Interview of Jim Dare by David Schultz
DS: And where were you born?
JD: Quantico, Virginia.
DS: Quantico, Virginia.
JD: My father was a Marine.
DS: How long have you been connected with Bowers Beach?
JD: Some member or another of my family has lived in Bowers Beach probably since before Bowers Beach was here. John Saxton who owned the property where this church was built, family tradition has that he built the church outside of town, which is now the Hall farm, in the woods (they called it a glade at that time) and he built the church for the people that worked for him. He was a Quaker, would not own slaves or fight in the war, the Civil War, but he had people that worked for him. He fed them and clothed them and I guess felt that he owed them more. Since this area around Barretts Chapel is called the "cradle of Methodism", they built a Methodist Church for the people. And these were the people that worked for him and lived there. Two years later his daughter was married, Elizabeth Saxton, and she married a Camper, and they are, that's my paternal family. And so my great great great grandfather was John Saxton on my father's side. So there was a Jim Dare, my great aunt who was Emma Camper (she's passed away now) told me that at one time there was a Jim Dare who was a captain, a mercantile captain, who she used to see as a little girl, on the porch smoking his pipe once in awhile. The history of that particular James Dare is lost. We haven't been able to track him down--yet, haven't given up.
DS: What about the time, roughly, do you know when that would be?
JD: Woo, Emma was eighty, you would be talking the time of that post card, around 1900s, early turn of the century. Shortly after the church was built, as I said, my great, great grandmother, was married in this church and that farm was, became a Camper farm somehow,, not really sure how that happened. Maybe as her parents passed away, it fell to her and her husband and it for awhile, was a Camper. But that land was bonded to John Saxton. There's papers in the family. Now it was given to a John Saxton out west, who is the namesake in direct lineage with this John Saxton. So everything went to him. We had Civil War muzzle loaders and things like that and the paperwork that went with a trade that John Saxton had with the fishermen in the village, and it has been passed out west. And it's kind of hard for me to get ahold of, but the history is that the church, around the turn of the century, was cut in half and taken in town here where it sits now by oxen.
DS: Do you know when that was?
JD: Around the turn of the century. And you can actually still see where the church was .the floorboards have been, and it ran right straight up. Several years ago, I started going to this church. I was a fisherman in town here. I came back in the 70s from SE Asia here as a commercial waterman. And eventually met my wife here. She's from Baltimore. Her family moved up here and we had children and we started coming to church. I wanted my kids to have a basis a foundation for rights and wrongs and the laws that we have and I felt the best way to do it was to bring them to church. So we started bringing our kids to church. We started getting in church. We started getting more and more involved and that's when I found out that I had some history and I was related to this church. My great aunt informed me of that. So one day we noticed that the church was settling. This southeast corner of the church was actually under the ground level and I pulled out these two pews, which sat here originally (showing David the place). This one was up against the bulkhead and this one was here. Well, I reached down and pulled out a chunk of what should have been the frame of the church, and I pulled out a sizable chunk and so I informed everybody here that apparently we have never had.a foundation redone since the turn of the century and here's a chunk of it. So we decided that we better do something and through donations from fire company and various individuals and a lot of effort and by the grace of the town we raised the building to a flood plain, not above the flood plain as the case with most buildings. But we felt that that was just too high for this particular historical building to be raised, and something I discovered that really astounded me, was when I moved these I noticed that these side boards were numbered, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15. They were actually numbered.
DS: Right. I can see that.
JD: So when they moved the church, they actually did it like a jigsaw puzzle. And actually numbered each individual board and each individual board was put into place and you can see that that has never been painted. That's where that seat has sat since the very building of the church.
DS: So from the very beginning this church has been revered and preserved and carefully preserved by the people who made us of it.
JD: Right. And that's exactly right. And it originally when it moved in town here I think it was John Saxton who gave it to the ladies auxilliary of the town. And it was not actually owned by the United Methodists. It was owned by the Ladies Auxilliary of Bowers Beach. And the reason for that was he felt that the men probably wouldn't take care of it very well.
DS: Ladies Auxilliary saved many a parish.
JD: Yes. Well, they get the credit for saving this one.We over the years have had to change our piano and organ because of the floods in this area. We get floods. We had, I don't see the marker now, but we actually had a high water level here, where it was up to about here (points).
DS: So that was almost to the pulpit. Now, just for terminology, how do you label the various objects here. Is this properly speaking the sanctuary?
JD: This is the sanctuary and this is the pulpit, the original pulpit that was in the church. There are pictures of it and we have the original bible and it's very delicate and we would like to get it refurbished. But this is the original.
DS: Yeah, what's the date on that bible?
JD: Let's see if I can pull it up here without tearing it up?
DS: It should be on the next page, hopefully.
JD: (whispers "I don't have my glasses")
DS: Yeah. Here we go--1873. Wow!
JD: This was a very old book.
DS: So, do you know the precise date when the church was built?
JD: I believe that it was around 1863 or so, and I would have to verify that. It has been researched. Allen Clark who was a minister here, was also professor of Theology for Wesley College, moved in town here a few years ago.
DS: Yeah. We're living in his house, as a matter of fact.
JD: All right. Then you know who he is. And he's a very fine man and he had at that time his knack for research and he had people who would do the research for him. And he researched knew exactly he's the one that found exactly where this church was built, the precise piece of property and did a lot of research on it. The outside of the church is one of the few buildings in Delaware that still have the vertical siding and it was made of Cypress, which is another thing that's unique about it.
DS: Is that the original siding?
JD: Much of it is. Some of it has been replaced over the years, when it is replaced, the building now is part of the Historical Society and it's a historical site and whenever we do any thing to the church it has to be done as it was done before. You can't replace anything. You must refurbish where you can. And one of the things that we're looking at is this building was built with a cathedral ceiling.
DS: Oh, yes. I can imagine that it would be.
JD: And it has had dry wall put in at some time. It's in the church records. We know exactly when it was done. But a lot of the members are looking at taking the ceiling down and restoring the cathedral ceiling in its original state.
DS: Do you know why it was lowered like this? Was it for heating purposes perhaps.
JD: It was probably for heating purposes and modernization of the building at that time. The fans were mounted of course on it and things like that so probably when electric was put in the building, because it was originally built without electric, and that was probably had quite a bit to do with it. This is our stained glass window in the back. It received damage, reportedly from a tree.
DS: Doesn't look like that to me.
JD: No. I counted. There's eight spots and that's the exact number of pellets from a 12 gauge shotgun, buckshot from a shotgun, but reportedly a tree did this. We've backed it with another piece of that and this is to be refurbished very soon. It's in the making. We're going to raise it up a little bit too.
DS: And who is William A. Boyce Jr. that it's in memory of?
JD: He was a man who came to the church here and he would come in sit in the very back of the pew, these are stories that I've heard from the older members of the church, and he would sit in the back pew there and very quietly, wouldn't say much, every Sunday and then he would get up and leave and then when he passed away this was donated to the church in his name.
DS: Now that's interesting, isn't it. He wouldn't interact much with the parish. He was just a quiet person in the back who wanted to give something to the parish.
JD: And he came every Sunday, they say, but he wasn't a member.
DS: I'm using the word parish--just church, right?
JD: Yeah, we don't call it a parish. It's just the church, that's how we refer to it.
DS: How's the three chairs back here?
JD: Well, these chairs are original chairs, and they were donated at some point to the church and because of their delicate condition, we try to use them and keep them up here out of the way. As you can see, we are still in the process of refurbishing. That was a window like this one, most of the windows have the dome shape to them, which many churches do. The thing that is interesting is that you look around, you can see wavy glass in some of the panes. That's the original glass, and we're attempting to keep that as much as we can.
DS: I assume that's the Bishop's chair.
DS: Now does the Bishop come to any occasions?
JD; We have had members of the hierarchy of the church at different times. We had a superintendent who has been here and you never know when they're going to show up. They just sort of pop in and it's an event.
DS: Where would these chairs be located if they were not here for the sake of their own preservation. Is this the place where they would normally be?
JD; This is the place where they would normally, probably be,
DS: Behind the pulpit.
JD: Behind the pulpit on the side. The large chair of course in the middle.
DS: Now you know it's interesting, coming and looking from the front door, the most prominent item in the church is of course the pulpit, and the pulpit is above do people come up and receive communion here around the rail?
JD: Yes, they do.
DS: So the pulpit is above the communion rail. What's the theology behind that?
JD: I'm not sure exactly what it is. We don't use this anymore because the preachers like to be closer to the congregation.
DS: So you preached the sermon this morning from the lectern there.
JD: From the mobile one. And
DS: When was this used last, this pulpit?
JD: Probably in this last. I think it was used for Christmas.
DS: For special occasions.
JD: For special occasions. I think it was used for Christmas and one of the ladies, Mrs. Potter, she changes these and as the seasons change, the colors change. And she keeps that intact.
DS: And you have a baptismal font.
JD: This is the original one. It's in some of the pictures from the church, the oldest pictures I've seen of the inside of the church that are out at Barretts Chapel and some of the oldest pictures that I've seen of the church this is the original as far as I know and it has the little bowl in there where you put holy water and the baptism takes place.
DS: How do people receive communion here?
JD: Generally the minister or pastor will stand here and he'll have fruited vine juice, we don't use wine any more, and bread usually an unleavened bread, and they file up in single file, line up along here and take a piece of the bread, dip it into the grape juice and then say a quiet prayer and then go back to their seats.
DS: But basically they receive standing.
JD: They receive standing and many times somebody if they would like to will slide off to the side and kneel and say a prayer quietly before they go back to their seats. And let's see, what else.
DS: These are very interesting pews. The white and the dark brown trim to the top very reminiscent of Revolutionary War churches.
JD: I think that is probably the original way it was painted and it was just maintained over the years that way. They are the original pews that were in here and they of course were lifted for the moving and put back into place. We added things like the heater, as I said before, we're still in the process of refurbishing. It's going to get a modern heating-air conditioning system in here so we're trying, as you can see we save all the trim from the windows and try to reuse anything that we can. Sometimes it has to be replaced and then when it is replaced, it is replaced with the originals.
DS: What is the membership of the church, right now, would you say?
JD: I would guess there's 120 people. We probably have 30 or so a day. Today attendance was 21. So it usually picks up in the summertime with the people who come down for the summertime and they attend the church too.
DS: You have a little model of this church over here.
JD: Yes. One of the ladies made that. I think it was originally placed in the Sunday school.
DS; And that's the building out back. Do you have a bell in the bell tower.
JD: Yeah, absolutely. She rings. We refurbished the bell tower (he rings the bell).
DS: Oh, yes, it's a beautiful sound.
JD: She rings very nice. And we're in the process of refurbishing and there's a little of work up there that has to be done. There's a special fund, I think, going to be set aside for that.
DS: There's a lot of money goes into maintaining an historic record building like this.
JD: And, praise the Lord, the donations for the work come in in the Lord's time and it gets down. We're very pleased with it and we have actually received a couple of large donations. As I said when we moved it the fire company actually donated several thousand dollars, I think it was five thousand dollars, to have the church moved over and raised.
DS: So that it makes it easier for them to get around the corner is the explanation that I heard.
JD: Sure. And that was a good thing because the fire trucks can't get down there and all we were going to do was raise it and they asked us to move it over and they said certainly.
DS: These chandeliers. They're not at all original because they're electric lights, but..
JD: I'm not actually sure when they were put in.
DS: They do again though look like the kind of chandelier that would be put in a church of this sort, but without the electric lights but with candles.
JD; Right. And I don't know whether they were redone or not. I'm not familiar with that. I do know originally there was a wood stove in here and I've seen pictures of it. I don't know what ever happened to the wood stove.
DS: Where was the wood stove located, do you know?
JD: I believe that the wood stove was located right over in this area.
DS: Right where the current heater is.
JD: There was a pew missing here and I think that if you look you can see.
DS: Of course. This is where the chimney went up.
JD: If you look you can see where there's a scar on the floor here and I believe that's where it sat. This must have been the area, probably right there. There's a scar there and a scar there. So I imagine that's probably where it's at.
DS: Okay. Now maybe what we can do is go over and sit down over here and you can tell me a little bit about the events of the church or whatever comes to mind in regard to the history of this place. I need to have my, yeah, we need to make a transition here. Let's just might as well stay here. I'll wait until this reel runs out and then I'll put it on an alternate.
JD: Have you talk to Mrs. Moon(sp?)
DS: Yes, I have.
JD: They know more about the history than I do.
DS: But you know the interesting thing. It depends upon where you interview a person. We interviewed her in her home and we talked about Saxton Methodist church, but not to any great extent, because we were interested in her furniture and where that came from and so on and so forth and so when I go back I will talk to her about the church more but I didn't at the time.
JD; This is a picture of, not too many years ago, this is Rev. Bill Downing. He's going to marry my daughter here on the 27th. So I have a daughter that's going to be married here on the 27th and I can't remember when the last wedding was here.
DS: I don't know. Do you live in town or do you live out of town?
JD: I live out of town. We originally lived here in town and then moved outside of town. Now I live in Magnolia. And we're looking forward to coming back
DS: Moving back?
JD: Yes. I really miss the town and I would like to be here. 1984. This is Bill Downing, Rev. Dr. Bill Downing and one of the members of the church, Bill Hollinger, who's passed away. This is the blessing of the fleet. The boats as they would go out would pull over and receive the
DS: (they must be looking at pictures) Now, George Boone must have been Jane Boone's husband?
JD: Yes. This is his boat, the Dido. The Dido Doose. It was here for a long time and we miss him, but time goes on. Here we go. That's Sue Potter. She's still a member. There's a lot of the people here. He was a member of the church.
DS: And he is still just identify them if you will.
JD: This is the Eubanks family at a church picnic and Sue Potter. Mrs. Harvey, Ida Harvey, Allen Wyatt. They lived across the street. They've both passed away.
DS: I take it that people come here that are not residents of Bowers Beach, but come because of its historic, or is this church largely Bowers Beach residents?
JD: Largely it's Bowers Beach residents and people who have been residents, like myself, and live outside of town and keep coming back. I like the small close-knit community that we have here and these are William Pollin's children in a Christmas play.
DS: Frenchie's a member of the church?
JD: Yes. And his children attended here and now they've grown up and have children of their own that are married and moved away.
DS: This scrapbook is something that's just the kind of history of events in the church.
JD: That's right.
DS: Even though it's 1988, somebody started it. I didn't get the date on the first one there.
JD: I think the first one is like '85 is when it started. 1984. 1982
DS: okay, the first Sunday school class.
JD: Now there was Sunday school classes here many many years ago. And the ladies that were in here that I pointed out, like Helen Wyatt, they were members of it and I have seen pictures. That was a book published by Mrs. Coverdale and in that book, it's a book of the three churches--Thompsonville, and Fredericka and Bowers and in it she covered those pictures. She covered that part of the history of the church. And some of the pictures are very old and this is another one of our pastors.
DS: Another blessing of the fleet, the apparent, this is the Rev. Charles Walters.
JD: And there's Thumper in the background in the blessing.
DS: What's the boat out there, do you know?
JD: It's probably the Stacey. I think it's the Captain's Lady, if I'm not mistaken. And this is a little skit put on by the ladies from that time. Cliff Potter did this drawing of the Sunday School room and the church when he was nine years old.
DS: And he is now how old?
JD: I believe that he's 20. 21. He now works down at the Pilot boats Mispillion. He works for the company that has the pilot boats in the Mispillion that run the captains and the pilots out to the oil barges. We still see him once in awhile. I believe that this is the last wedding that was done in the church.
DS: And your daughter's then will be the next last wedding
JD: Yeah. This is the Moyer wedding I believe.
DS: That's Little Heaven towing, the Moyers.
JD: Right and I believe it was their daughter that was married here.And this is a little more recently. They're showing the condition of the church in the newspaper. We were getting ready to move it. And so the chimney is now gone. You can see how close we are to the wires. That was a lot of fun, doing that. We painted it. There's Patricia Moyers. There's that wedding that you saw.
DS: Well, I've interviewed Pat also.
JD: There's Mrs. Donovan, Jack Donovan's wife in that picture. And I think this is where we were informed that we were on the register of Historical places.
DS: That was on November 27, 1990. Who's the current minister here? I don't know him.
JD: The current minister lives in Dover and he has three charges and he is on vacation, now he's at conference now. That's why I was preaching here today. His name is Shahada, Bernie Shahada. Bernard I think is. I'm trying to think There's a water line.
DS: Right. It looks like it's about three feet below the windows.
JD: And that was when the church was actually on the ground. And on the other side, where you can't see. On the other side it is actually under the ground. The ground comes up to half that. Here's a picture of some of the kids that have gone to the church over the years. There's Cliff Potter and that's one of the Jackson kids and I don't recognize that girl there. I think, I'm not going to venture a guess.
DS: 1984. It's not in chronological order.
JD; No apparently no. There's the Trade Winds going through the blessing and that's Mr. Eubanks and I don't recognize that gentlemen, probably should. The parade of brides for Patricia's wedding.
DS: So that was probably the last wedding, in 1990.
DS: And that's a September 1992 Bible School picture. (end of tape) Tell me a little about that. Have you been a waterman all your life?
JD: I was raised in the Pacific. My father was in the military and we came back home after dad was preparing to retire and when I went overseas to southeast Asia I came back and really couldn't find any work that was satisfying. I couldn't mesh with society any more. I found I had a difficult time finding anything that would keep me happy and I came down to Bowers
DS: Was that Vietnam?
JD: Yes. And I started working on the water. And from the very time that I stepped on a boat and went out on the bay I knew that's what I was supposed to do. I am a waterman. And over the years Bowers has changed and it changes at an ever-increasing rate.
DS: Tell me about what you remember earliest in Bowers. What was it like when you first came here?
JD: That was in '70, '71, '72. I'd been down here earlier with my parents as a youngster. We used to go fishing on the beach and didn't know much about the history of the town at that time and I moved down here. I was in Canada with my parents and we would come down here to go fishing on the beach. We had always fished, being raised in the Pacific. We were always within walking distance of the water. And all of our family, all the kids fished off the beach. We ate quite a bit of fish growing up and I had always heard about commercial fishing here and the family tradition of fishing.There are records, I've been told, where John Saxton hauled sturgeon from Jones's crick. He didn't catch them but he hauled them for the men who did. He carried them to the railroad alive. The fish were so big that he had to take a special trailer with him with an elongated tongue to tie the fishes head between the horses and run the fishes body back under the seat into the wagon. And apparently, there's receipts that had been sent to John Saxton out west, my cousin I guess, the receipts from the railroad.
DS: Now were the sturgeons here used for caviar?
JD: I'm not sure. They were sent to Philadelphia, I'm pretty sure. They went to the city on the railroad.
DS: I went to the Archives and read something about the sturgeon being very plentiful. I don't right now remember the time period, and I wondered, there was nothing mentioned about caviar in the newspaper, but that's what most sturgeon were used for, wasn't it? The eggs from the Roe?
JD: . Sturgeon is a delicacy and it's like one of the fish they call poor man's lobster. They are very very sweet and very very flavorful.
DS: But there aren't any sturgeon in the bay now.
JD: Yeah, there's sturgeon but they're not like they used to be. Even as late as the '70s there were restrictions on taking them and we find them once in awhile now in the mouths of the rivers down south of here, fairly good size. I don't think you can take them if they're not seven foot long, or six foot long. They have to be that big to take. Now I know that our sturgeon gets bigger than the European sturgeon and some of their aquaculture cross bred them. I think their caviar was more desirable and our fish were bigger. So the idea is to get a more desirable caviar in a bigger fish. And so they were cross bred at one time with the European but I'm sure that our caviar was taken because the American caviar was well known. And the Atlantic sturgeon was probably the one that they used. It was a very big fish.
DS: What is it that fascinates you about being a waterman?
JD: I think, number one, the freedom. You make your own choices and there's always the aspect even in a poor year of a big hit. There's always that hope, there's always something to look forward, some reason to go out there. You know you have bad years but there's always that hope that you'll have the big hit and many times it doesn't happen and sometimes it does.And you have to take it with a grain of salt. There's the appeal of hunting. There's all the appeal of going out and strategizing a hunt for the fish and the difference I think probably for me is that my livelihood, my childrens' house and food depends on my ability to go out or be with people who go out and find them. And it's tough work and not many people like to do it, but it has its rewards. I'm absolutely fulfilled doing it.
DS: Do you own your own boat?
JD: Yes, I have a 25 foot seahawk and over the years I have primarily made most of my money working with other men, working for other men on their boats. Bill Folks, who owned the Macdonough, I worked with him for 20 years, and he's recently sold the Macdonough and I crabbed with him and fished--net fished, drift fished, anchor fished, in the springtime and the fall and briefly I started conching with another captain down the Mispillion and it's just the whole aspect of being in God's nature and his ability to always reward you. There's always a reward when you go out there. It's maybe not always monetary. It may be something that you see that nobody else has ever seen. And like I've told my kids many times there's pictures in my mind that I wish I could put in your head. You wouldn't believe what I've seen.
DS: Of the natural beauty
JD: Of the natural beauty of the Bay. Just the other day, yesterday, coming in on Buddy Wagner's boat, the Dock II, I happen to be sitting up in the cabin and just out of the corner of my eye I caught a flash of water, right on our sterm, it wasn't three feet ffrom the boat, and I looked in our wake and here was a pilot dolphin, porpoise, right on our stern, riding in the wake and they were actually, they actually turned their head and looked at me. And there was no doubt in my mind that they actually acknolwedged the fact that oh there's a man. And that kind of thing just fascinates me. And I've been out to the lighthouse at night..
DS: Which lighthouse?
JD: There's several of them that we go to, fourteen foot mammal, the elbow, Brandywine lighthouse fishing. With the fish under the lights you see them just thousands and thousands of fish at one time all feeding under the light.
DS: Because they've come for the light?
JD: Actually I think that the bait, the bay anchovie, is out there spawning and as they go through their spawn, they respond to the light and collect like moths and then the fish come to them and feed on them. And the trout just, it is amazing how many can gather under one light. Then for some reason, for no apparent reason to you, they stop. It's over with and you have to go hunt them down and find them where they're at.
DS: What do you do in the winter?
JD: In the wintertime I work on the Bay. I crab or conch.
DS: Have you ever worked with Thumper?
JD: Yes, I have. Sure, many times. Thumper and I, when I first came back, I think I worked with Thumper for five years, six years, when I first came back to Bowers. He and I, in our younger days when I didn't have any kids and wasn't married, we would go out for days at a time
DS: You'd just stay out?
JD: Stay out refuse to come home without a catch. And we would eat whatever we caught.
DS: In your experience on the bay, do you feel that the fish are coming back, or do you feel that the fishing is depleted or what? What's your sense?
JD: Over all, it depends on your time frame, what you use as a time frame.
DS: Just from your experience.
JD: From my experience, they run in a cycle and one species is populous and another species is not. When I first came back here there was no croakers, none at all. And there had just been in the '70s an abundance of croakers. People used to come down here and fill barrels with them. And then in '79, there was no croakers. Gone. There was a lot of trout. We had a lot of trout. There was no rockfish. And they all feed on the same things and they all interact. It's all a balance. God's balance is astoundingly stable and when the trout year classes aged, were caught, died off, then the other species, the croakers, started showing up again. And now we have an abundance of croakers and we don't have any trout. We have an abundance of rockfish.
DS: Bluefish don't seem to be very plentiful right at the moment.
JD: Right at the moment I think there is a depletion or maybe they're just not coming into the Bay or not frequenting our water right now. There's a number of reasons for it. When I first came back here bluefish was so plentiful that we couldn't sell them. Many times we had to throw them away, had to throw them overboard or use them for crab bait.
DS: Bluefish is one of my favorite fish. I love them. And I don't understand why you'd ever throw a bluefish away.
JD: I don't do it when I can help it, but you can only eat so many of them. One of my favorite things to do is to take a big bluefish, which most people don't like, and my wife cleans fish. She has cleaned fish for restaurants professionally and for the sportsmen down here at Donovan's dock and she will take it, I'll prepare it alive out on the bay. I'll bleed it out on the Bay and she'll prepare it. And she has a recipe that she bakes it with sour cream and tomato sauce and covers it with cheese right before it's done, just lets the cheese bubble
DS: What kind of cheese?
JD: She likes to use cheddar.
DS: Cheddar. Parmesan would be good too.
JD: yes, sure. But she uses cheddar and shreds it and lets it melt over the top and I'm telling you you're sitting at my table when she's serving bluefish, you better have a fork in both hands.
DS: Oh, yes.
JD: My kids can do some damage to one of them. And we eat a lot of fish. I grew up eating fish and rice, overseas, so .
DS: Now oysters have had quite a history here at Bowers Beach also. I was reading that there used to be an oyster reef as it were right near the St. Jones. I think on the downstream side of the St. Jones that was extraordinarily plentiful and I've read that Bowers oysters were considered as good as any of the bluepoint oysters that were famous. Now they're beginning to open up. We've had Big Thursday in town as a celebration of the opening up of the Oyster season. But what's the status of oyster shucking and catching now?
JD: I have oystered this year, Thumper's oystering, the Handses are all oystering. And what happened was over the years from planting seed oysters in the Bay, everybody had at one time they had their own beds where they planted the oysters and cultivated the oysters and the story that I've gotten over the years is that someone brought some seed from down south that was diseased and it brought MSX disease into the Bay, which doesn't affect human beings. But if the oysters don't actually get fresh water, it kills the oysters. For some reason the virus cannot live in fresh water.
DS: I'll be darned.
JD: And so the oyster industry in Delaware for all intents and purposes died. They was only three or four boats. Up north in the upper part of the Bay that got fresh water every day they continued to work. And it was very controlled and very hard to make a living doing it. And over the years I think that because the oysters have died off the MSX has also died off and the oysters are starting to show up again. The natural beds are starting to grow again so they opened it up on a limited basis.
DS: It was last year or the year before that.
JD: It was last year I think they opened it up for the first time. And we had discussed it at the meetings, the State meetings
JD: DNREC, right, the shellfish committee and we had discussed it several times. And there's mixed feelings. Some people say that we shouldn't open them up. We should let them go. And other people that everybody should be able to take a limited number. To my way of thinking, that makes more sense than to have just a few boats over-harvest and it makes more sense to me that anybody who wanted to do it should be able to go out and take a limited number.
DS: Where do you sell the oysters today?
JD: Most of the time I think that they're large corporate buyers that take the oysters and they're used for chowder, mainly. There is a very small limited number of oysters that are used in the restaurants for the half-shell industry which from here on down south is considerable in the summertime. However, natural growth oysters are not the pretty round bluepoint oysters. They usually grow in lumps and they have odd shapes--cat tongues is the long narrow one and there's no difference, there's no reason why people don't eat them. They don't look as pretty and they're harder to handle. So in the fall when people eat a lot of oysters for chowders and oysters stuffing is one of my favorites and so they will take those oysters. But right now the market's a little funny. It's hard to market them. Very very small percentage of them are used for the tourist trade.
DS: What do you do with your boat?
JD: I fish in my boat and I have crabbed in my boat and I use gill nets. I anchor and drift fish out of it. I really like drift fishing. To me that's the ultimate, to hunt down the fish to get out there before the sun rise, and to be on the water at sun rise and to find the fish and always. Everything is always changing. Conditions are always changing and it's a lot of fun. I like doing it.
DS: Is drift fishing like trolling or
JD: No, you set your nets out to drift and they're not anchored. They're not held down in any way. They're not a fixed net. They drift with the tide.
DS: So then you've got to follow the nets as they drift.
JD: You keep your eye on them. You follow them, that's right. Sometimes we use strobe lights before daylight so that we know where one another is and other boats know where our nets are trying to avoid any incidents.
DS: The watermen in the Bay out of Bowers Beach, or for that matter, is it a very competitive business because those resources are very scarce. Is it a community that supports each other for the most part or is it a community that's pretty guarded about where the best place to fish and so forth.
JD: I think in Delaware in general it's very guarded. I've found that in other places for instance the Carolinas or Virginia, the watermen tend to stick together more. And I think there's two reasons for it.Watermen are very independent and the way the laws are set up and the restrictions that are placed if you had the freedom to do anything that you want without regard to the restriction of licenses, when they wasn't very many crabs you could fish. When there weren't many fish you could crab, or if you couldn't crab the fish, you could conch, you could trade around. But because of the limitations in licenses there are people who are forced strictly to crab. They have got to crab. That's the only thing they can make a living doing and do that's what they do. And I think it gets hard on the resources, resources get tight. You have for instance in crabbing right now we're having a little down cycle in the crabs and..
DS: The blue crab.
JD: The blue crab, right. And it's kind of tough to find enough to make a living on. The guys are having a hard time doing it.
DS: Do you work 7 days a week, 6 days a week?
JD: Before the sun rises until after the sun sets.
DS: It's a hard job.
JD: Oh, yes, that's why a lot of people don't do it, Dave. I can remember when I first came back here before the advent of so many licensing restrictions, we weren't worried about anybody else wanting to do it, because nature has a way of taking care of us, and not many people want to do it. Even if you try it, not many people will stick to it. It's tough and you know very few of us have made what you would call a lucrative living doing it.
DS: I gathered as much. I went out with Thumper one day just to get a sense of what it was like to be on the Bay. I'm going to have to go back with him. Maybe he'll take me out again because I'd like to find out more about it. I wanted to interviewed him on the boat but the sound of the engine was so strong that I there wasn't any point in t;rying to
JD: A lot of the other guys have a high pitch problem. Their ears go on them from those engines. And the upper frequencies leave them and they for instance can't hear a digital phone ring or something.
DS: Do you have any fish stories, or any waterman stories?
JD: There's a lot of waterman stories .
DS: That you can share with me
JD: (laughs) Yeah. One day Thumper and I were out drift fishing. Our equipment was fairly primitive in those days. We had flasher depth finders so you couldn't really see fish. We have today pretty sophisticated depth finders. They show you the fish and even tell you what kind of fish they are. And we were in a very slow boat, it was called the Thumper. It had a four cyclinder Ford Lyman diesel which was wore out and we were on our way home. It was one of those times we went out for a couple of days and we hadn't caught anything and we were just defeated and we were on our way home and a thunder storm came up. We could see the storm building up in the north and we knew this was going to happen. So we decided to set our nets anyway. And Thumper ran the net out and the thunder storm hit and it was pretty gruesome. There was hail and the wind blew and the lightening flashed and the thunder roared and we rode it out and left the nets in the water and when the thunder storm blew over we picked up the nets and we had I mean, smoked the trout. We'd fished for two days and hadn't cleaned a thing and on the way home in that thunder storm we smoked them. It was so rough coming home that the fish got pulverized by the ice block that we had but they were still marketable. They got marketed, but they didn't look too pretty after that. It was so rough coming home. So that was one time that I remember. And another time I was out at the light house with Joe Trenesci. And we were lighthouse fishing with a generator and lights on the water and we knew that there were storms in the area and we wanted to be out there because we didn't think there would be anybody else out there. Nobody else would be crazy enough to go out there in these thunder storms, so that's what we did and while we were standing at the lighthouse I was working my jig and I lifted up my rochet and I felt my rod hum and I looked up at the top of the rod and I noticed that it was glowing and as I lowered it it stopped glowing and the hum stopped. And I said Joe, lift your rod tip up. So Joe lifted his rod tip up and he says oh neat what's that? I said it's lightening. And he lowered his rod tip down and he got real low and he says, oh. You suppose we're all right here? And I said we're as all right here as we would be running home so we might as well stay.
DS: I don't think I've ever heard of St. Elmo's fire being on--you were on land at the time, right?
JD: No, we were in the boat at the lighthouse.
DS: Oh, I see, so you were, so okay. You were over water.
JD: The hair on my arm was actually pulling. It usually means there's going to be a lightening strike around you and it's pretty hairy. You should get as low as you can and probably not be in a boat if you can help it.
DS: Have you ever been close to being struck on the water?
JD: No. I don't run from it.
DS; Have you ever had any really, aside form the storm that you were in with Thumper, a near hurricane?
JD: The first day that I put my boat over it was just a summer storm, It was 50 mile an hour winds while I was out. Another time I was on the Macdonough with Bill Folks off of Big Stone, we were ccrabbing and we heard Willis Hands from Fort Mahon and he said, my God, it's got to be blowing 70 miles an hour here and we looked around and it was flat calm, it was mirror calm and Bill went back on the radio and he said well it's like a mirror here. And he said, well, brace yourself because it's headed your way. So we keep tending our crab pots and I noticed a ripple across the water and in a matter of minutes it was blowing 70 miles an hour. It took up to a couple hours to get from Big Stone Beach to Bowers. It's only 3 miles.
DS: One of the things that I found interesting was this conversation over the radios that the watermen engage in. It's a community kind of thing that has its own charm and its own story. There's so much going on there. Thumper was kind of filling me in on some of the things to listen to.
JD: It takes a course in Cryptics.
DS: I'm sure it does because the messages were all meaningful to all the people who were on the boat. For me I was catching bits and pieces of what seemed to be going on.
JD: They might be saying one thing and meaning another. Maybe not the opposite of what they said but you would have to read in the inflection in their voice actually what they were trying to tell you.
DS: All right. In the last few minutes of the tape because you said it so emphatically, why are you interested in coming back to Bowers Beach?
JD: It's the close-knit community and the closeness to the Bay. There's a lot of reasons and one of the reasons is because of the Bay itself, the attraction to the Bay, and the life that you live down here. This community is a community within a community--the watermen that live here, and my children were raised here and just right outside of town limits, within walking distance and
DS: Did they go to Lake Forest.
JD: They went to Lake Forest. They go to Caesar Rodney now b ut they did go to Lake Forest. But we actually home schooled our kids for awhile and they went to Capital Baptist for awhile, a private school.
DS: And you lived here from when to when?
JD: From '79 to porobably '91 or '92.
DS: And why did you move to Magnolia?
JD: The availability of the house--five bedroom house that I could afford. That was really the only reason. I had 6 children, and we just needed the room. It's basically it.
DS: You'd come back for a smaller house now that the children are getting up there.
JD: Well, two of my daughters--one of my daughter's married and one of my daughter's has moved but she actually works for me. She's right out on the highway. She's not far away. Yes, as the kids get older and mature, yeah, I would come back into town, even if I didn't get a smaller place I'd come back into town.
DS: All right. Well I certainly appreciate your taking this time on a Sunday afternoon when you've spent the morning preaching and did you stay in town today. No just right out at my father-in-law's house, just outside of town
JD: Well, thank you very much. I'd like to come back and interview
you again. The normal procedure is that