The Children's Theatre of Dover and Kent County is moving its administration, rehearsal and storage facilities from Wesley College to the state-owed historic sites on the corner of Governors Avenue and North Street.
Last year, when the state shut down the Museum of Small Town Life and the Delaware Archeological Museum in Dover to help combat a monumental budget shortfall, the future looked grim for the two historic buildings that housed the institutions.
The Old Brick Church and its accompanying Reith Hall on the corner of Governors Avenue and North Street date to 1791 and 1880, respectively, and the cemetery that surrounds the structures is the final resting place of three governors and famed Delaware patriot Col. John Haslet.
The sanctuary was the former home of the Presbyterian Church of Dover, and Reith Hall housed its Sunday school before the state purchased the properties and turned them into museums in 1950.
Many feared that the closing of the museums was the start of the long, slow slide into dilapidation that would lead to the eventual demolition of the buildings.
But that process was stalled recently when the Children’s Theatre of Dover and Kent County signed a 25-year lease for the two buildings and announced it will use the space for administration, rehearsals and storage of the troupe’s props, costumes and set pieces.
The state’s Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs will retain ownership of the buildings and remain responsible for their upkeep.
Division Director Tim Slavin said the theater group won’t pay rent for the first three years of the lease as the state finalizes restoration of the buildings. After that, the rent will be $2,500 a year, which will be used exclusively to fund continuing maintenance.
Dozens of theater supporters and elected officials gathered inside Reith Hall Aug. 25 for a ribbon cutting ceremony.
The wood floors in the hall were newly polished and the room smelled of fresh paint. Light from outside poured in through the historic stained-glass panels made by 19th century artisan William Reith, for whom the building is named.
Secretary of State Jeff Bullock said the decision to close the museums was not made lightly, and immediately after they were shuttered his office began looking for a way to reopen them.
“We could either sit around and complain, or do something about it,” he said. “These kind of partnerships allow us to use our resources better and get better public access.”
Having outgrown its space at Wesley College, the Children’s Theatre found a convenient home in the old museums.
“As we start our 16th season, we’re transitioning to a beautiful new theater,” said Children’s Theatre board President Diane Radnich. “We will be forever grateful for [the state’s] stewardship and support.”
Marge Ressler and her late husband Ted founded the Children’s Theatre. She said the growth the new space will allow makes her more than proud.
“You direct a play and you hope everything comes out right. Then, you see the play and it’s a big success,” she said. “We’ve enjoyed every minute of it.”
Email Doug Denison at email@example.com.