Fort Delaware Society

Pea Patch Island Model

Coast Defense

The site last updated October 04, 2012

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by William G. Robelen, 4th

Chairman and Past President

Fort Delaware Society

Upon entering the Visitor's Center at Fort Delaware State Park, the modern visitor encounters a very large scale model layout of Pea Patch Island as it appeared in 1864. The idea of modeling Pea Patch Island goes back to the days of the founders of the Fort Delaware Society. This is the second model of the Island to be displayed in the Visitor's Center and the Fort Delaware Society played a major role in its creation and funding. The story of the two models demonstrates one of the roles the Fort Delaware Society has played during the past 59 years in its efforts to preserve, promote and interpret the Fort on Pea Patch Island.

Back in the early 1950s, shortly after the Fort Delaware Society was founded, a small group of amateur historians conceived the idea of constructing a model of the island complete with all its buildings as it was in 1863. The group met weekly at the Claymont, Delaware home of Dr. Allen G. Schiek and his wife Elizabeth (Secretary of the Society). One of them came across an 1864 Army Engineers’ map of the island (a copy can be found in the Society’s archives), however it was far too small to be of much use. Lacking any sophisticated means of making it large enough, a 35mm slide transparency was made of the map. They fastened long several strips of white shelf paper to a blank wall in the house and projected the image of the island on it. By moving the projector back far enough to create an image that could be translated into a convenient scale, they were able to trace the outline of the island and all the buildings from which the model could be based. It was a crude but effective way to enlarge the image.  However, not only the shape of the island and buildings were enlarged more than eight times, the lines themselves were eight times as thick., leaving room for error.

Initial construction began on the Schiek’s dining room table, but it was not long before the model was so large (well over 8 feet in length), it had to be moved to one stall of their two-car garage. The one material that was in plentiful supply was dental plaster, donated by Dr. Schiek, and this unusual approach to model making proved to be very effective. The fort itself and all the outlying buildings, barracks, hospitals, residences, etc. were all cast, carved and painted in plaster. One woman meticulously painted all the dozens of figures in appropriate colors and styles using a small brush that had only six bristles. No one is left today who knows how the model was transported to the island, but it was moved in at least two pieces. For forty years the model was displayed in what is now the Visitor Center in the Fort and protected by a large Plexiglass® case.

Although this first model was the best and only three-dimensional representation of the Island and Fort as it looked in 1863, the lack of highly accurate historical details at that time meant that there were some minor inaccuracies. In addition, the paint had faded over the forty years, and the plaster had begun to show signs of deterioration.

The Delaware Division of Parks and Recreation approached the Fort Delaware Society in February 1994 with a proposal to construct a new model, using modern materials aided by the latest information based on additional research. Several companies were contacted and asked to  submit proposals.  Based on reputation, experience and its well thought out approach to the project, the firm of RAF Models & Displays was selected. David Rickman, Parks' Exhibits Coordinator, and Society Board Chairman Bill Craven drove to Winston Salem, North Carolina to interview the firm’s president Rebecca A. Fuller and her staff, which was composed entirely of women. The total amount of the quote for the model was $20,000. Through the efforts of the late Leah Roedel, a member of the Board of Directors, the Society obtained a grant on January 24, 1995 from Crystal Trust in Wilmington in the amount of $15,000. The balance of $5,000 was paid out of the Society’s general operating funds. The completed model was installed in the Visitor’s Center on August 17, 1996. The Division of Parks & Recreation has invested considerable funds to provide lighting and many interpretive details.

The first model was carefully dismantled, saving as many of the structures as possible.  The original plaster model of the fort itself is on display and interpreted at Society headquarters, and the out buildings are safely stored in a wood box, with the intent to incorporate them in the same display case for all to see another phase in our long history. 

Photo Images of the Model of 1864 Pea Patch Island

Note: Plexiglass® protective UV cover interferes with getting sharp, clear images.

Looking North Across Pea Patch Island

Mrs. Patterson's Boarding House

The POW Barracks

The 600 Bed Post & Prison Hospital

East Side of the Island

Trinity Chapel with Barracks & Hospital

As noted in this article, the Society contributed 25% of the cost of this table model from its general operating funds. If you would like to make an unrestricted contribution to help us fund these types of future projects, please print out a copy of our General Operating Fund contribution form and send it with your check to:

Fort Delaware Society

 P. O. Box 553

Delaware City, DE 19706.

Click here for a PDF version of our General Operating Fund Contribution Form.

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