Overfalls Foundation inducts five into hall of fame

DeBraak curator, fisheries advocate, Civil War hero, lightship volunteer, ship captain in Class of 2023
September 15, 2023

Every two years, the Overfalls Foundation inducts new members into the Maritime Hall of Fame to honor those who have given uniquely and generously of their skills, energy, heart and time in building Delaware's maritime heritage.

The Class of 2023 includes Kalmar Nyckel Capt. Sharon Dounce; curator and DeBraak conservator Charles Fithian; longtime Overfalls Foundation volunteer Tracy Mulvany; Ronal Smith, a leader in fisheries management and education in Delaware Bay; and a posthumous induction of U.S. Navy reformer and Civil War hero Samuel Francis du Pont.

An induction ceremony, with former Mayor Ted Becker serving as emcee, took place Sept. 8 in the Lewes Room at Irish Eyes. The number of hall of fame members now totals 64 inducted in 13 ceremonies.

Charles Fithian

With only eight weeks of employment with the Delaware Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs, Charles Fithian was given the task of securing, preserving and cataloging artifacts from the H.M.S. DeBraak, which sank off the coast of Lewes in 1798.

He initiated a program of conservation, documentation and research, while also dealing with the concerns of the state, public and professional archeological community. To date, more than 20,000 artifacts have been conserved, including what remains of the ship's hull, which is in a water-environment in a warehouse in Cape Henlopen State Park.

The results of his work have been characterized as one of the most important shipwreck collections in North America.

Fithian said a remarkable group of historians, scientists, experts and archaeologists have all contributed to the 37-year effort.

“And we are still not done,” he said. “We need your support and advocacy to continue the work because the East Coast does not have a maritime preservation organization.”

He thanked his family for their support and hands-on work.

“The DeBraak is always the star of the show,” he added.

Tracy Mulveny

It would be hard to imagine the historic Lightship Overfalls without the significant role Tracy Mulveny has played in its preservation. But there is much more to her story.

As vice president and president of the Overfalls Foundation, she looked beyond the saving of the lightship with an emphasis to ongoing preservation and the addition of other marine artifacts to enhance the lightship docked in Canalfront Park in Lewes.

It's a significant year for the ship as it celebrates its 50th anniversary of arriving in Lewes and the 85th anniversary of its commissioning. It was donated by the U.S. Coast Guard to Lewes Historical Society in 1973. Over 25 years, the Dirty Hands Gang volunteers scraped, painted and restored the ship. The effort also included removal of the ship from its dock to be towed to Virginia in October 2008 and New Jersey in October 2016 for painting and hull repairs.

Mulveny said she and her late husband started visiting Lewes in the 1960s and she immediately knew she wanted to eventually move to the city.

“It's been a long love affair with Lewes,” she said, which started with weekend fishing trips.

“I then saw the lightship and became intrigued by the concept of a floating lighthouse,” she said.

Little did she know how important that lightship would become in her life.

She took her six sons on tours of the lightship over the years because children were not charged the 25 cents for tours that adults were.

She ended up as chair of the Friends of Canalfront Park and then joined the Overfalls board as preservation efforts were underway.

Mulveny had the honor of christening the Overfalls when it was restored, chipping off new paint with the champagne bottle.

“It's also been a love affair with the Overfalls,” she added.

Mulveny is also a member of the Lewes Junction Railroad and Bridge Association.

During her years of leadership, she shifted the foundation into a higher gear, improving many of its existing capabilities and adding several new exhibits to enhance Lewes' maritime history. Overfalls was designated a National Historic Landmark in 2011, a pilot house was restored to house the American Lightship Museum, and the foundation led the restoration of a 26-foot Momomoy lifeboat and built a display shed. The complex also has a ship's store.

As executive director, she took over running the day-to-day operations when needed.

Ronal Smith

Ronal Smith was honored for his leadership in fisheries management in Delaware Bay and regionally, as well as for his work in youth and adult maritime education.

After graduation from the University of Delaware, he joined the U.S. Army and a diving club, which ignited his interest in the sea. He attended the University Rhode Island to get the necessary training he needed to become a marine biologist.

His career began in 1967 at the University Delaware, where he worked as a biologist for 11 years, including work at the marine lab on Beach Plum Island at Roosevelt Inlet. The lab is long gone and the island is a nature preserve.

He conducted fish and benthic (anything associated with or occurring on the sea bottom) population studies, which were critical for fisheries management along the East Coast. He lectured on university courses, conducted field trips for faculty and gave talks to numerous groups.

In 1978, he joined the Delaware Division of Fish and Wildlife where he worked until he retired in 1991. He managed a long-term fish survey, wrote scientific reports, developed management plans and made projections as a member of NOAA's Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council for 10 years.

The last four years of his career, he focused on preservation of the environment while also promoting accessibility to the public.

Capt. Sharon Dounce

Capt. Sharon Dounce started as a volunteer crew member 24 years ago on the Delaware's Tall Ship Kalmar Nyckel, and eventually became a licensed port captain.

As port captain, she maintains the tall ship to ensure compliance with all modern Coast Guard regulatory standards, sustains operational readiness while also ensuring the vessel remains as historically authentic as possible. She is also responsible for developing and implementing a volunteer crew training program.

One the biggest challenges, she said, is learning the ship's complicated rigging.

“This is still my favorite part of the ship,” she said.

She was part of the team during a 20-year restoration of Kalmar Nyckel, which began in 2017. She said the organization's foundation's support has been critical to the success of the program.

“With my co-captain Lauren Morgans, we have become a premier volunteer organization in the world,” Dounce said.

She recalled great experiences learning about the maritime history of Lewes when the ship made annual stops at the Lewes ferry terminal and city docks. Built-up silt does not allow enough draught for the ship to dock in Lewes.

Samuel Francis du Pont

Samuel Francis du Pont (1815-1865) was one of the first naval officers to become an admiral. Du Pont, a member of the famed Delaware family, has been described as a reformer, military intellectual, combat leader, planner, strategist, navigator and seaman. During a Civil War campaign in 1861, he led a large naval fleet to capture Beaufort, S.C., giving the Union its first significant victory. His role as commander of a ship during the Mexican War was critical to securing California for the U.S.

He played a leading role in the establishment of the U.S. Naval Academy and worked to create the Navy's first performance-based promotion and retirement system. He is buried in Greenville.

He was instrumental in the formation of the U.S. Lighthouse Board and Lighthouse Service, which is the service that commissioned the Lightship Overfalls in 1938.

Accepting the award was Lucas Clawson of Hagley Museum. He said he had the honor of gathering and reading du Pont's papers thanks to the efforts of du Pont's wife Sophie, who worked tirelessly to collect records.

His collection now contains 38,000 items, which are housed at the Hagley Museum.

The museum has all of its Civil War records digitized as part of its “An Oath to Allegiance to the Republic: The du Ponts and the Civil War.”

Go to

The Hall of Fame committee comprised Elaine Simmerman (Class of 2015) and Emily Yeager, co-chairs, Mary Ann Malewski, William Manthorpe and Denise Seliskar. The inductee selection committee was Chair Jonathan Sharp (Class of 2008), David Bernheisel (Class of 2014), Jim Falk (Class of 2021), Michael Morgan (Class of 2021) and Red Mouliner (Class of 2018).

Lightship trivia

The Lightship Overfalls was never named that during its 34 years of service at sea. It was named Cornfield off Connecticut from 1938-1957; Cross Rip off Massachusetts from 1958-1962; and Boston off Massachusetts from 1962-1972. When it arrived in Lewes in 1973, Boston was on both sides of the hull. It was renamed Overfalls because of the proximity of Overfalls Shoals off the coast of Lewes and Cape Henlopen State Park. The original LV 605 Overfalls was taken out of commission in 1960, replaced with a buoy and taken to California.



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