Maritime Gallery transports visitors to city wharf at start of the 20th century

By Lynn R. Parks

Dan Parsons, historic preservation planner for Sussex County, was on hand last week for the grand opening of the Nanticoke Maritime Gallery at the Seaford Museum. Standing on the replica of the city's Nanticoke River wharf, enjoying the stars overhead, Parsons said that he felt like he was back at the start of the 20th century.

"I think this is wonderful," Parsons said. "They have created the perfect setting. I feel kind of in-the-time standing here."

The new exhibit is intended to show one evening, April 1, 1900, on the waterfront. Stars shine overhead. A fishing boat is moored at the dock and a woman stands in the window of the steamship headquarters, hoping to spy her husband's boat returning from a trip down the Atlantic coast.

Two men shuck shellfish in the Robinson Oyster House and 8-year-old Daisy Lankford works in the Greenabaum Canning Factory. Around the corner, Rick and Ron Marvel, owners of the Burton Bros. hardware store, which opened on High Street in 1893 and which was demolished a year ago after suffering a fire in November 2012, stand behind the store's original counter. Lying on the counter is a list of people who, at the start of the 20th century, failed to pay their bills.

"This is a very impressive display," said Bob Atkinson, a member of the Blades Town Council and one of the people who attended the grand opening. "It is a very good reflection of the time."

"I love it!" added Seaford Mayor David Genshaw. "You just don't understand history completely until you can see artifacts like these first-hand.

We are very fortunate to have people in the community who saw the need to do something like this, and then did it."

The museum, owned by the Seaford Historical Society, is located in the former Seaford Post Office on High Street. The new gallery is in what was its loading dock. Most of the construction of the new exhibit was done by historical society volunteers Jim Blackwell and Donnie Dickerson.

Planning for the exhibit started two years ago. Blackwell and Dickerson started construction on the wharf scene in January.

At Thursday's grand opening, Blackwell thanked people and organizations that contributed to the new gallery. "We couldn't have done any of this without the Crystal Trust," he said. The trust, based in Montchanin, contributed $100,000 to the project.

Blackwell also thanked Nouvir Lighting and owners Ruth Ellen Miller and Matthew Miller, who did the lighting for the gallery. The stars that light the evening scene are arranged exactly as they were over Seaford on that April day. The North Star is just over the oyster shucking house. Orion's Belt, just below the horizon, is invisible.

Taking the first group of visitors through the gallery, Blackwell explained what the gallery is supposed to signify. "We have tried to represent the wharf as best we know, based on the pictures we are lucky enough to have," he said.

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