Editor’s Note: During this period of social distancing, Student Group Tour magazine will continue to provide ideas for planning educational travel. Many attractions and destinations are closed at this time; please contact them directly for updated information. 

Situated along the scenic Brandywine River in Wilmington, Delaware, the Hagley Museum and Library immerses students in the industrial world of 19th century.

French immigrant Éleuthère Irénée du Pont established black powder mills at the site in 1802. Over time, the black powder factory became the largest in the world and propelled the du Pont family to the upper echelon of American society.

Student visits are guide-led experiences. Jeffrey Durst is the education program coordinator at Hagley Museum and Library. “All programs incorporate interactive elements that keep the students involved,” he said. “For two of Hagley’s programs, guides dress in period attire and lead students through common 19th-century daily activities in historic settings.”

Hagley tour
School tour, Hagley Museum and Library, Wilmington, Del.
Credit: Courtesy of Hagley Museum and Library, Adam Albright

Tactile experiences bring du Pont’s powder mill to life and keep students involved. A walk along the scenic Brandywine River helps establish the setting for the story as students consider why du Pont selected the locale for his mill.

“Students are captivated by the powder yard demonstrations, such as the roll mill demonstration that features 8-ton cast iron wheels turning using water power,” Durst said. “Demonstrators fire off a charge of gunpowder at the end of the presentation.”

The Gibbons House enthralls younger students as they learn about daily life for a child in the mid-19th century. “On Hagley’s Workers’ Hill, students are taken back to life in the 1800s in immersive, historic settings,” Durst said. Activities include baking — and eating — sugar cookies in a wood-burning stove, trying on period clothing and learning to write with a quill pen.

Hagley turbine
Water power tour, Hagley Museum and Library, Wilmington, Del.
Credit: Courtesy Hagley Museum & Library, Adam Albright

Tours like Industrial America and Water Power can be geared toward high school students. “In our STEM programming, our guides seek to draw connections to tether the content to what students already know in their own lives,” said Tanya Looney, education and interpretation program manager. For example, the Water Power tour can be paired with a stream water testing workshop in which students collect and contribute data to assess the health of the Brandywine River.

The diverse experiences at Hagley empower students to make connections between the past and present and allow teachers to enliven the curriculum through hands-on learning.

For more information on Hagley Museum and Library go to hagley.org/education.

Article by Michael McLaughlin.