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Hagley: Gunpowder and more in the Brandywine Valley.

 By Mary Gallagher Photos by Will Davis

We’ve been lucky enough, on our seasonal visits to the Brandywine Valley, to have made several stops to Hagley over the last couple of years. It’s especially affordable with their participation in the high summer season Brandywine Treasure Trail Passport program that saves on admission here and at 11 other area attractions.

The greater Wilmington and Brandywine Valley area features world-class gardens, historic colonial towns, museums and more. All less than a half-day’s drive from Washington D.C.or New York City. My first visit many years ago was during a Thanksgiving trip to Washington DC from our Midwest home and then up to Philadelphia to visit friends who insisted we must see theBrandywine Valley.

That visit we enjoyed the best of the fall season, I kept shouting “stop the car” as we passed the wild bittersweet growing everywhere on the roadsides. I would have used it in a million crafty ways. This year we came in springtime to view wildflowers, azaleas, dogwoods and daffodils on Hagley’s rolling grounds. Perhaps next we’ll make the Christmas tour with its holiday decorations made from the local natural bounty of nature, likely some bittersweet!

Site Map

Located on 235 acres along the banks of the Brandywine River in Wilmington, Delaware, Hagley is a park-like museum with a variety of interesting sites. Here are the gunpowder works founded by E. I. du Pont in 1802. You’ll find an outstanding museum, restored mills and industrial ruins, a workers’ community, and the ancestral home and gardens of the du Pont family. All depicting home and work life in a nineteenth-century industrial community along theBrandywine.

The eagle a favorite symbol for the du Pont family.

It’s interesting that the names selected founders for the various du Pont sites throughout this beautiful area were never directly named du Pont city or town. Hagley, apparently before the du Ponts, was called “Hagley an Estate,” in an 1813 document and in 1797, its then owner applied for insurance on buildings at “a place called Hagley situated on Brandywine Creek.”

The English Hagley is a village, a parish, and a restored house and estate located in the West Midlands countryside approximately ten miles southeast of Birmingham, England.

Eleutherian Mills

There are several outstanding themed tours available of Hagley and I’ve enjoyed touring Eleutherian Mills, the first du Pont Family home in America built by E. I. du Pont in 1803.  Placed on a hill overlooking the Brandywine River, and although trees have grown quite large throughout the area since 1903, I imagine the original view went a greater distance but it’s very pleasurable as it is today.

Dining Room

The Georgian-style residence is furnished with antiques and memorabilia of the five generations of du Ponts associated with the home. As you tour various homes of the du Pont family throughout the Brandywine area you’ll notice a lot of “eagle” mirrors, sculptures, bric a brac and other items which makes the current exhibit at the house through January 1, 2013 “The American Eagle: Symbol of Freedom and Enterprise to the du Pont Family” so appropriate. The image of the eagle has been an important icon in the history of the du Pont family as they came toAmerica on the ship “American Eagle,” the DuPont Company’s first product was Eagle Gun Powder, and the decorative arts collected by Mrs. Louise du Pont Crowninshield, great granddaughter of  E.I., were adorned with eagles, a common symbolic element in Federal-style furnishings.

French-style garden created by E. I. du Pont

Adjoining the home is a French-style garden created by E. I. du Pont, and I especially loved the espalier fruit trees. They are unable to restore the gardens on the river side of the house because of the instability of the ground but when you view it from the house and road the grandeur it once provided is quite obvious.

First Office of the DuPont Company

We have also visited the first office of the Du Pont Company. A charming building constructed in 1837, it remained the hub/center for the company for more than fifty years. It’s amazing to think and actually visualize running an organization with just an early typewriter, handwritten ledgers, and telegraph key. You’ll find none of the multiple electronic features of a modern day office in this building. Hard to believe the strength of ones fingers needed to use these early typewriters.

At this stop you can also visit the barn with its nineteenth century domestic, farm, and powder yard vehicles, a collection of weather vanes, agricultural tools and implements, as well as a Conestoga wagon. On the lower level of the barn an antique automobile exhibit highlights the du Pont Motors car manufactory, featuring a 1928 Du Pont Motors Phaeton and contrasting it to a 1911 Detroit Electric car that also belonged to a family member. And over 100 years later we’re still fiddling with electric cars!

Lighting the fuse to the gunpowder.

One of the most exciting exhibits is the actual gunpowder demonstration (where I’ve jumped every time!) but prior to that be sure to see the exhibit “DuPont: The Explosives Era” in the museum Here you’ll learn the details of the du Pont family’s decision to come to America, the choice of a site for the black powder manufactory, the early years of the company, and a concentrated exploration of the role of explosives in nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century life. Previous to touring Hagley and the museum I never thought of DuPont as a gun powder company.  I’ve toured the museum both before and after the bus tour and either way it’s a remarkable and enlightening tribute to American business and ingenuity. 

Explaining the process.

The DuPont Company manufactured gunpowder and blasting powder at Hagley from 1802 until 1921 and stopping at the Powder Yard, you’ll see the  massive stone mills, storehouses, and a waterwheel. Millstreams at Hagley still channel water to operate working models.  Wonderful powder men and machinists demonstrate the water turbine, a steam engine, a powder tester, and a working machine shop. Whether you’re an adult or child, this is the real way to learn about industrial history; actually experiencing it.

Millstreams at Hagley still channel water to operate working models.

The Hagley’s library furthers the study of business and technology in America. The library is organized into six departments: Manuscripts and Archives, Pictorial Collections, Imprints, Digital Archives, Conservation, and the Center for the History of Business, Technology, and Society.

Its current holdings comprise 34,000 linear feet in the Manuscripts and Archives Department, 2 million visual items in the Pictorial Collections Department, and 280,000 printed volumes in the Imprints Department. You’ll drive by the library but I’ve never visited it. If I was a researcher or writing on business and technology this would be the place to go.

Thank goodness your multiple hours visit here doesn’t mean foraging at a vending machine but instead stop in at the casual Hagley’s Belin House Organic Cafe We had a delightful laid back lunch, I had the ravioli and Will had the recommended Chicken Fingers and both were great.

Chef Dan Butler, owner of local restaurants and Hagley’s exclusive on-site caterer, brings casual seasonal menus that feature simple prepared fare. You can look at the menu online at the Hagley site when planning your day. I thought everything was most reasonably priced with individual items – Sandwiches, salads – in the $5 to $8 range. You can get to the Belin House Organic Cafe by boarding the bus at theVisitorCenteror by walking up Workers’ Hill. It is open daily from11 a.m.to3 p.m.

These days we frequently travel with multigenerational families that sometimes require handicap accessibility also helpful for those with strollers. Most of the buildings at Hagley are accessible to persons with disabilities. A bus that accommodates wheelchairs is available as well. It’s important that you contact the Hagley before your visit regarding any special needs.

Well we can’t forget the gift shop! Located in a historic building, once used for cotton and wool picking, the store offers an eclectic variety of items, I’ve never failed to find something to pick up as a gift for my sisters or myself. Plus there is no sales tax inDelawareso you’ve already saved!

There are many variations of tours available at Hagley and some include as much as Powder Yard; Machine Shop; Workers’ Hill; the du Pont family home, barn, and garden; and the First Office of the DuPont Company.  They also have a variety of holiday season tours including a shopping tour for their annual craft fair on the third weekend of October. You can choose to walk the paths or ride the bus. The website has a ton of information.       

     Some exhibits currently at the museum:

 DuPont Science and Discovery

With this exhibit,HagleyMuseumoffers visitors a look at 200 years of DuPont Company history. The company’s inception and early days are currently presented and preserved outdoors on Hagley’s 235 acres along the Brandywine River. This new dynamic, interactive, state-of-the-art exhibit takes visitors through the company’s transition from a nineteenth-century manufacturer of explosives to the research-based firm that has helped transform everyday life in the twentieth century. In the exhibit, youngsters will be inspired and others will marvel at the company’s innovative products while sitting in Jeff Gordon’s #24 NASCAR racer, experiencing an astronaut’s space suit, “meeting” some scientists, and so much more. Several hands-on components explore the materials science concepts behind many of the company’s revolutionary products, from the Nomex(R) coats that protect firemen to nylon stockings. The exhibit was made possible by a grant from DuPont.

 “Easy Does It! How Machines Make Life Easier”

This colorful, interactive exhibit features plenty of hands-on fun, making a perfect educational adventure for all. Explore the “funtastic” fundamentals of simple machine technology including wheels and axles, levers, gears, and pulleys. While visiting the exhibit, a single youngster can raise family and friends to new heights on the Lift It platform with the help of two pulleys. Visitors of all ages can get geared up for learning while trying a rack and pinion steering mechanism, a bicycle, and more. Then there are examples of simple machines from work and home including the wonders of the wheelbarrow, the whirring of an eggbeater, and the power of a line shaft.

 Plan your visit.

Call weekdays for information — (302) 658-2400 ext. 259.