Monday, February 21, 2011

The Delmar Zoo

The Martha Washington Hotel in 1922 with Winder and Martha Culver standing by the gas pumps. Route 13 is in front of them

A few days ago Gary Horseman stopped by and asked me why I didn’t do something on the Delmar Zoo. Now, as I have said before, I didn’t move to Delmar until the late 1970’s and I had never heard about a Delmar Zoo. Well in looking into it and based on information from Gary Horseman and Buddy Perry here is what I found out.

In the 1920’s and up into the early 1940’s, on the corner of Pine Street and what was than Route 13 stood the Martha Washington Hotel. Now RT 13 was of course the major artery down the peninsula, so all the traffic went thru Delmar and by the Martha Washington Hotel. The Martha Washington Hotel was run by Louie and Virgie Culver and later, as with any family run business their daughter, Martha, helped out,. Besides renting out rooms, The Martha Washington was a General Store, restaurant, gas station and most important of all it had a zoo behind it. Now today this would be referred to as a classic roadside attraction, but back in the depression people made their living doing what they could and it was a business. Some of you may remember trips to Florida before the days of the interstate and flashy theme parks, where you would stop at a gas station/restaurant and they would have a collection of animals caged in the back you could see for a quarter. Well this is that type of a zoo but you didn’t have to go to Florida, it was right here in Delmar.

Louie Culver and his family were enterprising people. The menagerie had a bear, a monkey, ponies, geese, Billy goats, foxes, squirrels and other indigenous animals. You paid a price to see the animals and you could buy pet food to feed the animals. You could also pay to ride the ponies. The photos (from Buddy Perry) below show some of the animals. Now we have all seen goats, foxes and ponies but what is interesting is the background of the photos. You can see RT13 and how lightly traveled it was. The photo with the fox shows it was tethered right along side RT13. You can see Mr. Culver also had the Dixie Barbecue and what appears to be a mobile sandwich wagon on an early truck. The man was busy.

Just before Christmas in 1942 the Martha Washington Hotel caught on fire and was destroyed. It ended the zoo and the rest of the operation. Virgie Culver died about 1946 and Louie Culver died about 1954.

One story Buddy Perry told me was his grandfather, Louie, once sold gas at eight gallons for a dollar. He had cars lined up from his station to the Old Maryland School (where the Catholic Church is now).

As an interesting side note, the town of Delmar Delaware acquired the cage the bear was kept in. The cage was stored in a garage the Delaware policeman used on First Street. The Policeman used the bear cage as a holding cell for prisoners he picked up.

the Fox by RT13

Pony Rides


Pony rides

The Monkey Cage with Mr. Culver in it with monkey

The Gas Pumps

The Billy Goat with Barbecue Pit In Back

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