’s annual report, by 2017, the society hopes the complex will be “an antique village for visitors to stroll through along landscaped paths.”

The garage that sits to the rear of the property will be demolished, “pending successful fundraising to [build an exact replica of] Hall’s General Store, a public meeting area and educational center for the complex.”

Psaros said it is important to keep the past alive, and teach those who both live and visit Ocean View about region’s rich history.

“History can talk to us about the important things about today. We can learn from the past. Whatever time period it is — whether it’s the Civil War era or the Depression area of the 1930s or World War II — there’s so much Delaware history that we can read about and see how people reacted in that time, how they banded together and held up under all kinds of pressures and met those pressures.

“I think it’s a wonderful thing for us all to learn about how our forefathers and -mothers coped with challenges. History, if you can bring it back and bring it alive, can teach us a lot from those stories.”

The Ocean View Historical Complex is located at 39 Central Avenue in Ocean View. Free parking is available at Ocean View town hall, located at 32 West Avenue. For more information, visit www.facebook.com/oceanviewhistoricalsociety.