About a half-dozen former employees of Otis Smith attended a ceremony June 7 to unveil a plaque in a Lewes park that already bears his name.
The former owner of the Fish Products Company employed more than 500 people at his factory that was located near the current-day Cape May-Lewes Ferry terminal.
“He came to Lewes because of the abundance of menhaden off the coast of New Jersey and Delaware which are prized for their oil and used for fertilizer,” said Ed Zygmonski, a member of Art in Bloom who wrote the language on the plaque.
In 1953, more than 390 million pounds of fish came into the port of Lewes.
“Fishing was a major industry at the time, not the tourism industry we know today,” said Mayor Ted Becker.
Just a few hundred feet away from Otis Smith Park on the wall of the Beacon Motel, artist Damon Pla painted a mural depicting menhaden fishermen at work in the bay. Pla finished the mural last month, and it serves as a fitting homage to Otis Smith’s contribution to the city.
“There is no better way to honor our history than to have such a giant image reminding us every day of what the fishing industry did to create this community,” Becker said.
Smith’s contributions to Lewes were not limited to being the city’s largest employer. He served as mayor from 1950-68. He built a public dock, and extended water and electric lines to Lewes Beach. He also supported local churches.
He was a member of the Beebe Hospital board of directors from 1956-73, and served on the Delaware Civil Rights Advisory Committee.
He married his wife Hazell in 1947, and they built a Georgian-style home on Gills Neck Road that still stands today.
By the mid-1960s the abundance of menhaden in the Delaware Bay declined and he moved his operations to Louisiana. He retired to Selma, Ala., where he died in 2001.
Becker called Smith’s contributions to Lewes a larger-than-life story that is now depicted on a larger-than-life mural facing the Delaware Bay.
“Most people would say the heyday of fishing is gone, but recognized the importance of what it did for the evolution of this community,” he said.