It may not have been Columbus sailing to America – although several Italians were on hand – but the journey of a replica Paynter Studio from Lewes to Henlopen Acres was a chance for the Rehoboth Art League to relive its founding.
In early 1938, the Paynter Studio was not a studio, but an old building on the estate of William Paynter, who owned property on the Lewes-Rehoboth Canal.
According to Martin Clark, Ann Hazzard, the first female Realtor in Rehoboth, purchased the building for $15. He said the building was probably appealing to the art league because it cost less than building a new structure. Clark said $15 then equates to $1,750 today.
Heavy rains in February and March of 1938 made it impossible to move the house over the roads, Clark said. So the art league enlisted George Shockley to come up with a plan to move it. Shockley was involved in marine construction and had done jobs for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Clark said the original building probably weighed close to 8,000 pounds.
There is no record or photographs showing how the building was moved. Clark said his theory is that Shockley had the house put on a skiff, which horses then hauled to the canal. On the water, the skiff acted as a raft; Clark said it is not certain how it was powered, either by motor or by hand. Once the building reached its destination, Clark said he believes the building was moved to the art league on the skiff by horses, which would not have been an uncommon sight in those days.
“He was a clever guy,” Clark said of Shockley. “How he did it, I don’t know.”
Shockley's grandson, Rehoboth Beach Mayor Sam Cooper, served as commodore for the reenactment. Growing up on a farm outside Milford, Shockley decided the farm life was not for him. He developed many business interests, including selling coal during the Depression, owning a sawmill, real estate and marine construction. All this despite very little formal education, Cooper said.
“He was quite a guy,” Cooper said. “He was the go-to guy for moving a house or anything. He moved tanks for some of the oil companies.”
Cooper said Shockley was honest and forthright, but also had a temper.
“He could cuss up a storm,” he said.
Seventy-five years later, as part of the art league’s Diamond Anniversary, a flotilla including the Lewes Fire and Rescue boat, the Cape Water Taxi vessel "Discovery" and a pontoon boat carrying scaled down replica of the Paynter Studio, took the one-hour voyage from Lewes' Fisherman's Wharf to the Henlopen Acres Marina.
Because of the weight, the entire replica, built by Echelon Custom Homes with help from students at First State Community Action Agency's after-school program, was split in half: one half was placed at the art league property, the other half floated down the Lewes-Rehoboth Canal on a pontoon towed by tugboat operator Clarke Droney. The entire structure, which is big enough for a small playhouse or art studio, was put together and will be raffled off.
As the flotilla arrived in Henlopen Acres, the Lewes Fire and Rescue boat fired off its water cannons to the delight of the 60-plus people aboard the Discovery. Taking in the voyage was a nine-person contingent from Rehoboth sister city Greve in Chianti, Italy, including Mayor Alberto Bencista.