Association also elects officers, highlights programs

The Smyrna Downtown Renaissance Association, a nonprofit organization which encourages the beautification and preservation of Smyrna’s historic district, presented its 2018 Community Service Awards at its annual reception and meeting at the Painted Stave earlier this month.

The Star of Smyrna Award, the association’s most prestigious award, was presented to Mike Rasmussen and Ron Gomes for their vision and dedication in establishing The Painted Stave, the first stand-alone craft distillery in Delaware, which has been a dynamic force in the revitalization of downtown Smyrna.

Each year the association recognizes an outstanding public official for work in promoting and improving the Town of Smyrna, and especially the historic district. This year, the association honored state Sen. Bruce Ennis in recognition of his many years of service in the Citizens’ Hose Company and in the Delaware House and Senate, which has improved the quality of life and enhanced public safety for many generations of Smyrna residents, and for his support for cultural and historical institutions including the Smyrna Opera House, the Duck Creek Historical Society, the Duck Creek Regional Library and the July 4th Foundation, which has cultivated a sense of place for Smyrna's residents and made our community a better place to live.

The association’s Ellen Sayers Civic Beautification Award was presented to Smyrna Councilwoman Valerie White for her promotion of the “1000 Trees For Smyrna” program, for improving the quality of life in the historic district, and for making the town a better place to live, work and play.

Jason Kokotaylo received the Ken and Regina Brown Historic Education Award for his outstanding drawings of historic buildings for the 250th Anniversary coloring book. Kokotaylo also provided drawings and maps for numerous brochures, including the Tree Tour for Historic Belmont Hall and the 250th Anniversary Tour of Smyrna’s Historic Homes.

The Smyrna Downtown Renaissance Association provides grants to encourage the preservation and improvement of both residential, commercial and institutional historic structures in the historic district. This year a residential award and grant was presented to Jeremy Reed for his restoration of the Tilghman Building on East Commerce Street, and a commercial/institutional award and grant was presented to owners of The Painted Stave in recognition of the expansion of the business on West Commerce Street, while maintaining the historic character of the property.

Officers elected

The members of the association re-elected attorney Maria Paris Newill of West Commerce Street to another term as president.

Other officers elected at the meeting included Ruth M. Bower of North Main Street as vice president, Allan Ryder who is an editor at the Delaware State News who resides on West South Street as treasurer, attorney William Wagner of East Commerce Street as assistant treasurer and former mayor Joanne Masten of South Street as secretary.

Smyrna Downtown Renaissance Association programs

The Smyrna Downtown Renaissance Association has provided grants to organizations like the Duck Creek Historical Society for its archival initiative and a $5,000 grant to assist with the publication of the anniversary's commemorative book. 

The association provided an initial $5,000 interest-free seed loan to Smyrna's 250th Organizing Committee to allow for the purchase of commemorative items for resale in order to raise funds for this wonderful year long celebration.

This year the SDRA continued to offer grants for historical markers, and street trees (including its Grant-a-Tree/Plant-a-Tree program) and also funded anniversary and holiday decorations for public streets.

The association maintains the planters on South Main Street and at the Four Corners, the library and Smyrna Opera House. It also maintains plantings to screen the South Main Street Public parking area and the planting at the old Post Office.

The SDRA celebrated Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge as a hometown special place with its 2018 Placemaking Project, a birdhouse decorating contest. The public was invited to decorate a bluebird house provided by Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge and to compete for valuable cash prizes provided by the Association. The project was a great success under the guidance of Karen Gill, who has actively kept the association connected with Delaware Downtown and the National Main Street Center. More than 600 people voted for their favorite entries at I Love Smyrna School District Day. In March, all of the entries were displayed in the windows of Ward Hall, courtesy of Bill and Mary Whitaker. Winners were displayed at Smyrna's Arbor Day and were auctioned off generating $600 which was donated to Councilwoman White's "1000 Trees for Smyrna" program. Overall, the project was a great success and brought the wildlife refuge and the town closer together.

The SDRA successfully partnered with the town on an $80,500 Delaware State Community Building Block Grant to design and plant a pocket park near the Maverick Texas BBQ on West Commerce Street and new light posts with cameras, so that the Smyrna Police Department can monitor downtown. The association thanks all of the members who helped to plant the park on Earth Day.

The SDRA advocates for historic preservation each year in May during National Historic Preservation Month through varied programs and events including the National Trust for Historic Preservation's "This Place Matters Campaign." The celebration included guided tours of the Historic District led by Jim Wolfe and other activities designed to highlight the Town's rich architectural heritage. The association staged a "This Place Matters" photo op at 132 S. Main St., and impanelled a blue ribbon Demolition by Neglect Committee, which launched an in depth study of this problem and identified private and public sector assistance programs which can assist owners of historic homes maintain them. A comprehensive presentation to Town Council is planned for early in the New Year.

The association also is advocating expansion of the Historic District to protect cultural resources and historic structures, including the old Wayside Inn.

Finally, the association presented a book titled "Restoring Old Houses" to the Smyrna Public Library. This encyclopedic volume offers valuable guidance on how to address issues with older structures whether for the DIY type or evaluating work by a contractor.

The Smyrna Downtown Renaissance Association is looking forward to a busy and productive new year. Anyone interested in historic preservation or community beautification is invited to join. For more information, call (302) 653-6449 or see the association's website at