A rally in support of keeping the menhaden fishing net reel in its existing location is planned for 3:30 to 5:30 p.m., Sunday, Sept. 5, at the corner of Shipcarpenter and W. Third streets in Lewes.
The rally, called Menhaden Fish Net Reel: Integration Despite Jim Crow, will feature several speakers discussing the importance of the reel to the history of Lewes, particularly its connection and significance to the Black community.
Scheduled to speak are the Rev. George Edwards Sr. of Friendship Baptist Church, Esthelda Parker Selby, Tim Timmons, Robert Kennedy and Alicia Jones.
The net reel, which dates back to the heyday of Lewes’ fishing industry, became a controversial topic in 2020 when it was moved from its previous home along the Lewes-Rehoboth Canal to the Lewes Historical Society campus.
The historical society did not seek permission from the city to relocate the reel, saying that it had not needed permission to place artifacts on its property in the past. A small group of neighbors objected to the net reel’s new location, and the city’s historic preservation architectural review commission determined it did not fit in with the rhythm and scale of the streetscape, denying an application for it to remain in place.
The historical society is appealing the decision that would force removal of the net reel. The issue will go before the city’s board of adjustment at 10 a.m., Monday, Sept. 20.
During a September 2020 meeting before the historic preservation commission, LHS Executive Director Jim Abbott said circumstances out of the society’s control required the net reel to be moved. After repairs, the net reel was reassembled on the society’s Shipcarpenter Street campus.
Abbott said the net reel is important in telling the 20th century history of Lewes, particularly during a pre-civil rights time when African Americans and Caucasians worked side by side.
Abbott said the net reel would be included in a walking tour that educates the public about the contributions African Americans have made to the Lewes community.
The dimensions of the cylindrical wooden reel, which was used to pull cotton fishing nets out of saltwater to dry, are 19 feet in height, 32 feet in length and 18 feet in depth.
The rally is sponsored by several groups, including Southern Delaware Alliance for Racial Justice, Friendship Baptist Church, Sunshine Circle Club, Omega Psi Phi fraternity, Unitarian Universalists of Southern Delaware, Lower Sussex NAACP Youth Council 2719, John Bucchioni of Blue Coast Talk, Dr. Thomas M. Connelly, and the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration Organization of Sussex County.